He first made a name for himself in the 1980s, when he was brought in to resurrect San Francisco's sagging Clift hotel. Back then, Bromley admits, he was known as "a nuclear warhead," uncompromising in his adherence to standards that would make Martha Stewart look like the neighborhood slob. He didn't hesitate to dress down managers if they failed to wipe a fingerprint from a window or answer the phone within three rings.

"I can understand why there were some people who said they'd never work with me again," Bromley admits. "But I've mellowed with age. I've learned to let go a little. Plus, management styles are like fashion. What worked back then wouldn't necessarily work today."

Bromley's introduction to the hospitality business came in an unlikely place, at an unlikely age. His family ran a small hotel in Lake Placid, New York, and when Bromley's father died, 14-year-old Stan was forced to help out. Bromley didn't love the work but learned a vocation, which he later pursued at hotel school in Switzerland. He returned to the States, worked at various hotels, did his stint at the Clift, then moved to Four Seasons in New York and Washington, D.C., where he gained celebrity as a butler to the rich and powerful.

As tough as he could be on his managers, he was endlessly accommodating towards his guests. No request was out of the question. If you needed fresh salmon flown to a distant atoll, a Persian kitten delivered to a penthouse suite, Stan Bromley was your go-to guy. He was cozy enough with Bill Clinton for the prez to show up at his birthday party. He was pals with Vernon Jordan, and a friend to Wolf Blitzer and Larry King.

Bromley made himself useful in unorthodox ways. Once, when a high-profile business tycoon and his wife had a blowout in the D.C. lobby, Bromley thought fast, snagging and destroying the hotel security tape before it fell into the hands of the tabloids.