The guest with the exotic name wanted opera, and Jerry Grymek was going to give him opera, even if it meant cordoning off a section of one of the city’s busiest hotel lobbies and subjecting everyone in it to an aria that evoked howls, plus a few whimpers and shrieks.
This was no ordinary guest, though, and Grymek is no ordinary concierge. The eternally cheerful Grymek is the dog concierge at the Hotel Pennsylvania, which each February becomes home to hundreds of canines, including an opera-loving Spinone Italiano, who are competing to be crowned best in show by the Westminster Kennel Club.
“I wouldn’t say it’s chaotic, but I’m running around nonstop,” Grymek said as he ran around nonstop to accommodate the needs of four-legged guests for the event being held Monday and Tuesday. By check-in time, pet crates of varying sizes, luggage carts bearing pet beds and grooming devices, and little strollers carrying little dogs filled the lobby.
Outside, vans bearing canine competitors jockeyed for position curbside to unload their prized passengers, who were oblivious to the icy wind and startled looks of passersby suddenly surrounded by glossy, shaggy and curly-haired dogs of all sizes.
Grymek, who does public relations for the 1,700-room hotel when he is not on dog duty, looked calm as he zigzagged through the crowds. On his remarkably hair-free gray suit (“I have a lot of lint brushes,” Grymek explained), his usual name tag was replaced by one reading “Doggie Concierge.”
He was in full dog mode as he answered questions, such as how long he has been doing this. “Two dog years,” Grymek replied. That’s 14 years to humans.
“We welcome all animals with open paws,” Grymek added, peppering his dog talk with PR pitches for the 18-story hotel, whose location across the street from Madison Square Garden, where the best in show is crowned, makes it ideal for dog competitors even if human customers give it less than stellar online reviews.
The hotel advertises itself as the city’s largest animal-friendly hotel, and it takes all pets, from a bat that belonged to a performer to a 300-pound bull mastiff.
But the hotel’s pet friendliness is displayed best during the days surrounding the Westminster competition, one of the world’s most prestigious dog shows. This year it will feature more than 2,700 dogs from 48 states and 14 countries. Grymek said several hundred of them will stay at the Hotel Pennsylvania. And many have requests.
There are requests for red carpets to be laid out for arriving dogs. Done.
There are requests to track down cheeseburgers, filet mignon and special meatballs for dogs. Done.
There are requests for dog treadmills. Done.
There is a dog spa with grooming stations, bathtubs and a large, sawdust-covered area for dogs to answer nature’s call if they do not want to brave the cold. The live performance by an opera singer, in 2012, was arranged for a competitor named Ecco D’Oro, who apparently found arias calming before entering the ring at Westminster.
Nothing fazes Grymek, who notes that show dogs are not prone to temper tantrums, lobby brawls or room trashing, as are human celebrities.
“They’re trained so well. They’re groomed. They smell impeccable,” he said as a news conference introducing dog breeds to reporters was wrapping up. “We could have an accounting conference here next week and no one would know it!”
As if on cue, a dog squatted on the carpet and did what excited dogs sometimes do. “Oh, I stepped in it!” a woman exclaimed as her high-heeled shoe plunged into the pile.
Grymek quickly called housekeeping. “I’m talking, like, number two,” he said to the person who picked up the phone.
“ ‘S’ happens,” Grymek said good-naturedly.
Grymek speaks and walks at a rapid-fire pace, all the while texting, emailing and talking on his cellphone. If he were a dog, he might be a Jack Russell terrier.
This is not a job Grymek applied for. It fell into his lap like an eager Chihuahua as his PR duties expanded to include catering to guests’ pet-related needs. Grymek became such an expert at dealing with the dogs that he was dubbed the dog concierge.
Grymek has no dogs of his own, because they require time and attention that his hectic lifestyle does not allow. Instead, he and his wife keep guinea pigs, and he whipped out his phone to show a picture of the pair.
“I love all animals,” said Grymek, stopping to greet a woman pushing two cats in strollers through the lobby. The cats were there to take part in a pet fashion show at the hotel, which would raise money for animal causes. Neither seemed troubled by the dogs surrounding them. Later, a woman strolled by pushing a carriage with two pet chickens, one dressed up for the fashion show.
“We’ve seen it all,” Grymek said.
The hotel is able to meet most requests, he said, though one proves elusive to all but a single lucky guest during the days surrounding Westminster. That is the request to stay in Room 213, which is considered lucky because it housed a beagle named Uno in 2008. Uno won best in show.
Grymek admits to a tinge of sadness when the competition ends and the dogs head home.
For now, though, Grymek was focused on getting dogs to their rooms and bracing himself for later in the weekend, when the bulk of the competitors would pour in.
“It’s going to be a doghouse,” he said.