When Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort opened its doors in 1929, the sprawling desert getaway at the base of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve soon gained a reputation as a favorite for Hollywood royalty like Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe and as a showcase for bold Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced architecture. Nearly a century later, the hotel has recently emerged from a 15-month renovation with a new look that carefully preserves its historic design while adding further touches of modern glamour.
Read on to learn about the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel’s one-of-a-kind architecture and design, its showstopping new bar and the accommodations that have been the temporary homes of U.S. presidents and Hollywood icons.
The Architecture and Design
Albert Chase McArthur, a Wright protégé, designed the hotel and recruited his mentor to be the lead consultant. The property was built entirely of “Biltmore blocks,” concrete bricks made from desert sand that were a riff on a textile block Wright previously used when constructing homes. The geometric patterns on the Biltmore blocks took inspiration from palm tree trunks. Six thousand blocks have been restored during the overhaul.
The luxury hotel enlisted Virserius Studio, PHX Architecture and Jim Smith of Serving the Nation, Inc. for the remodel and restoration. The team enhanced the original design in places like the lobby by softening the blocks with modern, plush seating in moss green and deep blue. It also echoed the block’s palm-tree pattern everywhere from the spa lounge to the cutout walls in the Saguaro Pool cabanas.
Discover more of Wright’s design talents while walking through the grounds. You will find sprite sculptures looking solemnly down with their arms crossed over their heart. Wright originally designed them in 1914 to guard Chicago’s Midway Gardens. After the gardens were demolished, the sprites disappeared. They were found years later buried on a Wisconsin farm. Wright’s widow had a mold of the so-called “Solemn Sprite” made and gave it to the Biltmore in 1985. Today, 19 of them keep watch over the Arizona Biltmore — see a flock in the Paradise Garden.
Near the lobby entrance, a colorful abstract stained-glass piece, Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers, pops among the gray blocks and wood floor. It originated from a colored pencil drawing that Wright made for the cover of Liberty Magazine in 1927, but the publication thought it was too avant-garde to print. Wright’s wife commissioned a Mesa, Arizona, artist to transform the drawing into stained glass and then donated it to the hotel.
While Wright’s aesthetic is the big draw, design aficionados come to check out other works throughout the property. Peek inside the Gold Room — the event space was the original dining room — to see the second-largest gold-leaf ceiling in the world (the Taj Mahal is No. 1). Its walls also hold murals from artist Maynard Dixon, famed for his depictions of the American West.
The cottages that dot the area immediately around the hotel’s Saguaro Pool date to the Biltmore’s opening. The Phoenix hotel was originally adults only, and children and their nannies were relegated to these accommodations. But the cottages eventually became one of the most-requested places to stay among the property’s 701 rooms. Ronald and Nancy Reagan even honeymooned in one of them.
The 15 cottages were updated during the renovation. While they are individually decorated, they all still bear traces of Wright’s influence, with a palette of earthy colors, materials like wood and stucco, black-and-white cactus photographs on the walls, cozy outdoor fire pits and white Biltmore bricks bordering the living room fireplace.
They also have upgraded amenities. Inside the spacious cottage suite, the attention to detail includes the often-overlooked tea set. Imported from France, the teacups and saucers are saturated in vivid contrasting colors, like orange set against seafoam and black against pink. There’s also a Smeg kettle. In the bathroom, the standalone oval tub begs for a soak.
It’s difficult to imagine the Arizona Biltmore without the new Spire Bar, named for the nearby 30-foot-tall, cactus-like spire that pays homage to Wright’s use of nature as a guiding force in his designs. The bar itself demands your attention from behind the lobby. It sprouts up like a palm tree, with its large canopy shading the ample gray and blue chairs and inviting fire pits. The heart of the resort, it’s where people go to read over coffee to the soothing sound of the bubbling fountains or unwind at night, when the bar’s tree trunk glows from red to purple.
Head there in the evening to soak up the lights from the bar, the twisted spire and the surrounding illuminated palm trees. Our favorite on the menu is the lobster club, which is piled high with meaty morsels, sriracha mayonnaise, heirloom tomatoes, crispy applewood bacon and avocado. Also order the Pink Eldorado (El Silencio mezcal, Aperol, Cointreau, agave, lime and grapefruit juices and grapefruit bitters), which deliciously balances smokiness and sour grapefruit.
While the Spire Bar is the most popular spot at the hotel, don’t miss the reimagined Wright Bar. Tucked inside the lobby, it’s much smaller, with just six seats. But it’s a glamorous alcove covered in stunning black, teal and navy peacock-feather-like tiles and topped with sleek black stone. You’ll also find art deco touches like the bar-top lamps, metalwork and flooring.
Take a seat and order the Tequila Sunrise — the cocktail was invented here in the 1930s by bartender Gene Sulit. Forget the sugary versions you’ve tasted before; this Tequila Sunrise (renamed A Tribute to Gene) is light and refreshing with Clase Azul Plata, Vedrenne Supercassis, lime juice and Fever-Tree club soda. Pair it with Spanish tapas like jamón Ibérico croquetas (mashed potatoes, bechamel and Spanish ham encased in a crispy panko shell).
Seven pools dot the hotel’s 39 acres. While the Catalina Pool was Marilyn Monroe’s favorite and the place where Irving Berlin wrote the song “White Christmas” (where did you expect?) you will want to visit the new Saguaro Pool, named after the 140-foot-tall cactus that stands just beyond its gates. The centrally located adults-only pool sits behind the Spire Bar and the event lawn. See nods to Wright in the Italian-mosaic-tiled pool (the architect was a fan of stained glass) and its bar, along with bright mosaic Bisazza pebble coffee tables from Dutch designer Marcel Wanders.
Loungers get snapped up quickly, so you may want to reserve one of the open-air cabanas, which come with a ceiling fan and mister, sofa, flat-screen TV, safe, refrigerator, bottled water and a fruit tray.
Families should opt for the renovated Paradise Pool, which recently debuted an impressive 65-foot triple water slide. And when the desert sun intensifies, parents can get a reprieve in 15 new air-conditioned cabanas with their own bathroom and shower or at the swim-up bar.
Housed in a new building, Tierra Luna Spa feels like a desert sanctuary. While the outdoor area is not yet completed — it will feature a water circuit — you will want to linger in the sand-colored relaxation lounge amid the Southwestern-style pillows, wood tables and flickering fireplace. The 12 treatment rooms offer services that specialize in desert botanicals (the Orange Blossom Ylang Exfoliation will perk you up with fragrant citrus oils and an agave dry brushing, polishing sugars and honey leave your skin supple and silky for days) and a cosmic connection that’s unique to these parts (like astrology readings and a crystal bar).
A new addition to the desert hotel, Latin-influenced Renata’s Hearth revolves around smoke, from the fire-roasted dishes to the menu of mezcals. Expect specialized service — guacamole is made tableside, a mezcal maven prepares your sips and a waitress dressed in a flight attendant uniform rolls her cart over to serve you a flight of tequila, mezcal, agaves or margaritas.
For dinner, make tacos with the tender smoked Wagyu brisket barbacoa and warm tortillas. It’s a large portion, since it’s for the table, so save room for the heavenly coconut tres leches cake with light-as-air Bavaria cream and coconut anglaise. Opt to sit outside in the charming courtyard in one of the curved banquets under the bright stars.