HotelCrush: a vehement, furious, downright pathological appreciation for hotel design and culture
We love hotels. We love room service. We love poolside cocktails. There is nothing more decadent than a trip to a hotel, the epicenter of our social circles and respite from our daily life. They are destinations in themselves, with the acumen of the location converged in the design and the sensibilities of its inhabitants. Hotels are daydreams made real, with amenities at your fingertips and a dip in the water just steps away. More than temporary homes, today's hotels aspire to be just like home - whatever home it is that you are looking for.
8/12/11: in the air, it's not going to happen
You can always spot the car that's just run a red light. It's the only car on that side of the street bolting at mach speed, with a driver furtively scanning for police. Such is the mentality of the entitled business traveler at the airport, recovering from a delayed flight. It's the waiting room of United SFO, notorious for fog-related delays, with a full operation of complainers in swing.
"UN-believable!" shouts a man in a suit, red face and bulging eyes possibly indicative of an untreated thyroid problem. "I have a meeting in LA in two hours and it's YOUR fault if I miss it"
"I'm NOT flying into Long Beach. NO. You're going to put me on the next flight to LA or --" Thyroid snaps back to his mobile, "Brian, these jerk-offs at United say my flight is delayed an hour and a half AT LEAST, excuse me--"
"If I have to pay for a ticket on another airline, which I will, I am invoicing YOU the cost"
And on. And on.
Oh yes, that delayed flight. What did we do? We stepped calmly to the desk, arranged a different flight, and settled into an email starting with "I'm so sorry I'm going to be late..." After all, what are the chances your new client is on the same plane?
We'll just say it's happened..
We initially planned our visit to Arcona Studio in Santa Monica with our good friend P, who canceled due to her needed appearance in Beijing. P is an Arcona superfan and raves about their line of organic, nourishing skincare products (which we admit have lovely packaging), so we booked our deep cleanse for the morning after our DC flight. Since plane air has the same effect as the vacuum seal on a lb of ground supermarket coffee, we were looking forward to a bit of reviving. Our 50-minute session included two exfoliations, LED therapy, and the best shoulder and neck massage we've ever received during a facial. After treatment our skin was tingling (literally) with refreshment, and we promised to diligently use the suite of Arcona samples handed to us at the end.
On the topic of D.C. travel our friend B, who's from D.C., turned to us and said, "Oh you HAVE to go to Donovan House, it totally reminded me of you."
So, we did.
The Donovan House is a case example of an extraordinarily marketed, well-photographed property with extremely good web presentation. The hotel's public spaces (the lobby, rooftop, pool, Zentan restaurant) appear much larger on the site than in person. Both the rooftop and lobby are shallow, essentially the same six-step width, and a bit claustrophobic despite the glass doors and open air.
After viewing the roof, we grabbed a quick dinner at Zentan, an Asian fusion restaurant with a solid sushi selection.
Yes, we ate everything!
View from the rooftop:
The Donovan House Lobby and Rooftop Pool (A.D.C.):
Notorious as much for its trysts as its lack of a public restroom, the Mayfair was a perfunctory listing in our black book that we pulled through without incident. With its immense ceiling, '80s brass fixtures, and obvious strain on non-tourist traffic, it was the only hotel in town that reminded us specifically of Las Vegas, a different kind of infamy we'd like to see it overcome.
The Lobby and Hallway:
Rounding the circular driveway to the Hay Adams is like stumbling on a Jamestown village or a Civil War re-enactment scene. The lobby is small, immaculate, and brightened by vases of fragrant white flowers. We loved the intimacy of the space and the dining room just up the stairs, the perfect setting for our next martini lunch lobbying for the removal of railroad tracks from the Washington Mall.
The Elevator Vestibule and Flowers:
The Dining Room:
Our third Mandarin Oriental was located outside of the downtown crush, past the Washington Memorial. Walking the distance from the W (a little over a mile in the summer heat) we were ready for refreshment and a walk-in freezer by the time we arrived. The Empress Lounge, located just past the lobby, serves tea buffet-style Thursday through Sunday from 2:30-4:30pm.
