You could not have more contrasts going from the antiquity of Nob Hill and the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, to the funked-up modernity of the W Hotel San Francisco. From the staid and sedate, to the artsy and uber cool.
I have experienced my fair share of edgy and cutting edge hotels around the globe, yet this time, I didn’t know what to expect. I was about to review my sixth hotel in 8 days and the disparity between all of them was significant. Not just by brand but by continent. Yet the W Hotel was one that filled me with excitement. I wanted a change of pace. But would it deliver it?
The W Hotel San Francisco lacks the grand courtyard entrance that many hotels offer for arriving guests, which may explain why my taxi dropped me at a side door (which by the way is far better for check in). But it does “own” the chamfered corner of 3rd and Howard Street from which you have pedestrian access through two giant columns that climb two storeys high. Bold and impressive. Modern.
The down side to pavement drop offs is having no doorman to help you with luggage and I had a lot. Yet once I had negotiated this minor irritation and stepped into the lobby, it was all bells and roses…though very dark inside. And this is where I’ll pause for comment: the staff were noticeably young, brilliantly friendly, immaculately dressed, really helpful and totally put me at ease. No task was to hard for them, male or female, and every request polished off with a beaming smile and a “You’re welcome.” This was not a one-off event either. It held true for the entirety of my three-day stay at the W Hotel San Francisco.
Check-in was fluid and faultless and filled with friendly banter. I grabbed my electronic card key and headed towards the elevator.
As I rounded the corner and approached the elevator, it suddenly dawned on me that I was in for an experience and not just a stay at the W Hotel. That every detail mattered.
In front of me was a wall of neon purple and dark slated squares. In the middle, lay another square, this time a glass vase of blazing gold flowers. Simple execution. Massive statement.
When the silver doors opened, another surprise: a glass mural of a cherry tree. A sort of modern Japanese painting or something you’d find in an advertising agency. I stepped in
My heart beat picked up pace. I felt excited. It had tapped into my childish memories of Christmas. The colours. The presents. The huge variety of wrappings and ribbons. The gift that lay within.
And then my dream world came to an abrupt halt.
When the elevator opened on my floor, I was greeted with a completely different sight of greens and blues. It felt medicinal and industrial. Airport-like. I rubbed my eyes and did a double-take.
“Huh?” I thought to myself. “What just happened?
MY “SPECTACULAR ROOM”
I had a long, winding walk to my hotel room which was literally called a “Spectacular Room” and this gave me ample time to wonder whether I had been let down, before I swiped my way into my room. As I pushed open the door, I did my second double-take and stopped.
“Are they trying to make Ikea cool?”
It didn’t make sense. Was the designer targeting new couples and first-home owners? The beige wood and green glass bench top. The laser-cut floating clouds on the head board? The origami butterflies tagged as “Rare Species: Fahlai Ahwei”. Cute but not funny. Like fortune cookie messages.
But the pluses were there too. Clean, colourful, modern. Definitely spacious. You could hold a party in the bathroom it was so large! And it came with Bliss Spa amenities and their own W Signature Waffle Spa Robes with Terry Lining.
Their W Signature bed was large, but nothing like the comfort for the Intercontinental hotel mattresses. I appreciated the softness of the goose down duvet and the down pillows which were noticeably fluffy and airy.
And I loved the remote-control blinds and the window seat with their electric blue padded cushions. I often sat on them staring out the window. Even though the view was nothing spectacular and very urban, it was mesmerising.
The desk was not to my homely taste, but it was a really large work area and perfect for my abundance of computers, cameras and papers. The internet cost USD $14.95 per day but I was given free access and it was high speed with no glitches.
THE LOBBY LIVING ROOM BAR
Every hotel has soul and at the W Hotel in San Francisco it is definitely here. Like bees to honey it pulls in the crowd from within the hotel and from the fashion and art conscious locals.
A plethora of LED lights throw splashes of colour everywhere: on the bar, under it and everywhere around it. Flashes of pink and purple. Slatted silhouettes and a theme that ties it to the rest of the ground and first floor balcony behind it. The big fireplace is also a draw card with comfy seating.
The Living Room Bar is a hot spot for the chic and social, touting eight locally renown brews and a covey of international flavours too. And if wines and cocktails are your tipple too, then you won’t be disappointed either, especially served by top-notch staff that score a massive goal for being friendly, fun and switched on. They never erred when it came to recommending food or drinks, especially to our hoard of antipodean corporate travellers.
Friday night is a bit more frenetic with really great live music and trust me, the place rocks until 1.30am. But if you want to escape the mayhem for a second, go to the Upstairs Bar & Lounge on the first level (or 2nd level if you are American!).
UPSTAIRS BAR & LOUNGE
At the Upstairs Bar & Lounge you’ll find the same décor as the lobby area with square modular seating and a range of scatter cushions. As you ascend to bar on the semi spiral staircase, check out the hanging light. Ultra-modern and a work of art.
Open from 5.00pm to 1.30am (Thursday to Saturday), it is all about local, organic and sustainable offerings.
Secret spaces provide a more intimate spot so mingle and talk, with top shelf liquors and eight seasonal signature cocktails crafted to explore molecular gastronomy.
SPA & FITNESS CENTRE
After a long day of work or play, sweat it out at our restyled FIT® Gym, available to registered hotel guests 24/7. Take your detox even further with a rejuvenating massage or treatment at Bliss® Spa.
PET FRIENDLY HOTEL
I have been to Paris over 15 times and I’m use to the British love affair with their dogs, but I didn’t expect this in San Francisco. What a great idea to allow pets in too. Great forward thinking.
