Hotel Crashing: St. Regis Bangkok

I’m having caviar withdrawals. And my butler hasn’t brought me my morning cappuccino or left marzipan by my bed during turndown service in over a week. And I love my marzipan. This is wholly unacceptable.

Marzipan at the St. Regis, Bangkok
I especially like them when they’re shaped like little miniature fruit.

Such is life after a first-class vacation.

Yes, we used airline miles and flew first class the entire way to and from Australia, stopping in Munich and Bangkok along the way. The DC-Munich flights were on Lufthansa. The Munich-Bangkok-Sydney portion (and reverse flight) was on Thai Airways. I’ll go into more details about the first class section on those two airlines a bit later in the week. Let’s suffice it to say, we ate a Petunia-sized amount of caviar.

Petunia loaf
“I’m not sure what you’re thinking about, but please put the mini toasts down.”

But let me first talk about the St. Regis in Bangkok. While yesterday I said I wasn’t that fond of Bangkok, they do have a lot of very luxurious hotels. In fact, the St. Regis was right next to the Four Seasons. And, while I was very, very depressed by the poverty in Bangkok, my white man’s guilt was washed away in the marble soaking tub before I was lulled to sleep every night on 300 count Egyptian cotton sheets and plush pillows that practically cradled my head. No insomnia in Bangkok.

The St. Regis Bangkok opened a year ago, and from the moment you get there, its’ pure class. Huge ornate front doors open onto a cool white marble lobby. (Fun fact: it was like Bangkok Fashion Week or something while we were there and the Karen Millen show was held in the St. Regis lobby. No celebrity sightings though.)

Lobby at the St. Regis, Bangkok

You’re not allowed to lift a finger, not even to punch the elevator button to take you up to the fourth floor reception desk. Seriously, there are two hotel employees standing by the elevator to push the up button.

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We stayed two nights in one of the 15  Caroline Astor suites (not the one on the website, however, but still very nice, but we had normal windows, not those amazing panoramic ones on the website).

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

A long entry hallway had an entry table and a powder room before you entered the living room.

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The room was of course gorgeously decorated with beautiful Thai artwork and furniture mixed in with more modern, traditional furnishings. Everything was so plush and padded, especially the carpets and area rugs.

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Oh, and of course there were fresh flowers throughout.

Flowers in the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Flowers in the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The bedroom was similarly stunning, with a large king bed and luxurious linens and tasteful accents, including the glass base lamps and the adorable silver end tables .

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The bathroom was ridiculous – from the engraved mirrors above the double sinks to the rainshower/steamer. I am a bathroom girl and I think I could have happily lived in this one. There really was no reason to leave it, except to grab some more marzipan. The tub had a pillow for crying out loud.

Bathroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Even more ridiculous was the swimming pool, which was a gorgeous black infinity pool surrounded by tropical plants and sweeping views of The Royal Bangkok Sports Club and the Bangkok skyline. Near the pool was their Elemis Spa, which smelled divine.

Pool at St. Regis, Bangkok

Bangkok Sports Club

We also took full advantage of the free wine hour, which was held in a small dark library-type bar called the Decanter.  It was quite cozy, the pours were pretty generous and there were yummy meats and cheeses.

The suites come with the St. Regis’ world class butler service, who are renowned for their packing skills. However, since we had no luggage and basically three outfits apiece, our butler Jo could only help us with reservations and directions. Jo was impeccably dressed in a three piece suit and tie each time we saw him, which is insane when you consider how unbearably hot Bangkok was. All I could think about the whole time was “how does he get to work? Does he bring his clothes separately and then change?”

And Jo staged the suite each evening, turning down the lights, putting on soft music, putting slippers by the bed, laying out robes, replacing all the towels, and putting out the above-mentioned marzipan.

Turndown at the St. Regis, Bangkok

It was all pretty surreal at first, but its’ amazing how fast you can get used to having people push the elevator button for you.  Ever since we’ve gotten back, I often find myself just standing in the elevator at work, perplexed that no one has stepped forward to take on this heavy task for me.

