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Secrets of the Concierge: James Jolis, The Michelangelo Hotel, New York

Locations in this article:  New York City, NY Paris, France

We all know a good concierge can make the difference between a run-of-the-mill trip and an exceptional travel experience. With thousands of restaurants, shows, activities and tourist traps waiting to take your travel dollars, New York is one town where you need an honest concierge’s guidance. We sent Jamie Stringfellow to sit down with James Jolis, member of Les Clefs D’Or and the concierge at The Michelangelo in Times Square, for almost 13 years. Jolis is probably best known for his ability to get hotel guests tickets to the hottest Broadway shows, but there’s more to his job and his life story.

What career path led you to this place?
I was born and raised in Paris, and we spoke French, Spanish and English in the house, and later I studied Italian, German and Russian. Two things I wanted to do in life was music and languages.  I did music for 20 years. I ended up as a background singer for Barry Manilow, Bette Midler and others for 10 years, and co-wrote Barry’s Top 10 UK hit “Stay.”There’s a lot of wear and tear on a band member on the road…I moved on to the hotel business and used my languages with the European crowd at the Mayfair Hotel, then came here in 1997. I still use my music skills: I’m in charge of the playlist here.

What inborn talents or cultivated qualities make you a good concierge?
Well, you have to like people––not every concierge does. You have to be realistic, and not promise to do too much, or something you can’t deliver on. I think it helps to be able to put yourself in the client’s position and think: What would I want to hear?
My languages definitely help!

Tell me about some unusual guest requests you couldn’t (or could) fulfill.
Well, the oddest was the Italian actor who went to rehab in Sedona, Arizona, and called me from there asking if I would ship him a case of Champagne! You cannot make this kind of stuff up! Well, I didn’t do it.

But my favorite was the American woman psychiatrist who came to see three Broadway shows, all of which I had seen. She wanted me to tell her the ending of each piece. She said, “I am a Freudian and I like to start with the final result and work my way backwards.” So I told her.

Are there any secrets or historical trivia about the Michelangelo that guests might not know about?
Yes- it used to be the Taft Hotel, and was originally built in 1926 as the Manger Hotel, which has nothing to do with mangers in Bethlehem, but everything to do with the Manger brothers, who were real estate developers. The Manger had over two thousand rooms when it opened.

When it was the Taft, a little old lady with white hair would sit in the middle of the lobby with a sign on her desk that said “Ask Miss Allen.” And you could ask her about theater tickets, or what to do in New York.