W Hotel has a P.A.W. program for all your four-legged furry friends, dog or cat that is, where you’ll receive a custom W Hotels pet bed, food and water bowl, floor mat, pet-in-room door sign, W Hotels pet tag, clean-up bags and much more. There are weight restrictions, up to 40kgs, but that is up to the General Manager’s whim on booking. And they have to be leashed in public areas and kept away from food areas.
PARTING THOUGHTS BY THE WALKING CRITIC -W SAN FRANCISCO HOTEL REVIEW
I had great expectations stepping into the W Hotel San Francisco, but I felt the ground and first floors were let down by the upper floors. A bit of an anti-climax that left me wondering if the designer ran out of money after pressing “1” on the elevator.
The lower level really is hip and worthy of after-hours drinks. The bar staff were amazingly friendly and switched on. They never erred on a recommendation of food or drinks. Yet the let-down came in my hotel room upstairs. It was very medicinal and airport-like in decor though having nothing wrong with it. It was just better suited to an Ikea-loving crowd or first-homer, than a seasoned traveller and professional. The concept was out of balance and I just didn’t get it.
I liked it, but I didn’t love it. But I did have an awesome time there.
That being said, I now know the W Hotel San Francisco is about to undergo a massive refurbishment which I’m excited about too. The marketing manager, Natalie, knows my thoughts and replied as follows:
Oh we hear you! Thank you so much for your honest opinion on our room design; we agree and are happy for our face lift happening very soon.
Thank you so much for the shout-out to our amazing bartenders. I myself go to them as well when I need that extra insider tip.
I can’t wait for you to see our new rooms! Feel free to reach out to me personally to chat further on design and our cocktail culture. Stay tuned.
It was my first W Hotel San Francisco experience and I will give W Hotels the benefit of the doubt. I actually can’t wait to try another one.
Yet with all good things comes an ominous warning: if I don’t try the Bliss Spa, I will be killed by about 1,000 women who want to know what it’s like!
Who is Bliss? And why are they more popular than me?
W Hotel San Francisco
181 3rd Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
I’ve just had a glimpse at the future of hotel living (note to myself: I used the word “living”, not “accommodation”) and I like it.
What I just experienced at the W Hong Kong was a cut-and-thrust to classical, hotel thinking. It was a huge step forward for progression. A martini toast to the avant-garde.
I had come face to whisker with an experimental originality that was both kick-ass and ultra-modern, without necessarily being revolutionary or trailblazing. What really irks me is how I had been previously tepid towards W San Francisco, because “I didn’t get it”. I was like a kid being offered a huge candy jar stuffed with shiny goodies, only to have it cruelly ripped away as soon as his greedy fingers dipped into it.
W Hotel is well ahead of its time. It is recognising an affluent and influential group of 30 to 49-year olds by becoming a honey pot for these busy, discerning and impeccably well-dressed bees. From my perspective, as a travel professional and expert reviewer, the buzz is getting louder on the street. I’m not embarrassed to admit this, but I’m being lured by the sound, the noise. I’m like Ulysses being strapped to the mast, allowing himself to listen to the dulcet tones of the W Sirens, tethered but safe!
As a travel insider, a professional reviewer and writer I have learnt not to wear blinkers and be myopic. Something tells me that W Hotels is going somewhere and I want to be a part of that Odyssey. But that wasn’t always the case.
I had been thrown a damp-squid at the W San Francisco. I was miffed, stumped, pained by a woeful sense of “I-don’t-get-it”. A false sense of security that left me feeling hoodwinked by the pizazz of the lobby lights, until I stepped onto my upper floor. There I found myself desperately lost in what I can only describe as the “bedroom department” of Ikea. Chalk and cheese. Apples and oranges. Style and WTF!
The fact is that no one built Rome in a day, not even W Hotels. I could have fobbed off the mediocrity of one experience and stamped that view across the whole brand, but I knew better. I confronted my disappointment and without flinching, booked myself into W Hong Kong. I needed to experience more.
From the outside, the W Hong Kong is an immensity of modernity placed in the most up-and-coming neighbourhood of West Kowloon. It is a huge departure from those ghastly, characterless, self-same concrete towers that blot and blight the rest of Hong Kong.
This hotel is different. It is vibrant. A beacon. A stand-alone work of art. It has spirit and energy. It exudes warmth.
For me it tells a dreamy story throughout all its 393 rooms and living areas, a theme that is pervasive and ubiquitous, whether you are resting or dining or drinking.
Smiles work. Name recognition works. Lobbies are the front line of any hotel. They are the name beneath the banner. The face of the brand. The first line of defence, never the first line of offence.
And these guys at the W Hong Kong are good. Really good.
Behind the check-in counter is this massive screen of flashing “what-evers”. It is mesmerizingly huge and colourful and quite a contrast to the slick, black uniforms of these overly attractive young men and women that man the front trenches.
(I’m sure “good looking” is a concept W stole from Virgin! I’m biased in Branson’s favour: I notice good-looking staff!).
I’m asked, “Do you recognise it?” one of the drop-dead gorgeous girls asks. I transfix my eyes on these moving colourful, squid-like shapes behind her head.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “But it reminds me of an LSD trip.”
“Oh no….” she giggles. “Try again.”
I looked carefully.
I felt as if she wanted to clap. But nothing happened.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it reminded me of The Wonderful World of Disney on LSD. At university, every Saturday night, we use to love the fireworks bursting above the Disney castle as Tinkerbell turbo charged and twerked in her tutu. We discovered it looked so much better when stoned.
FROM ELEVATOR TO CORRIDOR
At all the W Hotels that I’ve visited, the elevator is not just a mode of convenience but a quirky feature that is deliberately OTT (over the top) with in-your-face décor. I find that captivating, sexy, enticing and definitely memorable.
