The Dorian Hotel in Calgary Is Collecting Guests’ Confessions

A chance to channel your inner Dorian Gray

June 29, 2023 6:36 am
"Mark of the Craft"
"Mark of the Craft"
The Dorian

All kinds of things go on behind hotel room doors. At the stylish new Dorian, Autograph Collection hotel in Calgary, Alberta, however, guests are being given the opportunity to bare their souls and disclose what indiscretions went on during their stay — or at any point in their lives.

The Concept

The Dorian draws its concept from The Picture of Dorian Gray, Irish writer Oscar Wilde’s 19th-century novel about a beautiful young man who bargains his soul to pursue a hedonistic life unscathed, while his hidden portrait changes to show the evidence of his deeds. 

Now, laid on their pillow next to a peacock feather — one of the hotel’s Wilde symbols — guests at the premium lifestyle hotel will find link to an anonymous digital confession box via the QR code on a card. “We’re all collectors of guilt and mistakes, just like Dorian Gray,” the invitation reads. “Free your conscience and anonymously confess a solemn secret.”

Should they want to, guests can make “a confession, a secret or anything else [they’d] like to reveal” once every 24 hours during a stay. The kicker? In exchange for speaking their truth, they get to look at another guest’s anonymous admission and rate it from “permissible” to “deplorable.”

Further, in keeping with each Autograph property’s unique “Mark of the Craft” experience, a framed, digital picture of an imagined Dorian Gray hangs in the lobby. Depending on how guests’ transgressions are rated, Gray goes from velvet-clad sophisticate to decrepit monster, something in between or even back to handsome. The portrait has a wide variety of looks and changes constantly.

"Mark of the Craft"
“Mark of the Craft”
The Dorian

Amy Turner-Keller holds what’s probably the coolest job description in hospitality: chief confession screener at the Dorian. (Since Marriot International was founded by a Mormon family, the Dorian doesn’t use the word “sin” to describe misdeeds.)

According to Turner-Keller, the whole process is confidential. She doesn’t know which guest or room number is behind a secret. An algorithm makes changes to the portrait once Turner-Keller approves a submission. But while Turner-Kelly wants the hotel to keep with its bold and eccentric vibe, she draws the line at sharing confessions that include vulgarity, referencing harm or involving explicit sex or religion.

“I think a lot of them are real,” she says of the confessions. She can’t resist checking regularly to see what’s come in, even after she’s clocked out for the day. She had a very busy night when a group of 40 arrived at 2 a.m. and started sharing secrets. Gray went from handsome to horrific within a few hours.

That said, not all of the revelations are shocking, or perhaps even credible. The one I saw in exchange for my shared secret, for example, was from someone who said they feed dog boogers to their partner for annoying them.

Predictably, many of the divulgences are about affairs, or admissions of still-simmering feelings for an old love, says Turner-Keller. One guest admitted they found a parent’s lost wallet in their car and returned it — minus the cash. Among Turner-Keller’s favorites was the guest who bragged they’re a prolific thief who had already stolen many items from the hotel. (Coincidentally, the most often-lifted item from rooms is the beside copy of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.)

The Stay

The 27-floor Dorian opened in July 2022, the first newly built hotel in downtown Calgary in more than 10 years. The lower floors house the 169-room Courtyard by Marriott Calgary Downtown, with the Bistro Novelle dining room on the second level. The 137 rooms on the upper floors are the Autograph collection. 

Prologue, off the Dorian lobby, serves breakfast, lunch and cocktails. There’s a marketplace of room amenities for purchase in glass-fronted cabinets, from Aesop body products to a clothes steamer. Even at Prologue, the artwork — which includes a modern portrait where the lower third of the canvas appears to have been put through a paper shredder, Banksy style — is a nod to Dorian Gray. For its part, the chic 27th-floor cocktail bar and restaurant The Wilde on 27 has picture windows overlooking downtown and an outdoor patio. The popular Sunday brunch leans toward Wilde-style lavish excess.

Patricia Phillips, chief executive officer of Calgary-based PBA Group of Companies, which owns the hotel, has a fondness for Wilde and came up with the idea for the Dorian’s theme. From there, Brooklyn-based agency Once Upon a Time created the concept for The Mark picture. CHIL Interior Design of Vancouver created “modern-day Wilde” interiors that play on Victorian themes with nods to contemporary Calgary.

There’s herringbone wallpaper in the fitness center and deep blue wallpaper with images of birds and foliage in the guest rooms. Peacock feathers show up in various colors and textures. Oversized pink blooms in the carpet speak to Alberta, known as Wild Rose Country. The room honor bar has locally made Earl Grey gin, created with the Dorian by Eau Clair Distillery.  It’s all proof that Calgary is moving away from its Cowtown image to embrace a more urban, contemporary side with a growing and lively dining, arts and festival scene, says Erin Richter, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. 

But, of course, things aren’t always what they seem at first glance at the Dorian, so it pays to look closely. Take the custom wallpaper by California company Astek in the Prologue washrooms. It appears to be an almost nursery-style pattern of playful monkeys. But like the opening credits of The White Lotus, closer examination shows the simians are smoking spliffs, downing vodka and martinis and generally misbehaving in trees filled with discarded bras. Despicable!


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