The very first Thompson Hotel, 60 Thompson, opened in New York on a dingy stretch of Soho back in 2001 (it’s now the SIXTY SoHo), and instantly made its mark on both the city’s nightlife and nascent boutique hotel scenes.
A decade later, Thompson Hotels cofounder Jason Pomeranc merged the brand with Joie de Vivre Hotels, forming Commune Hotels + Resorts, which eventually banded together with Destination Hotels to forge Two Roads Hospitality in 2016. But Thompson would ultimately find a new home in 2018 with Hyatt when the hotel juggernaut acquired the Two Roads portfolio. Those early, heady days of 60 Thompson, however, continue to inform the refreshed brand.
A Thompson Hotels History Lesson
“Thompson’s heritage was strong, and rather than pivoting and trying to do something completely different, our intention was to build upon that heritage and elevate it,” says Crystal Vinisse Thomas, vice president and global brand leader for Hyatt’s lifestyle and luxury brands. “Thompson has the spirit of New York, and now under Hyatt it was important to not only us, but Thompson owners and enthusiasts, not to lose that cachet, the intimacy and the cool factor it’s always had. Everybody who was somebody around town knew 60 Thompson was the place to go and we hope that’s now the case as well in our other Thompson markets.”
Currently, there are 19 properties in the Thompson collection, and except for the recently sprouted Madrid location, they are scattered across North America, many of them in areas that were emerging at the time they opened, such as Washington, DC’s Navy Yard district and Savannah’s Eastern Wharf community. This development strategy is intentional, a way for Thompson to help directly transform those neighborhoods, just as 60 Thompson did to that unsightly sliver of Soho near the Holland Tunnel all those years ago.
All Thompson hotels embrace a “Culture Lives Here” ethos, a celebration of art, music, fashion, design, food, and drink amplifies the three pillars defining the brand. While Culture Shifter exposes Thompson guests to rising talents and tastemakers, Richly Layered puts the property’s design and “under-the-surface service experience,” as Vinisse Thomas puts it, front and center. Then there’s Social Magnetism, the piece of the puzzle that brings the signature Thompson atmosphere to life. “We know the original Thompson guest has grown up a bit and they are seeking to be stimulated differently,” says Vinisse Thomas. “They are curious about things that are culturally relevant in the world, but they still want to go out and have a good time. They want to not only see and be seen but they want to listen and be heard. We want Thompson to be a magnetic hub for cultural seekers and creatives to be inspired and have good food and drinks in the process.”
Restaurants and bars are also integral to Thompson, a part of the brand that has organically evolved from 60 Thompson’s see-and-be-seen rooftop. “We look for a commanding voice and presence in the culinary space,” adds Vinisse Thomas, who points to such ventures as chef Ludo Lefebvre’s Chez Maggy in the Thompson Denver; seafood-driven Manta, helmed by Enrique Olvera at the Cape, a Thompson Hotel in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; and Le Gratin, the Lyonnais-style bistro Daniel Boulud brought to the ground floor of the Beekman, a Thompson Hotel in New York.
All these experiential components are encapsulated in Thompson’s updated branding that, although softer than the original masculine version, “is still assertive and bold with a refined edge,” points out Kenneth Villamil, vice president of global product and development for the Thompson, Alila, Andaz, Hyatt Centric, and Caption by Hyatt Hotels brands.
As Thompson continues to confidently embrace new directions, Villamil is determined that the aesthetic will stay strong and never get diluted. “When you walk through a Thompson hotel, you see classic design juxtaposed with these different avant-garde, modern, and Brutalist styles. The design allows for honoring heritage but pushes forward with raw materials or midcentury influences, something that causes visual interest,” he says. “Every Thompson has a strong personality, but they all seem related, like cousins. They feel lived in and patinaed versus precious and too uniform.”
This is because Hyatt spends ample time finding the right design team and often works with them on several projects, as is the case with Dallas-based Studio 11 Design and New York practice Parts and Labor Design. According to Hyatt’s Alvaro Montoya Mora, studio head and regional vice president of lifestyle brands, the design process begins in-house, well before any plans are made or “any piece of furniture or fabric is selected. We know what the brand is, and we try to control that first line of design, ensuring we have the right partnerships so we can keep the storyline cohesive and don’t repeat ourselves,” he explains. “There’s the same vibe, but every location is different. How will the designer discover those layers in the location that can be translated to the Thompson DNA? We don’t need designers who make beautiful things just because it looks beautiful. We need designers who make meaningful things that can create a story.”
