BlackBook Rooms w/ a View: The New Thompson Washington DC Hotel

 

 

It was slightly ironic that a recent trip we took to DC coincided with the Oscars, as it reminded us of the obviously insulting line ascribed to a number of political pundits, including Joe Scarborough: “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.” Seeing Charlize, Brad, et al, on the small screen, did again prove that still nothing can compete with Tinseltown in the (manufactured) glamour department—yet HWood be dammed, we were on your way to what was surely the capital’s most glamorous new hotel.

Opened in early January, the brand-new Thompson Washington DC, the Beltway outpost of the brand whose roots go back 20 years to Manhattan’s actual Thompson Street, where 60 Thompson (now SIXTY Soho) was one of the first destination hotels for the post 9/11 prosperity generation. Twenty years on and the vibe at this Thompson was just as cool, with a huge, light-filled lobby and bar dominating the ground floor space. The reception desk was tucked away in a corner.

 

 

Our room was pure class—no flimsy or overly cheeky design elements—with elegant, dark wood and brass furniture and fixtures, a very well stocked mini bar (we’re fine with in-room yoga mats and wellness options, but not at the expense of vodka and prosecco), and a spacious terrace overlooking DC’s hot new hood, The Yards, in the old Navy Yard.

On our first evening, we were thrilled to check out the outpost of one of our NYC faves, Danny Meyer’s Maialino Mare, an offshoot of Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Park celeb magnet, which focuses on Roman trattoria fare; we indulged in their specialty fried baby artichokes, cremini mushrooms with white wine and anchovy, fettuccine with ruby red shrimp, with each dish building to an encore of lemon custard with toasted pine nuts and an almond crust.

 

Maialino Mare

 

Up and out the next day, we were determined to take advantage of as much as we could in a town with increasingly interesting diversions—even some that aren’t affiliated with the Smithsonian. The Navy Yard itself is on the southeast side of downtown, on the banks of the Anacostia River; Nationals Park is two blocks west, and amidst the numerous older nautical buildings are rising shiny apartments and stores to accommodate the latest wave of policy wonks/wonkettes. We started with a bracing stroll along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, stretching 20 miles on both sides of the river; we only made it about a quarter mile before getting distracted, realizing we should have probably grabbed a bike from Capital Bikeshare, as the Thompson provides them gratis.

After a day of cultural pursuits, including stopping to awe at a few monuments (while we still have a democracy), and a tour of the inspiring Freer Gallery of Art (The Peacock Room is James Whistler’s opulent masterpiece of mural art, and a must see) we headed back to the Yards for dinner at District Winery, an awesome space that includes said winemaking operation, a wine related boutique, and the restaurant Ana, where we were impressed to discover some of the tastiest vegetarian options on any menu we’ve yet come across.

 

The Peacock Room at Freer Gallery of Art

 

Not that there wasn’t plenty for carnivores, from roasted scallops to a NY strip, but we ordered the excellent market vegetable “Shawarma” with roasted vegetables, beet falafel, pink lentil hummus, creamy tahini sauce, and lavash cracker, and Meadow Creek Grayson cappelletti with pickled pear, cultured butter, onion petals, and basil oil; the sourdough spelt bread was a particularly special treat.

We retired to catch the last half of the Oscars (still too long), congratulating ourselves on how much we saved not bothering to deck out like Scarlett and Leo, while still enjoying a lavish dinner. And flopping down in our thrift store loungewear, we were contented with the luxury of catching the awards show on a state of the art, 55″ flat screen.

 

Somewhere

 

The next day, before heading back north, we took a walk around some of the Yard’s shops, stopping in Steadfast Supply, a creative retail shop and curated events hub featuring goods from local small businesses and independent brands…and Somewhere, a sleek space dedicated to bringing the global fashion conversation to the capital. Both boutiques gleamed with newness of a new kind of DC.

Sadly, the one thing we didn’t get a chance to try was Trapeze School NY, located just a couple of blocks from the hotel. Merely a good excuse for us to already be planning a springtime return to the Thompson.