We loved the scones (though there was a slight dough-y taste undetected in either the Plaza's or Peninsula's), the smoked salmon on mini croissants, and the vegetable pinwheel sandwiches, along with the strong pot of delicious green tea.
The Mandarin Oriental Lobby and Flower Arrangement:
Afternoon Tea Buffet
Empress Lounge and Bar
Afternoon Tea Selection
Just next door to the W (formerly Hotel Washington) is the iconic Willard Inter-Continental, as stylish and architecturally competitive as when its current 12-story building opened in 1901. We love the breezy, spacious quality of the lobby and the stunning corridor, a sconce-lined transept that extends from the main entrance on E Street to the back entrance on F. If you're weathered from a walk through the park (or just in need of an afternoon Pimm's), the Nest Bar is your destination. Just take the rounded staircase in the lobby to the second floor speakeasy, and have a toast to the Beaux-Arts.
The Hallway and Nest Bar
D.C. is as culturally far from San Francisco as London is to Miami, but the bright gastropub with chalkboard specials and fresh fruit brimming from the mixologist's bar brought us back to the heavy cocktailing and SOMA eateries that SF is known for. Our stop at Hotel Monaco was for Poste, the glass-walled restaurant located in the courtyard. Though it's the perfect happy hour stop after work, we made this the first toast on our Saturday evening design prowl.
The Hotel Monaco Lobby and Entrance to Poste
The St. Regis is known as Starwood's flagship luxury brand, and each instance shares the hallmarks of quiet opulence and comfortable leisure. Our first venture in D.C. brought us through the doors of this beautiful property two blocks above Lafayette Square. A full drawing room extending the length of the building, the lobby is accented by the chandeliers that come standard issue in this town. But it's the north end where you'll want to pause for a glass of rosé on the blue velvet tufted couches in the bright, secretive corner lounge.
The St. Regis Lobby and Rosé Toast:
The St. Regis Lounge and entrance to Amour:
8/5/11: it's not going to happen, dc
We accept certain things as hotel standard issue – body lotion as part of the bath amenities, a chocolate brownie on 24/7 room service, negotiable checkout of at least +1 or 2 hours, and, if the climate is widely known as one of the most humid and punishing on the East Coast, a body of water to park next to with a lounge chair and glass of lemonade. So things aren't exactly coming together for us. We love the W with the passion of 13-15 room keys, and have found pools in unlikely (and no doubt underappreciated) circumstances like the W San Francisco. So, a few steps from the White House (also known as a building with prime undeveloped rooftop real estate), our horror was realized as we ascended to the roof and took a stark look around. Reality setting in, we acknowledged the obvious – we should have checked Tablet.
Roaringly theatric like the scene of a masquerade, the lobby of the W welcomes you with more than high ceilings and plumes of red, white, and black ostrich feathers. The W's signature purple and slightly sweet room fragrance are at full crank, as is the blue light filter and showroom cluster of white couches, tall black and cream chairs, and red vinyl opera couches. We clocked in hours in the lobby catching up with friends and plunging through our latest Gilded Age read, and spent afternoons on the rooftop with our sketch book and a plate of something delicious. Perfectly on beat with our morning, afternoon, or end of the night, we're smitten with another W and feverishly on the path to collecting them all..
The Lobby and Bar:
The Lobby Lounge Day and Night:
P.O.V. Lounge on the Rooftop Day and Night:
View from P.O.V.
The Hotel Room:
The Bathroom and Bliss Spa:
We've said that world capitals are neighborhoods of the same city center, a blisteringly conscious, dynamic, unpredictable stack of lifestyles and density of patterns. You've met city addicts no doubt, or you are one, and the rush of living and swarm of sensations is what keeps you trying the next one, and the next, and the next. You have favorites, of course, but you're after novelty, variation, quantity of possibility, and the jolt of surprise. You consume air travel like diet soda, satiated and thirsty, and you accumulate cities like rooms in your house to which you keep going back.
