6 East Exchange Street (corner of Exchange & Cedar; adjacent to the Fitzgerald Theater) St. Paul, MN 55101 | 651.222.0848 | https://www.celestestpaul.com
Writer's NOTE: I first visited (sited) this stately (dare I say, saintly) addition to downtown St. Paul shortly after it opened in November 2019. As we all know only too well, much has happened to our world in general and to the hospitality world in particular since then; specifically, as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, we seem to have turned the corner, people are once again getting out and about and enjoying the outdoors, visiting cities, states and places they’d put on hold, celebrating special occasions with family and friends.
With this in mind, it made sense to me that I check in with one of my favorite pre-COVID finds to see how they’re doing and update my previous site visit review – so here goes.
This Neo-classic National Historic landmark, built in 1908 under the guidance of Mother Celestine Howard by and for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet for $150,000, housed both a convent and St. Agatha’s Conservatory of Music and Art between 1910 and 1962. The structure was designed with an open air loggia on what was then the sixth floor that the nuns used as their recreation area.
The lead architect on the project was John Wheeler, who interestingly enough was the nephew of both Mother Celestine Howard and Archbishop John Ireland. Wheeler went on to design Derham Hall and other prominent buildings.
My husband, who attended Sacred Heart Catholic Grade School, has fond memories of riding the bus by himself from his family’s home in the Dayton Bluff area to the Conservatory for music lessons when he was 12 years old and shared happy memories during our site visit. During our visit, we also met a female guest who reminisced about her time there as a music student.
Purchased by a local developer in the 1960s, the building was converted to office space until the property was sold in 2017. (It was during this time that the loggia was topped off adding a 7th floor.)
New owners and operators, Rebound Hospitality, https://www.reboundhospitality.com a hospitality management company that specializes in restoring and converting historic properties into hotels had a different vision for the space. Flannery Construction, a women-owned business with expertise in historical restoration was the contractor.
The hardwood floors, woodwork, tile, stain glass window treatment, artwork and other artifacts and even the original elevator were all repurposed. The hallways are adorned with stunning replicas of beautifully framed Renaissance paintings said to have been painted by the nuns. It opened November 2019 as the Celeste St. Paul Hotel + bar.
And now ….
Named BEST HOTEL of 2020 by City Pages August 2020! In light of what was happening at the time, this had to be very inspiring to the owners and management.
Today, driving up to the hotel you would not think you were arriving at a hotel, but rather a residence or multiple-unit townhome complex -- with more of a NY or Boston neighborhood-like feel. Your first clue: there is no big, bold signage; and, second there are no doormen. You do, however, get a sense of the stateliness of the building from the five-globe lamp post to the curved double stairway leading up to the entry doorway immediately upon arrival. And, now adding to the building’s ambience you’ll find the front entrance flanked by two new outdoor cobblestone patios, both added in 2020. (There is secure ADA access off Cedar Street.)
This Beaux-art landmark is a step back in time, steeped in history – but with all the modern conveniences of today.
Once inside a feeling of calmness or serenity takes over and the rush of the day seems to evaporate. You get a sense of quiet respectfulness from the guests even when there’s quite a few people milling about and it’s truly refreshing. I think the nuns really left their mark.
The Main Floor
There’s a small registration area to the left of the foyer with wood flooring, area rug, a hand-painted and tiled working fireplace, antique wood registration desk, a desk and a couple comfortable wing-back upholstered chairs.
To the right of the foyer is the Celeste Parlor Bar (originally the convent’s parlor). The bar, open daily Monday-Saturday at 4pm, serves a delicious array of small plates. One of the bar’s specialties is deviled eggs – seemingly old-fashioned perhaps, but they’re really, really good.
The bar is a large wooden structure flanked by a gorgeous back-bar of subway tile size- mirror tiles. There’s seating at the bar for eight, four high-top tables along the outside wall, and a communal table for 12 in the center. The peacock and floral print wall covering and metal hoop chandelier add to the intimate atmosphere.
Adjacent to the bar you’ll find the Parlor (referred to as the Group Confessional) complete with a velvet curtain to divide the space if/when needed. With a mix of dark purplish velvet upholstered pew-like bench seating, vintage leather chairs and steamer trunks, the space can be used as overflow to the bar or as semi-private event space for 10-20 people.
Rounding out the public space on the first floor is the Celeste Board Room with seating for up to 14 at a wood-plank table and leather chairs. An antique buffet station in the Grand Hall offers complimentary coffee and water every morning.
Across from the Board Room is a small “phone room,” for private calls and business services.
The restrooms along the Grand Hall are quite amazing as far as restrooms go. They both have striking black and white patterned floor tiles, painted accent walls and stainless steel stalls. The men’s room has Instagram-worthy artwork above the urinal (I’m not kidding) and the women’s room has black subway tile walls and large gold framed mirrors.
There are 71 rooms total, 11 different room types with 8-13 rooms per floor: six queen Convent rooms; 9 double queens; the remainder, Kings.