Now if I could just train Petunia to put my slippers by the bed for me……

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Hotel Crashing: The W Istanbul

Let me start by saying that my feelings for the W Istanbul are in no way influenced by the fact that we crashed a private wrap party for a photo shoot for a vodka campaign in the W bar on our very first night in Istanbul. And, subsequently, drank for free amongst a lot of very, very pretty people.

W Hotel Istanbul
People were being interviewed going into the hotel. We don’t know why.

That being said, the W Istanbul is a very swanky place full of very pretty people. Decorated in rich, dark tones of eggplant, burgundy, and chocolate, it’s got a sensuous, exotic vibe in both the common areas and the rooms.

Lobby at the W Hotel Istanbul

It’s the first W hotel in Europe and opened in May 2008. It’s located in a block of row houses that used to house the guards of the nearby Dolmabahce Palace. Known as Akaretler Row Houses near the Bosphorus, the W is walking distance to the nearby Besiktas fish markets and all the great fish restaurants, hookah bars, and cafes there.

The W Istanbul is also walking distance to Nisantasi, the SoHo of Istanbul, which we checked out on our last day in the city. The sports stadium is also walking distance, making this an ideal location if you want to go see a soccer match. The home team (Besiktas Football Club) was playing on the Sunday we were there, but we had not planned tickets ahead and decided to skip the effort of trying to get last minute tickets.

The hotel is also a short drive to the Old City, Taksim Square, the Blue Mosque and Orkatoy, another trendy bar and restaurant area we went to for dinner on our second night.

There were tons of restaurants near the hotel as well, including the Turkish version of Starbucks (Kahve Dunyasi), a wine bar called Corvus that we went to one night, and a place called Winston’s Brasserie that was always busy when we walked past. There was also a large supermarket across the street.

Istanbul street
The view of some interactive video place outside our window. And yes, those are cobblestone streets. Hell on heels.
Snow in Istanbul
Another street view from our room. It snowed our last evening there.

The W had a breakfast buffet, but we were generally up and out every morning and got breakfast at one of the local bakeries. Since breakfast for two ended up costing about $1.60 for three pastries, we weren’t too put out. My daily cup of coffee at the Kahve place was a bit more expensive, but so worth it.

The W Istanbul has 134 rooms, and 26 suites. There are 11 different room types, some with gardens, terraces and cabanas and all have 5 different lighting settings in the rooms. The beds were the standard W beds, totally comfy and cozy, with nice, high thread count sheets. A 32in flat-screen TV, iPod dock and Wi-Fi were standard.

Room 352 at the W Hotel Istanbul

Our room at the W Hotel Istanbul
I’m just realizing just how dark these photos are. But it was that dark! And cozy!
Our room at the W Hotel Istanbul
This was this awesome velvety seating nook where you could sit and watch the street outside.

The shower rooms were huge and set up like steam rooms with a GIANT rainfall shower head (seriously, it’s the biggest shower head I’ve ever seen), built-in benches, and a sink with hot and cold taps for splashing water on yourself while steaming (Turkish bath style).

Shower at the W Hotel Istanbul

Shower at the W Hotel Istanbul

The showers were coated in what’s known as “hammam” marble, which was kinda gray striped. We definitely made use of the steam room set up after coming in from the frigid temperatures every day (it was in the 30s the whole trip and even snowed a couple of days, a fairly unusual sight for Istanbul, according to our guide).

Shower at the W Hotel Istanbul

And, they had some of the best towels ever. HUGE cotton sheets, basically. It also marked the first time we did not have to call down to have additional towels sent to the room.

The lobby is small but gorgeous, with plenty of seating areas and free wi-fi. A curving staircase takes you to the second floor where the bar is. This would be the bar that was hosting (what we think was) a wrap party for the aforementioned vodka photo shoot.

Private party at the W Hotel Istanbul

After dinner on Friday (our first night), we went back to the hotel for a nightcap and some more hotel exploring. We were snooping around the third floor where the restaurants are located, when a big group of very pretty people came pouring out of one of the restaurants and went down the stairs to the second floor. We were right behind them going down the stairs to the second floor, and when they turned off to a side room off the second floor bar, we just kept following them.

Next thing you know, we were drinking free mojitos, doing watermelon vodka shots, and avoiding eye contact or conversation with a very puzzled group of people.

