Monday, November 12, 2007

The Claremont, Berkeley, California

I'm back at the Claremont again. This is the tenth time I've stayed at the Claremont since the beginning of 2007. They've finally awoken to that fact. The last time I was here, I checked in with a colleague who had stayed here once. She got a room upgrade. I was behind her in the check in line. I asked, "Do I get upgraded, too?", thinking, but of course, you're an honored frequent Claremont guest. But no, I wasn't. I had a room in the back overlooking the kitchen dumpsters. More about the Claremont's uh, peculiar frequent guest program anon.

This time, I had a nicer room near the very top of the building. Here's the view at 5:45 this morning.

The hall on the fifth floor isn't nearly as "impressive" in its scope as those on the lower floors. It's much more manageable than the aircraft carrier sized ones lower down that you can view on one of my earlier posts. See?

What you can't see in the photo is that everyone got a USA Today except me. Maybe the management detests that newspaper, and feels like it's performing a service to its frequent guests by not giving them a free copy of it. They did remember to slide the bill under the door, so they do know I'm in the room.

Berkeley is known for its free spirits, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the fire exit sign on my door. On the left of the photo, you'll see the standard "you are here, exit is here, stairs are here, don't take the elevator" stuff. On the right, the Berkeley edition, which is pretty much a "plan your own exit" strategy. That is, you get to decide where you think the fire extinguisher, escape route, and your own room are located. Look! My room's in the staircase, the fire extinguisher in in room 505 under the bed, and the elevator is really a junior suite! Hotel Moral Relativity, I guess.

Finally, the Claremont's extraordinarily bizarre frequent guest program. Most hotels, if you've been there before, will say something like "Welcome back, Misterarthur." If they're not sure, they'll ask "Is this the first time you've stayed at __________?"
Not the Claremont. When I checked in, I was asked if I had a car parked in the lot. Then, when I was given my key, I was handed a piece of paper, which you'll see below.

Note the bizarre nature of the Claremont's "reward" program. 1) You have to stay 11 times to get an upgraded room! If they're going to give you an upgrade after making you stay multiple times, why not make it easier to do so by giving you one when you've stayed, oh, say, 10 times? 2) The letter, such as it is, promises an upgrade for my next stay. You're this close, Misterarthur, to a fabulous upgrade. 3) This is the craziest part. To take advantage of my eleventh stay upgrade, I have to keep this piece of paper. I have to redeem this "original, un-reproduced document to the Hotel Front Desk (sic)." This elegant gift certificate is good through November 2008. So I get to drag it around in my briefcase until the next time I check in. Haven't they computerized this sort of thing, yet? Berkeley, Berkeley. It insists on doing things its own way.

The Henley Park Hotel Washington, DC

More musing on the malleability of the words "boutique hotel". The Henley Park is self described as a hotel that invites you to "Discover a retreat that artfully blends boutique-style luxury, personalized, Old World service, and the modern necessities required by today's business or leisure traveler.". So, I guess, boutique means: Luxury, Personalized Service, & Modern Necessities. That covers just about every hotel above a Motel Six, I think, so it really doesn't mean much any more. Here's what they mean by "Old World".

You can guess the real meaning: Cramped.

The Henley Palace does try to mitigate its old(e) world(e) charm by putting mirrors by the elevator doors, so when you get off on your floor you don't feel like Gulliver checking into the Lilliput Hilton.

The old(e) world(e) charm continues to the bathroom. Here you can see how the bathroom door barely clears the toilet bowl. In the second photo, that's my finger tip. If you want to close the door while you use the facilities, it requires a certain "human rubber band" capability.

There are some fine things about the Henley Park. Nice restaurant. Very nice people. Free Internet Access. Windows that open.

There are some not so nice things: They charge $4.40 for a cup of coffee in the morning (to go, in a paper cup). This wouldn't be so bad, but the in-room mini coffee pot (cleverly secreted in the closet) came with the smallest amount of coffee in its own filter I have ever seen. (Maybe two teaspoons, and the filter was so small it didn't come close to covering the bottom of the filter holder.) It's discouraging to see ecru water filling up the carafe. There's construction next door. But at least the workers put away their jackhammers at 4:30 and don't start up again until 7:00 am. Good Morning, Misterarthur. This is your jackhammerjackhammerjackhammerjackhammerjackhammer wake up call.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Ace, Portland

Dave "where's my guitar?" Bierman took this photo. It's of the Ace Hotel in Portland. You can tell it's uber hip because the owners have done virtually nothing to make it look like a nice hotel. I love the Fire Hose. So elemental! He says there are no amenities either, which follows that aesthetic to its core. It's so hip it hurts! The Ace is famous for its Cat Mural. Make of that what you will. I encourage you to click on the link to find out more about the place. After you sit through a bunch of slow-loading flash modules, you can sample its terminally precious "media relations" page and read the "concept release".

