In compiling a best-of list, you could choose the scientific path and diligently identify all of the candidates, scrutinize them to the micron, and attempt to be completely rational and fair about the entire process. The list of honorees would be sober and sensible, and the exercise would be devoid of any fun. An alternative method would involve a more artistic path via dreaming, brainstorming, meditating, communing with the muses, and allowing free rein to gut instincts.
The latter exercise would certainly be more enjoyable than the former; however, the selections that it produced, though intriguing, would not necessarily be reliable. Subjectivity would play too strong a role. We have concluded that the best of the best-of-the-best lists are the products of both artistry and science, with personal preferences buoyed by comprehensive knowledge of a given subject.
From 1991 to 1997, you, the Robb Report readers, were asked to select the Best of the Best honorees, and as our editors do now, you wrestled with the task of striking a balance between art and science, reason and emotion, knowledge and notoriety. Looking back at that era of our Best of the Best issues, we recognize patterns that emerged in three particular categories—Best Restaurant, Best Hotel, and Best Exotic Car—and that those patterns illustrate how sometimes readers overcame this struggle and sometimes they succumbed to it.
For example, the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, stronghold of chef Dean Fearing, garnered Best Restaurant honors in 1992, 1994, and 1995. Here, the readers’ preference preceded the restaurant’s reputation. In 1994, a full two years after readers recognized Fearing’s brilliance, he received the James Beard Foundation Restaurant award for Best Southwestern Chef. And it was not until 1996 that the Mobil Travel Guide elevated the Mansion on Turtle Creek to its highest rating of five stars.
Best Hotel was almost always the Plaza in New York, the Central Park property preferred by the Astors and the Vanderbilts, but certainly not by Rudi Steele, founder of Rudi Steele Travel in Dallas, who has worked in the travel business since 1957. “I have some very fussy clients who have favorite suites at the Plaza, [for whom staying there] feels like coming home,” he says, but he quickly adds that the property’s appeal does not extend beyond the sentimental. “It’s an institution, it definitely is. With the right direction, it could be brought back to its original glory.” The 1990s, most everyone will now agree, were not the Plaza’s glory days. In fact, it can be argued that at the time the Plaza was not the best hotel on Central Park South, let alone the entire world. But just as some of Steele’s clients do today, a significant number of readers considered the Plaza with their hearts rather than their heads.
Consensus was rare where automobiles were concerned, but the Best Exotic Car category, introduced in 1992, was an exception. While the McLaren F1, the Bugatti EB110, the Dodge Viper, the Jaguar XJ220, the Porsche 911, the Vector W8, and assorted Ferraris darted in and out of the lists of honorable mentions, the Lamborghini Diablo remained parked in the number one position. Now two years out of production, the Diablo is still regarded fondly by enthusiasts. Indeed, the June 2002 issue of The Robb Report Collection includes an article on purchasing a used Diablo.
It remains to be seen whether the Diablo will become a machine for the ages, an essential item in any serious collector’s inventory that proves the readers as prescient in their exotic car selections as they were in their restaurant picks. Tim McGrane, vice president of marketing and media relations for the Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. in Scottsdale, Ariz., greets the likelihood of such a scenario with skepticism. “It’s going to be one of those cars that’s a good idea as long as someone else owns it,” he says. “You’d like your best friend to have one so you can play with it every so often.” Of course, he acknowledges, collectors could ultimately prove him wrong.
In the late 1990s, we reconsidered the purpose of the Best of the Best. Realizing that many readers use it as an up-to-date reference for the best of everything in the luxury market, it made more sense for the editors to assume the responsibility of the selections. However, your opinions of the best (and of our selections) are still welcome on our Robb Letters page.