A fun night was had by all, or, at least, a fun night was had by these two party-crashing tourists.

Private party at the W Hotel Istanbul

Party crashing at the W Hotel Istanbul
Forgive the dark and blurry photos. We were trying to be incognito!

Hotel Crashing: The Cosmopolitan Vegas

If you can’t tell from my scattered posting, work is handing me my ass this week. I mean it, I’m slammed. It’s enough to make me daydream about luxurious bathrobes. And the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Vegas has the best bathrobe I’ve ever used, hands down.

We went to the Cosmopolitan last Christmas. They were gearing up for their big New Year’s Eve Grand Opening, so it was pretty quiet. But the place is just gorgeous. Cool and hip, dripping in crystal chandeliers and shiny laquer. You can pretty much see your reflection in every surface.

This year, we were offered two free nights because we had signed up for their player’s card. So, when we went to Vegas for Christmas with XFE’s folks, we stayed a couple of nights at the Cosmo.

We stayed in one of their Terrace Suites on the 33rd floor. It was amazing! Comfortable and chic, furnished like a real home, with cool art books and stylish accents such as ceramic horn bookends.

Decorator details at the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

The suite had a sitting area, a bedroom, a huge, open bathroom, and a tiny kitchenette type situation. Kinda like a glorified wet bar, with a microwave, sink, fridge.

Mini kitchen in the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

And the terrace was gorgeous! Great view of City Center and the Cosmo pool below.

Suite view at the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Terrace Suite at the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

The bathroom was stocked with Bigelow beauty products, which were very nice. There was a large jacuzzi tub, big enough for two, and an adjoining shower with a stone bench so you could get your steam on.

Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Bathroom, Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Another cute feature was the wall paper in the separate toilet area – it was this contemporary graphic design. Only when you got closer, (or spend a lot of time in there) you notice that the design is made out of curvy ladies!

Wallpaper in the Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Wallpaper in the Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

The bed was fantastic — super comfortable, with nice linens and adjustable lighting within easy reach.

Bed in the Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

The entire suite could be controlled from your TV – temperature, lighting, room service,  reservations for dinner, anything.

Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

But my favorite part, hands down, were the bathrobes. Since I have a large, multi-colored cat, I literally get dressed two minutes before going out the door. So I spend a lot of time in my bathrobe while getting ready. And, I always judge a hotel by whether or not they have a bathrobe, and if so, whether it’s a good one or just a cheap, worn out terry cloth robe.

The Cosmo had the best most luxurious robe ever. They were this sort of combed waffle weave, but a really nice, flat weave. I’m sure you’re thinking I’m crazy right now, but I loved it so much, I actually wanted to take it home. But at $149, I ended up leaving it on the hanger.

I did take down the name and tried to look it up on the Internet, but no luck. I found the product line (Bellazure) and the manufacturer (Sorbel West), but none of the robes on their website looked like the ones at the Cosmo.

Guess that means we’ll have to make a return trip to the Cosmopolitan sometime soon.

Sitting area in the Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Hotel Crashing: W Retreat and Spa, Vieques

The W Retreat and Spa in Vieques is like the hipster, musician boyfriend you dated way back in the day: uber-cool, way too sexy and smart for a nerd like you. Your street cred is instantly bumped up just by telling people that you are staying at such a cool, unique, and awesome “retreat.” But just like that no-good boyfriend, the W will let you down in a million different ways.

The W Vieques isn’t a bad hotel: there are a lot of great things about it. Like I said, it’s pretty hot to look at. The rooms, the grounds, the lobby, the restaurants and communal spaces are stunning.

The rooms and public areas were designed by Spanish-born Patricia Urquiola of Milan-based Studio Urquiola, and they incorporate a lot of Spanish touches like macramé lamp shades and large colorful murals. They also used a lot of reclaimed wood and local artwork, which is a nice touch. And they had some interesting unique touches like a pool table, acoustic guitars on stands, and a huge outdoor firepit that folks could sit around every night and listen to the ocean.

