It’s No Mirage – The Egyptian is Back on Grand Avenue
There’s a new oasis on Grand Avenue, offering more than a watering hole to Phoenicians and visitors alike. The historic Egyptian Motor Hotel has been restored by the longtime owners of Las Palmas and Rebel Hospitality, bringing the fun and kitsch of its midcentury roots together with modern amenities and in its 49 guest rooms.
“It’s a real mashup in design,” says Rebel Hospitality principal Gene Kornota. Located in the Grand Avenue Arts District, at 765 Grand Ave., there’s as much fun in store for locals with the addition of Egyptian Live, a 250-seat year-round entertainment venue and outdoor bar, along with the new brick-and-mortar home of food truck favorite Chilte, helmed by Executive Chef Lawrence Smith. Guests can enjoy that entertainment from their balconies, or stream it from the comfort of their room. We caught up with Kornota to find out how they’ll make this newly restored motor hotel a mecca for entertainment, dining and hospitality, all under one roof.
Q&A: Gene Kornota on Revamped Egyptian Motor Hotel
Let’s talk design. How did you balance maintaining the original character of the hotel while making it feel modern?
We’ve always wanted to respect what was in a property. In this case, it was pretty clear. The idea was to create this oasis. The Egyptian was the original name when this was built. The sign had been butchered. The palm tree on top was gone. We decided the Egyptian would just be a great name to bring back. So it started with, ‘let’s restore the sign, because it’s really important to bring that character of a roadside motel with a big neon sign, and try to keep what we can. Then, do the midcentury modern nods in the room along with some rock-and-roll music components, and it just went from there. When we partnered with Chilte, they provided some of the south-of-the-border inspiration, but in a very contemporary way.
Why restore the Egyptian now?
We’ve been in hospitality for a very long time. We’ve been wanting to do a fun motel. We saw this vision of repurposing the parking lot, creating a 250-person venue and drive it with the restaurant and the bar and make it more like an experience.
This is a pretty good-sized site, and motels like this in the urban core, so close to downtown, are at risk of really being razed for a bigger project. The key to saving the motel was repurposing the parking lot into this 250-person bar and venue. We call it Egyptian Live.
How did the location of the hotel, Grand Avenue, inspire the design?
When we learned that it was part of the Grand Avenue Arts District, it played a huge role in deciding to do this here. The support from local merchants and locals on Grand Avenue was really high. We couldn’t do it without them.
Anchoring Grand Avenue on the south end, we feel that this will incubate and make Grand Avenue that much more interesting. What I’m hearing from everyone is there’s a lot of great hope for Grand Avenue on the culinary scene and on the arts scene and a lot of people are wanting to be on Grand Avenue, and I think this will help, for sure.
You all have worked hard to keep it local.
The arts isn’t just about two-dimensional or sculptural; it’s about performing arts, and the idea is (Egyptian Live) is going to be substantially local—of course we will seek to do bigger acts and national acts—but mostly local, anything from a single musician to live art or comedy or even drag shows.
What’s great about this particular setup is (the Egyptian’s) V-configuration, where every room has a view of the stage and a view of the activity. When you arrive, we want it to be a great elevated experience, but you may not have the quietest night.
There’s a strong undercurrent of music throughout, and you see it in the rooms, too, with Marshall Bluetooth speakers and acoustic guitars.
It was all driven by (the Egyptian Live). I don’t know when the stage idea came up, but when it did, it seemed to be natural to tie it in. It’s this big mashup of stuff.
What sets the Egyptian apart—how would you describe it?
I think it’s the overall vibe. I guess in a word it would be fun, approachable, genuine, unpretentious.
What’s a design rule you live by, and how did it play out at the Egyptian?
In this case, there weren’t any real rules other than about amenities. It was important for us to have, for example, a high-fidelity audio component, so that people can play their own concert. The quality of the amenities, whether it’s the bath products or the shower experience or the bed experience, those were important factors to our traveler.
So, no more coin-op beds, like there once were?
We actually did a lot of research on it, and our objective was to get the vibrating beds—just for fun! When you checked in you’d be given this token. The thing about these beds is the way they were designed is they were made to attach to a spring bed, and it would have meant a degradation in the quality of the bed, from what we were seeking. We (would have) had to make them, because they don’t make them any more. They’re easy to make, but we actually thought about it, just for that kind of fun.
What has been most challenging about the project?
The biggest issues have been COVID and all the ramifications from it; really it was just the timing. In some ways we’re blessed we didn’t open before COVID.
What’s been most rewarding?
It’s in beautiful, sunny Phoenix, so that’s rewarding in itself. We started getting excited about the comments and the feedback and realizing it’s going to be a great product and it’s going to be busy, so we started to up the game a little bit as we’ve been going along.
Do you have a favorite aspect of the Egyptian?
I’m most excited about the food and beverage program. Chilte started about a year ago as a pop up and they gravitated to a food truck, and this is their first brick-and-mortar location. Their inspiration is elevated, artisanal street food inspired by their travels. There’s a to-go window that will service the venue with a tailored menu that is more suited for travel or takeout. Lawrence Smith, our executive chef and owner, is incredible.
I also get excited about the stage and what that can bring in terms of the overall experience. We planted 15 additional palms to give it a bit more of an oasis feel.
One of the features that I’m most excited about: What we’re doing is we’re creating draperies that are going to fall between the rooms and it will feel like a cabana. You’re going to have a couple of chairs and a table and then you’ve got the drapery, and this is your way into the cabana. I like that a lot; it privatizes the room a little bit.
Is this the summer that travel officially bounces back?
We have more on the books this year at our other hotels than we’ve had in the last two years. It’s definitely going in the right direction.