 

First Images: The New El Llorenç Parc de la Mar Hotel, Palma de Mallorca

 

 

 

Sitting in the Mediterranean just off the coast of Spain, Mallorca has long been known for its gorgeous beaches and over-amped clubbing scene. But the largest of the Balearic Islands also boasts moderate temperatures year round, and a landscape diverse with mountains, lush groves and vineyards, hilltop towns, and a turquoise coastline.

Unsurprisingly, it’s also become one of Europe’s great expat magnets over the last decade.

The capital and cultural hub of the island, Palma de Mallorca, wears its rich history via striking Spanish, Arabic, and Moorish architecture. Cobblestone streets lined with art galleries, boutiques and cafes give way to enough medieval landmarks to impress the most discriminating beach bum historian.

 

 

In the heart of Palma’s Old Town, La Calatrava is a charming quarter surrounded by the Cathedeal Le Seu on the seaside, and ancient Arab baths inland. And a stunning new hotel, El Llorenç Parc de la Mar, sublimely captures the area’s mix of old and new. It’s also the newest member of the Design Hotels group.

Designed by Barcelona trained architect Pedro Rabassa, the structure takes its cues from the local aesthetic, with wide open spaces to maximize the spectacular views—including a three-tiered rooftop terrace decked out with with Palma’s longest infinity pool, and luxurious Balinese beds from which to take in the panorama of the city and marina. There’s also a poolside cocktail bar, for those languid, lazy afternoons and evenings.

 

 

Swedish interior designer Magnus Ehrland also worked the contrast of classical and modern, incorporating stone columns, Venetian plaster walls, and Arabic star patterned floors, with well chosen contemporary art and B&W photography gracing the lobby. The surprisingly warmly decorated (and all king-bedded) guest rooms feature custom furnishings from Roche Bobois, Kartell, and Flos, while bathrooms are equipped with futuristic Senso wash toilets and heated flooring. Suites are especially well appointed, and each features a pair balconies with glorious sea views.

One imagines its possible to spend a couple of days never leaving the hotel, with a 24 hour fitness room and wellness center with serene Arab baths and a beautifully adorned thermal pool. And back up on the roof, at the stylish DINS restaurant, Chef Santi Taura serves a Balearic style menu of freshly caught seafood—coca mallorquina, creamy rice with Mallorcan red prawns—and locally sourced farm provisions.

 

Summer Olympics Stay: The Stylish New K5 Hotel Opens in Tokyo

 

 

While China tries to contain this worrying coronavirus, July will bring the 2020 Summer Olympics to a hopefully unaffected Tokyo…and we couldn’t be more thrilled for a zeitgeist defining visit.

Alas, we’ve often lamented the lack of truly worthy boutique hotels in the Japanese capital. But an intimate, buzz-generating new property will open this month, one that seeks to attract a more discriminating contemporary traveler (we like to count ourselves amongst that group). Indeed, the K5—which sounds a bit “intelligence agency” if we’re being honest—is a 20 room stunner, and a notable element in the revitalization of the Kabuto-cho district. It is also the latest member of Design Hotels.

 

 

In a four story edifice that dates to the 1920s (and was once a bank), inside, Swedish designers Claesson Koivisto Rune treated the original features with appropriate reverence, leaving intact the elements of cedar wood and Japanese stucco. But original concrete floors have been updated using similar materials. And following the guiding principal of “aimai,” spaces have been given amorphous beginnings and endings, with boundaries being left somewhat ambiguous—which, by the way, doesn’t mean the bar will be anywhere your bed…but the reception desk does double as a coffee shop.

Rooms, considering it’s Tokyo, are generously proportioned…enough to fit large central columns dressed in indigo fabrics. The designers have installed their own furnishings—including custom washi paper lamps—for stylistic parity, along with items by Emeco and Maruni. Bathrooms feature wood benches, cedar ceilings, and bright white tiling. Playing to the trend, each has a turntable with a smartly curated selection of vinyl.

 

 

A restaurant, the intriguingly monikered Caveman (a spinoff of Kabi), serves contemporary Japanese cuisine amidst concrete walls and parquet flooring, while Ao is for cocktail aficionados. Downstairs is B, actually the first Brooklyn Brewery taproom outside of New York (ah, globalization).

Most strikingly, colored glass at the back of the hotel reflects automobile headlights into the corridors, creating a kaleidoscopic effect. The dazzle, of course, is included in the room rate.

