Here’s a fun bit of meetings history: In 1918, the first building to open at the site of The Wigwam in West Phoenix was called “The Organization House,” and it was a venue for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company executives who were in town to visit the nearby cotton farm the company owned. On Thanksgiving Day in 1929, The Wigwam opened as a sprawling guest ranch, a testament to Arizona’s once-booming cotton ranching industry.
Today, The Wigwam is an iconic 440-acre luxury resort in the Sonoran Desert. Coming off a multi-million renovation, the property gives subtle nods to its Goodyear years, artfully threading the history into design elements like tire treads layered amidst historic photographs. The color palette in rooms—cool indigo denim and warm adobe tones—capture the beauty of the Southwest.
“Our team of designers took immaculate care in making sure that the renovation represented The Wigwam’s storied past while elevating and revitalizing the guest rooms so our guests can relax after a fantastic day in our convention space or enjoying the resort as leisure guests,” says J. Green, the Resort Vice President of Sales & Marketing at The Wigwam.
Much has changed since The Wigwam made its debut nearly a century ago, when the very first guests received a horse and room key upon check-in, but the resort remains the ideal place to meet. A tranquil destination studded with cacti and desert blooms, The Wigwam features southwestern-style casitas, glimmering pools, and has three, 18-hole golf courses, including two that were designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
The recent renovation, as well as exciting culinary offerings from a new, esteemed executive chef who has cooked on film sets and in presidential kitchens, plus the friendly staff and warm hospitality are among the reasons meetings and events planners should put The Wigwam on their list of places to meet in 2024 and beyond.
Creative Meetings in a Desert Oasis
The Wigwam is an easy-to-reach destination, just 25 minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The arrival moment, passing under the welcome arch, and surrounded by palm trees, rose bushes, and cacti, feels extra special.
“This place has a lot of magic to it,” Green says. “When people arrive here, they feel calm and relaxed and ready to learn and meet.”
Overall, the resort has 30,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, 15,000 square feet of pre-function space and 55,000 square feet of outdoor event space.
One of the standout venues is The Grand Lawn, which is surrounded by orange trees and lined with palm trees. The space can accommodate up 3,000 guests, and Green says groups have activated the lawn in some creative ways ranging from “cowboy cookout” themed gatherings to Moulin Rouge-cirque programming. Another group put on a New Orleans-style gathering on the lawn.
In addition to the scenic meeting spaces, Green says convention guests love working with The Wigwam team.
“Once a group finds us, they typically return year after year,” he says.
Renovated Rooms with Southwestern Style
The recent resort-wide renovation included a complete interior refresh to elevate the 331 spacious casitas, as well as the 70 suites and two presidential suites.
Designers incorporated natural textures like leathers and woods. The color palette draws inspiration from the region, bringing the spirit of the Southwest into the rooms. The blue accents are intended to evoke images of Arizona’s blue skies and the warm adobe tones create an interior that reflects the landscape and architecture. Modern makeovers in the bathroom brought in azure tiled walls and oil-rubbed bronze accents plus mirrors with dimmer-controlled lighting.
Geometric rugs pop some pattern into the spacious guestrooms and suites, which range in size from 480 to 5,000 square feet. Rooms open to private patios that overlook the pools, gardens, tennis courts or golf courses.
In addition to the golf courses, the grounds include three expansive swimming pools, plus bocce ball and tennis courts. The 26,000 square-foot LeMonds Aveda Spa-Salon offers treatments that incorporate natural ingredients from plant and flower extracts.
The Wigwam Welcomes a New Executive Chef
Before arriving at The Wigwam last fall, Chef Christopher McLean’s two decades of professional experience included cooking on film sets, in presidential kitchens, and directing food and beverage operations at hotels across the American West.
A Certified Level 2 Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, McLean was the first ever chef and sommelier to conduct food and wine pairings at the Presidential Palace in Ghana. In his role as the Special Events Chef for the President of Ghana, he curated menus and created events for royalty and heads of state, ranging from the Queen of Sheba to the Prime Minister of Italy, on a weekly basis.
Another interesting career highlight? McLean worked as the chef for the “Lone Ranger” movie while he was working in Santa Fe, serving the cast and crew including Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer.
Now, in his new role at The Wigwam, McLean is overseeing the team and menus at the resorts four restaurants—Litchfield’s, Red Allen’s Bar & Grill, Wigwam Bar, and Tower Pool Bar & Grill—as well as creating menus for groups and events.
His specialty includes elegant ranch-style meals, and he’s been leaning into dishes like buffalo short ribs, a staple in Southwest cuisine. For his rendition, Mclean likes to braise the short ribs with different chilis and serve it with adobo-style sauces.
“It’s fall-off-the-bone delicious and juicy, and it’s been a big hit with groups,” he says.
He also says he’s excited to bring groups together over interactive cooking lessons culminating in a competition, like a chili cook off or tamale making. He can also lead wine blending sessions.
In general, McLean says today’s groups are excited about interactive, social experiences. For instance, they love learning the history and lore of spirts and wine, and he enjoys putting those types of presentations together at tastings.
“People are looking for the story behind the spirits– they don’t just want to taste, they want to know the history of what they’re drinking,” he says.