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Whaling at the Windsor Court with Tara Minamoto

Photo: Josh Brasted

As one of New Orleans' fanciest hotels, the Windsor Court often hosts some very well-heeled guests, people who can vacation to exotic places that sometimes seem to only exist in Bond movies, but come to New Orleans either because a major sporting event is being held here, or just because New Orleans is a fantastic agglomeration of humanity. Probably the most fantastic, according to Tara Minamoto, the Windsor Court's Customer Experience Manager. Minamoto would know, too, because she's lived all over the map throughout her 15 years in the hospitality industry.

A Bay Area native, she's found New Orleans to be one of the most hospitable cities in the U.S., a place that offers all the sophisticated activity of cosmopolitan life, while managing to retain a sense of intimacy and discretion. That turns out to be the perfect mix for pro athletes and film stars, the sorts of big spenders who are so immediately recognizable that they can hardly wade through a major media market without feeling like they're wearing a scarlet letter. Above all else, explains Minamoto, high-profile whales who come to New Orleans value discretion and privacy. And maybe a $10,000 cocktail, you know, just to keep it real.

What sort of events attract the really big spenders?

Really, all of the music events. And not just Jazz Fest, which of course brings in the big spenders just because of how that festival has transformed itself with all the VIP packages, but even the French Quarter Fest, which had been so local and now has blown up to be this huge thing for those who don't necessarily want to come for the big headliners, but still want to enjoy the city on a personal level. For that, the NOLA Food and Wine Experience is also blowing up. That brings in a lot of heavy hitters. We really hope, as a city, that that festival will get on the map with a lot of the larger festivals in Miami and Aspen, for instance.

Is the casino a big draw for whales staying at the Windsor Court?

Yes and no. It's a nice convenience to be located so close by, but, to my knowledge, Harrah's wants to keep its high rollers staying at Harrah's. Certainly, there are a lot of people who like to wander, and they appreciate the fact that we're just far enough outside of Bourbon, just close enough to the casino, but also tucked away in our own private oasis.

What city venues seem to lure in the biggest spenders? What are some of the restaurants and bars that whales flock to?

They try to get off the beaten path, especially by going to Magazine Street. People also definitely come here for the old traditional favorites, i.e. Galatoire's, Commander's, Antoine's. They also seek out the celebrity chefs that have garnered national attention, such as John Besh and Donald Link. Obviously, everyone wants to hit up those restaurants. There are just so many restaurants that have opened up since Katrina, really, and even since the last time I lived here. It's really hard to keep up. There are good little pockets up around Magazine and Uptown, and I think that people who really know the city love to venture out to the Marigny and the Bywater. That whole area is really blowing up. We're just seeing a lot more requests for things that are outside the box. They ask, "Where are the hidden gems?" You know, they have the money to go to all the big, established restaurants, but what they really want is to go to our concierge and find something that not everyone knows about so they can feel a little like it's their own personal gem.

Are big spenders usually coming to the city for business or pleasure?

I think a lot of big spenders come here just because they want to visit the city. New Orleans is on their bucket list, and, once they're here, they can check off all the big attractions. The conventions don't necessarily attract a lot of whales. Some of the medical conventions certainly do. When conventions come to town, we usually get guests from the higher echelon?people on boards of directors, execs, etc.

Do whales in different industries, i.e. professional athletes vs. actors, seek out different attractions or neighborhoods? Are film people hanging out in the Marigny while pro athletes stick to the CBD?

It really depends, I guess, on their familiarity with the city. There are so many different places to see that, if it's your first time here, you obviously want to hit the hottest spots, but if you are here often, you get away from the more conventional spots.

What's also great about this city is, because Hollywood South is really blowing up right now, we're seeing more and more film productions come through town. A lot of their shoots take place all throughout Louisiana, so they've been able to take advantage of not just what New Orleans has to offer, but also the attractions in the rest of the state.

