Photographer and writer Herbert Ypma’s Hip Hotel books have redefined the travel experience. Here we feature eight of his latest discoveries, ranging in style from Zen minimal to cool kitsch and lavish historical revivalism. Destination hotels are the only stylish places to be, so don’t travel - arrive
Of all the Aman resorts in the world, this one had the longest build-up. For almost a decade, the news that Marrakesh was to get an Aman hotel intrigued travellers and locals alike. At times it seemed more like a rumour - a strategic bit of goodwill propaganda by Moroccan tourism officials, as if to say, "This city is now important enough to be the first and only place in Africa worthy of the very faithful and affluent Aman junkies."
No one knew where it was to be, much less what it would look like or what it would offer in terms of a travel experience. There were sceptics aplenty. Sure, they argued, the Aman formula of microscopic attention to detail, aesthetic prowess and service honed to perfection is a winning combination in Asia - but then the culture of Asia has always been very strong on hospitality. Many doubted that Adrian Zeccha and his team could conjure up the same kind of magic in an African Muslim state.
The delay in opening only fuelled the negativity. See, critics said, they are delaying the whole thing on purpose, because they know it’s not going to work. The flow of adverse publicity was inevitably swelled by the departure of founder Zeccha from the group. It’s a disaster, it’s coming apart at the seams - the press was ready for the coup de grce.
When it finally did open, Amanjena almost proved them right. People came away with stories of room service measured in hours not minutes, and the compound architecture was said not to live up to Aman’s usual elevated standards. But if anything, the only mistake Amanjena made was to open too soon. If they had just waited a few months until the young but very enthusiastic staff had been properly trained, and until the newly planted palms had been allowed to mature a bit, it would have been obvious from the start that Amanjena is the best hotel in Marrakesh. Why? Let’s begin with the architecture. Some critics have called Ed Tuttle’s design monotone, sombre and lacking in vibrancy. I call it elegant, restrained and subtle. More importantly, it is in keeping with the design heritage of southern Morocco.
Amanjena’s forms echo those of Marrakesh’s famous Menara gardens. The Arabic emphasis on water has had a great influence. The buildings are arranged around a huge square reflecting basin on one side and along tiled avenues of fountains and pools on the other. Tuttle also captures the mystery of Morocco with myriad tall, arched spaces that dissolve one into the next. Whereas La Mamounia - the Dorchester of Marrakesh - offers traditional Western hotel architecture with a Moroccan twist, Amanjena’s approach was to create Moroccan architecture toned down by a Western twist. All the elements are here - the mud texture, the arches, the hidden courtyards, the tiled roofs, the mosaic zillij - but they have been executed in a manner that values subtlety over impact. Black tajine earthenware dishes combined with black, green and beige mosaic offer a modern take on a traditional art form.
But it’s not just authenticity and style that make Amanjena the best hotel in Marrakesh; there is also its unashamed devotion to luxury. Each guest is cocooned within a magnificent circular space complete with domed ceiling and fireplace. The en suite bathroom alone is the size of a Paris apartment, and each maison opens on to a private courtyard furnished as an outdoor living area in Moroccan style, complete with fountain and minzah, or gazebo.
The entire set-up is so stylishly seductive and luxuriously comfortable that it is tempting not to leave one’s private compound. That would be a shame. Amanjena is just minutes away from the medina of Marrakesh, one of the few intact medieval cities in the world. You should drag yourself away from Aman’s hedonistic clutches and experience the intoxicating sights, smells and sounds of one of the most exotic cities on the planet. With streets and passages often no wider than two motorbikes or one fat donkey, the walled inner city of Marrakesh gives a taste of medieval urban life: exhilarating, cramped, dark, smelly, noisy, claustrophobic - in a word, fascinating.
First-timers will be drawn to the vivid spectacle of Jemma al Fna, the vast open square at the gateway to the medina that features a daily circus of snake charmers, acrobats, pipe players, water vendors, and row upon row of market vendors. For shoppers, the souks of Marrakesh are alive with bargaining and deal-making over the ubiquitous glass of mint tea. And when the intensity of the Marrakesh experience gets too much, you can retreat to the luxurious haven of Aman perfection.