 

Tradition Amidst the Revolution: Three Days at The Shelbourne Hotel Dublin

 

 

We’ve always been intrigued by Ireland, a country that celebrates a patron saint and a pagan goddess, both named Brigid. The latter’s feast falls on February 1st, the Celtic first day of spring—incidentally the perfect season in which to visit the Emerald Isle. And on the heels of Ireland at last legalizing abortion, and the commencement of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 (covering new offenses of coercive control), the country also elected more female politicians locally than ever before in 2019—all making today’s climate downright revolutionary.

So needing an escape from the depressingly regressive socio-political reality at home, we booked an Aer Lingus flight to experience the capital Dublin, and coastal Donegal (the latter story to follow), in all their magical lore and lush greenery. Notably, Aer Lingus also announced in 2019 that female cabin crew were no longer required to wear makeup or skirts as part of the airline’s new uniform guidelines. Score another one…

For this trip, we opted to mix revolution with a bit of tradition; and rolling up to The Shelbourne, an Autograph Collection Hotel, we were immediately entranced by the elegant frontage of the 200-year old property—located directly on St. Stephen’s Green. The place is bursting with history, from its proximity to the Easter Rising of 1916 (which split loyalties in Ireland’s fight for independence from the British, both sides battling it out right across the road), to its later being home to the drafting of Ireland’s Constitution in 1922. The hotel has also long been a meeting point for political, social, and cultural happenings.

From the moment we entered through its new but still impressively grand front doors (they swapped out the original revolving doors last year due to guests getting caught in the whoosh), we found the excellent staff—and personalized concierge service—distinctly charming and always welcoming. There’s even a genaeaology butler on hand, providing private consultations for guests hoping to discover their Irish ancestry.

As special as they made us feel, a long list of distinguished guests had actually come before us. Think JFK and Jackie, and from Hollywood’s golden years Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Paul Newman and Robert Redford…we could go on. Princess Grace even has a namesake suite (her favorite room when she and Prince Rainier of Monaco were visiting Ireland), and it’s rumored Liam Neeson stays in the same room whenever he visits. It’s an overwhelming pedigree; though these days the Shelbourne still exudes the same sophisticated charm, infused with modern amenities like a spa with pampering treatments and a hair salon catering to Dublin’s chicest women.

The Shelbourne’s luxurious, very-well-appointed rooms overlook St. Stephen’s Green, which is worth spending contemplative time in while in Dublin. Still we skipped breakfast in bed to indulge in the world-class, morning-starting buffet—and on one morning, ordered up the delectable Shelbourne Eggs Benedict—in the elegant Saddle Room. Pairing it up with an energy juice—freshly made of kale, spinach, parsley, beetroot and red gala apple—and a really good coffee (not a given in this part of the world) it really energized us to make the rounds of the charming Irish capital.

Museum of Literature

 

We made a point of strolling through St. Stephen’s Green on the way to the Museum of Literature Ireland, which opened to much literary fanfare this past October. We thrilled to the many iconic works from Ireland’s storytelling past and present, translated into lively interactive exhibitions.

On view is an original manuscript of Ulysses, which made us love James Joyce all over again. But all the literary gymnastics made us hungry, we took a break at The Commons Cafe, showcasing Ireland’s produce and culinary heritage (never mind the outstanding pastries, also not a given in these parts). We took an excellent coffee into the Courtyard Garden, a tranquil retreat set amidst thoughtful landscaping, perfect for reading a chapter or two of, say, Kate O’Brien’s Land of Spices.

Roe & Co Distillery

With afternoon upon us, we then headed to the Roe & Co. Distillery, housed in the former Guinness Power Station in the buzzy Liberties District, and ushering in a new wave of Irish whiskey making. An interactive tour was particularly edifying, and our guide Billie energetically brought us through the fascinating history of the dark spirit in Ireland and its distillation process. Followed by a fun cocktailing workshop, it wrapped with a signature drink at the Distillery’s especially cool Power House Bar. There was also plenty of nicely branded swag—and whiskey of course—in the gift shop, which makes for the ideal take home memento.