W Hotel, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Continue reading Hotel Crashing: W Retreat and Spa, Vieques

Hotel Crashing: The Venetian, Las Vegas

Did you know that the Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Venetian in Vegas? If you’re staying at the hotel, you definitely do. Because it’s everywhere. The music in the elevators? Phantom. The music in the lobby? Phantom. The welcoming card in the bedroom? Phantom.

We’ve stayed in quite a few places in Vegas. But this was my first time at the Venetian.

It was, well, very Italian. And full of marble. And frescoes. The Venetian is very beautiful and classy. No doubt about it. The lobby is gorgeous, complete with fountains, wide marble avenues and columns, and an accordion player in a striped shirt and straw boater.

The outside was all dressed up for the holidays, with a really cool clear glass bulb LED Christmas tree out front and an ice skating rink.

Christmas Tree at the Venetian

Check out went fast and seemed easy (XFE was in charge). Cab lines were a bit ridiculous on Saturday and Sunday, but fine by Monday and Tuesday.

It’s an all-suite hotel and the rooms are large and in charge. It had a nice foyer when you walk in, two queen sized beds, a sunken living room, two queen sized beds, and a ginormous bathroom.

Sitting area at the Venetian

Beds at the Venetian, Las Vegas

Seriously, the bathroom made the place. It had a separate shower and fantastic large tub that filled up very quickly – I used that thing every day. It also had a little dressing table with a light up makeup mirror. But Venetian, what’s up with the cheap toiletries? And it would be alright by me if you upgraded the towels a bit.

Bathroom at the Venetian, Las Vegas

venetian dressing table

That was a pretty common theme – overall it seemed like the Venetian was once quite luxurious, but is getting a bit dated. XFE and I tend to like clean, modern design, so for us, the opulent European castle bit is not really our thing. Which isn’t to say it’s not a nice room.

Other oddities: no fridge in the room, which is weird. Plus, no free water or wifi, despite the “resort” fee. Yes, the gym was included and that’s becoming rare in Vegas.

Living room at the Venetian, Las Vegas

And they REALLY don’t want you to order room service. We called room service twice and were informed both times that it would be an hour wait. And we had no room service menu in our room, a fact which wasn’t remedy, despite the fact we both mentioned it when we called.

That might be because they have so many great restaurants at the Venetian, including Grand Lux Cafe, CUT and SUSHISAMBA. The only place we ate was at Bouchon and like I said yesterday, it was meh.

My biggest complaint might be how huge it was. I got lost more than once trying to find the damn elevators. I ended up just following the sound of the Phantom soundtrack, and always ended up in the right place.

I really like the casino. They had all the newest slot machines and my old favorites (like Goldfish). It was large but still felt intimate and well-maintained.

It’s also connected to the newer Palazzo and all the wonderful shopping there. And there’s the Canyon Ranch Spa, which I went to the day after the marathon and was nice. Not great, but nice.

The Venetian really is a great, one-stop place. You really didn’t even need to leave the property, it had everything you could want. Good shopping, a decent spa, nice casino, interesting shows, world-class restaurants.

It’s also a great location, right in the heart of the Strip and right next to the Wynn and the Encore.

So, totally serviceable and a nice choice, but with so many other, newer (more modern) options in Vegas, I probably won’t be staying at the Venetian again. In fact, we’re planning on staying at the Cosmopolitan a couple of nights at Christmas, so expect another Hotel Crashing then.

Canal at the Venetian, Las Vegas

Hotel (and Airplane) Crashing: OpenSkies, Le Meridien Etoile

Now that we’ve wined and dined and shopped our way through Paris Poe-style, you might be wondering (or, more realistically, not) how we came to be on this fabulous last-minute trip.

Blame Travelzoo.

My travel-agent-for-life XFE and I are both signed up for Travelzoo’s weekly email deal alerts. And every week we’re tempted beyond belief by last minute deals. I guess it was only a matter of time till we succumbed.

And that’s when we first learned about OpenSkies, a subsidiary of British Airways.

OpenSkies is an all-business-class airline operating non-stop service from Newark and Dulles to Paris-Orly Airport. With only 84 passengers per flight, the 757 aircraft, which typically holds 220 passengers, is roomy and comfortable while providing privacy and personalized service.