At the W Hong Kong, the elevator is manned by a dapper, smiling attendant. He must love watching people go, “Wow!” as the doors slide open.
The lift floor is like a giant iPad emblazoned with flashing, garish colours that literally welcome you “GOOD AFTERNOON”. I wasn’t sure where to stand in case I cracked the glass (my brain was never programmed to stand on computer screens!). I clung to the side of the elevator as we ascended, sucking up the view of Kowloon Bay through the amazing floor to ceiling windows. I still found my plasma floor disconcerting especially as it emanated a huge amount of heat. “Was the floor built by Samsung?” I found myself asking.
As the elevator slowed and stopped on the 27th floor, I secretly held my breath. “Please don’t be medicinal and industrial,” I implored and prayed, hankering back to my previous stay in San Francisco. I barely had time to say amen before the doors opened to reveal these funky book shelves lined with faux white books and the odd sea shell or statement piece.
My wish had come true. There were no hospital greens, but a plethora of soft greys and neutral colours, warmed by glowing overhead sconce lights. Even the ceiling bulkhead light was patterned with etched images of hats. The flecked texture of the carpet was perfectly balanced by the ragged texture of the walls.
“Clever,” I thought to myself. “Very clever.”
The corridor to my room was dark and moody. There was no overhead or wall lights, simply floor level strip lighting that showed the way.
Outside my door was a simple, thin shelf holding what looked like a large, bound book. It was opened to an illusionary page that showed a hand holding a feathered quill. It had drawn the number 2703. It looked like an old print except, it was only my room number sign. And below it was a small raised strip that clearly repeated everything in Braille.
The whole “book” doubled up as a “Do Not Disturb” sign, once the button was depressed in the room. A red light would glow warning querulous room service members to keep on walking. I liked that. I hate using doorknobs and door hangars for “Do Not Disturb” signs, or even laundry bags. They always fall off!
ROOM 2703 – MY SPECTACULAR ROOM
From moody to magnificent. Kick out the grey and welcome the splashes of colour. This is a medley of energy and excitement. The craziness of insipid swirls on the wall and a throw pillow are brilliantly counterpointed with big bursts of lime green from the bed spread and the pale monotone of the modular chaise longue. At 431 square feet, this is no giant suite, but a lot of thought and design has gone into this space.
You don’t have fat, annoying bedside tables; you have delicate places for your water and phone.
You don’t have big table lamps; you have bendy LED lights that you barely notice.
Someone understands design here: balance; economy of space; the equilibrium of contrasting textures, patterns and colours.
Everything made sense. It works.
I loved the King Bed – I went to nirvana when I slept. The 400-thread-count linen was my elixir!
But the room was seriously smaller than I like. Word to the wise: upgrade.
I normally gravitate to the bathroom in most hotels as this is where you spend most of your waking hours when on the road, but I didn’t here.
In contrast to the main bedroom, it had dark grey, granite-like colours, on the floor and walls. This was offset by the whites of the basin, bath, toilet and towels, all of which were amplified by white light that emanated from a modern pattern within the mirror.
The space would be too tight for a family especially if they have multiple wash bags to put somewhere. But I liked the clean lines and door-less feel, the rainforest shower and separate bathtub. If you wanted privacy, you slid a concealed door panel across the corridor to segregate the bed from bath areas. Or you could opt for open-planned living. Your choice.
I loved the range of Bliss shampoos and gels, lotions and potions (another word to the wise, women know this too, so guys “buy some and take home to the missus!”).
In reality, Bliss Spa and W Hotel are a marriage made in heaven with stand-out packaging that is both edgy and cool. They are pushing the boundaries of tongue-in-cheek humour with subliminal slogans like Fresh Mouth….Bare All….So Vain….Less Rough More Buff. You almost feel like you’re at a marketing stall, not in a hotel bathroom. Yet the end result works. The products are not gimmicks. They are high quality.
KITCHEN is the super stylish bistro and all-day dining venue that draws its eclectic inspiration from the unlikely pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is a brilliant concept, that plays to the Hong Kong’s English heritage and the quirky, whimsical, fantasy world that Lewis Caroll created 150 years ago. From the moment that she fell down the rabbit hole, Alice was bent on consumption, a frequent desire for food and knowledge that she coined as her “Curious Appetites”.
Today, all that literary magic is embodied in KITCHEN, allowing its international chefs to challenge their art form with inventive, fanciful menus and treats. They have creative license to push edible boundaries in a setting that is a modern spin on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
For me, breakfast was my bent. I distinctly remember how good the coffee was before plunging into the huge buffet offerings. I relished the mix of Asian and English food. Sweet and sour pork, versus eggs benedict. Pastries that were pure decadence coated in sugar (though I did have a few that were gluten free!). Ice troughs filled with bottles of freshly squeezed juice.
Enjoy the panoramic views over Kowloon Bay, the flotilla of floating barge cranes, ferries and tankers. It is an awesome sight, as industrial as it is.
- Contact: 3717 2299
- Email: email@example.com
- Time: 6:30 AM to 11:00 PM
SING YIN CANTONESE DINING
If you want some truly authentic Cantonese cuisine and outstanding dim sum, then look no further than Sing Yin where Chef Johnny Chan works his magic. But if you’re expecting the stereotypical grandeur or most Cantonese restaurants, you’re in for a big surprise.
The 120-seat Sing Yin is on the ground floor of W Hong Kong and a nod to contemporary thinking, thanks to international architect and interior designer, Steve Leung. The moment you approach the entrance you are absorbed by this towering façade dominated by high ceilings and dangling Chinese artefacts. Huge screens beckon you to enjoy the recreation of Hong Kong’s bustling streetscape.
