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Hotel design, American style

by admin on December 31, 2009

"Libertarian Playfulness" at Ace Hotel New York

"Libertarian Playfulness" at Ace Hotel New York

We happened to notice “U.S.A. All the Way,” an interesting essay about American design that appeared a couple weeks ago in a New York Times’s T Magazine style supplement.  The author, Walter Kirn, gives a generous nod to the Portland, Ore., based Ace hotel minichain, praising its practice of “renovating buildings in cities like Seattle, New York and Palm Springs, Calif., in a manner that preserves their local color while updating them with hipster eclecticism, all while keeping the room rates reasonable.  It’s a peculiarly American strategy, combining our fondness for respecting tradition with our libertarian playfulness and our utilitarian good sense.”

We agree.  The company’s New York City outpost made our Best Value, Hidden Gems, and Best Rooms roundups.  Opened this year in a renovated 1904 SRO building and set among fragrance emporiums and knock-off watch shops in off-the-beaten-path Murray Hill, the hotel has been hyped for its cool design, big-name chefs, and quirky rooms.  Still, the hotel pledges to price their basic rooms under $200 a night, which is cheap in the Big Apple.

We thought it’d be worth adding a few other properties that generally take the approach Kirn describes.

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How to take great travel photos

by admin on December 2, 2009

Lesson 1: It’s the Lighting, Stupid!

The Georgian

#1 Gloomy weather makes for a gloomy Georgian

The Georgian

#2 The right sunlight does wonders for photos

 

  

 

 

 

 

 These photos of the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica demonstrate one of the most basic and easy-to-follow “rules” of travel photography: Better light equals better photos.  In photo #1, grey overcast lighting leaves the Georgian looking as gloomy as the weather.  In photo #2, warm sunset lighting makes the bright colors of the building pop, and the shadows give dimension to the palm trees and design details of the building — no Photoshoping or expensive gear required.

Of course, you can’t change the weather, and you’re not going to waste your vacation waiting around for the perfect light.  But sunrise and sunset are reliably great times to take outdoor photos. And try to keep the sun behind you — shining on your subject, not directly into your lens.

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The Setai, Miami - Studio City View Suite

The Setai, Miami - Studio City View Suite

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we stop and give thanks for all our hotel-related blessings. Tiny toiletries, fancy, clean sheets, doormen in uniforms that make us smile — and gorgeous hotels in general.

While you may be traveling to homes near and far to share the holiday with friends and family (and may be faced with cat hair situations, screaming relatives, or the tiny twin bed you slept in growing up), don’t forget that there are plenty of “happy” places — should your Turkey Day accommodations turn out to be less than happy. Check out our huge slideshow of all the best luxury hotel rooms across all destinations we’ve visited so far.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Oyster Team!

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Doorman at the Sir Francis Drake

Doorman at the Sir Francis Drake

The Sir Francis Drake in San Francisco is well-known for its uniformed Beefeater doormen — one of which is the city’s most famed hotel staffer, Tom Sweeney, who has been posted on Powell Street for over 25 years. According to local legend, Mr. Sweeney holds the honor of being the most photographed person in San Francisco.

But he — and his Beefeater colleagues — just might have some competition. Meet Doorman John from the nautical-themed Argonaut Hotel: he’s friendly, he’s fun, and he’s rockin’ puffy sleeves and a sweet hat like it ain’t no thang.

Doorman at the Argonaut Hotel

Doorman at the Argonaut Hotel

Both hotels are run by Kimpton, a hotel company that is apparently quite skilled at finding and hiring gentlemen who are very, very good sports. Give the Argonaut a few more years (it opened in 2003; the Drake has been around since 1928), and those sailor-ish uniforms just might creep into just as many San Francisco photographs as those Beefeaters.

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"Georgina's Mind Eraser," $15

"Georgina's Mind Eraser," $15

Last night, we attended a coming-out party for the new Gossip Girl-themed cocktail menu at the Empire Hotel in New York City. In case you’re not up on the show’s developments (or haven’t been reading New York Magazine’s brilliant episode recaps), the hotel has become something of a character itself on GG since the dapper rich-kid Chuck Bass “purchased” the property sometime during the current season. Yes, he was apparently capable of purchasing a Manhattan hotel just after high school. Right then.