Open Skies seat

The wide, comfortable seats recline almost completely and have extendable foot rests. It was like I was being cradled. I slept both coming and going. They also gave you these little packages with socks, eye masks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, which was very nice. And the leg room? Holy stretched legs, I couldn’t even reach the seat in front of me, which was a problem when I wanted to get one of my magazines, but as my friend Linda would say, “First World Problems.”

Can't reach

The crew provided personal in-flight entertainment systems that had games, TV shows, and lots of new movies and documentaries. Well, new to us since we never go to the movies. We watched The Hangover II on the way over (meh) and Bad Teacher (hilarious – and I’m not even a Cameron Diaz fan) on the way back. I tried to watch Midnight in Paris on the way back as well, but only confirmed my annoyance with all things Woody Allen (seriously, how is he still allowed to make movies?). I fell asleep during that one.

OpenSkies promise “freshly prepared gourmet” meals, which is a bit of a stretch (the breakfast croissant was particularly bad and less-than-fresh, ok, stale is what we’d call that), but it is probably fair to say it’s better than average airplane food, which isn’t exactly a high bar. They also promise wine, champagne and spirits, which was not a stretch and was indeed, available and free.

Open Skies to Paris dinner

OpenSkies also provided access to airport lounges where complimentary drinks, snacks and wireless internet was available. Sidenote: The lounge at Orly far surpassed the Dulles lounge in terms of snack choices. For example, they had these individual packets of marinated green olives called Oloves. Single serving, doesn’t need to be refrigerated. GENIUS. I loved them so much. When oh when will we get some of these here??

Anywho, the whole experience on OpenSkies was pretty great. We had weather problems in DC, so unfortunately, we were delayed about an hour and a half, which is unfortunate, but no fault of the airline. They came by with champagne and nuts and kept us up to date on the situation.

On the way over, my personal entertainment thingy wasn’t working, so they brought me a new one. And, my seat wouldn’t recline, but luckily, the flight wasn’t full and we were able to move to two other seats in the back to sleep. Annoying, but not a big deal.

The only glitch on our way back is that the universal plugs kept cutting in and out and XFE’s personal entertainment thingy ran out of battery juice and wouldn’t charge. They brought a new cord, but it really was just a wonky plug. If you pushed the thing in all the way, it turned red; if you left it hanging out, it turned green.

With the October special they’re advertising on their site, it’s a great deal for what you get. I would definitely fly them again.

While in Paris, we rested our weary little heads at Le Meridien Etoile, a Starwood property, naturalement.

It’s located in a nice neighborhood near the Porte Maillot metro stop and across the street from a mall that we never made it to. There were tons of little restaurants all around and the whole area had a great neighborhood vibe. It was also walking distance to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysee. And, as we discovered the second night, you could even see the Eiffel Tower from our room.

Le Meridien Etoile
View from the room.

We had a very nice room (7056), probably larger than most European hotel rooms. It was nicely decorated, very W like, with crisp white linens, modern chrome and dark sleek wood. And an odd light/art piece thingy.

Room at Le Meridien Etoile

Room at Le Meridien Etoile

The bathroom was fine, although only a shower and only a half glass partition (no shower curtain). I felt like all the cold air was coming in and all the water was splashing out! Also: the water didn’t get very hot, but admittedly, I like my showers scalding hot, so that’s more of a personal peccadillo. The toiletries were made especially for the hotel, I don’t remember the brand, and they were very pleasant. XFE, of course, brought home a stash of them. But since the only thing he bought himself in Paris was a jar of Dijon mustard, I’m prepared to humor his hotel kleptomania.

Shower at Le Meridien Etoile
We showered with this lady every day. Ah, the French.

Bathroom Le Meridien Etoile

Meridien bathroom 2

Overall, the hotel public spaces were very modern and hip with low couches and marble tables. We went into the jazz bar our first night for a nightcap and while there was no cover charge to sit at the bar, the drink prices were exorbitant (like 17 euros for a gin, and another 4 or so for the tonic), so we ended up skipping the drink and going up to our room.

Ah, and about going up to our room – the elevator makes weird noises! One morning it was running water that sounded a bit like a toilet overflowing. Other times it was birds or jungle noises. Kinda odd. We giggled every time.

