Last week, Reddit's internet detectives swarmed on a subreddit for Houston, Texas after a user called Joelikesmusic posted a mysterious thread asking insiders what the deal was with a bizarre room at the local Hotel ZaZa. As you can see in the picture above, the decor in room 322 errs more on the deeply unsettling, Jodorowsky side of a "comfortable, welcoming hotel experience", with sinister paintings hanging above a concrete floor, what looks like a two-way mirror next to a bed that's chained to the wall and a portrait of Stanford Financial Group president Jay Comeaux overlooking the whole distressing tableau.
The room was accidentally booked for Joelikesmusic's work colleague, who was then supposedly told that room 322 wasn't meant to be booked out at all. And it's not difficult to see why; it looks like a snuff movie location. But despite the room being an absolute creep-fest, Kyra Coots, the Houston ZaZa's head of e-marketing, told the Houseton Chronicle that – like the other themed rooms ZaZa prides itself on – the "Hard Times" room is just a "kooky" take on yet another theme: jail.
Being the internet, people have started to throw around entirely unfounded conclusions about room 322, based on wild speculations they've made about things they can ascertain from the photographs.
THE THEORIES ABOUT THE PICTURES ON THE WALL
Some think they've linked Stanford's Jay Comeaux to ZaZa President Benji Homsey, suggesting they could've been in the same or related fraternity chapters at university. Comeaux went to Louisiana State University, home of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity and the secretive frat, "the Friars".
The goal of the Friars is apparently to resurrect DKE's "Zeta Zeta" chapter – could the name ZaZa itself be a reference to this? Is Benji Homsey the "Benny H" whose signature is on another of the room's Camden-esque portraits?
THE THEORIES ABOUT THE ROOM NUMBERS
Others have connected Comeaux and the Friars to the elite Yale Skull and Bones Society, which counts ex-Presidents George Bush Jr and his dad as members. The number 322 (the room number, duh) is supposedly relevant to the group, as well as the skulls and bones littering the room.
There are websites that claim the Skull and Bones Society dates back to 1832, when it "paid obeisance to Eulogia, the goddess of eloquence, who took her place in the pantheon upon the death of the orator Demosthenes in 322 BC". The number 322 is also thought to reference the club's founding in America after originally being established in Germany, it being the second chapter – 1832 - 2. Writer on the occult, Nick Farrell, told me the numbers refer to "Hebrew geomatria – each letter is a number so you can add up numbers to make words; 322 means any of these. It depends on the context, but 'lamb' would be a common one and 'man' another, but it could also be the number of a demon."
THE THEORIES ABOUT IT JUST BEING A MARKETING SCAM
Looking into the story, I realised that Kyra Coots' position as head of "e-marketing" stood out, that the "Hard Times" room could just be a well-crafted but awfully misguided stab at viral marketing. Trying to keep rooted in Occam's razor while the surreal, outlandish world of conspiracy theories dragged me out into leftfield, I rang Coots up for a chat.
VICE: The Houston ZaZa claims to have pioneered themed room suites – are you one of the first hotels in America to have them?
Kyra Coots: The ZaZa collection started in Dallas, where our first property was built ten years ago. Our owners and president were really the visionaries and pioneers behind concept suites, so when the hotel ZaZa Houston opened a few years later, they continued with the same conceptual design.
What are some of your more popular concept suites?
One is "Houston We Have a Problem", which is fitted with a NASA theme because Houston is home to NASA. The furniture is very space-age and it has some NASA collectibles in there. Another one is the so-called "Loft", a take on New York City. It has the red exposed brick and artwork that's reminiscent of New York.
Can you talk me through the "Hard Times" room I've read about online?
Yeah, that's actually room 322 here at the hotel. The building was built back almost 100 years ago, so when ZaZa came in they wanted to use the existing structure, they didn't want to manipulate anything for design purposes. As a result there are a couple of rooms throughout the property that are more compact. For 322, the idea was just to take a fun, unique spin on a jailhouse experience, so it has a exposed brick and a bed hanging from the wall with chains. It's just a fun way to decorate a small space.
What about the decorations in there? I saw that there's a portrait of the president of the Stanford Financial Group on the wall, which seemed a little odd.
I'd need to look into that a little bit further.
Okay. Do you know where the paintings and photos are from? They look very different to the decoration in all your other rooms.
The art is really infused throughout each of the properties in Houston and Dallas – it's part of the culture of ZaZa. The particular paintings in that room are just the ones we felt most captivated the experience you were going to have and go with the theme of the room.
The theme of the room being jail?
Including the two-headed woman?
I'm sorry, I'm having trouble hearing you. I can get back to you on that – I'd have to check with the designers.
Are you aware of the online discussion about this room?
I'm aware of the ongoing dialogue online, yes.
What do you make of it?
I definitely think that, if folks haven't had an experience with a historic property, they might have a hard time understanding why a room is so small in nature compared to other, larger suites. But when you see historic properties, you have a little more understanding of how the spacing is configured.
I think people online are more interested in why there's a portrait of the president of the Stanford Financial Group as opposed to why the room is small.
I would definitely need to get back to you on that one.
Do you hire or sell rooms to private clients? Would purchasing a room in the hotel be a possibility?
All of the rooms are available to be booked – 322 is certainly a room that's able to be booked.
Really? The person online who booked into the room was allegedly told that it wasn't supposed to be booked.
I think that was just a misunderstanding and has perhaps been paraphrased incorrectly. We have a guest in there right now, so we do utilise room 322. It's part of our collection of rooms and it's not something that we shy away from.
- - -
When we first started to talk about room 322, Kyra sounded a little nervous, but I suppose you would be if you were aware that every conspiratorial corner of the web was murmuring about your hotel. That, or she was genuinely concerned that I was calling to interview her about the room being slightly smaller than the rest. Or, you know, it genuinely is a crash-pad for Illuminati old boys to lock themselves away in with a cruel woman, some banned books and erotic dripping wax.
It takes a considered stretch to pin numerology and secret chapters of high society on to a swanky hotel near Houston's museum district, but the story remains intriguing. For what it's worth, "Hard Times" isn't referenced on ZaZa's website or on a press document that talks up its luxury suites, but reservations confirmed to me that the suite exists and is available for booking. I personally can't imagine choosing to sleep under the watch of Comeaux's suited corporate photograph, nor do I have a passion for cold concrete floors, but if you're the kind of conspiracy nut who can't let this thing go, room 322 is open and welcomes your business.
Follow Tamlin on Twitter: @wegotblankets
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