Rooms vary in size and shape and furnishings; some have both soaker tubs AND glass-enclosed showers, while others have showers. Standard amenities in ALL rooms include:
50” Ultra-HD Smart TVs, Alexa concierge, USB ports on top of night stands and desks for easy access.
Mini fridge, glass-enclosed shower, refillable bath product bottles, iron/ board, hair dryer, coffee maker, desk or seating area, hanging closet, wood flooring, area rugs, and either wood or iron headboards, premium custom bed furnishings.
Five Two-bedroom Suites with Capitol views feature:
Center living room area with sofa, table and chairs, French doors, three Ultra-HD Smart TVs.
King-bedded rooms on either side of living room.
Center bathroom with double wash basins, glass enclosed shower, and soaker tub.
6th floor suite has 12’ ceilings with wood and black iron ceiling beams and French door windows.
The 550 square feet Chapel Suite on 2nd floor (part of the original chapel) is a stunning king-bedded suite with 18’ceilings, separate sitting area plus dining table and four chairs, French doors, large dressing room and separate bath with a soaker tub.
All suites include the following extra amenities:
Complimentary bottled water.
Honor bar, sleep kit, bath robes, Nespresso coffee maker, mini-fridge.
Alexa Hospitality Concierge, free WI-FI and complimentary Direct TV, HBO & Showtime along with apps to access your Hulu, Amazon Prime and other digital entertainment accounts.
Located on 3rd and accessible via stairs only are two Crash Pads each with two queen-size bunk beds; great for families, family reunions, a girl’s weekend or wedding parties.
Floors 2, 4 and 6 each have a hospitality station in the hallway with individual bags of ice and microwave.
Meeting space is a mix of traditional and non-traditional and one should look at the space with an open mind and let your creativity and flexibility work for you.
The Board Room on the first floor offers Capitol views with a traditional conference-style set that lends itself well as both dining and meeting space for 14. The room has tall windows providing natural lighting and is equipped with a 65” Ultra HD TV, wired and wireless Internet. For dinner, you could do cocktails in the Group Confessional adjacent to the bar and then proceed to dinner in the Board Room.
The Double Confessional work well as an informal get-together pre-dinner space but could work equally well as an information sharing or brain-storming session.
The wide Hallway corridors convert well to event space depending on preferred set. Floors 2-5 have windows with city views on Cedar Street; the 6th floor corridor is windowless. You would need to buy out the guest rooms on the floor of your choice. In some cases, you may want to rent furniture. The Two-bedroom Suites on these floors could work as additional breakout space.
The Chapel on 2nd at 900 square feet with 24’ ceilings, stunning stain glass trimmed windows and crystal chandeliers serves as breakfast space for 48 at two communal tables of 12 each + six tables of four, but works equally well for a formal wedding of up to 60, or post-wedding reception or a sit-down dinner when used in conjunction with corridor space on the same floor.
The Chapel Kitchen, adjacent to the Chapel Room is a full-service kitchen providing sausage and eggs and other breakfast items 6:30 to 9:30am Mon-Fri and 6:30 to 10am Sat-Sun. Breakfast is open to hotel guests only and is included in the room charge.
The Celeste culinary team provides food and beverage service for breakfast and bartender service and small plate options in the evening, and maintains a list of preferred caterers for banquet functions.
The Fitness Center is located Garden Level and is accessible 24/7 via room key. For your convenience, there is a treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, free weights, yoga mats; plus a re-hydration station just outside the Center.
Within just a few short months of opening, the hotel was forced to close its doors due to the pandemic from March to July 2020. As restrictions were relaxed, they were allowed to reopen, first for 3-4 days per week; since April 2021, they’ve been open 100%.
Occupancy levels are slowly increasing as well and are now at 30-40% – so things are looking up. Most of their business comes from pleasure travelers but they’re also seeing an uptick from the business side as well.
On the event side, they are experiencing a few weddings and as well as some private dinners.
They like others in the hospitality industry continue to have staffing issues. They are experiencing high pay rates for new hires while applicant levels remain low; although they recently reported making a “few good hires.”
Housekeeping protocols put in place at the start of the pandemic continue. Existing staff were trained on the new protocols; new hires are trained as they are brought on board. And, while rooms continue to be cleaned at the high standards set pre-pandemic, housekeeping staff no longer enter rooms during guest stays unless specifically requested by guests to do so.
Rooms are sanitized with advanced electrostatic disinfecting sprayers; high-touch items have been reduced but available upon request.
Parking is available in the World Trade Center Ramp, adjacent to the hotel with entrances on Cedar and Wabasha.
The Green Line runs along Cedar. The closest drop-off, pick-up point is 10th Street (steps away from main entrance.
For additional information or to request a proposal or arrange a site visit, contact Carl Deeken (firstname.lastname@example.org), General Manager or Laura Nadeen, Assistant General Manager at 651.222.0848 or visit their website at https://www.celestestpaul.com.
Prepared by Mary Jo Wiseman, CMP | Author, “The Meeting Planning Process: A Guide to Planning Successful Meetings”