All of the concierge(s? – when plural, is it with an ‘s’?) were wonderful. Very patient and helpful. We even called one when we were standing outside a club that would not let us in. They called the club, but alas, we still weren’t let in. Read my Yelp review for L’Arc for the full story on that. Not the concierge’s fault, but still very annoying. We definitely would definitely stay here again and recommend it to others. The location, staff and rooms were great.

Paris street art

This picture is apropos of nothing. Except the fact that we were walking down the street and I told XFE that we should keep our eyes open for tag art. We had seen Banksy’s documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” a few months ago and so I knew there is a lot of graffiti/tagging art in Paris. Literally, five seconds later, we looked up and saw this piece by Space Invader. Pretty awesome.

Hotel Crashing: The W Austin

Aaaannnnd, I’m back! Did you miss me? I would say I missed blogging, but that’s kind of a lie. OK, let’s just say I did miss blogging (there was plenty of brag-worthy stuff to share), but I drowned my sorrows in copious amounts of barbecue, queso, and chicken fried steak.

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That’s right. There are men chopping brisket behind me.

But, my absolute favorite pain-numbing agent while I was torn away from my blog was actually a hotel.

See, unlike my little friends who just travelled on North Korea’s first cruise ship, XFE and I were ensconced in luxury at the W Hotel in Austin. And man, was it swanky. Total rock star treatment for three great nights.

The W Austin is located in the new and trendy 2nd Street district, which meant plenty of shops and eating within walking distance. We ate at two nearby places including the newly-opened and very good pizza and wine place, Coal Vines (I had an amazingly awesome pizza with ricotta and tomatoes when I arrived in Austin late Thursday night, well after regular dinner time) and the newest outpost of hipster hangout Jo’s coffeeshop (I can only vouch for the chorizo breakfast tacos – decent, not great).

XFE also ate at Lambert’s (without me that Thursday night), but was disappointed. He’s become quite the brisket snob, and thought that while the crust on Lambert’s brisket was good, there wasn’t enough smoke on the meat. In case you were curious.

But back to the W. Thanks to XFE and his platinum Starwood status, we got upgraded to a “cool corner” suite, which has three rooms – a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom with large Jacuzzi tub, separate shower stall and enclosed toilet.

Cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin

Design wise, everything had a very cool Western-bohemian aesthetic, with a few nice Austin music touches throughout. There were lots of tufted leather ottomans with oversized hammered silver trays on top of them, tastefully embroidered curtains, and colorful accent pillows on the large gray velvet sectional in the living room. The artwork on the wall reflected the fact that Austin City Limits has a new studio on the property, with pictures of musicians on the walls. The 52-inch TV in the living room was ridiculous.

Cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin

But perhaps the best part of the corner room was the views. Our corner suite looked out over the rapidly changing downtown landscape and nearby Town Lake. Oh, and that view? It was also available from the Jacuzzi tub.

Cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin

Cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin

The toiletries, as with all the W’s we’ve stayed at were Bliss products. Nice extra amenities I hadn’t seen before included individually-wrapped loofah sponges and eye-makeup remover. The bathroom vanity had a mirror with a cool white design etched along the edges that I would totally have stolen if it wasn’t so large. Also, the silvery textured wallpaper was super glamorous. My only quibble with the bathroom was that they just had a regular old shower head in the glass shower. I was expecting one of those rain shower thingies. It just seemed odd to go standard when everything else had been bumped up.

View from the cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin
View from the cool corner suite at the W Hotel Austin

We did use the gym one day – it was huge and very nice. Everything you could possibly need and then some. I did wish the treadmills had fans on them, though. The large windows let in a lot of sunlight and I got pretty sweaty, but that’s par for the course with me.

Since we’ve both been to Austin a few times now (and are returning again in October), we spent most of our down time at the pool, instead of running around town. The pool was unbelievable. Just gorgeous. We had it pretty much all to ourselves on Friday, but it was definitely crowded on Saturday. Lots of beautiful people the likes of which I never encountered in my seven years of living in Austin. The pool area also had great waitresses like Dawn who were willing to bring you nice tall mojitoes that went down pretty smooth in the 100-degree heat (but it’s a dry heat!). The security guy checking the list at the pool entrance is probably pretty necessary (I bet a lot of interlopers try to get in there), but the neon green wristbands seemed a bit much. Like we were going to the club or something.