Amanjena, Route de Ouarzazate, km 12, Marrakesh, Morocco (t: 00 212 (44) 403 353; f: 00 212 (44) 403 477; e: email@example.com). Room rates from US$600
Shahjahanabad ain’t what it used to be. Very little remains in modern-day Delhi of the city built by the powerful Mughal ruler Shah Jahan. Whereas the monument to his wife, the Taj Mahal, remains beautifully intact, the city from which he ruled what once was the most splendid, opulent and culturally advanced of all the Islamic empires has all but disappeared.
When the Muslims from the north invaded the Hindu principalities of Rajasthan, the resulting blend of cultures produced a society that excelled in art, architecture and mathematics to a degree that was the envy of the rest of the world. With an extraordinarily high level of learning and a plentiful population to do the work, the successive rulers of the Mughal empire built great palaces and massively fortified cities. They adopted the traditional Rajasthani technique of building in stone covered by a layer of finely polished lime render, and erected gleaming monuments to their massive power and wealth.
Of all the Mughal rulers, none was more prolific or extravagant than Shah Jahan. The strength and wealth of his empire allowed him to embark on the white marble folly of the Taj Mahal, and if his death hadn’t thwarted him, he would have built its twin in black marble on the other side of the Jumna River.
But what of his seat of power, Shahjahanabad? Why does so little remain of the Mughal splendour of the city now known as Delhi? The answer is simple: a couple of centuries of modernity. The British followed the Mughal example and made Delhi their base. They soon began reshaping it according to their vision of what a city should be. As an imperial capital, they reasoned, it should have good transport connections to other regions of India. This was the great age of rail, and the iron road was given priority over ancient city walls. Following the model of London, different stations were constructed to service different destinations. The old city walls were breached in so many locations that it was hardly worth preserving what was left.
The next big change was ushered in by the next big transport revolution. An entire new city plan was proposed in order to accommodate the motor car. Sir Edwin Lutyens, an acclaimed British architect with royal connections, was given the task of designing a new city on a site slightly to the south. Like Haussmann’s Paris, New Delhi was to be a city of broad boulevards and imposing buildings, monuments, grand parks and plenty of open space.
Though it certainly wasn’t part of the original plan, New Delhi was eminently well-suited to becoming the capital of independent India in 1947. Nehru himself was keen to build a modern India. He was instrumental in recruiting Le Corbusier to design the government buildings of Chandigarh, and encouraged foreign embassies to be bold and adventurous in the design of their buildings. Delhi soon became India’s most modern city.
All this explains how a hunting lodge came to be built in the pure, streamlined style of the 1950s. The building has survived well, even if the radiating urban expansion of Delhi has wiped out all trace of the forests where the lodge residents once hunted. The Manor is a case of the right idea in the right place at the right time. Ten years ago there were still more bicycles in Delhi than cars; today this Asian city claims the dubious distinction of the heaviest traffic in the East, more even than Bangkok. But as a major city, Delhi has come into its own.
The 1999 opening of this creatively contemporary hotel was one more confirmation of Delhi’s new cosmopolitan credentials. For visiting traditionalists set on maharaja-style palace experiences, the Manor might come as quite a shock. This 18-room hotel is a showpiece of 1950s horizontal concrete construction. The interior, by Vinay Kapoor and Shirley Fujikawa of London-based Studio u+a, opts for a pared-down, almost minimal approach that allows the rich palette of natural materials to do the decorative talking. Bathrooms clad in green granite, walls surfaced in gold leaf, panelling in warmly hued woods, and a floor of Italian terrazzo inlaid with small squares of Indian marble exemplify the subtlety and appropriateness of the design.
The experience of staying here is equally relaxed, calm and soothing. Tucked away in a leafy street in the exclusive New Friends Colony, the sprinkler is the loudest noise you are likely to hear.