The wow-factor continues on your journey inside. Even the bar is reminiscent of the old stores of the 60s and 70s, modelled on a traditional Chinese tea house. A hand-sketched cityscape on the ceiling above.
Approaching the main dining area is another experience, semi-private rooms that emulate the old boutiques and barber shops, the décor of local groceries. And if you make your way to the very end of the restaurant, you’ll find a cluster of intermittent LCD screens that are intertwined with real and virtual marine life.
With bulging eyes and dripping tongue, I leapt at the chance to sample Chef Chan’s signature set menu and I was not disappointed. My highlights were the barbecued Spanish iberico pork, roasted pork belly with crispy crust and accompanying chilled cucumber with black vinegar. This was followed by pan-fried crab claw stuffed with minced shrimp and a sautéed king prawn with crab meat and sea urchin. Total seafood perfection! And not to be out done was the sautéed Australian wagyu beef (“marble score 8”) with black pepper sauce. And the steam fried rice with whole abalone wrapped in lotus leaf.
- By phone: 3717 2848
- By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I have this thing about roof top bars having recently been to Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I thought I’d seen it all from dizzy heights, but the Wet Deck has just leapt into pole position on the vertigo chart. From 76 floors up, it commands an awesome vantage point with sweeping views of Victoria Harbour.
A decent lap pool runs parallel to the glass pool fencing from where you can watch the world around you. An iconic mosaic wall looms over the entrance depicting an explosion of fantasy, though I’m not sure fluttering butterflies and a conch shell is my vision of imagination, but it is really impressive.
I had an unplanned chat with the F&B Director who gave me a private talk on every building and view. How much you pay for apartments, which one was the in-place to rent, and so forth.
I didn’t get to enjoy the “Wet is On Fire” barbeque, but my eagle eye spotted the Grilled half Boston Lobster and Grilled Canadian Sea Scallop. Next time, I hope!
Venue: 76/F, Wet Deck
Time: Monday – Friday, 6:00PM – 9:00PM
Price: HK$398 Per Adult / HK$199 Per Child
Enquiries: 3717 2299 / email@example.com
*All prices are subject to 10% service charge
*Subject to weather conditions and is not applicable to public holidays
The WOOBAR is definitely not bland as far as the décor goes and the crowd is much the same there too. The interior follows the same vein of “Mad-Hatterness” as the Kitchen, whimsical and crazy with hanging paraphernalia and butterflies above the bar.
During the day it a quiet and serene; more suit and tie than fashion parade. A healthy buffet is offered out with cold cuts and salads for lunch. Afternoon tea offers other healthy options as well. But hold your horses, as the sun dips and the tempo rises, the WOOBAR takes on a whole new metamorphosis with live music and happy hour cocktails. Taking a leaf from W Hong Kong’s own wording, “ Join the party with pulsating beats from the city’s top DJs, our chic signature W Hong Kong cocktails and one of the best happy hours in town. Detox, Retox. Repeat. The party never stops.”
My kind of place!
- Cuisine: Light Fare
- Setting: Chic and Fun
- Dress Code: Bold and Witty
- Smoking Permitted: No
- Hours: 10:00 AM – 1:00 AM
For reservations or enquiries:
- By phone: 3717 2889
- By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I have eaten a major chunk of humble apple pie visiting W Hong Kong and I owe a big thanks to Natalia Silva (Marketing Manager, W San Francisco) and Fiona Cheng (PR & Marketing Coordinator, W Hong Kong) for opening my eyes to a brand that I feel has got it right. It is appealing, sexy, funny, on the cutting edge and distinctively young, fresh and worth its salt. It oozes love and pretends to be nothing more than what it delivers which is funked-up excellence.
I did get to see the other room categories and I have nothing but good thoughts for what is a well-delivered, well-executed concept from Penthouse top, to restaurant bottom.
I will say this, W Hong Kong is not just for the uber, super cool. I was actually gob-smacked by how many families were there, kids and all. And yes, the yummy-mummies dominated, bedecked in the latest fashion accoutrements, which was exactly what W Hotels wants and I expected to find.
If I had one gripe it was this: I was not there long enough to truly enjoy W Hong Kong. And if I could walk away with one star, it is this: W Hotel has become my number one hotel brand to follow. It is the future of hotel living.
(Did I mention “Living” before?).
Note: I was not paid to write this review by W Hotel, and nor was I given a free stay or hotel room. These words are my words and my opinions. If you don’t like them, tough!
Oh, my god, “Come to Papa!” Those were literally my first thoughts, as my taxi pulled up to the front of W Bangkok. I just knew I had arrived somewhere in the vicinity of heaven and all the angels were going to fawn over my bags and swallow me up into their air-conditioned abyss-of-a-lobby. Which they did. I have never been so pleasantly shocked as I was, walking through those slide doors and into one of those classic Hanna Barbera cartoon moments, when Tom gets smacked in the face by Jerry with a frying pan. Let’s just say that it was eye-opening!