Pool at the W Hotel Austin
Pool at the W Hotel Austin

Speaking of clubs, the downstairs bar areas were jammed packed while we were there. Again, with the types of people I’ve never seen in Austin. It looked like a “Most Eligible Dallas” in that place. We stopped by the one of the three bar-type areas that made up “The Living Room” each night, but only for one drink. It was pretty dark and crowded and service was (understandably) hit or miss.

With so many great restaurants in Austin, we did not eat at the W’s restaurant, Trace, but a quick look at the menu definitely has my curiosity piqued.

Overall, the entire staff from valets to check-in managers was great, and efficient. I look forward to our next stay at the W for the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. I have a feeling that after all the eating we’ll be doing, we’ll need that extra large oversized bathtub.

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(Unintentional) Hotel Crashing: Hotel Palomar (Arlington)

Thanks to Hurricane Irene and Dominion Power, we spent two nights at this fine hotel located in the bustling metropolis of Arlington, Virginia. (At least we still have a home. Sorry 80s heart-throb, Sebastian Bach. If it’s any consolation, I loved you on the Gilmore Girls.)

Bach
“I’m pouting cuz my house got washed away.”

Anywho, the location of Hotel Palomar is great…it’s very convenient to the Rosslyn metro station, which was pretty handy since I had to carry a roll-on suitcase to work on Monday.

Hotel Palomar is a typical Kimpton hotel – hip, young, boutique-y, with lots of attention to design detail. It has the evening wine reception between 5 pm and 6 pm, it has the complimentary coffee and tea in the mornings.

We’ve actually been to this particular Palomar before, for drinks and dinner at their Italian restaurant, Domaso. And, we’ve even stayed at a different Palomar (also a Kimpton) in DC itself.

We didn’t eat at Domaso on this occasion (there’s a pool bar nearby with awesome fried pickles, so….yeah, that won out), but we did have drinks in the dimly lit bar area – a negroni for me and a cosmo for my life partner, XFE. Word to the wise – do not be tempted to sit on the outdoor patio for drinks. It’s between two large office buildings and is a total wind tunnel. No incidences this time, but last time I tried to have a drink there, champagne flutes flew—and shattered–everywhere.

The building itself is kinda weird. It’s a shared building, with other offices and even condominiums. When you enter the front door, you have to go up the elevators to the registration desk on the fourth floor. Then, you walk to another bank of elevators to go to the floors with the rooms. And don’t even get me started on the weird maze you had to go through to get to and from the garage to the hotel – more elevators and stairs (up and down for some reason).

The rooms are Kimpton standard. We had King Deluxe rooms and stayed in two: 621 and 712. They were pretty much the same, with modern furnishings and art, warm dark wood furniture, and pops of orange for color. The bed and pillows were luxurious, the Frette sheets divine, leopard print robe – leopard-y. The room windows were very large and both nights our rooms overlooked the Potomac, Key Street Bridge, and the National Cathedral, which was nice. We’re part of their loyalty program so we had free Wi-Fi, and no issues with connecting.

Hotel Palomar in Arlington, VA

The toiletries were Essential Elements, I think, and were refillable units attached to the shower wall. They did have hand soap and lotion in small, take-away containers, but the days of loading up on travel Aveda products are long gone at most Kimptons. That’s ok. We still have tons of products from the old days.

Hotel Palomar in Arlington, VA

I used the gym both days and this was where this particular Palomar really shined. Usually, hotel gyms are pretty dismal. They’re really an afterthought. Or they’re just a big open room, which is weird. But this gym was gorgeous! It totally had a spa-like feel to it, which makes sense since this gym is also used for the condominiums. There were lots of machines, although I had problems with the treadmill tvs both days – the first day, I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on (there was an extra step listed on the instructions involving an input button that did not exist). The second day, the treadmill TV display kept breaking up and digitizing all weird. Yeah, I know that doesn’t make sense. Also, on the first day, my treadmill pause/stop button only stopped the machine. So no pausing or walk breaks for me! The second day, I didn’t even try to pause and just ran the entire time. Both of my treadmills had fans, which were very necessary.