Villamil believes that another hallmark of Thompson design is its “unique point of view that resonates with people,” something he credits to the designers who “aren’t scared of mixing the high and low, of mixing street culture with what feels like luxury. Thompson design doesn’t take on tropes; there’s meaning behind all aspects of the design, and it’s built on a narrative,” but it’s a narrative that manifests subtly.
Consider the Thompson Buckhead in Atlanta, where Studio 11 Design illuminates a minimalist interpretation of Southern hospitality. “Because the property was a new-build with a contemporary shell, we wanted to play with the balance between innovation and tradition, Southern romanticism, and midcentury Brutalism,” says principal and founder Kellie Sirna.
Local artwork, like the canvas triptych that stands out in the private club Tesserae—one of the pieces commissioned by the studio’s art division Lou Verne—instills an ambiance of serenity and sophistication, Sirna notes, just as antiques and vintage items “convey the narrative of the location and give the project a sense of community. At the restaurant Dirty Rascal, we sourced one of the last remaining slabs of Nabucco marble natural stone for the bartop. It’s a one-of-a-kind discovery,” that Studio 11 paired with nostalgic penny-tile floors.
In the guestrooms, wide-plank wood floors are married with marble mosaics and a neutral palette invigorated by jewel-toned splashes. “The color story evokes a sense of tradition, while still maintaining a current perspective. From the iconic Georgia peach to warm ruby and gold tones inspired by classic jacquard textiles, there’s a distinct Atlanta feel,” adds Sirna. Her favorite element of the design is the interplay of light and shadow and of timeless textures and clean, modern forms throughout. “Overtones of midcentury minimalism create an illusion of opulence that resonates with the destination’s heritage,” she says.
New Meets Old
Among the highlights of a former parking lot in LoDo that is now the Thompson Denver, courtesy of DLR Group and Parts and Labor Design, is the brasserie-inspired Chez Maggy. Adorned with large forest prints and warm lighting it joins Reynard Social, the clubby, all-day sixth-floor lounge that maximizes views of the city.
Brian Murch, principal and senior hospitality designer in DLR Group’s Kansas City office, is pleased that the new-build blends right in with the historic neighborhood. “The Thompson reflects a hand-built look, rather than mass-produced, through our use of brick. The light-construction steel contrasted with the heaviness of the brick allows for larger windows on the corner streets and produces a lantern effect at night,” he explains, while “the exterior architectural design creates an icon for the 16th Street Mall and is a focal point for LoDo.”
For the brand’s first property in Europe, the Thompson Madrid, local firm Lopez y Tena Arquitectos took cues directly from the cosmopolitan capital. “Madrid today is such an attractive city, full of magnetism and energy,” says Penélope Tena, founding partner, architect, and head of interior design.
Situated within two historic buildings, the hotel is home to an all-day bakery and bistro, speakeasy-style cocktail bar, and rooftop hangout that shares space with an infinity pool and open-air courtyard day club that expresses the vibrancy Tena was so taken with.
“The use of noble and authentic materials was the essential idea in this project. How they feel and touch us, how surfaces light up when they are real,” Tena shares. “Materials had to capture the local landscape, so we used ones very close to Madrid and its surroundings, mostly Aragon marble and also Portuguese ones, combined with the warmth of European walnut wood and touches of real brass and copper to enhance some areas” and conjure “a place that surprises you, where you want to be, with its own character.”
Looking ahead, Thompson plans to leave a deeper imprint on Europe. A hotel designed by London-based Tara Bernerd & Partners, for example (the same firm behind the Thompson Hollywood), is slated for Vienna. Thompson will also make its debut in Asia Pacific in Shanghai. Back in the States, there are hotels on the boards in Palm Springs, Houston, Miami, and Charleston, South Carolina, as well as in Monterrey, Mexico, part of the mixed-use complex Torre IKON.
“Thompson used to be a very American brand, but now it’s going to have some twists,” says Montoya Mora. “I think it’s growing in the right direction.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s April 2023 issue.