70 Park Avenue Hotel

70 Park Avenue Hotel is a Kimpton property, self-described as a "New York City Boutique Hotel in Midtown Manhattan". I'm not sure what a boutique hotel is any more. I think Ian Schrager started the fad towards fancy, smaller hotels. Now a boutique hotel can be a fancy bigger hotel, like the W in San Francisco. The 70 Park Avenue is of the smaller variety.

It's quite nice 'n' trendy. The rooms have the requisite groovy toiletries. (L'Occitane)

The hallway is a little worrying.

The combination of dark, old and cramped reminded me of the movie 1408, with John Cusak and Samuel L. Jackson. Not a good sign. The out-of-nowhere stairs on the way to my room were interesting. Every time someone comes down the hall with a roller bag, you can hear 7 thumps as they descend.

Then I arrived at my room. It looked as though someone had tried to crowbar the metal door open, which I haven't successfully captured in this picture. Welcome to New York, circa 1985. The utility door isn't very welcoming either, I'd say. The hotel's web site claims the 70 Park Avenue is a "New York boutique hotel that feels like a second home". I'd agree, if your home were a 4th floor walkup in an old building with a cranky super.

The plate on the door holding the lock bolt was unconnected to the door itself, which made closing the door upon departure almost impossible. Fortunately the "engineer" (that's what the guy at the front desk called him) fixed it pronto. I must say, everyone was nice in this hotel. Very nice, indeed. Of course, like all expensive hotels, they charge for internet, dang it. I'm still mystified by the inverse correlation between hotel prices and free internet. Can someone give me a rational explanation of why this might be?

Once you arrive in your room, all worries are cast aside, as you're reminded by the bedspread of the name of your hotel. I know it's a good thing to be proud of your property, but for goodness' sakes, most guests are probably not Alzheimer's patients. I typically don't forget where I'm staying from check in to opening my room door.

There was another peculiarity that I failed to photograph. The toilet paper roll (in this case, easy to find, see prior post) had a sticker on it that encouraged guests to be "green". I'm all for saving the planet, but I will stick my neck out and say that toilet paper rolls are an odd place to flaunt your eco-creds.

n.b.: Be careful if you click on the 70 Park Avenue link. You'll hear a jazzy rip-off of the theme from "The Odd Couple".

The Hilton Garden Inn Hotel, Annapolis/now with warning

I can find almost nothing to kvetch about when it comes to the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel. Well, the name is kind of redundant, isn't it? Why not really stretch: It already has four words, why stop there? "The Hilton Garden Inn Hotel Caravanserai Imaret Auberge Crib" has a nice ring to it, and Crib will appeal to all those gangsta kids from the suburbs whose parents are taking them to see Historic Annapolis.

There is, unfortunately, no garden to speak of - or at least none that I could find. A colleague pointed at a chunk of lawn and thought it might be the garden, but I think it was more of a verge. Anyway, this Inn Hotel just opened in June 2007, so it's very clean and lovely. Free coffee in the lobby, free internet (hooray), nice people, and nicely lit halls.

It also features the 21st Century equivalent of the old hide-the-vomit carpet pattern. Tres mod, n'est-ce pas?

Then the interior designer's "I must have it my way" hissy fit strikes. Here are two photos of the bathroom. It's quite nice, and being new, is shiny and tidy. A quiz for you Hotel Hallway readers: What can't you find in this bathroom?

Answer: The toilet paper. Toilet paper, I'm sure you'll agree, is one of the few musts in a bathroom. Oh it's there, just cleverly hidden so you can't easily locate it, even when you need it most, if you know what I mean. Rather than make you keep looking for it, I'll tell you: It's UNDER the sink counter. Now that you know where to look for it, you still won't be able to find it.

Finally, there's a mysterious poster in the elevator. (By the way, this is an official Hilton poster, not some rogue poster made up by the management of this particular Hotel Inn.)

Why on earth would a company try to make its guests feel welcome by asking rude questions? "I'm going to meet some friends, thanks, but frankly, it's none of your business."

UPDATE: A colleague just stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, and her stay was marred by an uninterrupted series of woes, including a plugged (by a prior guest) toilet. Maybe I hit a good weekend. Maybe she hit a bad one. Whichever Garden Inn Hotel experience you can expect appears to be somewhat random. I warned you.