The Manor, 77 Friends Colony (West), New Delhi 110065, India (t: 00 91 (11) 692 5151; f: 00 91 (11) 692 2299; e: firstname.lastname@example.org). Room rates from US$155
A young hotel on an old street, Bleibtreu is a streetwise hangout behind the gentlemanly guise of a city townhouse. Situated on Bleibtreu Strasse, a famous stretch of expensive boutiques just off the Kurfrstendamm (Berlin’s great shopping boulevard), it’s a welcome addition. Now, finally, the chic shoppers of Berlin have somewhere to go for lunch or a quick cappuccino. The only problem is that no one, taxi drivers included, seems to know that this is a hotel.
Admittedly, it’s a brilliant disguise. From the street, the Bleibtreu is a deli, a caf and a flower shop, with a bar (the Blue Bar) and a restaurant (the 31) directly behind the caf. The hotel part of the equation is subtle, very subtle. Between the caf and the trendy florist there is an archway over a diagonal path that leads into a blue-pebbled courtyard. Situated beneath a beautiful old chestnut tree, the courtyard looks out over the restaurant and then leads back inside to a small desk tucked into a corner. This is the reception desk.
In deciding to be different, Bleibtreu has blown away all hotel conventions, including the lobby. Why waste space, they say, on chairs that people never sit in and tables that spend most of the day supporting fresh flower arrangements? They have a point. Why waste the space when it can be used for fun things such as cafs, bars, delis and restaurants? This way the hotel becomes a real part of the city, a participant in everyday life. And for the guests it makes a refreshing change. Instead of asking the concierge (which they don’t have) for suggestions on the city’s latest and greatest, you can simply hang out here, secure in the knowledge that you’re not missing out, because this is the place where it’s all happening.
But it’s not just in the public spaces that Bleibtreu is different. The rooms follow a new spirit, perhaps best described as an eco-based design logic. A desire for calm and well-being underpins both the fine detail and the overall concept of this hotel. Organic porous paints allow the walls to breathe, all carpets are 100 per cent virgin wool and the furniture is of untreated oak. The impression created by this eco-friendly approach is a soft, new-age modernism. It reminds me of the interior of a 1950s Californian beach house. The rooms are bright, clear and gentle, with nothing aggressive about them, nothing hard-edged.
All of the accessories, furniture, carpets and lamps were designed for Bleibtreu by Herbert Jakob Weinand and made by hand in Germany and Italy. But perhaps the most unusual and attractive feature of the design is the lighting. All the lights can be dimmed independently of each other. Once the desired mood is reached, they can be set and the levels recorded. Press a button and the lighting level you prefer is recalled. Now that’s what I call a smart room.
Even the gym did not escape Weinand’s comprehensive vision. In fact it’s not a gym, it’s a ‘wellness centre’. This is not a place where you exert yourself, but a place where other people exert themselves to help you, the guest, relax. Situated in the basement of the building, the spa space is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. There is also a massage centre with a holistic masseur, and a special post-steam relaxing area that uses coloured lighting to help stimulate a particular mood. If it all sounds very different, that’s because it is.
And what, ultimately, is the point of all this eco-friendly concern for your well-being? The answer is elementary - a good night’s sleep.
Bleibtreu, Bleibtreu Strasse 31-10707, Berlin, Germany (t: 00 49 (30) 884 74 0; f: 00 49 (30) 884 74 444; e: email@example.com). Room rates from €142
Amsterdam really needed a hotel like this - a place as extraordinary as the city itself. The unique beauty of Amsterdam has its origins in the city’s Golden Age, when, enriched by the success of its 136,000-strong fleet, Holland was both a significant naval power and one of the most affluent nations in the world. One shipload of spices from Indonesia, or of porcelain from China, yielded enough profit to allow a merchant to retire in comfort for the rest of his life. There was quite literally an embarrassment of riches, and the conservative burghers were almost forced to look for ways to spend their money. They were the world’s first affluent, mercantile middle class.
As always happens in any society swept by a tide of affluence, there were the rich and the very rich. The very rich built homes on the Keizersgracht, the Emperor’s Canal, where the houses are still more grand, more Palladian in shape and symmetrical in design.