It's the plurality of instances, the challenge to limits, the feeling of "not anywhere, but just in the moment" in which we smear our face, smother our body, and suck down as fast as the next Crush swells, familiar, tingling, and bottomless.
...we're hot on the heels of a new Balzac, two tubes through our favorite Blood Orange + White Pepper, and coming off a sensational in-home massage. We scheduled two hours with Aiko Spa and made it a morning with our good friend J (who came bearing lattes) and those instant cinnamon rolls that come in the pop-open tube (just watch us try those from scratch...er)
We threw the French doors open for some sunshine and converted our office into a temporary massage room. After J's session, we settled in for the knot-unwinding so dearly needed. Mai-Linh worked out the muscle stress accumulated through our numerous bad habits, reversing the imposition of our desk chair on our strained posture. The hour flew and we were so thoroughly reset, that a frozen Snickers seemed the next prudent decision.
Which, for anyone indulged in chocolate or massage, such sensible choices are well-reasoned.
7/24/11: las vegas, hotelcrush
Visitors to Vegas are struck by the sheer magnitude. Yesterday's dollhouses are today's miniature Venice, Paris, New York, and Lake Como. Everything is neon, gilded, metallic, reflective, light-up, angular, self-important, and not a small bit desperate. And out of this miasma of numb stimulation, tucked in from the frontal onslaught of the Strip, is the Mandarin Oriental. At first impression you'll know this one is different. There is no casino, and the lobby is on the 23rd floor, adjacent to a lounge serving afternoon tea and champagne on ice. A step further and you'll enter the bar, a rounded corner of a room with floor-to-ceilings of the horror below. A perfect place to recharge with a moment of float time before plummeting into a posse of pamphleteers advertising "Girls to your door in 20min".
Yes, we'll have another. . .
The Lobby and Lounge:
7/24/11: las vegas
There are five good reasons to be in Vegas.
If, like us, you're hovering around reason #5, your goal is get in and get out without a sunburn, a hangover, a new debt, or a wildly unflattering photo. So far so good.
We spent the afternoon making the huge (read 5min, Angelenos) walk to the Aria at CityCenter. One of Las Vegas's newest, it's also one of the most sensible, with a Japanese take on minimalism and sufficient buffer around the casino to fool even us into a moment of location amnesia. We slid into resort mode at the lobby bar and ordered a pomegranate mojito. Delicious though too sweet for our taste, we tempered the sugar with handfuls of cashews, thoroughly ruining our plan for an afternoon gelato.
The Lobby Bar:
Let's turn around:
7/23/11: las vegas
A small part of us remembers swimming the noxious heat around the Luxor in the '90s - "Mom. Dad. It's so hot it's unhealthy. Let's get out of here." Grade school impression noted, not much has changed in Las Vegas. Except almost everything. Where once there was only gambling, there are now hotels brave (or snobbish) enough to be greenlit without casinos. There are more designers in two blocks than in all of Beverly Hills. The hotel spa scene is as competitive as Miami. There's reason to ask, what am I doing here in the casino when I could be shopping, spa-ing, or sipping a glass of bubbly by the pool?
We checked into the Bellagio amidst the hysteria of a Saturday afternoon. Greeted by a loud, persistent Chihuly installation that stretched the length of the lobby, we grabbed our room key and ran as fast to the elevator as the casino floor plan would allow. Something was definitely off – something that remained off through the parking lot of lounge chairs by the pool and the thunderous fountains that crushed the mental concentration of our inner tightrope walker. Something that was so off that the lovely Bellagio terrace bar is now being renovated into a chain outpost of Hyde.