But eager to explore Dublin style, we made our way to Stable of Ireland, one of the most authentic shops for Irish textiles in the city. Located in the shopping district of Grafton Street, the women-owned, distinctly Irish company was founded by Francie Duff and Sonia Reynolds, and featured exceptionally well designed scarves, herringbones, blankets, throws, plus table and bath linens.

From pure Irish linen to Donegal wool yarns, cashmere, merino and alpaca, Stable works with the best hand and machine weavers (a difference Sonia was happy to explain) from all over the island of Ireland. We took time to linger over their luxurious selection, in gorgeous colors, textures and tweeds, all exclusive to the lovely little shop. It’s hard to leave empty-handed—and we didn’t.

 

Stable of Ireland

 

But seeking a more immersive tour of the city’s culinary and fashion scenes, we met up with Eveleen Coyle, Director of Fab Food Trails. We then spent a few hours strolling Dublin with local Coyle, who provided an insider’s glimpse of textiles (she actually introduced us to Stable), cheesemaking, cafe hopping and curio collecting. Specifically, we popped into Courtville, a family-founded antique, vintage and estate jewelry dealer.

Proprietor Matthew Weldon now helms the pocket-sized shop, ready to assist with all your bling ring needs. We were dazzled by their exquisite array of art deco hand-carved jade bracelets and engagement rings, and the many more unique pieces that made this corner spot in a stunning Georgian building an absolute highlight.

For fashionphiles, no trip to Dublin is complete without paying a call to the country’s most famous designer, Louise Kennedy, and her gorgeous flagship store. Establishing her namesake brand in 1983, the regal Kennedy is a member of the British Fashion Council and has won a slew of awards, including Irish Designer of the Year. At her atelier on Merrion Square (where you can also see the Oscar Wilde Memorial Sculpture), we were treated to a private tour and preview of her latest collection.

 

Oscar Wilde statue at Merrion Square

 

Kennedy is a genius at draping, using sumptuous fabrics in a range of jewel-tones and graphic black in her timeless designs, “which flatter women of any age.” We coveted the Emerald tartans and Black Watch tweeds, lightweight silks, tulle and chiffon, that are sort of socialite with a subtle edge. Her tweedy version of the quintessential motorcycle jacket was a genuine one-of-a-kind.

Kennedy has dressed almost every important and stylish woman on the continent and beyond; indeed, she’s designed for Irish Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, members of British, European and Middle Eastern royal families, and even movie stars like Meryl Streep and Anjelica Huston. In 1998, she designed the Aer Lingus uniform, and was just reappointed to design the new version (we can’t wait); but perhaps most impressively, she was commissioned by the former Chief Justice to design the first national judicial robes for the Irish Supreme Court…how cool. She also developed a signature fragrance, one of our prized takeaways from the visit.

With a second flagship in (Belgravia) London, Kennedy also holds trunk shows in New York if one is looking to discover her stateside. But we especially loved that Louise’s right-hand dog and atelier assistant, Paddy the miniature Schnauzer, features heavily in her feeds (@1louisekennedy).

Louise Kennedy

While we could have spent all day immersing ourselves in Dublin style, we headed back to The Shelbourne for an Irish whiskey tasting in the Horseshoe Bar (where Bono is sometimes spottedd enjoying a tipple)—though we especially appreciated the unique cocktails only available in the book-and-art-filled 1824 Bar. The hotel also has exceptionally good afternoon tea (oh those sweets!) in The Lord Mayor’s Lounge, on ground level overlooking the Green.

But dinner in the refined Saddle Room afforded the very special opportunity to indulge in a genuine classic: their famous beef wellington, aged angus beef coated in duxelle (like a mushroom pate) and wrapped in crispy puff pasty then cooked to pink. It needed to be ordered 24-hours in advance, given its special preparation—but it was so definitely, deliciously worth it.

And refusing to feel guilty for our indulgences, the next day we worked it off at The Shelbourne’s fully-equipped health club with sauna, steam room, and indoor pool—perfectly exhibiting how such a storied hotel can deftly appeal to the needs of contemporary travelers, without sacrificing a whit of its storied charm. Which, in fact, is exactly what we would say about Dublin.