With an address on the Keizersgracht, Blakes Hotel couldn’t be better located. And it has an architectural pedigree to match. Built in 1632 and designed by the then famous architect Jacob van Campen, this stone building was originally a theatre - a place illuminated by the plays of Molire and Shakespeare and concerts conducted by Vivaldi. But the Golden Age came to an end, and so did the building’s life as a theatre - suitably dramatically in 1772, when it burned down in the middle of a show. All that was left after the inferno was the lovely neoclassical stone facade. The Catholic church later acquired the site and adapted what remained of the structure into a bakery to feed the city’s poor and underprivileged.
As Blakes Hotel, it has now returned to its former status as a theatre, says designer Anouska Hempel - this time starring her work. But however remarkable her contribution, it was just the finishing touch. First the building had to be rescued from a state of advanced dilapidation. Crumbling walls, a missing roof and a listed stone facade were the sum total of what the Dutch banker-developer had to work with when he decided to turn this historic building into a hotel.
Inviting Hempel to tackle the interior design was a master stroke. Her trademark signature of contemporary minimalism with a colonial Asian twist could have no better setting than Amsterdam. Holland still has a strong and enduring love affair with its former Asian colonies. This is apparent in Dutch cuisine. Even today, half a century after Indonesia’s independence, Holland’s favourite dishes are nasi goreng, bami goreng, and rijstafel. The East was the source of the great wealth that gave rise to the Golden Age, and thus it will always be associated with the pinnacle of achievement in Dutch culture.
At Blakes, Hempel has masterfully captured the resonance and style of Holland’s colonial past in a thoroughly contemporary fashion. The vivid natural colours of spices, the blue and white of Chinese porcelain, the texture of bamboo, and the black that once defined the wardrobe of every well-to-do burgher: such ingredients are reinvented and introduced with great flair to the various rooms and suites. There is a jade suite; a blue and white room; an all-white duplex, with its bathroom on the beamed mezzanine floor and a Chinese-inspired mandarin room as a living room; a papyrus-hung gallery divided into small private spaces; and a typically Dutch bricked inner courtyard.
None of this design obscures the very Dutch and very stately architecture, nor does it leave any doubt what country you are in. Even the restaurant, which used to house the bakery ovens, has retained a sober, utilitarian atmosphere despite its unmistakably up-to-date interior.
Blakes is a rare achievement: one of those few places that manage to strike a balance between historical pedigree and thoroughly modern attitude. In this respect, the city and the hotel are one.
Blakes Hotel, Keizersgracht 384, Amsterdam 1016GB, Netherlands (t: 00 31 (20) 530 20 10/17; f: 00 31 (20) 530 20 30; e: firstname.lastname@example.org). Room rates from €225
There’s something particularly appropriate about the fact that Per Lydmar, the founder of this hotel in Stockholm, is thinking about opening a place in Miami. The two cities have more in common than most people might imagine. Weather is without question not one of them. But instead of temperature, the cities share a common temperament. Like Miami, Stockholm is a newly discovered metropolis. Where Miami has salsa, Stockholm has jazz. Where Miami people look good parading around Ocean Drive without much on, the hip young things on Sturegatan look equally good in their cold-weather utility chic.
Like Miami, Stockholm is built in and around the water, and although the Baltic may not be quite as inviting as the warm Atlantic, it does make this a beautiful city. One of the attractions of Stockholm is that it’s a big city that gives the impression of being small. In atmosphere and lifestyle it resembles Amsterdam, despite having three times the population. It also doesn’t hurt that Stockholm has resisted the attractions of the high-rise office block. The cityscape has thus remained on a scale more like that of Paris. Add to this the fact that Stockholm is nowhere near as prohibitively expensive as, say, London, and it’s understandable that it should have become an urban travel hotspot with foreigners and Swedes alike.
No hotel complements the new Stockholm better than Lydmar. It’s not just a hotel with a popular bar and a couple of really good restaurants, it’s a hangout - a place to drop in and listen to some live music, an ideal venue for a coffee on the way to work or a drink on the way home. Like the Bleibtreu in Berlin, the Costes in Paris or the Mercer in New York, you need never leave the premises to feel that you are truly in the heart of the city.