The lobby was a vast swathe of real estate that was barely occupied by small smatterings of perfectly clad people, that somehow paled into the background, like accessories to a fashion show. I couldn’t tell if I was in the shoot, or on the set. Of part of a flash mob. To my left was a courtesy stand with rose-scented water (I’ll come back to that later). On my right was a long reach of tables and computers and immaculately groomed bowing employees, attending to the few and mostly querulous travellers. At the fore was a massive black marble mural, encrusted with thousands of tiny crystals. I believe it portrayed the tussle between a swooping dragon and a pugnacious tiger. It was a modern take on traditional Thai art. The check-in desks were topped with black marble too, yet their facias were lit up with glaring, neon purple. A small “Welcome” sign beckons me. I focused on the first letter: “W”. Was that intended? Of all the 40 or 50 hotels that I’ve visited in the last 6 months, none have made me stop in my tracks, before checking in. This was a first time. Ever. Zero, zip, have made me meander and snoop around before going through the necessary sign in process. I was captivated by the moment. Kind of enmeshed in my own private awe. I felt like blotting paper (for those that can remember such ancient necessities). I was really, truly, amazed. Absorbed.
Behind and to the left (of the “rose scented” water stand) was the WOOBAR. Another neon, electric place; too early for people to chill at 10am, except the tired and industrious. Both were there. One guy was sprawled over a white leather arm chair. He was either asleep. Or dead. I had barely parted with my credentials and I was already getting the gist and flavour of W Bangkok. I loved it. I didn’t want my bubble to be burst by the perfunctory and mundane informalities of give-me-your-money-and-passport. But like all good stories, it had to end. “Is Mastercard okay?” I mumbled, breaking the ice.
I relented and “did my bit”, grabbed my very cool room key (it was embossed with a pug dog wearing red sunglasses), and then followed my guide, past the huge windows and merchandise stands, before turning sharply to the left and the elevator doors.
If you’d asked me two months ago about W Hotels, I would have spat up a cat fur ball of “what-ness?” A big dollop of “huh?” And a lot more, “Seriously!” But now that I’ve passed my apprenticeship, I’m a fully-fledged and badged convert that is fleet of foot and carrying secrets, learnt en route.
And here is one. An elevator (or lift) may be the arterial vein and spine of a hotel property, but I also know that W Hotels values it. It is not just a conveyance between two points, but an integral part of the W experience. In my very own surgical way of analysing hotels, I now smile, knowing that it is cutting-edge marketing. Leading from the front. Management dexterity. Proving that all details in a hotel matter, not just a few. Every aspect of hotel living has been considered and every step managed. From concept to implementation. Rest assured, nothing is boring in a W hotel.
Every W property has its own signature theme and generally this is when the light-bulb-in-the-head goes off and you go “Oooohh!” or “Wowww!” As I pivoted on my heels and turned the corner to the left, I was met by a dark, purplish cove that lit up with an ever-intensifying crescendo of glinting car brake lights. I felt like Dougal, my old black Labrador, when he was confounded by the unknown. He would cock his head to one side and raise his ears. As if I would have an answer to his WTF problem! And then the flashes and glinting started to quicken and fill the void, until the entire wall was a mass of seething, flashing, rush-hour madness. I was transfixed until my lovely guide interrupted. “These are tuk tuk lights.” I totally got it. Clever! We’re in Bangkok! For the first time, I chuckled. Warmly. To myself. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when infatuation kicked in, or later when the warm, fuzzy feelings of syrupy love filled the void. But it must have been somewhere then. As I was about to be “run over”! I was picking up on subliminal messages. Nuances. Themes. Purple. Dark. Moody. Sexy. Fun. I had no idea what I was in for, but whatever metamorphosis was happening, I didn’t want it to end. Even if I was about to be flattened by 100 tuk tuks!
THE LIFT DOORS OPEN
When the lift doors opened on the 24th floor, it was a solemn moment. There was no sense of “arrival” like at the W Hong Kong. Nor was it clinical, like at W San Francisco. No, it was sort of middle-of-the-road. In between. It was actually quite refreshing, after my metaphorical episode of lobby road rage. I turned right into the seeming darkness and ambled a few metres towards my room. The number was clearly lit up and hard to miss. Music was playing in the background. Softly.
SPECTACULAR ROOM 2415
As unlikely as this sounds, I rarely research a hotel before reviewing it, because I like my first impressions to be precisely that: untainted, unclouded and uncluttered by marketing hype. But I did unearth one little mystery before booking into the W Bangkok. I had been forewarned that my room would be unique and triangular in shape. This vision had taxed my over-active imagination for the entire flight from Perth to Hong Kong and then Bangkok. Even as I walked those final paces down the corridor, I had delusions of Toblerone chocolate and cheese wedges. But all that dissipated when I prised open the door to a very different setting. I had another private “wow” moment to myself.
There was nothing overtly triangular or pointy about the room at all. In fact, the shape was kind of lost in the immensity of open planned space, where bursts of colour leapt from the backdrop of black and white monochromes. Little accents blended with bold patterns and modern furnishings. Ingenious and fun cameos of Thai boxing leapt out from the bed cover print, with sparing dragons. And then there was the folly of oversized muay thai boxing gloves. Big, fat, gold ones. I think they were supposed to be used as DO NOT DISTURB signs that you hung outside the door. A bit more fun. Another chuckle. For the first time in my W experiences, I actually understood the W concept. This really was a “Spectacular Room” in every sense of the meaning. From the joie de vivre of hotel living, to the creature comforts of a king size bed.
A wide glass desk was a luxury that straddled the window. The view was nothing special but that was immaterial, as the functionality of the work space mattered most to me. I spend a lot of time on the road and the bank of plugs, with built-in adaptors, was much appreciated. An instant solution for the plethora of camera gear and computers that traipse around the world beside me. Innovation and high technology are synonymous with W Hotels and indeed, my Spectacular Room. Master lighting controls are wall-mounted beside the bed, though I did notice how the stickers (WAKE UP, READING LEFT, SLEEP MY LOVE, MASTER OFF) had all been stuck to the original chrome plate, by someone that must have warmed up in the cocktail cabinet beforehand! Clearly they didn’t care how askew or straight the labels were affixed!