Five Things We Love About Toronto’s Bisha Hotel…Especially the New Lenny Kravitz Designed Suites

 

 

A wise Lenny Kravitz once crooned that we all need to “let love rule”…and yes, we’re getting our hearts on particularly strong upon with the onset of the month of February, all due to a crazy little thing called “Valentine’s Day.” So in celebration of all moments rife in sensual seduction, we look to Toronto’s (aka the 6ix—thanks, Drake) Bisha Hotel & Residences for a bit of advance romance.

In a tastemaker’s collaboration between high-profile entrepreneur Charles Khabouth (owner of Bisha Hotel and CEO of INK Entertainment) and the style icon / rock god, Lenny and his Kravitz Design firm were given full creative reign to unleash his visionary prowess upon the 7th floor of the splashy hotel, to spectacular effect (the rest of the hotel, including the Mister C lounge and KOST restaurant, was deftly designed by locals Studio Munge). But you could also spend days in the hotel just eating and drinking. 

Lenny’s suites included, here are all the things we heart about the Bisha.

 

Akira Back

If you’re like us and easily seduced by sashimi and sake, we won’t blame you for having a #foodgasm while enjoying such fine fare in a posh waterworld kingdom that would surely rival Atlantis. It also doesn’t hurt the restaurant’s street cred when Kravitz is known to be a regular. Like him, we were taken with celeb chef Akira Back’s roster of artfully plated cuisine that spans fresh sashimi (flown in from Japan); tuna and mushroom pizza drizzled with truffle oil; unctuously decadent wagyu tacos; succulent charcoal grilled prime beef topped with kizami wasabi butter; and a roster of tongue-in-cheek named rolls such as the Brother From Another Mother—teeming with unagi, anago tempura, foie gras, and ponzu aioli.

 

Mister C Lounge 

Happy Hour becomes positively euphoric when the lounge hits its Finest Hour(s). From 5-7pm everyday, you get to nurse your weary and overworked soul with half-priced cocktails. If that’s not sipping joy, we don’t know what is. Inside this moody and mystically accented space, our go-to choices include the aptly named Toronto (when in Rome…), which is a simple yet sublime potion consisting of Bulleit Rye, Fernet Branca and Simple Syrup; and feeling a bit bougie, we also said oui to the French Jubilee with Hennessy XO, Lemon, Veuve Rosé. After a drink (or trois), we stayed for the Glitter—from 9pm till late every Thursday, top DJs and live performances help you dance your worries away.

 

Bisha Art Collection

Every other hotel seems to be going on and on about their art collections. But the Bisha has 3,000 pieces to swoon over, which include works by Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Alexander McQueen, and, of course, original photography by Lenny Kravitz. When visiting, keep your eyes peeled for our favorite shot of his: the paparazzi (reverse) perspective, located on the 7th floor.

 

Rooftop Poolside Brunch at Kōst

What’s a bunch without some ‘Gram-worthy gushing to go with it? Kōst is located on the 44th floor of the hotel, and features a sprawling patio and outdoor infinity pool. And the space isn’t just a looker, the cuisine is just as gorgeously done; spearheaded by Chef Ben Heaton, his fare channels the sunny exuberance of the California Coastline. Even in the cold of winter, we appreciated a playful taste of sunshine, via a few of our favorites: avocado toast with goat cheese crema, heirloom tomato and jalapeño vinaigrette; panela bowl with corn, poblano, quinoa, chickpea, romano, baby gem and cherry tomato; and fresh ahi tuna steak topped with pickled red onion, baja slaw, meyer lemon mayo and avocado.

 

 

Kravitz Design Floor + The Bisha Suite

The elevator says 7th floor, but we thought it more like 7th Heaven. The thirteen guest rooms and three suites that Kravitz lent his dynamic design eye to are wrapped in sophisticated seduction with homages to the all that was groovy about the seventies. And of all the wow-worthy spaces, the pinnacle is unquestionably the 2,000 sq. ft. duplex known simply as The Bisha Suite. The pleasure pad greeted us on the main floor with its warm tones of caramel, gold, aubergine and burnt orange.
The sprawling interior included a living room that’s decked out with a chocolate velvet couch, a dining room with geometric chandelier and in-suite bar, spacious kitchen, and a private 1000 sq. ft. terrace that offers glorious views of downtown Toronto and the epic CN Tower.
Meanwhile, the top floor was occupied with a king-sized bed that’s set against a dramatic black-and-gold Japanese ceramic-tiled backdrop, as well as a bathroom that would make King Midas jealous (we’re guessing, anyway)—with separate vanities flanked by a bathtub, a walk-in shower, and heated floors, all wrapped in imported gold spider marbling.