In design, the guest rooms are such that you may not want to leave your room, let alone the hotel. For pricing purposes, they have been simplified to a T-shirt formula of small, medium, large and extra large. But that’s about all they have in common. Otherwise they are all different. What distinguishes the Lydmar interiors is that they have been executed not just with style, flair and a feel for the contemporary pulse, but also with respect for quality. From the taps to the light switches, everything is substantial and well made. The TVs are the latest flat-screened models, the telephones are the most sophisticated on the market, the furniture is all from leading Italian manufacturers. Nowhere is there evidence of skimping, and everywhere there is proof of an almost obsessive attention to detail.
The Lydmar Hotel has no lobby. There’s a corner of the restaurant where people check in. At first this is a bit disconcerting, especially if you find yourself bumping into people enjoying an after-work drink as you drag your bags to what you think might be the reception. But once you settle in with a Sea Breeze, the vision of the next bewildered guests trying to make their way through is rather entertaining.
What I like most of all about Lydmar is its ability to combine relaxed with refined. Though the hotel has the head lease on the building, many floors are shared with business and professional addresses. For some hotels it might be a problem that guest rooms are mixed with doctor’s surgeries, or that one floor has a resident orthodontist. At Lydmar, this only seems to add to its street cred.
To my mind, the most graphic example of Lydmar’s attitude is the elevator music. Nothing special to look at, the lift features a panel of buttons for choosing not what floor to go to but what to listen to on the way. Suddenly you find yourself wishing your room was on a higher floor. Banishing the normal drone of elevator music is like cutting the last shackle of conformity. Even in Miami, the lifts haven’t come this far.
Lydmar Hotel, Sturegatan 10, S-114 36 Stockholm, Sweden (t: 00 46 (8) 5661 1300; f: 00 46 (8) 5661 1301; e: email@example.com). Room rates from 1,225 krona
Underwater Mozart. nothing more vividly captures the extra attention to detail that separates One Aldwych from other five-star luxury hotels. Music in the pool, television while you shave, an in-house cinema for private screenings, fibre-optic lighting, even ecologically-sound vacuum plumbing that uses 75 per cent less water than conventional systems: Gordon Campbell-Gray has created a unique hotel by considering the details beyond the conventional - details that even grand hotels would consider extravagant.
Inspired by the Montalembert in Paris and the Aman chain in the East, Campbell-Gray - a veteran hotelier whose previous project was the very successful Maidstone Arms in East Hampton, Long Island - was convinced that there was room in London for a more contemporary approach to being spoiled. His experiences in the playground of the rich and famous, where his neighbours included Calvin Klein and Martha Stewart, had taught him a thing or two about the dreams and demands of the modern luxury customer.
At One Aldwych, Campbell-Gray took the Montalembert’s approach and added a luxury checklist of his own. In design, he was intent upon eliminating the chintz and paring down the plush - clearing out the claustrophobic clutter that has traditionally defined luxury. This is why the walls at One Aldwych are white, the fabrics are plain and the decorative detail is limited to the odd bolt of colour in the rich tones of Jim Thompson Thai silk. There’s not a tassel in sight.
This is not to say that the rooms or the lobby lack warmth, however; ambience is provided by lighting and by a collection of contemporary art, both of which have been given an appropriate degree of emphasis.
Campbell-Gray was very clear about the kind of hotel One Aldwych was to be - comprehensively modern but not so avant-garde or trendy that you could quickly tire of it. It was to be practical rather than fashionable. Thus each room is equipped with American as well as European modem plugs to accommodate the ubiquitous laptop of the working traveller. And despite London’s inflated property prices, the rooms are generously spacious. The service, too, had to be immaculate. "The greatest indulgence for me when I am travelling," says Campbell-Gray, "is to stay in my room, watch a film and order room service. A hotel has to be able to do a great hamburger, no matter how acclaimed the restaurant might be."
The aim was to eliminate "the dripping deluxeness" - to banish any hint of snobbery and instead contribute something of value to the guest experience. That is why Campbell-Grey hired Julian Jenkins, formerly of the Ritz, as the executive chef for the mezzanine restaurant Indigo.
