With an eye on this season’s Academy Awards that aired yesterday, I present my own version of the Oscars, admittedly on a narrower field of entries!
This past year saw a little bit more travel than normal for your humble scribe, with hotels visited across Europe, North America and Oceania. In total, I had the pleasure of staying in some 45 different properties covering a fairly wide range of accommodation types from budget to ultra luxury.
While few hoteliers have the opportunity to visit so many unique locations and brands within a single 12-month span, I do my best to pay these experiences forward and pass along any lessons so that all will benefit.
One might also think that the hotels all become a blur; that after a while, you cannot differentiate one bed from another. I beg to differ! Each of the properties I stayed at was highly memorable for one reason or another. And so, without any further introduction, here are my awards for 2015 based upon my personal experiences:
Best Housekeeping Award: This goes to the Halukelani in Honolulu. This is not a new property by any means, but the housekeeping was flawless – towels that my wife raved about, exciting turndown amenities that changed every day and perfect cleanliness. In fact, it was the only property to register a perfect housekeeping score in my books for the entire year.
Best Hotel Restaurant: With price not a factor, the Two Michelin-star Moments Restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona wins hands down, with some of the most inventive cuisine and desserts you can imagine. Flawless service is a given. But don’t forget your Black American Express Card!
Best Hotel Restaurant for Lunch: The Hotel De Russie in Rome has an incredible outdoor restaurant in a central raised courtyard that transports you back in time to the High Renaissance for a fanciful dining experience. The service is attentive and the menu selections include a wide selection of fish and meat dishes. There was also a substantial buffet, which no one seemed to notice. Head’s up: set aside two hours to fully breathe in the romantically Roman atmosphere.
Best All-Inclusive Hotel Restaurant: The small restaurant in the Villa Armena in the small village of Buonconvento, Italy only serves the ten rooms of this family-owned member of Small Luxury Hotels. Nevertheless, I could have stayed there forever. Service was a family affair: Mom served every meal and she also had a delightfully heavy hand for the wine-by-the-glass. The hotel guestrooms and bathrooms were modern and combined both ultra modern and traditional elements.
Best Hotel Restaurant Wine List: Latour Restaurant in Grand Cascades Lodge in Hamburg, New Jersey. You can lose your mind searching the 135,000 bottles in this hotel’s majestic cave a vin. And it would be worth every brain cell! The property is only an hour away from Manhattan – take a limo so you can imbibe. The restaurant’s menu offerings reflect the quality of the wine as well.
Best Hotel Bar: A tie in this category between the L’Aperitif at La Mer in the Halekulani (with exceptionally innovative and unique appetizers served with each drink), and American Bar in the Fairmont Savoy Hotel in London (four different champagnes by the glass, virtually any scotch you can imagine and impeccable service with an astutely British sensibility).
Best Hotel Bar Food: A surprise find! The J-Bar at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites in Davenport, Iowa has an extensive menu that beats most hotel restaurants. Wonton tuna tacos and cheesesteak eggrolls are definitely not the sorts of inventive tapas-style cuisine you’d expect to find at a Midwestern economy property. Restaurants like these are living proof of how outstanding F&B can work reciprocally to boost occupancy levels.
Best Hotel Club Lounge: The Crown Towers in Melbourne, Australia. This is a model for what lounge F&B aspires to be with staff dedication, an inventive chef, exceptional buffet plus menu offerings and funded (I suspect) by profitable casino backing. If the property did not have a dozen other fantastic independent restaurants worth checking out, you would be hard pressed to leave.
Best Boutique Hotel Third Space: A madcap award for a seemingly madcap hotel going to none other than The Virgin Hotel Chicago. Its plush red, retro-chic lobby entrance and stairwell guide you into a interactive bar and lounge space adorned with wall art, full bookshelves and opulent furnishings. Once you’re there, you will be hard-pressed to wipe this cozy room from your memory.
Best Pool: The St. Regis Bal Harbour has two pools, one for their club rooms and one for the everyone else, plus a full-service beachfront area and about a dozen private day cabanas. Apart from the physical layout, there seems to be dozens of ‘pool boys’ misting and fussing about, acting as the invisible glue for the flawless service that’s offered.
Best Welcome Reception: The Fairmont Savoy Hotel in London has figured this out. You feel like royalty, even if you are not! The doorman called me by name and remembered me from my visit a year ago (good research I suspect). There is no reception counter; desks in a quiet lounge off the lobby serve as a welcome area for arriving guests. After check-in, somehow your bags are already in your room, as are welcome amenities to calm you after a tiresome trip from Heathrow.
Best Property Restoration: The Plaza Hotel Lucchesi in Florence is an astonishing remake of a very old villa originally built for high-ranking members of the Catholic Church. The palatial two-story guestrooms provide a good separation between public and private spaces while still keeping all of its history intact. The lobby bar features an inventive cocktail list and serves exquisite espresso befitting the locale.
Best City Hotel: The Montage Beverly Hills delivers exceptional guestrooms, public spaces, amenities and room service. The lobby is a great spot for celebrity watching, but that’s hardly the primary reason for a visit. Amidst the bustling concrete jungle that is Los Angeles, the adjoining pristine lawn and regal architecture provide a much-vaunted sense of tranquility that once gave the Pacific Ocean its namesake.
Best Casino Hotel: It’s big. It’s really big. It’s the ARIA Las Vegas. A little impersonal at times (which is a given for a 4,000 room property), but the place nonetheless provides an incredible combination of quality, technology, restaurants and support staff, acting in unison as the perfect counterweight to pandemonium that is The Strip.
Best Resort: The Montage Laguna Beach wins here. Every guestroom has an ocean view. Bathrooms are spacious, with dual sinks and ample space. The Studio Restaurant, located in a separate villa on the resort property, headlines a sensational trio of restaurants. Each entry has a differentiated menu and atmosphere without any dips in service quality. Complimentary morning walks and outdoor yoga classes bolster the health club facilities and the genuine Californian approach to wellness. An impressive sense of arrival comes via multiple doormen working in unison and an unobstructed view of the ocean through the lobby. Even their sense of departure is planned, with snacks, water bottles and airport maps ready in your car.
And the Hotel Mogel Hotel of the Year for 2015 is: The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. Only a few months old, the property has spacious, bright rooms, extra-large bathrooms and a host of modern conveniences. I particularly liked the Nespresso in-room coffeemaker and the wide array of gratis flavors, making for a fun little treat every morning. My hope is that more hoteliers will consider this as a replacement for the ubiquitous K-cups. And here’s an interesting twist about the property: no restaurant, in-room dining only. Yet, with a refined butler service, the hotel invokes a distinct spirit of southern hospitality. With an eager, approachable staff and physical product that delivers on every level in a wholesome, unpretentious way, The Spectator is my winner for 2015. It is refreshing to see such commitment from a new property in what many would consider to be a second-tier city.
2016 will see me stay at another 35-50 properties; some will be repeat visits while many new properties will be added. Let’s see who wins one year from now!
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published by HotelsMag on February 26,2016.)