 

Stunning New Hotel Alert: Casa de São Lourenço, Portugal

 

 

 

We’ve been exalting Portugal‘s still mostly uncorrupted charms for as long as we can remember. But having already done Lisbon, Sintra, Porto and the beaches, we’re ready to go deeper—which means heading into the mountains for a more rustic perspective on the comely Iberian nation.

The perfect spot for this sort of perspective is surely the new Casa de São Lourenço, located way up high (1250 meters to be exact) in the Serra da Estrela mountain range—officially designated a UNESCO Global Geopark…which is courtesy of a UN organization dedicated to preserving the world’s geological heritage.

 

 

The striking structure (just an hour and a half from the capital) actually dates to 1948, built as the Pousada de São Lourenço by noted Portuguese architect Rogério de Azevedo, and one of the first of its kind. A $3 million restoration by new proprietors Joao Tomás and Isabel Costa has turned it into a chic retreat—full name Casa de São Lourenço – Burel Panorama Hotel—up to the standards of the Design Hotels group, of which it is now a member.

Inside, it’s something of an homage to the venerable Portuguese artist and designer Maria Keil, whose furnishings (and artwork) are featured throughout. Gorgeous fabrics from the nearby and storied Burel textiles factory give it a distinctly local flavor.

 

 

There are 21 rooms and suites with life-altering views of the Zêzere Glacial Valley below; for a visual experience that will stay with you forever, book the 42 square meter Panorama Suite, which is exactly what it says it is. But generous windows throughout the hotel mean that no matter what you’re doing, those views will be a part of the experience.

There’s an indoor pool, a full spa with such ethereal sounding treatments as Shirodhara – Conscious Flow and Purifying Exfoliation, and a beautifully, minimally designed eponymous restaurant using local flavors and ingredients, and with a terrace for early evening cocktails.

Of course, there are plenty of hiking opportunities and such right outside the Casa de São Lourenço front door. But it’s hard to imagine even wanting to leave this place until check-out.

 

Hospitality Trending: Could the New Pod Philly Substitute for a Luxury Hotel?

 

 

Arguably very publicly launched with The Ace’s debut in Manhattan in 2008 (their Portland and Seattle hotels had flown fairly under the radar previously), the “micro hotel” concept has evolved into a full on trend, with even the corporates—Marriott’s Moxy, Intercontinental’s Indigo—aggressively working the niche.

The concept was a good one: small, reasonably priced sleeping chambers, designed to get you to spend more time in the buzzy wuzzy bar/restaurant downstairs (or upstairs), making for perpetual social energy. And truthfully, nobody at Waldorf Astoria was much bothered about it.

But what if a typical upscale hotel goer on occasion opted for a micro hotel over the luxury property they usually book into, just because it was something different? It was with that mindset that we recently checked into the very new Pod Philly hotel. The brand already had four hotels in NYC (and the first, Pod 51, actually opened in 2007—so they were technically first), as well as one in DC, and followed the micro model pretty much spot on…but the Philly outpost seemed different from the first moment.

 

 

The location is notable, in Center City, just a couple of blocks from poshie Rittenhouse Square, rather than plonked down in the latest cool kid enclave. Considering the ultimate target demo is the millennialrati, it was an interesting choice. Normally when in this general hood, we would make an immediate beeline for the original La Colombe coffee shop around the corner (bragging rights—we discovered it long before it spread from Philadelphia to NYC and beyond); yet the Pod greets guests with the stylish, inviting El Café at the entrance, serving hipster approved Stumptown brews, along with breakfast tacos, and James Matty pastries. We couldn’t resist staying put.

The fairly open plan lobby was much to our liking, as we don’t much love cordoned off spaces in hotels—they tend to stifle the social energy. Rather, as we were given a super friendly, full service check-in (something luxury hotel goers demand, as opposed to everything just being a click on your mobile), we were able to survey the goings on in the restaurant and lounge areas, and felt a part of the…”action.” Especially appealing? We didn’t spot one cloying attempt at millennial “signifiers”—no randomly placed vintage turntables, no Instagram booths, no TV On The Radio tour posters.