There is also the more formal dining option of Axis, a dramatic double-height space with a 1920s feel, distinguished by a massive mural by English artist Richard Walker and accessed by a spectacular flight of travertine stairs. And the guest who has had enough of elaborate restaurants and fusion cuisine is catered for by the very streetwise Cinnamon Bar.
All the details and services that have been pumped into this hotel make it one of the world’s most accommodatingly luxurious places to stay. Even so, its most impressive element remains the architecture. This classically elegant corner building, originally built in 1907 as the offices of the Morning Post, is one of the most important Edwardian buildings in London. Its dignified Louis XVI-style stone exterior bears more than a passing resemblance to the Ritz - which makes sense, given than it was designed by the same architects, Mews and Davis, the Anglo-French partnership that was also responsible for the Paris Ritz.
Last but not least is One Aldwych’s location. What still sets London apart from all other world cities is its vibrant theatre scene. In this respect, no hotel is better located. Most major venues, including the South Bank Centre, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the Royal Opera House, are within walking distance.
Imposing architecture, cutting-edge technology, understated elegance, polished service, culinary choice, superb location - all these conspire to affirm Oscar Wilde’s famous quip: "living well is the best revenge".
One Aldwych, London, WC2B 4RH (t: 020 7300 1000; f: 020 7300 1001; e: one aldwych london). Room rates from 250
Tokyo has an edge - even the most seasoned globetrotter would agree that this is one of the most exotic locations on the planet. It’s not exotic in a ‘tigers in the jungle, naked sirens under the waterfalls’ kind of way, but rather in the sense that everything is different - so different. Compared to the Big Apple’s neatly numbered grid of skyscrapers, or LA’s clearly defined collection of freeways, Tokyo is chaos.
Even the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of London’s streets is positively rational compared to Tokyo’s grimy maze of lanes and alleyways. Tokyo taxi drivers are reluctant to venture out of their specific zones and frequently get hopelessly lost. If you lose the card that has the name and address of your hotel printed in Japanese, you are in trouble.
Most mystifying of all is the fact that the city did not have to be this way. There was not a lot of it left after the Second World War and it could have modelled itself on any metropolis, real or ideal. Instead, it grew organically into a larger, denser version of its former feudal self. The longer you stay in Tokyo, the stranger it all gets. The differences are embedded in the very detail of everyday life: books and magazines are read from back to front; everyone (especially grown-ups) is obsessed with comic books; officials or quasi-officials (including taxi drivers) all wear white gloves; and everything, even a solitary grapefruit, is wrapped as if it were a wedding present. Then there is the vast human tide of commuters. The metro at rush hour couldn’t function without its pushers, whose job is - literally - to push as many people on to a train as possible before the doors close.
To Western eyes, Tokyo remains far more enigmatic than most global capitals. Apart from the nocturnal neon spectacle and gaudy pachinko pin-ball parlours, few visitors have a clear vision of what to expect. Preconceptions run from romanticised Blade Runner scenarios to a more sinister Yakuza version populated by Samurai bikers in black leather.
If truth be known, architecturally speaking, Tokyo is quite a disappointment; a grim, grey maze of pock-marked concrete with just the odd design showpiece thrown in. It certainly doesn’t give off much futuristic gleam. There’s a ‘let it crumble’ attitude - perhaps because whatever they build, an earthquake is sure to come along to knock it all down. But there is an upside to the ‘quake town’ mentality - lack of permanence means developers are willing to be more adventurous. This accounts for a lot, including the fact that the Tokyo Park Hyatt is by far the most avant-garde hotel in the international Hyatt chain. The hotel occupies the top 14 floors of veteran Japanese architect Kenzo Tange’s Shinjuku Park Tower - starting on floor 39. Putting a hotel 50 storeys up in one of the world’s most earthquake-prone cities is a gutsy move. The reward for refusing to be intimated by Mother Nature is the amazing view. From the double-height windows of the 51st-floor New York Grill you can see Mount Fuji in the far distance and, by night, Tokyo neon glamour at its most spectacular.
