MOST judges have one thing in common: cynicism. They have seen it all before, and the term "unique" is not in their dictionary.
But such rules were consigned to the dustbin when it came to deciding on the 1995 Hotel of the Year, 42 The Calls in Leeds, where innovation, combined with practicality, is the key to success.
And winning the Hotel of the Year Catey adds to its unique achievements. It is the first townhouse hotel to be so honoured, breaking thehold on the award established bythe big-name five-stars over the past few years.
In doing so, it had to beat off stiff opposition. The final round of judging was a three-way tussle involving Cliveden, whose new general manager, Stuart Johnson, is already making his mark, and London's Halkin, where general manager Nicholas Rettie has established a reputation second to none.
The brainpower behind 42 The Calls comes from former London-based restaurateur Jonathan Wix, whose vision it was to turn a derelict warehouse in a run-down industrial area of Leeds into one of the country's most vibrant hotels.
Wix bought the property for £775,000 in 1989 and, with the luck (or foresight) that seems to bless many entrepreneurs, the surrounding area almost immediately blossomed into a sought-after area for business development.
Some two years and £2.8m later it opened for business as a 39-bedroom hotel with an impressive range of guestroom facilities, a novel approach to food and beverage and a professional yet friendly approach to service.
Wix's skill was to provide all the facilities required by today's business guest, such as fax points and three telephones, coupled with a homely atmosphere featuring original beams and brickwork and bold, dramatic fabrics.
One of his most commented-upon gimmicks was the installation of a two-way room-service cupboard in every bedroom, allowing breakfast and newspapers to be passed into the room without the guest having to open the door.
Avoiding the obvious dangers of a dedicated in-house restaurant, Wix turned to well-known restaurateur Michael Gill for help in converting the premises next door into the popular Brasserie 44. More recently, the two collaborated in bringing one of Yorkshire's best-known restaurant names to the hotel in the shape of Pool Court at 42.
One judge said 42 The Calls "has in many ways put Leeds on the map" and ought to be used as"a role model for city-centre hotels of the future".
Another commented: "There is a sense of innovation about the hotel based on clearly defined customer requirement that is readily apparent from the moment you walk in the front entrance."
This, the judges noted, filtered down through to other areas of the business such as sales and marketing, where the bright and effective brochure design made a pleasant change from industry norms.
Where the entire panel agreed was that Wix's concept, although unique in many ways, was something to which others could realistically aspire.
"There are few hoteliers in the country who would not be able to take something away from this hotel and radically improve their own operations and profitability," said one member of the panel.
In a year of outstanding candidates, it was that quality which singled out 42 The Calls as a worthy winner of the 1995 Hotel of the Year Catey. n