But don’t get caught up in details; let’s talk booze. The Empire lobby bar’s Gossip Girl menu features $15 cocktails based on each of the show’s primary characters: Serena, Blair, Jenny, Chuck, Dan, Georgina, Nate, and Vanessa — plus a special “XOXO” cocktail whose components are kept a secret (kinda like Gossip Girl herself. Get it?)

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Dashing through the…no. Not ready for the snow and freezing cold temps just yet? Give yourself an early gift and enjoy your last moments of sweet, pre-holiday freedom in Hawaii. Or better yet: surprise someone this holiday season with a sweet Hawaiian getaway at one of the top hotels on Oahu, Maui, or Kauai.

We’ll make this even easier for you: here are our picks for the best hotels in Hawaii — for anyone on your holiday gift list.

For the Pampered Prince or Princess

The Adult Pool at the Four Seasons Maui

The Adult Pool at the Four Seasons Maui

The Four Seasons, our pick for the Best Luxury Hotel in Hawaii, is quieter and more subdued than Maui’s more grandiose resorts, but a two-to-one staff-to-guest ratio means over-the-top pampering like nowhere else in Hawaii — poolside Evian spritzes, beachside yoga classes, and they even have someone to unpack your bags for you. The best part? It’s all free — gym and spa access, beachside cabanas, outrigger canoe outings, and even the kids’ club. No ugly “resort fee” surprises either, unlike at most Maui resorts.

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View from The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, San Francisco

View from The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, San Francisco

Simply put, the views from some of the San Francisco hotels we visited are remarkable (others, ahem, are not). To see the yummiest window shots and sweetest cityscapes, take a virtual trip to the City by the Bay by flipping through our Best Hotel Views in San Francisco slideshow.

Slideshow

Slideshow

You’ll be able to spot Alcatraz from Top of the Mark at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins; Coit Tower is visible from some rooms at the Fairmont San Francisco (and yes, other rooms even have views of the lovely Golden Gate Bridge).

Cruise on over to the gallery here.

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We’ve already spotlighted the creepiest pieces of hotel art we’d encountered in Vegas, New York, and Miami (we chose “creepy” rather than “quirky” because most of those pieces appeared to be watching us). But after our San Fran and Los Angeles trips, we came home with plenty more photos of artsy, wacky-coolness found in the hotels we reviewed on the West Coast.

Feast your eyes upon (or avert them from, depending on your taste) the Cali edition of our Quirky Hotel Decor Hall of Fame.

Spotted in Sofitel L.A.'s fitness center

Spotted in Sofitel L.A.'s fitness center

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Sofitel's Photo

Sofitel's Photo

Oyster's Photo

Oyster's Photo

Listen, Sofitel L.A. We understand that you’d probably rather not advertise for Macy’s on your own website — and we understand you’d rather not advertise the fact that Macy’s is right there, bumpin’ up against your pool.

But it is. It is right there. You can frame it out of the photos on your website all you want, but we know it’s there.

We’ll concede that the giant mall is, in a way, a comforting presence; at least we know we’d be covered if a chick from “The Hills” should happen to spill her $12 cocktail on the only swimsuit we brought. Otherwise, as we noted in our evaluation, the mall view is one of several pool-related disappointments: the pool itself small, the surrounding landscaping is meh, and the piped-in lounge music doesn’t mask the busy street noise.

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Whether you’re looking for a panty-dropper or a posh spot to take the ol’ wifey for the golden anniversary, these romantic hotels in San Francisco have it all. Tony Bennett must have had these places in mind when he crooned about the love that “waits here in San Francisco above the blue and windy sea” — although he never mentioned any Ghirardelli chocolates perched atop pillows or free wine

Still, we’re certain he’d approve of our picks for the most romantic hotels in San Francisco.

The Huntington Hotel

Mulholland Suite, The Huntington Hotel

Mulholland Suite, The Huntington Hotel

Nob Hill, San Francisco’s swankiest neighborhood, is home to many of its grandest hotels — stately old buildings with cavernous marble-filled lobbies and hundreds of rooms. By contrast, the elegant 136-room Huntington Hotel is more intimate and unassuming. Yet it’s just as luxurious as its neighbors. The spacious, newly renovated rooms overlook either the city or quiet Huntington Park across the street. The formal staff is attentive, yet discreet. The hotel’s Nob Hill Spa is one of the city’s best, and guests can use its indoor pool and lounge with a fireplace for free.

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