 

 

Rooms are still called “Pods.” And there are the obligatory bunk rooms for touring bands and budget travelers. But our Queen Pod+ was spacious and remarkably well-appointed. So unless you absolutely must have yards of marble and hand-carved coffee tables, you could easily want for nothing here. There were attractive, dark wood floors, soothing black, white and turquoise color schemes, and generous windows offering rapturous views of the Center City below. Bathrooms were bright, and beautifully designed, with impressively efficient use of space. Eco points for no longer offering single use plastic toiletries bottles.

Just a couple of blocks away was the world class S. 18th Street restaurant scene, which promised everything from hip British pub (Dandelion, one of our faves) to trendy contemporary American (a. kitchen + bar) to wine and cheese bar (Tria) to vegan Latin (Bar Bombón). But the Pod’s own Condesa is literally the hottest scene in town, parlaying of-the-moment dining and a very happening crowd into a tough-to-get reservation situation.

 

 

It also serves some of the best new world Mexican cuisine anywhere—we loved the mushroom and hibiscus quesadilla, and the excellent carnitas tacos, paired with a couple of Cinco cocktails (Knob Creek rye, spiced agave liqueur, tamarind, pasilla, angostura bitters). Beforehand, hit the airy, year-round rooftop spot El Techo, where you can share a pitcher of Mezcal margaritas for just $30 at happy hour.

Conclusion? If you usually check in to the 5-stars for the formalities, this may not be your thing. But if its comfort, style good service, and excellent food and people watching you seek—and don’t mind giving up a few unimportant amenities to once in awhile save a couple hundred bucks a night—the Pod Philly is a perfect change of pace, to be sure.

 

First Images: Ace Hotel Kyoto

Images by Stephen Kent Johnson

 

 

Now entering its 20th year of history, Ace Hotel Group has been surprisingly cautious taking the brand international, with only London in the portfolio to date. Toronto is coming later this year—but we also now have first images of the inaugural Ace in Asia, which will open to guests in Kyoto this April 16.

To accommodate 213 rooms, a totally new build was added onto the existing historic structure that once housed the Kyoto Central Telephone company (by architectural legend Tetsuro Yoshida).

 

 

“We’ve been wanting to do a project in Japan for twenty years now,” says Kelly Sawdon, Ace Partner and Chief Brand Officer. “Kyoto has been a longstanding global hub that has provided inspiration for countless artists, designers, musicians, filmmakers and poets. It’s a city that generates creativity and inspires travel, and we hope Ace will serve as a central gathering place for locals and travelers.”

For the project, they paired longtime design collaborators Commune with a visionary architect Kengo Kuma for an aesthetic that crosses local flavor with the stylistic signifiers of the brand. Notably, the Ace Hotel Kyoto will feature landscaped gardens, and a central courtyard connecting the historic and contemporary.

 

 

Accommodations will be characterized by the brand’s familiar hip-plicity (don’t be surprised to find a turntable or acoustic guitar in your room), but will also feature Japanese soaking tubs. The Garden Terrace rooms will surely be coveted…as will the Tatami Suite, with its Tatami style floor futons. Of course, the public spaces will be the usual galvanizing forces for the local and international creative set.

Kuma enthuses, “I intended to design a ‘Cultural Catalyst’ for various people to visit and create a seamless relationship with Kyoto’s community.”

Reservations for the Ace Hotel Kyoto are being take now, for the mid-April opening.

 

BlackBook Rooms w/ a View: The Moxy Washington, DC Downtown

 

 

Much like the daily routine of Wile E Coyote and Ralph Wolf (his sheepdog nemesis), the careful calibration of the DC political social scene has relied on Congressional sorts ripping each other—and their policies—to shreds on the House/Senate floor, then sharing a back slap and a stiff martini with one another at the Hay Adams Bar round about 7pm.

That’s virtually all gone now, as those across the aisle regard one another as a snake regards a mongoose. So seeking instead the greatest possible levels of comfort and joy on our most recent holiday visit to the capital, we strategically checked into the new-ish Moxy Washington, DC Downtown, positioned just far enough away from the sinister machinations on Capitol Hill – and with a keen understanding of how to have fun while Rome burns all around you.