Joking apart, the tags like “SLEEP MY LOVE” are fun and gimmicky, but not when you are tired or waking up, or when your brain is less engaged. Clearly the original concept failed, because no one could read the embossed plates, hence the new, bigger white stickers. Even then, I had issues in the morning trying to figure out what switch did what. I just pressed every button until the right one worked. I would call it bedside Russian Roulette! There was an iPad on the other side of the bed, which had swipe and touch controls too. But you needed a visa to get to it, as it was so far away! Yet the one image, that still sticks in my mind the most, is the sheer volume of space. 43 square metres of it. I never felt trapped or confined. To the contrary, I felt liberated and relaxed. At no time did I have to tip-toe around bags or furniture. It was like the perfect bachelor pad.
SPECTACULAR CUPBOARD SPACE
Smooth finishes define the texture in the Spectacular Room and this includes the white hallway cupboards that run flush to the walls. When you open the doors, the interior is brightly lit, revealing two chrome hanging racks and a plethora of black wooden hangars. A low level 3-drawer chest sits in the corner. The top drawer conceals a deep electric safe deposit box. Deep enough to take a camera or two! Of course, the W Signature Bathrobe was a welcome sight, as were the white slippers and luggage rack. I put the fold-out rack by the window and left my suitcase on it for the entire three days.
Beyond the cupboard was a dark, recessed wall of faux black leather, that housed a giant flat screen TV and a mini bar with glasses, chrome ice bucket and cocktail shaker. There was enough alcohol to comatose you in one session, if you were so inclined.
I reflected how most hotels hide their alcohol from sight, but not the case with W Bangkok. Here they champion consumption as part of modern living, not something to bury in political correctness and banish from view. Of course, part of that openness has a lot to do with “add-on sales” and very little to do with being “cool”. There is a price list beside every temptation and nothing that says “On the House,” except for branded water bottles! And then I remembered my cluster of colourful Post It Note coupons, that I had been given upon check-in. A quick scan reinforced the same thoughts. Spend more money and you’ll get a bonus! But I really didn’t mind. I was having a great time. And in fairness to W Bangkok, it was part of the experience. Like being woken up from a jet-lagged induced coma to answer the door from housekeeping.
I was really in no mood for a turn down service, but almost instantly, my “F***ing hell,” turned into “F***ing great!” A smiling face pushed past me and placed a complimentary tray on the coffee table. It had instructions on how to make my own Iron Balls G&T. I smiled all over. I felt like a kid doing his first cooking class. Like I’d never been angry. This was my new toy and no one else was going to play with it! Or drink it!
It is these little details, that turn into big moments, that define a modern day 5-star hotel. It tells the paying punter that he matters. That he exists. That he’s noticed. As I cherished my new creation, having loved the process of making and then imbibing this gift, I couldn’t help feeling that this surreal moment was better suited for W Hong Kong. At that hotel, it is all about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Yet oddly, the colours, the cocktails, the potions, the affectations and foibles, the eccentricities were in greater abundance in Bangkok. Here you lived the story all the time, not some of the time.
The bathroom is the first sight you encounter when entering the room. It’s a vast open-planned area that is partially segregated from the lounge by a giant wall of thick purple glass. It is stunning. It breathes life into the space, breaking the monotony of corridor monochromes with a flash of bold colour. It’s a statement in its own right and part of W’s colour branding.
Almost simultaneously, your eyes are drawn to a white, kidney shaped, free-standing bathtub in front of the same glass wall. It is inviting. Designed for two people. Another stand-out feature that breaks the hotel industry norm. A thin gold curtain can be drawn across the face of the bathroom for further privacy, separating the bathroom from the passageway.
The toilet has its own enclosure encased by dark, smoky glass and lined with black tiles throughout. It is not totally transparent. A wall mounted mirror hangs above the vanity and sink. The entire frame has a sort of theatrical feel, with strong backlighting. Even the shower curtain plays on the theme of drama, with a silvery shimmer. I get the feeling that W Bangkok wants everyone to feel like a movie star. My only negative is storage space. I’m use to big bathroom counter tops in hotel rooms, but at W Bangkok, there is no room for a wash bag next to the sink. Mine’s not that big, but my goodness, a woman would be in serious trouble with all her travel lotions and potions!
What limited space you are offered is taken up with a sprinkling of Bliss bathroom goodies on one side and W-branded water bottles on the other. Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Butting up against the sink is a tall shelving ladder. Like old English library steps. I shunted the complimentary items to one side and squashed my trusty wash bag there. It stayed there for the entire duration of my stay. It just took a little while to get used to that spot.
COCKTAIL & CUISINE
I’m going to go on a limb here, because of all 50 or more hotels that I’ve visited this year, W Bangkok takes top honours. Without exception. W Bangkok consistently and unquestionably delivered excellence throughout my stay. Its food was not just good. It was great. Something that I never expected before my stay, but hey ho, surprises abound and I welcome them. Breaking with my own tradition, I am going to review all the bars and restaurants at W Bangkok separately and in greater detail. They deserve their own plug. But for now, here is is a brief summary to chew over.
The variety and choice of meals here was outstanding. Take THE KITCHEN TABLE for instance, where breakfast is a medley of Western and Asian offerings. I visited here every morning and it was heaving with conference attendees and families and people like me. But when it came to lunch, it was a more sedate affair that unravels its gourmet secrets and triumphs in the process.
