As a break from ranting about copyright and Sprint (though, Sprint fans will want to know, I heard last week that The Carrier of Weeping Doom has grudgingly conceded that they can’t really keep five hundred of my bucks and not give me anything in return, and so the case is now closed) I thought I’d ask a cheerful, fun-loving question instead.
I love hotels. (Yes, I know that’s a statement, not a question, but stick with it.) As a result I get stressed when booking them in cities I don’t know, because the difference between the right hotel and the wrong one is a wide gulf indeed and I plummet into an opportunity cost vortex. There are innumerable little apps and sites out in the infospaces inviting people to catalogue and share (of course, we must always share) their favourite spots in the world, including hotels. These apps and sites are always beautifully-designed and mostly manage to avoid too obviously bellowing their true raison d’etre, which I assume boils down to “We glommed a little venture capital and hired some cool people off Dribblr and what we’re basically hoping is that we get enough traction in 18 months that Google or Facebook buy us and make us bazillionaires”. The problem is that I can’t be arsed to spend my life on these sites/apps, not least because I have no reason to trust the other people on there (in fact, if I’m honest, I have an automatic distrust of anyone who spends a lot of their time ranking things on the Internet, like a kind of grandstanding OCD). At the other end of the scale, while more popularist sites like TripAdviser can be very useful (and have saved me from making dire mistakes a couple of times), it’s tiresome to wade through all the ranting loonies venting about the fact that the staff wouldn’t change the direction of the earth’s spin to suit their specific needs, or that the weather wasn’t great AND IT’S THE HOTEL’S FAULT AND I HATE THEM ONE STAR ONE STAR ONE STAR.
So I’m going to ask you lovely people instead, as your presence here on my blog clearly declares you to be a person of immaculate taste. What are your favourite hotels? Specifically I’m looking for urban nooks, hotels which are good if you don’t already know the place like a native, and especially those which are remarkably well-situated: not merely nice to be in, but inspiring to walk out of. For example: 1. Hotel du Louvre, Paris
Situated on the Place Andres Malraux, this hotel has the clear initial advantage of living up to its name. You couldn’t be much closer to the Louvre without actually sleeping in it, which is frowned upon. There’s three good cafes very, very close by — one as part of the same building: you can get yourself upside a crème or a croque madame without having to open your sleepy eyes. There’s a cab rank (for ease of getting back to the Eurostar) a casual twenty seconds stroll away. There’s even an arty bookstore on the same block, for Pete’s sake. You’re at the start of the Rue Saint Honoré, site of many opportunities for retail incidents including the ineffably/irritatingly cool Colette (and also, until recently, one of my favourite restaurants, Le Dauphin, now sadly gone), and ten minutes’ walk will get put you in the Place de la Madeleine, home to foodie meccas Fauchon and Hédiard. Within the hotel there’s an excellent restaurant and the cosy and low-lit Bar Le Defender, which not only does great cocktails in an atmosphere of heady Chinoiserie, but is also air-conditioned — a rarity in Paris and one that saved our sanity during a weekend we stayed there when temperatures in France hit the 40s and quite a lot of people died of heat stroke. Then, yes, there’s the Louvre, and the Tuileries, plus you’re only about 10-15 minutes’ beautiful walk from St Germain and the Rue de Buci, and less than that to les Halles or the Marais... It’s not cheap, but it’s hard for me to imagine a better-placed hotel in the city — at least given my tastes and interests. The rooms are extremely nice, too, either modern or cosy depending whether you’re on a lower floor or up in the eaves, but — like all the cities on this short list, you’re missing the point if you’re spending much time in the room anyway.
2. The Muse Hotel, NYC
I’m sure I should want to stay down in Soho or in some engagingly off-beat hipster hangout in the East Village or Brooklyn or the arse-end of Queens, but the Muse in midtown suits me down to the ground — or actually, up to the 15th floor. It’s there that the best rooms in the hotel are found, because they have... balconies. Big ones. Sitting with a coffee or beer that many floors up in the heart of midtown,watching the lights of Times Square and smoking (increasingly hard to do anywhere else in the city), is quite something. The wonderfully restful Bryant Park is five minutes away, and Central Park only about fifteen). Grand Central is close by, and 5th Avenue, and if you put your striding legs on then you can be down in Union Square or Chelsea or the Village before you know it. A well-aimed brick will find you several coffee shops and even a couple of half-decent delis, not easy to come across in midtown, and Virgil’s is a very good BBQ restaurant just along the street (yes, Virgil’s is a little touristy, but you know what — you’re a tourist). After a recent regooding even the previously disappointing bar is a pleasant enough place to hang. I keep thinking I ought to check out some other hotels in the city but... I’m probably not going to. This works.
3. Galleria Park, San Francisco
This is a new entry, and I’ve only stayed there once thus far, so I can’t yet swear to its timeless quality. Initial signs are good, however. It’s close to Union and five minutes from Chinatown and the non-frightening end of Market Street. There’s a very decent coffee and sandwich store and a sushi restaurant attached, plus a La Boulange on the next block. There’s a 7-11 right close by, too, useful for picking up milk and what-have-you... I love boutique hotels with a passion that goes beyond reason, but I’m not going to pay ten bucks and have to pick up a phone every time I want a cup of tea. [Bonus hotel: though bigger, the Kimpton Group’s Hotel Monaco on 4th in Seattle has a similar vibe to this Joie de Vivre hotel, and is similarly well-located to things like stores, coffee shops and convenience stores]. The staff at the Galleria Park are some of the most serenely affable and helpful I’ve ever encountered, and the hotel scores incalculable extra points for having a kind of walking area/small park-style hangout on the roof of the building next door. Finding backstage areas in a city where you can sit and relax without having to move or interact or buy something is a great boon. If one’s actually attached to your hotel, so much the better. The Galleria’s not a big place, and the rooms and bathrooms are smallish, and there’s technically no bar (though the attached sushi place serves reasonably well, and they have wine in reception at in the late afternoon), but you’ll cope. This is a very good place to start and end your San Francisco day.
All the above are big-city urban, note. There are many other hotels of this type out there, of course — the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz, the Marquesa in Key West, and so on — but it’s when you’re in the heart of an urban environment that location really becomes key. You need a fixed point to begin, from which you can move in gradually larger and bolder concentric circles. Though the above are all reasonably pricy, it doesn’t have to be that way: I’m a big fan of the Sea Shore Motel in Santa Monica, for example, which is bracingly retro in decor and demeanour, but friendly and clean and well-placed and apparently run by people who haven't noticed that the rest of the world has raised its prices since, say, 1978.
With an urban hotel you need a place that has both refuge and prospect, that makes you feel at home and yet holds a door open to the city, easing the transition with nearby spots and conveniences that jump-start your relationship to the city. Knowing about places like this gives you a side-door into a place that will never be your home, but where you’d like to feel at home, at least for a little while.
Those are three of mine. So. Tell me yours...