The one standout we'll allow the Bellagio is the excellent steakhouse, Prime. Our dinner was perfect, from the savory shortribs to the macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach, asparagus, and blueberry crumble cake. We can't be sure of a trip back to Las Vegas anytime soon (we would rather go to Santa Barbara...or Pasadena) but we'll remember Prime for the next moment in desperation of taste.
The floor lobby and suite dining room:
The bar and living room:
One of the bedrooms and one of the bathrooms (there were 5!):
7/19/11: campaign champagne
It's no secret that our favorite drink is rosé champagne, so we were thrilled to discover the effervescent Graham Beck Brut Rosé at a 4th of July dinner party. From South Africa, this sparkling wine shares all the qualities of our perrenial favorite. Our hostess explains: "I went in to buy a bottle of Laurent Perrier but the guy told me that I absolutely HAD to try a bottle of this. So I did, LOVED it, and went back to get four cases."
The taste: Tart enough to balance anything sweet, but a hint of sweetness to complement anything savory. Basically, perfection.
The look: Pale pink, think Veuve rosé or Essie Ballet Slippers.
The price: Will shock you, in a good way.
7/15/11: hollywood, speakeasy swank
We remember sleepy weekday evenings in the Cahuenga corridor when you could still find street parking and grab a martini for less than $10. Those days are as over as Spider Club, but what's lost has been gained in swinging pendant lights and the refreshingly good sound system of the new spot called Sayers. References to the Edison and PDT are liberal, and It's rare to find DJing or cocktailing this solid in Hollywood (anymore). We love the blitz on our tongue of the French75, a champagne flute drizzled with lemon juice and perfectly in beat with our Tuesday night.
7/10/11: we are la
We've got a slight renovation going on. It's the backyard, which is terra cotta stone and lovely, but the pool is kidney shaped and our inamourata is starting in with the big moves.
"Let's move the wall back three feet into the hill, stick the pool heater in the other corner, and make everything grass" he says excitedly, hauling us outside.
"Ahh..." we stall, images in our head catching up. "Ants crawling up the lounge chair as we drink lemonade?"
"Or we could have grass on one side of the pool, concrete on the other" he continues.
"North and South Korea?" we offer.
"Well maybe one area of concrete with grass surrounding?"
"The Euro zone, with a donut hole called Switzerland." This is very obvious to us.
"Ok, fine. What do you think?"
"Throw the heater in the corner, pave over the rock garden and the adjacent few feet, do the rest in grass, a zipline, please, and build a secret room in the hill."
7/04/11: hollywood, bliss, spaaah
Happy 4th of July! Oh my. The brownies, the champagne, the smell of blood orange + white pepper. . . and a luxuriously satiating Elemis Tri-Enzyme Facial from our favorite Hollywood spa. This 60-minute resurfacing treatment brutalizes dead skin cells and restores hydration. The two peels were so swift and results-oriented that we could see a difference right after and overall improvement in skin clarity for nearly two weeks. A side benefit of this facial? The wonderful aromas of Elemis's famed skincare line, with enough ginger and mint to revive the laziest of holiday afternoons.
6/27/11: bliss, spaaah
...latest crush is the Blood Orange + White Pepper body scrub and body butter from our friends at Bliss. What had started as a spa party favor this spring has turned into a tumultuous, raging Blood Orange habit we can't pry ourselves from. Each evening the tasks (like shaving) that we stave off until the last possible
nude photoshoot moment have become a bloody orange treat. So at this particular juncture in the week we're settling in to a jacuzzi bath in the double tub, a glass of champagne from our haul of Mumm 187mL, and a satisfying lather of blood orange sugar scrub. Now maybe we'll just have that lick...
6/22/11: palm springs, ooh la la
Sipping a lemonade poolside at the Viceroy is as decadent as our rock'n'roll gets these days, but it's the good smothering of heat that has us in fits and keeps us coming back. Pool etiquette is such that you're not supposed to take the lounge chair next to someone if others are available (as in the movie theater, or train) but sometimes the good sun/shade is just one side of the pool. We're not known as the shrinking wallflower (as a particular incident on last week's plane flight confirms). So etiquette be damned, we're sitting in the shady lounge chair with the lovely umbrella. Another lemonade, please...
