GM Robert Glock is counting on art to make this urban castle into a place to congregate.
BALTIMORE—The Hotel Brexton is an urban castle, a ruddy brick building sporting two turrets and a triangular footprint, which dates to 1881 and has a place on the Historic Hotels of America registry. But GM and Innkeeper Robert Glock is looking to the future, rather than the past.
Glock aims to make the Brexton not just a place to stay, but the place to congregate in the neighborhood of Mount Vernon, a National Landmark Historic District and the “artistic and cultural hub of Baltimore.”
His pathway for making the 29-room, seven-story Brexton the talk of the town is art, a natural choice for such a quirky and eye-catching structure.
“We have amazing artists here; I’m turning this hotel into a gallery,” Glock said. “We have local art on all the walls in the six hallways and also along the spiral staircase. We hang that art every two months with an artist reception.”
The Brexton is a “non-box,” he said, one of two true boutiques in the city. The other is The Ivy, an 18-room hotel with a restaurant called Magdalena. But the Ivy, which underwent a $20 million renovation, is far more luxurious, befitting rates of $475 to $1,400 a night; rates at the LGBTQ- and pet-friendly Hotel Brexton are $150 to $300, Glock said.
Before coming to the Brexton, his first hotel position, in April 2015, Glock owned and operated a restaurant in Hartford County, north of Baltimore, for eight years.
“I was going to open another restaurant, but I really wanted to come back to Baltimore,” he said. “I really love this city. I liked hospitality, I didn’t necessarily want to go back to being a comptroller or CFO, I wanted more hands-on. One of my professional and personal goals is to own a small inn or bed and breakfast, preferably with a small restaurant or café. This is it. But I also really wanted to be in a culturally diverse city environment.”
Glock works with a staff of about a dozen, including two housekeepers and a front desk running 24/7. He’s choosy about the people representing the Brexton, which opened in 2010 after a $5.5 million renovation. For Glock, the trick is to develop a culture in which his staff feels as invested as he is.
“I pick them based on their natural personality and how they perform in terms of interaction with the guest, and I also pick them based on their desire to work in a non-box hotel,” he said. “My desk people, I expect them to act like a concierge, not just desk staff.” Glock, who teaches entrepreneurship at Harford Community College, wants “people who want to upsell, to deliver the experience.”
That means hiring staff who pay attention to detail, he said, such as keeping blinds open during the day so the sun can beam in, changing lightbulbs, and remembering to shut the window in a drafty upper-floor hallway when it’s cold outside.
Running a property with such history—Wallis Simpson lived there when she was 11 and 12, years before she married Edward, the Duke of Windsor, and as an American scotched his ambition to be king of England—can be daunting.
“I don’t have a lot of storage here,” Glock admitted. “Everything I have is kind of tight. One of the challenges here is that we maximize all of the space that we have.”
Ambitions and occupancy
The Brexton certainly requires a hands-on boss. And it helps to be artistic, particularly in Mount Vernon, a neighborhood just north of downtown.
“We are the most unique hotel in Baltimore, and in a very high-profile neighborhood, so it allows me to do creative things with the property,” Glock said. His ambition is to make it “the artsiest, most interesting hotel in Baltimore.”
If he could, he’d also add a restaurant, which would require reconfiguring the lobby floor and eliminating some guestroom, he said.
For 2016, Glock said occupancy at the hotel averaged close to 70%.
“(That) is actually pretty good for a property like this, and it continues to grow,” he said. “We’re outperforming last year almost every month; it comes because of the effort to really market the property and to deliver with excellence.”
Key to the Brexton’s guest mix are parents visiting students at the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art, and out-of-town faculty from the college.