Moxy the brand debuted in 2014 in Milan (my, how six years flies…), and has since come to epitomize a new sort of 3-star cool, with smallish/stylish rooms, quite reasonable rates, and lots of action going on downstairs.

Here’s what we loved about the Moxy DC.

 

 

The Check-In

It can sometimes seem a little overly cute to have a check-in desk that also functions as a coffee bar / hipster shuffleboard / eco-warrior information station. And at the Moxy DC, it is purposefully unclear at first who it is that is charged with handing you your room key. But a beacon of warmth and seasonal cheer named Rachel greeted us with such a force of endearing welcomeness, that we couldn’t help but beam right back at her. A very good start.
And she was, indeed, performing said task from behind a multi-purposed fueling station—similar to that at the Moxy Berlin Ostbahnhof—which is busy at breakfast, buzzy all day, and a genuine scene in the evenings.

 

 

Nearby

The Moxy couldn’t be better placed in a city that is not always eminently walkable. And heading north from the hotel (a very short distance), we came upon the glittering City Center complex, where we shared an afternoon prosecco at the charmingly bougie Fig & Olive, before browsing the luxe offerings at Dior, Bulgari, Ferragamo and Zadig+Voltaire. Walking further, we came upon the high-energy Dupont Circle. But a short stroll afterwards in the opposite direction took us to the National Portrait Gallery and then the sprawling culture complex that is the Smithsonian collection of museums – where the Cooper Hewitt’s Design Triennial is still going on.

 

Dior at City Center 

 

The Rooms

As we have noted in previous coverage, DC’s downtown has been developing quite handsomely architecturally (unlike the hideous state of NYC development). And so our 13th floor, and very well windowed room allowed us a spectacular vantage point from which to take it all in. Also included in the view was the handsome 19th Century Asbury United Methodist Church (on the National Register of Historic Places) just up the road.
As is the Moxy credo, rooms are small and quite well designed, with pegs instead of closets, and tables you can fold up and hang on the wall. We admit we weren’t quite sure why our room came with so many inflatable pink flamingoes—but we loved the cool greys-and-whites minimalism. And the spotlights on either side of the bed were a cheeky touch.
Throughout the hotel there are, of course, also the Moxy’s signature bunks, should you be a touring band from Minneapolis or Liverpool.

 

 

Bar Moxy

We are partial to a lobby scene that is reasonably amorphous, so it seems like at any moment you might just flop into a comfy couch, and quickly be handed a drinks menu – even at 11 in the morning (we didn’t test that theory). We actually took our place on one of the stylish Moxy Bar sofas on an early Sunday evening (admittedly, we hadn’t gone to church), and quickly discerned that there were quite a few music biz sorts hanging about, make phone deals and such…along with the usual mediarati types and just generally not uptight people.
The foosball table has become a bit de rigueur in Moxy type hotels, though we admittedly find the game a bit mentally exhausting—so we skipped it to focus on the entertaining people watching. The general design vibe was one of kitsch and charming sensory overload, with the hotel proudly proclaiming its iconoclasm by shunning the typical sparkly lobby Christmas tree, instead opting for a pink plastic one adorned with, yes, more similarly colored flamingoes.

 

 

Breakfast

When we were attending the opening of the aforementioned Moxy Berlin Ostbahnhof in late 2016, we noticed an interesting phenomenon: breakfast, usually a hushed affair with everyone’s noses in their newspapers or their mobiles, was actually a bit of a scene, as if it were seven in the evening. The Moxy DC had a similar sort of morning energy, since the bar / check-in desk was actually – you guessed it – also the breakfast area.
And rather than the usual trend-flogging menu of avocado toasts and maple-bourbon pancakes, were were offered something called a “breakfast naan”—essentially, Indian flatbread slathered in cream cheese, and then piled with more cheese and bacon, and heated up into a sort of Eastern morning pizza. It is literally worth checking in just for that, it was so deliciously decadent. Plus, they have fresh squeezed orange juice—something we’ve come to expect more of the Waldorfs and Mandarins.
As we’ve come to learn, the Moxy is always good for surprise or two.