“She’s pretty on the inside”: Hotels that need a second chance to make their first impressions

by Michael W. on March 10, 2010

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From the outside, the Skyline Hotel in New York resembles a roadside motel...

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...but when you step inside, you find a perfectly solid midrange hotel.

It’s easy to see why a mediocre hotel would do everything in its power to spruce up its exterior: you only get one chance to make a first impression, after all. Exhibits A through Z? How about half the hotels in South Beach, where bright, inviting Art Deco buildings are a dime a dozen but where, if you don’t pick the right one, you could end up in a place like this. What’s surprising is how many hotels there are out there that seem as if they don’t even try to invite you in in the first place. Granted, there’s only so much you can do if you move into a building like this one. But come on, at least cover up a blemish or two with a billboard or something.

Take the Skyline Hotel in New York. It’s located right off the Hudson Parkway, and indeed, from the street it could pass for a roadside motel. Even the font on the sign looks like it was pulled straight from an interstate motor lodge in Nevada. It’s not until you step into the lobby that you breathe a sigh of relief and realize the Skyline is a hotel, and a decent one too. “You were surprised when you stepped into the lobby, weren’t you?” one of the managers said to me when I interviewed her at the end of my stay. “That’s what our guests always tell us.” I was indeed. Pleasantly surprised. On the inside, the Skyline looks pretty much like many of its more expensive counterparts east of 10th Avenue. The marble floors in the lobby glimmer. There’s a bell staff and a concierge. Throw in a bar and restaurant, a pool, and 231 rooms that often go for less than $200 a night, and the Skyline legitimately enters the conversation with midtown’s myriad other midrange hotels.

Here are some other books you shouldn’t judge by their covers:

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Let's be real: The building the Viceroy Santa Monica occupies is ugly. That it sits right on a busy four-lane road doesn't help, either...

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...but the decor, by Hollywood it-designer Kelly Wearstler, is super-hip, from the restaurant (above) to the lobby and rooms.

Replace the words "AYRES HOTEL" on the sign with "RED ROOF INN," and no one would be surprised...

You could replace the words "AYRES HOTEL" on the sign with "RED ROOF INN," and no one driving by would notice the difference...

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...but the interiors of this 3.5-pearl hotel in Manhattan Beach are reminiscent of a French chateau.

You wouldn't know it from the pedestrian exterior...

You wouldn't know it from the pedestrian exterior...

...but the tres-chic Mondrian in West Hollywood was designed by Phillipe Starck.

...but the tragically hip Mondrian in West Hollywood boasts some tres-chic decor.

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The 27-story concrete tower occupied by the Hilton S.F. Financial District is an eyesore...

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...but the rooms are surprisingly modern and stylish, especially for a large chain hotel.

Dishonorable mention to two other huge big-city Hiltons with grotesque exteriors: the Hilton New York and the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C., which looks like a hospital from the outside. The reason they’re not on this list? Their interiors aren’t particularly stylish either.

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