The hotel, situated beneath the summit of three interlocking towers, is a distillation of all that makes Tokyo different and exciting. The tell-tale attention to detail is evident in the laundry that is returned wrapped in fine hand-made paper, or the immaculate delicacies delivered by kimono-clad staff on hand-made plates and bowls. Tokyo’s preoccupation with food is reflected in the wide choice on offer: the New York Grill serves crossover east-west fusion cuisine; then there is Girandole, serving Continental fare in a double-height space decorated with a gigantic collage of photographs; and finally Kozue, the in-house Japanese restaurant in a timber-panelled modernist space.
Tokyo’s reputation as a shopper’s paradise is upheld by the range of stores immediately downstairs, including that beacon of hip contemporary luxury, the Conran Shop. The top-floor health club is a sensation, complete with a swimming pool set underneath the intersecting planes of the roof. A 14,000-volume library offers an almost Zen-like retreat. Guest rooms are spacious and elegantly minimal, with Japanese rice-paper lamps and select works by master ceramicists. It’s not surprising that Wallpaper magazine elected the hotel rooms in this Shinjuku landmark as the best on the planet.
Park Hyatt, 3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 163-1055, Japan (t: 00 81 (3) 5322 1234; f: 00 81 (3) 5322 1288). Room rates from 49,000
Sydney is a tough city to do business in. Who wants to work when the harbour and beaches are only minutes away? Yet there are plenty for whom surf, sand and sailing are not on the agenda. Sydney, after all, is a city of five million people and the commercial heart of Australia.
If you must work, then you also must stay at Establishment. For despite being in the heart of the business district, just behind the stock exchange, Establishment is anything but. This is without doubt the most fun and the most decadent place to stay in Sydney, because it has turned the ‘hotel with trendy bar’ concept on its head. Establishment is not a hip hotel with a hot bar; it’s a hot bar, a trend-setting club, the city’s best sushi bar and one of its most talked-about restaurants - all of which happen to have a nice little hotel attached.
Not that the hotel part of Establishment feels like an afterthought. The loft-like guest rooms are sumptuously spacious, with open-plan bathrooms. They’re equipped with Bang & Olufsen stereos and internet television. There are two decorative options: a light version that’s all silvery and dove-grey - the interior equivalent of a Prada summer suit - and more urban rooms with rugged dark wooden floors and exposed beams - more the after-hours Dolce & Gabbana version.
Tempting as these spacious settings are for room service and a movie - don’t. You’d be missing out on the giant adult funfair that is Establishment. The front bar - the best in town - has to employ bouncers to keep people out, despite the fact that it’s the longest bar in Australia.
Then there’s the Est restaurant, the chic place to eat. And the in-house hedonism doesn’t end there. The entire top floor of this Victorian building has been converted to a Moroccan-themed bar, complete with one of the best sushi restaurants in town. To top it off, there’s the chic 1960s-style Tank nightclub in the basement.
None of this, of course, came about by accident. Opened in 2000, Establishment was the creation of Sydney’s most experienced and consistently successful style dynasty. Merivale and Mr John, trademarks of founders John and Merivale Hemmes, were synonymous with au courant in 1970s Australia - the Biba of the Antipodes.
At a time when, to Brits at least, Australia was still the land of Barry Humphries, John and Merivale Hemmes were dressing the adventurous in outfits that could compete with David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. They were first with snakeskin platform shoes and super-flared trousers - and that was just for the men. But they did not fall into terminal decline when times and fashions changed. Instead, John and Merivale shifted to hospitality.
First they converted a Sydney boutique to a tearoom, and then in time added a restaurant. Gradually, the family expanded into more restaurants and bars, and eventually a hotel. But none of this happened overnight.
If you had said to an Aussie 30 years ago that a bar in Sydney would contain more women than men on a Friday night, the bloke would have declared you Aladdin Sane.
Establishment, 5 Bridge Lane, Sydney 2000, NSW, Australia (t: 00 61 (2) 9240 3000; f: 00 61 (2) 9240 3001; e: firstname.lastname@example.org). Room rates from AUS$290
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