Do you notice that people in the film industry really appreciate the discretion that being in New Orleans generally offers?

That's the great thing about New Orleans. Not only the hospitality people, but the locals in general respect that privacy, and appreciate the business that film people are bringing with them. We don't want to be L.A. and have paparazzi running all over the city?it wouldn't be New Orleans. I think people coming here are willing to pay for security, discretion and privacy. Just to be treated, certainly special, but also be able to blend in and go about your business. We don't have our staff rushing up, trying to snap a picture with a celebrity, and celebrities rarely have to worry about whether the details of their visit here are going to leak out to the press. That sort of privacy is something we take very seriously.

What are some of the most outrageous/expensive requests that you've gotten from whales since you've been here? Has anyone ever asked for, like 50 giraffes to be sent to their room?

If someone wanted 50 giraffes and they could all fit in a room, we could probably make that happen [laughs]. I think what we pride ourselves on is personalizing a guest's experience, whether that means me having to go out to the corner store late at night and buy some peanut M & Ms, or whether someone wants to charter a private yacht on Lake Pontchartrain?we can certainly arrange things like that if money is no object. I think what people are looking for is that personalized experience that money can't necessarily buy unless our staff is working hard and taking enough care to make it happen.

For whales coming from major media markets like New York or L.A. where everything is at their fingertips, 24/7, is there ever a sense that New Orleans doesn't have quite enough activity outside of festivals or other events?

I don't think so at all. I am the ambassador for New Orleans. I was born in the Bay Area, and have had the good fortune to live a lot of different places. I find New Orleans much more interesting than, say, San Francisco in terms of the culture and hospitality. The food, the music, sure, that's a given, but I think there's something really unique and special in New Orleans that you can't find anywhere else. It's so European-feeling as well, which is something that really no other U.S. city has to offer visitors.

Of some of the other places you mentioned living, what cities do compare most favorably to New Orleans?

Montreal is probably the closest. A lot of locals I know say if they were to live anywhere else, it'd be Montreal. Maybe Boston a little bit. New Orleans is great because it has all the elements of a big city, but also that small-town feel. Take the Superdome, for instance. There is no other stadium in a downtown proper where you can walk to restaurants, walk to bars, and walk right back to the stadium. A lot of other stadiums have these huge tailgating experiences, but you don't really need that in New Orleans because you can hang out in the French Quarter or the Warehouse District before the game. I hope what Super Bowl visitors appreciate about being here is that they can walk pretty much wherever they want in the downtown area.

How do you prepare for an event of the Super Bowl's magnitude?

On property, we've been eagerly anticipating this for a couple of months, and it's just a lot of meetings with the top brains at the hotel to try and understand the clientele, not only because it will probably be higher-spending, but also so we can make it local and give it that New Orleans flair without being cheesy or anything.

We increase staffing levels everywhere. In some respects, something like the Super Bowl is almost easier because everyone comes on Thursday and leaves on Monday, so we kind of know almost where people are going to be at any given time. The more information we have in terms of where guests are going to be and what their preferences are, the easier our job is.

A lot of hotels and restaurants have enhanced their menus just for the Super Bowl, but we haven't really made drastic changes because we feel like our menu is great as it is. Of course, people can come in and have a little extra foie gras [laughs].

But we do have some special additions. We have two levels of special cocktails. The first is the Key to the Court, which is a $2,000 Sazerac made with a Louis XIII cognac and garnished with a gold key. That includes a return stay for a club-level suite, round trip airfare or transfers, two spa treatments, welcome champagne, and then dinner in the Grill Room.

Then we have a $10,000 cocktail as well, which is the 1907 Madeira Cobbler. That includes a return trip for two nights in our penthouse as well as some tickets to Irvin Mayfield's Playhouse. It also comes with a gold key so, you know, you have a memento other than a little buzz.

· Windsor Court [Official Site]

Windsor Court

300 Gravier St, New Orleans, LA 70130