There were plenty of gym towels and a water cooler, although they were out of cups my first morning. There was also a nice place set off to the side a bit for stretching. It really was a well-designed little gym and you never felt crowded or awkward. Not really sure how they did it, since there were so many pieces of equipment in there. I wish I had taken a picture, because the picture they have on their website isn’t it.

All in all, a very nice place to stay. Too bad our electric is back on and we were able to return home. I didn’t really mind playing Eloise and living in a hotel. Princess Petunia, however, was not pleased by our extended absence and has been giving me the cold kitty shoulder.

Toons

Hotel Crashing: Kimpton’s Ink48

The first night I was in New York last weekend, I stayed with my lovely friend Emilia in her super cool and industrial loft in Williamsburg and hung out with the hipsters, drinking rose at the Brooklyn Winery and listening to some kind of blues-jazz mashup that might have even been “gypsy jazz.” The band was jammed into a tiny corner and featured a guy with a gravelly voice lamenting some lost loves and whatnot. There may have been a beret involved. And a porkpie hat on the standup bass player.

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Brooklyn Winery (from the website)

The whole evening had a very Parisian cinematic feel, but that’s what you get when you’re hanging out in hipster-ville. It was about a million degrees so everything had that hazy, slow-down-and-just-give-in-to-the-heat look and feel. You start to focus intensely on that little droplet of sweat streaking its way down your back, despite the fact that the cab driver has the air conditioner going full blast and the whole front of you is freezing. You look out the window and see the glare of the streetlights shining down through the hot black night onto spraying fire hydrants and kids jumping through the reflective water. Folks hanging out on their stoops because it’s just too hot to stay inside when there’s no breeze moving the still, humid air.

The next night, however, we found a way to beat the heat….the rooftop at Ink48. Now, I’m always a sucker for a hotel bar, but I’m usually into the small, dark, desperate ones tucked away in the side of the lobby, where women slightly past their prime and rumpled out-of-town businessmen inch slowly toward each other in an intricately choreographed getting-to-know-you dance across several stools, their hands meeting over a bowl of mini-pretzels and wasabi peanuts.

A rooftop bar just seemed too bright, too open for the type of drinking I like to do. A rooftop bar is a place to see and be seen, not a place to spy on other people who may or may not be cheating on their spouses.

However, the rooftop bar at Ink48 was exceptional. Mostly because it had the most fantastic views of the city and river.

Hotel Ink48 New York
Me and Emilia on the rooftop. No wasabi peanuts.

The whole hotel was awesome. I will say, it’s in a bit of a weird location at 48th Street and 11th Ave. (Midtown West), which is walking distance from Broadway and the theaters. But it’s not a short walk, and the hotel itself is surrounded by auto dealerships and other warehouse-type buildings. It’s very close to the piers and the museum ship, the Intrepid and the Javits Convention Center, so it’s a great location for that purpose, but not really in the heart of the city so to speak. And I actually think that might work to their advantage since it’s a bit off the beaten path, the rooftop bar is probably a lot easier to get into most nights.

BUT, it was a gorgeous, boutique hotel. We had a really nicely decorated room with plenty of space (a rarity in NY hotels), light-up bedside tables, and contemporary floral artwork above the bed. We also had a great view of the river. Emilia and I also ate at their restaurant, Print, and had yummy oysters, a meh gnocchi dish, and a freaking awesome gazpacho that I want to try to replicate (it had watermelon in it – ahhhhmazing).

Room at Hotel Ink48 New York

Bathroom at Hotel Ink48 New York

The only thing that would make Ink48 even better was if they had a pool on that rooftop. They had lounging chairs and a small rectangular water feature, but no pool.

Rooftop at Hotel Ink48 New York

XFE and I are big fans of the Kimpton chain, and the last time we were in New York, we stayed at the Muse, which is right in Times Square. That particular Kimpton was a bit more run down, so we’ll definitely book at Ink48 next time we’re in town.

Hotel Ink48 New York