That New Hotel Smell

I prefer the grand old hotels, with their special features and fixtures, but it’s nice to get a glimpse at the new hotel trends every once in a while, too. Last night I stayed in a Marriott Residence Inn in downtown Boise that the friendly woman who checked me in said had been open for all of two weeks.

The first thing I noticed when I got to my room was the smell. With all of the shiny new, just-out-of-the-delivery-box metal, plastic, fabric, and carpeting, the room had that familiar scent that made me feel like I was going to spend the night in a new Mustang on the local Ford dealer’s showroom floor.

There were some other signs of new hotel approaches, too. The room was a kind of mini-suite, with refrigerator and microwave (complete with a packet of microwave popcorn), and the Keurig coffee maker is definitely a welcome step in the right direction. The bathroom features an enormous, blindingly white walk-in shower that is guaranteed to blast the newly roused traveler into immediate wide-awake mode. And the room has two other features that go on the negative side of the ledger — heaps of those clunky, oversized “accent” pillows on the sofa that keep you from sitting down unless you throw them on the floor, and light fixtures that you have to carefully study to determine whether they are powered by a knob, a hanging cord, a wall switch, or a step-on device on the floor. Oh, for the days when every light could be turned on by a knob beneath the lampshade!

It’s a nice room and a nice hotel, but new or old, a hotel is always a hotel. I noticed that this one also has the loud, patterned carpeting that you seem to find only in hotel hallways and bowling alleys. Some things never change.

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The Guys At The Hotel Bar

As a normal rule of business travel, I don’t eat at the restaurant — if there is one — at the hotel where I’m spending the night.  I think it’s important to get out and at least see some of the surrounding area, and if I don’t get out I feel trapped and confined.

liquor-shop-in-keralaSometimes, though, when you’re in a remote area and the only nearby food option is a bad chain eatery, there really is no alternative, and the hotel restaurant is the only viable option.  So it was that last night I found myself eating in the hotel combination bar-restaurant and reading my book — or at least trying to, because there was a group of about a dozen guys at the bar area who were raising a huge ruckus, eating chicken wings and arguing very loudly about what kind of pick-up truck has the best towing capability.  (One guy actually said, with total, high-volume conviction:  “I’m a Ram Man until the day I die.”  Who knew people had that kind of a deeply personal connection to a consumer product?)

These guys weren’t complete jerks.  They didn’t get into a fight or harass the waitresses or start calling out people in the room.  But they were loud and thoughtless and annoying, and they obviously didn’t care that they were intruding upon the worlds of other hotel guests.  It’s one of the realities of life in the hotel zone:  it’s a transient existence, on the road in a faraway place that you’ll probably never visit again in the future, and the social mores that would otherwise tamp down your behavior if you were in your home territory aren’t present.

This is one of the reasons why I hate to eat at a hotel.  I’d rather not see my fellow guests up close and personal, truck-loving warts and all.  I’d rather operate under the illusion that my fellow hotel guests are all anonymous, well-mannered types.  When you get a good look at the complete strangers who might be staying in the room next door to yours, it can be unnerving.

Hotel LeVeque 

There’s a new hotel in downtown Columbus that’s actually pretty old.  If that sounds confusing, it’s because the LeVeque Building — since the 1920s, the most iconic building in the downtown area — has been rehabbed and converted, in part, into a hotel.  

I went to meetings at the hotel yesterday and today, and they’ve turned this Art Deco masterpiece into a pretty cool hotel.  The fixtures have been cleaned and brightened — allowing nifty Art Deco touches, like elevators with names like “health” and “prosperity,” to shine through.  The lobby area (shown below) is open and airy, and there’s a nice second-floor bar, too.  I spoke to someone who was staying at the hotel, and he said the guest rooms are great.

This is another nice step forward for downtown Columbus.  Every town needs cool hotels in the core area.

Bettering Breakfast Bars

I’ve been traveling on business long enough to remember when a free hotel “breakfast bar” consisted of a few packets of instant oatmeal, a bin of stale muffins, and a pot of coffee of doubtful provenance.  It was a sad, grim place that you wanted to leave at the earliest opportunity– if you even went there in the first place.

No more!  Now hotel breakfast bars are actually decent places to have breakfast.  The breakfast bar at the Hyatt House in Lakewood, Colorado, where I stayed this week, had fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and toppings, cooked bacon, eggs, and potatoes, cereal, muffins, bagels, and bread, different kinds of juices and coffee, and a made-to-order omelet station that turned out a really good, piping hot omelet.  The surroundings were spotlessly clean, bright and cheerful, and you could read the Wall Street Journal while you ate.  It was such a nice place I actually heard a guy go up and order a second omelet.

Imagine!  A hotel breakfast bar where you’d actually like to linger for a while.  It’s a welcome change.

A Hotel Lobby Look

I stayed recently at the Renwick hotel in Manhattan, and while I didn’t particularly care for the stenciled quote on the wall of my room, I did like the look of the Renwick’s cozy lobby.  I thought the stacked books painted to create a portrait were an especially cool touch.

Hotel lobbies — constantly pushing the boundaries of room decor!

Random Quotes Upon The Wall

When I got to my room at my hotel in NYC last night, I discovered it was one of those places that has random quotes printed on the walls.

In this case, it was the above quote attributed to Andy Warhol — although some contend it actually originated with Marshall McLuhan — helpfully placed right next to the bathroom.  For good measure, the mat on the desk has a quote attributed to John Steinbeck:  “People don’t take trips, trips take people.”  (This is a paraphrase of sorts of a line from Travels with Charley:  In Search of America that reads “We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”)

What’s the point of quotes on the walls and on desk mats?  I’m guessing it’s supposed to convey a certain erudite edginess, like you’ve suddenly found yourself in some intellectual artist’s loft in Soho, rather than in a stodgy hotel.  But in my view, the wall quote places are really more alienating than the standard generic hotel room.  After all, I didn’t pick the quote — and in fact I don’t think I’d ever print any quote upon my wall, even if it were some deeply meaningful quote from the Gettysburg Address rather than a vapid observation about gullible art critics.  So when I wake up and see the quote on the wall, it immediately tells me that I’m in a strange room.  It doesn’t exactly convey a “make yourself at home” feeling.

Everybody seems to be big on quotes these days, although many of the quotes you see are actually fake.  It’s as if the message is that there’s no original thinking yet to be done, and we should just sigh with appreciation at the wisdom of the ancients — which is an approach I heartily disagree with.  But even if you are a big fan of quotes, what does a quote from Andy Warhol about art have to offer a weary traveler?  My guess is that Warhol himself would find the fact that his quote appears on a hotel room wall to be a hilarious commentary on the wannabe state of modern society.

Random Hotel Decor

This week I stayed at one of those pop-up hotels you see in many suburban communities.  This one was in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, one of the suburbs of Philadelphia.  From my experience, the hotels cater to an itinerant population of lawyers, salesmen, accountants, and other business people during the week, and soccer moms and traveling team parents over the weekend.  They’ve become the vagabond way stations of modern America.

The lobby of this hotel includes a seating area with a wall that includes shelves with the “decorations” shown above.  Is there a rhyme or reason to the choice of objects, their color, their form, or their positioning?  If so, I couldn’t discern it.  It looks like a combination of the kind of random “accent pieces” you see at furniture showrooms, mixed together on shelves.

The implicit message was clear:  you’re in the generic zone, weary traveler!  This isn’t home, so don’t get too comfortable.  Pass by quickly, without a second glance, and move along.  

So I did.