My second hero is THE HOUSE ON SATHORN which achieves another pinnacle of culinary and cocktail genius. It is detached in its own world, despite being part of the bigger hotel complex that overshadows it. Originally built in 1899, this colonial, neoclassical mansion has become a Thai national heritage home. It sits within the hotel’s courtyard. It is the perfect complement to W Bangkok’s modernity, a reminder that style and panache has its roots in history somewhere. W Hotels shape that past and carries the torch forward for today’s traveller. For me, I see the light too. It is not about staying at a hotel. It is about living in one.
Within THE HOUSE ON SATHORN is THE COURTYARD, which as the name suggests is precisely that: a courtyard. It is flanked by the taller and colourful surrounds of colonnades and arched windows. The terracotta roof tiles It’s an informal and open-air dining area situated on wooden decking. Umbrellas provide shade and shelter from all the elements, though little use for the stifling humidity.
And then there is THE BAR inside THE HOUSE ON SATHORN. THE BAR is beautifully faithful to its colonial past and another era when it was the Russian Embassy (1948-1999). I’ve had the good fortune to be in a real Russian embassy before, where everything was an overstatement of machismo-grandeur and one-upmanship. Today, stripped of its diplomatic pomp, THE BAR takes on a whole new air of excitement. It is not a contrived cover for national insecurities, even though there are trickles of past over-exaggeration: giant Corinthian columns and heavily vaulted ceilings; panelled walls and parquet floors. And it’s definitely a wood carver’s paradise. But no, the transformation into THE BAR is stunning, a trifecta of Thai, Russian and modern revival rolled into one. The interior design has been brilliantly executed balancing dark and chunky leather seating with soft cushions and smooth wall colours. The space is immensely inviting especially the bar which beckons like a glowing and colourful LED altar.
The cocktail choices were both alluring and inspiring. I left not just with an impression, but a lasting memory.
THE HOUSE ON SATHORN DINING ROOM
One of my greatest pleasures being a travel writer and reviewer is when I run across unsung heroes and heroines in the hotel world. I call them stars. And such was the case meeting Natcha Booncharoen, Assistant Marketing Communications Manager, W Bangkok. Natcha invited me to dinner at THE DINING ROOM. I normally accept dinner appointments without flinching, but what is really weird, is that it was on my last night in Bangkok and I really didn’t want to go anywhere, let alone to dinner. My gut was saying, “Go!” and my heart was saying, “To bed!” I was tired and overdosing on W. I’d been tarred and feathered with a punishing schedule and the lure of any other “letter”, in the alphabet, was infinitely more attractive than the “double V”. Or W. But she persisted and nudged. Nicely. And I accepted. My deference to socialising that evening mutated into one of the best experiences of my life, not just in Bangkok, but in all my professional wanderings. Natcha had booked us a prime perch at the bar at 6.30pm. The place was empty which was perfect in my calendar of do-nothingness. And the fact that we were at the bar, peering into the kitchen woke me up instantly. For those that know me really well, this is where and when I’m most at home. The Bar and the kitchen. As I said before, I will review this separately and later, but I cannot pass over this point now without comment, because I was entertained, tantalised, treated to a medley of extreme culinary skills that rendered me completely mute. It wasn’t just the food, the taste, the inspirations that excited me. Those were just chapters in my W saga. It was the whole story. Eating food was just part of that journey.
Natcha’s company, knowledge and energy got me through the door and for that reason, she gets gold star number one. She got me eating, drinking and learning. Another trifecta. Star number two goes to Chef Fatih Tutak and this needs some explaining. I did a kind of double take when I discovered he was Turkish, not out or prejudice but out of respect. And a degree of humour. Proof to the hoity-toity institutions (French) that think they own cooking (English) that anything is possible with talent (Turkish). Chef Fatih was groomed at the Bolu Mengen cooking school in Istanbul and then climbed the ranks with stints in Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Demark and Hong Kong. One of his most notable ranks was as the Chief Sous Chef at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. I love how he’s taken his globetrotting experience to THE HOUSE OF SATHORN with flair. It is almost rude to call his talent “cooking”, because his creations are masterpieces of art. A fusion of the senses: taste, sight, touch, smell.
With Chef Fatih at the helm, THE HOUSE ON SATHORN has been acknowledged as one of the top 50 restaurants in Asia, not just in Thailand. And this is where I love W Hotels: always two steps ahead. Winning. Another “W”. Which brings me to my third and final gold star, Volker Burth, Director – Food & Beverage. This was not a planned encounter. It was an off-the-cuff, per-chance meeting. At the bar. My favourite board room venue. It was fascinating. After twenty minutes chatting to Volker everything made sense. I knew why the food was so good at W Bangkok. It came to passion as well as craftsmanship. Pushing the boundaries of excellence. Giving people not just food but a total experience. I had reached the end of my Thai trail, my magnum opus, my piece de resistance. It was like grouting tiles. The perfect smooth finish. It has opened my eyes to a whole new world of W Hotels that I want to experience. Like collecting rate coins or gems.