6/15/11: in the air, takedown
It's a four-hour night flight from MSP to LAX and we've rushed onto the plane from the Delta lounge, fortified by a glass of white wine and a sampling of salty sweet peanuts. Nasal small talk is not what we need, but we take it nonetheless. "How long is the flight?" the Aisle behind us asks. "Four hours" answers the Window. "Ughh I hate flying" whines the Aisle. "Oh, this isn't a big of a deal, I travel ALL the time" offers the Window, who is clearly reusing his standard demonstration of value. This could go on, but we're already up in the air and the flight attendant has announced that the touch screens have activated on the back of each seat. "Be kind to the person in front of you and don't overdo it with the pressing" she says, absolutely serious. But the fingers have started, and the feeling of unsolicited Shiatsu jolts us from the sketch we're drawing. Window is attacking the screen like the Wii he keeps at the office. Window is reversing the carpal tunnel from his Blackberry. Window is watching the red turn to white as he works his finger pads. Something obviously must be done. Something...
Fast as a muscle reflex, our pen rips from the page, shoots back, and grabs for his hand. It's hot pink nails against short, terrified ones. But he's too fast. Damn. But we've made our statement and stopped the ju-jitsu. And taken a stand against the lack of kinesthetic awareness.
5/25/11: hollywood, spaaah
A visit to a new spa is like a new crush - the rush, the anticipation, the comparison to ones prior. Our curiosity was piqued on many drives down Sunset Blvd. as we watched Le Posh Salon grow out of an unwieldy streetcorner on a frantic rush hour corridor. We hesitated on the bright neon sign outside, but we're not one to judge on externals alone. The interior is stunning - bright, spacious, full of light, and frosted with the kind of orange you want to paint on your fingernails and wear as dangly earrings.
We were greeted with a glass of Veuve (just our style!) and called leisurely to our appointment with Tisha, the massage coordinator. Music in spas is a topic we'll cover later, but we were wholly impressed by the ambient music selection during our 60 minutes. Blissful, soothing, but neither too organic or too sycophantic-female-singer. The deep pressure and tension-relieving strokes of Swedish massage had us nearly asleep and our hour felt luxuriously longer.
We followed our massage with another glass of Veuve and a pedicure with Malvina in the brightest pink we could scavenge. Good pedicures in Los Angeles are a dime a dozen, but a truly outstanding one is as rare as Laurent Perrier by the glass. Our feet looked and felt amazing after ("are those still ours?") and the perfect polish lasted for weeks.
4/25/11: hollywood, speakeasy
We were sated by the third floor walk up, reminiscent of our college library that seemed to tower for monologues. It's here that Cleo has found the proper reverse to dish cracking, or where SBE has found a quiet corner to install a library of romances, treaties, or tell-all memoirs – the white paper book jackets won't let on. The couches are pulled from your favorite formal dining room and the outdoor patio is the right amount of air between a dusty volume of Balzac and a heated conversation in English-clipped French.
Library Bar Living Room and Dining Room:
Library Bar Patio:
4/14/11: hollywood, bliss, spaaah
There is nothing more luxurious than a day wholly to yourself in the middle of the week. So when we made plans with our father on his vacation day off, we texted that morning, "Standby, making plans. Text you in an hour." Of course we were up to no good. After railroading through a cancellation in the Bliss roster, we texted: "Putting you in a Blissage 3pm. Am scheduled for a Triple Oxygen Facial 3:15".
