Secrets kept by Seattle concierge
There was this Hollywood couple staying at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Seattle some years back. No, Chuck Watts isn’t going to tell you their names. But you’ll keep asking just the same.
Anyway, Watts was just about to clock out from his shift as the hotel’s concierge at about 10:30 p.m. when this couple — no, he won’t tell you who they were — called down from the presidential suite. They wanted him to purchase “a particular object” which could only be obtained at an adult store near Pike Place Market.
No, Watts isn’t going to tell you what it was, only that he delivered it to their room, and that they gave him a nice tip.
“Oh, they did,” he said, smiling at the memory. “Yeah, they did.”
You can try all you want to get big names and back stories out of Chuck Watts. It just isn’t going to happen.
But what he will share is an endless stream of recommendations for restaurants and activities. The best places to get a suit tailored or a chipped tooth repaired. He can charge your phone or find a place to board your dog. All with an easy, no-problem manner. And if you need a particular object, well, just ask.
Watts, 55, has been a concierge in Seattle since 2001, when he started at the Grand Hyatt, then moved to the hotel chain’s Olive 8 property in 2009.
Now, he is the lead concierge at the brand-new Hyatt Regency Seattle, the largest hotel in the Pacific Northwest, boasting 1,260 guest rooms tucked into 45 stories. It’s a soaring, white, shiny place that, one recent morning, was teeming with techies from Tableau, who streamed up the escalators, heads hung over their phones, or sprawled on the lobby’s chairs and couches, laptops open and glowing.
And over by the front desk was Watts, who seems to have all those apps and software beat. For he has managed to keep up with every restaurant closing and opening, every store, every activity — a skill that no Yelp or TripAdvisor can replace.
“The city isn’t overwhelming, but it has changed a lot,” Watts said. “Years ago, I didn’t have to be so up on bus schedules. But no one is renting cars. When they think of Seattle, they think of public transportation.” Or Uber and Lyft.
To stay current, Watts attends soft openings of restaurants, takes tours of wineries and marijuana stores, goes to clubs like Neumos and The Crocodile and makes sure to revisit stalwart tourist stops like the Space Needle. He is part of a group of Seattle concierges that regularly meets to walk around different neighborhoods, and sometimes he wanders streets on his own time, notebook in hand.
“I know the city more and more every day,” Watts said, scanning the lobby.
He also does a lot of homework, poring over the new exhibits at MoPOP and MOHAI and Seattle Art Museum — all hugely popular in the rainy wintertime.
“I also send them to the free museum, the Frye Art Museum,” Watts said. “And they love first Thursdays” when art galleries stay open late, en masse.
His typical uniform is a short gray blazer and black jeans. On the top of each of his lapels, he wears a gold key pin: Les Clefs d’Or, the national organization of hotel-lobby concierges, with 650 members in the United States and 4,000 in the world.
He was “keyed” in 2007.
What makes him so good?
“I think I have a positive personality,” Watts said, then paused. “We have had a fair number of guests visiting people in the hospital, or who have someone undergoing cancer treatment at the Seattle (Cancer) Care Alliance” or the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
“Instead of gloom and doom, I try to be a bright point in their Seattle experience,” Watts said.
He remembered when Air France started flying out of Sea-Tac and hosting a group of French flight attendants at the Grand Hyatt. He arranged for them to go skiing, among other things. But his greatest coup was finding a miniature jumpsuit for one of their children — he remembered there was a pilot store by Boeing Field.
Technology has, obviously, changed things, and mostly for the better. He can make reservations online on sites that allow special access for concierges, then simply text guests back with reservation confirmations and other reminders.
He has some rules to live by: Be knowledgeable about the area. Don’t give out incorrect information. And don’t wing anything.
“You say, ‘You know what? That’s a great question. Let me get back to you.’ And then you look it up or reach out to another concierge.”
Some of Seattle’s mainstays haven’t lost their luster. The Space Needle remains a big draw, and when guests learn that the crew from, “Deadliest Catch” pass through the Ballard Locks, they’re ready to go — and come back amazed at seeing salmon running.
For good food, he can always count on the Metropolitan Grill: “I never hear anything negative,” he said. “And thank God they went and renovated. The guests love it.”
Canlis, too: He once booked the storied Seattle restaurant — in its entirety — for a Saudi king, who returned multiple times during a stay here.
Behind the concierge desk, things are still coming together. “It’s just brochures, brochures, brochures,” Watts said. But there is also water and phone chargers, pens and discount cards.
Quick quiz: Can he get a reservation at Westward in July? He pauses. “I know a couple of people at Westward.”
Could he get guests tickets when “Hamilton” was in town? “I could do it,” he said. “But they had to pay.”
Where to get a steak at 10:30 at night? “El Gaucho is serving late.”
Watts got to know the city early, and on foot. As a kid growing up in Federal Way, he walked to Highway 99 to wait for the 174 bus into downtown Seattle. He and his friends used to stop off at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to roam the terminals and slide down the long escalator railings, tucking travel-insurance brochures into their chest pockets to throw off suspicion. Then it was back on the bus for Seattle, where they wandered around and feasted on fish and chips and chowder at Ivar’s.
Years later, he would revisit the airport every day as a van driver for the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where he got a lot of praise for his customer service.
“I always knew so much about downtown,” he said.
Now, he’s quick to adjust to the needs of guests like the ones who teemed through the hotel.
“They’re different,” he said of his younger, tech-minded guests. “They’re not as demanding. They need assistance, but it’s more with their common sense. You know, ‘Should I just walk to Georgetown?’ ‘No, I don’t think it’s a good idea.’ “
But he has no problem answering their inquiries about where to buy marijuana. There are pot shops within walking distance and kush tours that pick guests up at the front door and bring them back, grinning.
Has he tried those, too? The kush tours?
Watts smiled. He’s not going to tell you that, either.