The New York Times
February 13, 2006
At This Hotel, Just Bark for Service
By JOHN BRANCH
Outside the Hotel Pennsylvania on Saturday, across the street from Pennsylvania Station and Madison Square Garden, three lanes of Seventh Avenue were clogged with taxis, minivans, limousines and sport utility vehicles. Dodging the traffic police and cart-wielding bellmen, they angled left for a spot near the door. Then they stopped to let out dogs and their belongings, and the people who tend to them.
Upstairs, 1,000 of the 1,700 rooms inside the hotel are filled this week with dogs. Downstairs, a corner of a ballroom â€” partly separated by curtains for privacy â€” is covered with wood shavings and divided into his and her "canine loos." The area is flanked by Jog A Dog treadmills on one side, by a dog masseuse and a pet psychic on the other. Every need, from the physical to the metaphysical, has seemingly been considered.
The center of the action is the Hotel Pennsylvania's stately lobby with its marble floors. And under a giant chandelier, standing in a footprint of calm amid a swirling sea of dogs and travelers, crates and luggage, is the doggie concierge.
No hotel welcomes the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show the way the Hotel Pennsylvania does. And no person welcomes the dogs the way Jerry Grymek does.
"I welcome them with open paws," he says.
Grymek spends most of the year working in public relations for the hotel. But for a week or so each February, as the two-day dog show and its 2,500 entries approach, he sharpens his repertory of dog-themed puns and puts on one of his dog-themed ties â€” subtle, as dog-themed ties go â€” and a nametag that reads simply, Doggie Concierge.
In a hotel filled with some of the world's most famous and pampered dogs, there are no closets full of Milk-Bones, no emergency stashes of squeaky toys. But there is a man standing in the lobby willing to be licked endlessly on the chin by dogs and entertain their needs, as determined by their owners.
"They really come fully equipped, so there aren't too many strange requests," Grymek said.
One owner asked for a red carpet at the entrance. ("You see a dog come in on the red carpet," Grymek said, "and other dogs say, uh-oh.") Another asked for seven McDonald's cheeseburgers without onions; another wanted pizza. Some ask for cases of specific brands of bottled water, others for extra cots and pillows.
Around the lobby, where the check-in line is long, dogs are tethered to their owners â€” or the other way around. Some wait in a quiet corner; others parade through the crowd. Old friends from the dog-show circuit greet with hugs; their dogs exchange sniffs.
Luggage carts are packed with suitcases, jugs of water and yellow canvas bags that say Pedigree, a sponsor's tote apparently handed out somewhere along the circuit. Some carts hold as many as eight crates filled with dogs. Every few minutes a barkfest breaks out, momentary dog conversations that splinter the steady hum of the lobby, like those that disrupt quiet neighborhoods at night.
Grymek's job is to keep order amid the chaos, and to keep everyone smiling.
"I tell people I do public relations, but for two weeks out of the year, I do pooch relations," he said. In his pocket is his business card that says, Jerry Grymek, Pooch Relations (PR).
When the dogs and the people who show them arrive, it is not only the busiest time of year for the hotel, but also the most interesting.
"It's definitely a good crazy," the bellman Frank Esposito said. "It breaks up the monotony of our winter."
The hotel opened at Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street in 1919. The Westminster dog show began in New York in 1877 and has been held in all the incarnations of Madison Square Garden. But it was about five years ago, Grymek said, that the hotel fully recognized that its February business was limited only by its willingness to cater to the dogs. Many hotels do not allow pets. Some allow only those under a certain size.
The Hotel Pennsylvania is open to anything.
"We noticed that we started getting more and more requests," Grymek said. "For example, 'Where can I take my dog to relieve itself?' "
The hotel set up the area of wood shavings downstairs.
"It gets cleaned thoroughly, very thoroughly," Grymek said, as if anticipating the next question about whether there may be, say, a wedding reception held in this very spot the next weekend. "And it eliminates the potential for accidents in the hallways, rooms and in the lobby."
A woman and her dog approached with a request for turf.
"Oh, like AstroTurf," said Grymek, his mind pondering the practicality.
"No, turf," she said. "Grass. Real grass."
Grymek raised his eyebrows and nodded a hmmm type of nod. When the woman walked away, he said, "I'm not sure how we'd do that, but that will be something we'll talk about for next year."
The hotel has two areas set aside for vendors who sell dog-related goods and services. On the main level, booths offer everything from high-end shears to old tennis balls. Downstairs, near the psychic (there is a competing one upstairs) and a woman offering aromatherapy for dogs, vendors sell leashes, oil paintings, dog-themed clothing and jewelry, dog portraits and "ice cream style" dog treats (with Braille on the packaging, for guide-dog owners).
One room has 13 grooming tables and hair dryers, another has four bathtubs. A closet is filled with wood shavings for the loos.
Grymek called the area a doggie spa. "That's s-p-a-w," he said.
It is this week.
* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company