So father/daughter spa day was on, and we made plans for lunch at the rooftop pool prior. Absolutely nuts over the ceviche in the hotel restaurant, we opted for the ceviche tacos and a Sauv Blanc (indulgence day, remember?) while Dad chose the fish tacos and a Chardonnay. It was a sunny, warm day and the views breezed for miles. "This is so nice," he said. We agreed. We live in the same city, separated by the gulf of two freeways and a ferocious amount of street congestion. But that's hardly an excuse.
Lunch was a fast, leisurely two hours, and then we blew in to Bliss. "Checking in," we said, introducing our father. "Let's get you flip-flops!" they offered, ushering him backstage. We asked if they might offer him some Youth samples, then headed to the locker room to grab a quick steam shower and sip a glass of their complimentary champagne. Our facial was soothing, leaning on the Porefector gadget for extractions, an oxygen peel, and a blast of pure oxygen from which we kept stealing small huffs.
We met in the hotel lobby, fresh-faced and tension-free. "Thank you sweetie! I feel great." "Did they offer you champagne?" we asked, the concerned host. "They did!" he laughed. "I didn't have time to drink it before so I saved it in my locker for after." (Ahh, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree...) And we walked outside for the short drive home, promising to see each other soon, promising that we would do this again sometime. And certain we would.
4/05/11: hollywood, bliss, spaaah
There's good, and there's heart-racing, chest-pounding, toe-tingling FABULOUS. We were back at our favorite Bliss spa for a drop-in massage (can't seem to plan ahead) and landed a 3pm with Moeul. He introduced himself enthusiastically and, legally blind, led us to the room with the use of his white cane. We guided him to Naked, our body butter of choice, and settled in for the tension-taming of our life. Moeul had a sixth sense for the knots in our neck and the tightness in our back, and through a miasma of Thai, Shiatsu, and Swedish techniques, we emerged a brighter and infinitely more balanced being. There are some knots you just can't get yourself, and it's those for which we're ever devoted to a humble and profound master named Moeul.
It's 6pm as you step into the W Downtown. The first reflex is scent, a drink of the fragrant lobby that slides over your tongue. The second rush is noise, voices rise and glasses clink as the suit crowd blurs a day's surfeit of tension. You sense music, your heels sink into the beat. You've found the city, the anonymity, the generic and cosmopolite. You could be anywhere, San Francisco, Shanghai, HK, Berlin. You're in the moment, you let your body forget…
3/14/11: palm springs
Our morning started curtly at 9am when we heard the lock turn on our cabin door, the entrance of hotel staff thwarted only by the metal security bolt and our unexpected nudity. Words tumbled reflexively, and totally unnecessarily, from our mouth: “We’re NOT ready!” The door shut soundly. A few minutes later, the sound of another lock opening. Scratching. Straight through the sliding glass door at the foot of our bed we could see the looming shadow of a gardener raking the patio. Given our state of exposure, an orgy would have passed unacknowledged. Privacy? For all the talk of noise privacy and resort etiquette, would a few warning knocks on the door be too much to ask?
3/6/11: palm springs
There's nothing more decadent than a weekday spent poolside with a lemonade (spiked, of course). Our travels pushed past the beat of the city to the desert pulse of the Starwood Le Meridien Resort, the Parker Palm Springs. We were immediately knocked senseless by the absolute relaxation that sinks into your skin as you pass through the tall orange doors. This is not your highly-stylized Viceroy or your hair flying, cork-popping Ace – the Parker Palm Springs is a resort after your superego. The property is immaculately maintained, and designed so fluidly that almost any path eventually leads to your destination, whether it's the pool, spa, lemonade stand, or life-size chess game. Whether your mood is raucous or temperate, it's a beautiful thing to never feel lost.
The Parker Lobby and Pool
The Room and Bath Amenities
There's something sticky sweet about a new crush. It's hot-tempered, breathless, exotic and terrifying in its possibilities. It's the first lick of an ice cream cone, the rock star onstage, the music absorbing into your skin. It's the beat of the city, an endless rooftop view, the rush of adventure, and the seduction of something new…