This is the third WOOBAR I’ve been to in a year and W Bangkok is definitely the most glamorous to date, yet I have to say, not the most fun. W San Francisco wins the fun gong, so far. However, I have to take that opinion with a modicum of salt since I am just passing by for a fleeting moment. The bar stretches the length of the room and is a continuum of the lobby theme: black marble, studded crystals, glowing neon purple. It is ultra-modern with contrasting monochromes of white leather arm chairs dotted with black throw cushions, as well as white modular cubes and bar stools. Even the floor is a heavy contrast of linear tiles in various hues of white and grey, counterpointed by a deep, dark black carpet. The centre of the bar breathes life and soul into the place. A single shelf runs the full course of the wall which is a silvery-white shimmer. It is host to a giant row of liqueurs and spirits that beckon you. I visited the WOOBAR quite a few times, outside of regular drinking hours and I was not alone with my laptop. It was a very soothing and professional feel. On another occasion, I took refuge there in the air-conditioned space trying to recover from walking up to the Banyan Tree hotel (about 2kms away). Not a good idea in the sweltering humidity. I was overheating. And there, like an epiphany, was the rose flavoured water stand (I promised earlier I would return to this subject). Now I know why it was there. I recharged my body several times with this elixir, using cocktail napkins to wipe my brow. The WOOBAR became my saviour. And then there was the time when my lovely masseuse at the AWAY SPA said, “We have a men’s night here.” The conversation went along the lines of, “Why should there only by a Ladies Night in hotels?” I nodded agreement. What a clever marketing idea. Another win for W Bangkok. This would pull the single ladies in. The bar would be packed. What a fun night! No. Not a fun night if you are straight! She forgot to use the word “gay” man’s night! Luckily for me, I had somewhere else to go for dinner. I decided, after one too many flirtatious moments and pursed lips, to slide carefully into the nether regions of the lobby and into Sathorn Road. My metrosexuality had reached its finality.
THE FIT GYM
Living on the road, in and out of hotels, consuming vast amount of liquid and solid calories needs a counterbalance. The Fit Gym is where you start that process. The gym at W Bangkok is clean and modern and by the pool. The equipment and running machines are perfectly adequate and I have to say, I really enjoyed going there. The hotel offers complimentary towels and water and pretty much everything needed to shed a tiny bit of that fat build up. The staff could not have been friendlier and more helpful. More into customer service than “look how big my muscles are”!
I had been instructed by the cavalcade of women in my life that I was not allowed to come home unless I had experienced the AWAY SPA at W Bangkok. Part of this was a jealous wish to experience the treatments themselves. The other part was to see me squirm. I think they had a morbid fascination with my total lack of spa lingo. Words like facials, body scrubs, wraps, Espa products, Style Lab Beauty Salon, unisex Hammam….all these fall outside my vernacular. I related to them about, as much as I would reading road maps in Cantonese! But this is where my metro-sexuality kicks in. I quite like a bit of pampering. I just wonder why I don’t do more outside of international travel. I’ll have to redress that some time. I looked at the 6-page AWAY SPA meu and found this: AWAY MASSAGE METAMORPHOSIS OUR UNIQUE SIGNATURE MASSAGE, METAMORPHOSIS WILL SEND WAVES OF RIPPLING ENERGY THROUGHOUT YOUR BODY’S ENERGY SYSTEMS UNLEASHING A RENEWED YOU. THIS TREATMENT IS DESIGNED TO CREATE A METAMORPHOSIS EFFECT BEGINNING WITH A NURTURING WELCOME, COCOONING YOU TO A PLACE OF ESCAPE WHERE YOU CAN RETREAT FROM THE WORLD AND UNDERGO YOUR OWN PERSONAL DETOXIFICATION. RELEASE TENSION AND TOXINS FROM THE BODY, FOCUSING ON THOSE TIGHT AREAS THAT ACCUMULATE DAILY STRESSORS OF LIFE, THE HEAD, NECK, BACK AND SHOULDER AREAS. WITH OUR SIGNATURE ESSENTIAL OILS, REFUEL AND UNFURL YOUR WINGS WITH A FULL BODY MASSAGE LIKE NO OTHER YOU HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED.WITH RHYTHMIC AND DYNAMIC FLOWS, STROKES, STRETCHES AND TECHNIQUES TO EMERGE FROM YOUR COCOON INTO A BEAUTIFUL SOCIAL BUTTERFLY READY TO SPREAD YOUR WINGS AND TAKE FLIGHT. “This is a massage right?” I asked the giggling girls. “What’s with the wings and butterflies bit?” I booked in for a 90-minute session costing 3,500 BHT (or about AUD $135). This part I could understand on the extensive 6-page menu! And then I was lead off through the doors to metamorphose into an insect. The inside of the AWAY SPA is amazing. I have done my fair share of treatments around the world and in hotels but this was noticeably more soothing, calm and clean. My masseuse spoke really good English and was excellent. I don’t like soft or hard massages. I like them in between and she nailed it. She was also fun to talk to and really informative when I wasn’t drifting off into nirvana. After an hour and a half, I was indeed recharged. I’d been promised a hot and soothing ginger tea at the end of my session which I got. I felt immensely at peace. Collecting my thoughts. Purged of stress. I was indeed ready to spread my wings.
Before I left, I rebooked for a nail treatment the following morning. She nailed it again.
FINAL THOUGHTS – W BANGKOK HOTEL REVIEW
I am so glad that I listened to my inner instincts and embarked on my own journey of discovery with W Hotels, because it has allowed me to understand who they are and where they are going to. In doing this W Bangkok hotel review, I have sat up to take notice of things that I would otherwise have missed before. And I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of what is out there in W World. I love their innovation and sensory excitement. It’s welcome change from the monotony and routine of other hotel chains. And I cherish the individuality of each property, whilst recognising the threads and colours of the W brand. It makes me want to experience more. To see what secrets each W Hotel holds, at every spot and exotic destination. Just to say “I’ve been there!” W Bangkok has set a benchmark that I will judge other hotels by. The inculcation of local culture, the infusion of quality dining, cutting edge interior design, attention to detail, personality, energy, innovation. And for me, humour. Fun. W Bangkok is inordinately sexy. The people, the food, the cocktails, the architecture, the interior design, the vibe. All the ingredients point towards excellence and what should be a litmus test for other 5-star hotels.
W Bangkok 106 North Sathorn Road Bangkok, 10500 Thailand Telephone: +66 (0) 2 344 4000
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