What happens when you tire of the standard type of hotel – the tasteful wall art, the magnolia décor and the pastel shades? As we know from experience, there are too many bland hotels to choose from, a fact that has been addressed by adventurous hotel designers in recent years. Initially, themed hotels were devised for the niche traveler, those with an interest in any number of topics (from sport, cities, music and technology to ancient Rome, astronomy, monasteries and maritime history), but in more recent years, the thematic focus has sharpened and standards in design have increased in order to snag the more specific-interest traveler. Why people go to these hotels is obvious: their curiosity is piqued by how closely the hotel comes to realizing their specific interests; and what differentiates the hotels is how well they succeed in this. Like most that get it right, a themed hotel’s success lays in the details.
HARD DAY’S NIGHT HOTEL, LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND
Theme: The Beatles
What’s So Special About It?: This works both as a functioning hotel and as a celebration of The Beatles. The artwork is the key – it includes commissions by New Jersey artist, Shannon, who is widely regarded as the world’s greatest Beatles artist. Alongside many portraits of the band are works from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, close Beatles’ associates Paul Ygartua and Klaus Voormann, and a photographic record of the hotel’s development by Mike McCartney (Paul’s brother). Other quite neat touches include Beatles’ sheet music hanging from the Reception ceiling, the hotel entrance walls adorned with names culled from Beatles songs (e.g. Rita, Edgar Allen Poe, Mr Mustard, Billy Shears, Rocky) and a cocktail menu that includes delights such as Honey Can’t Buy Me Love.
Where To Eat: The fine dining hotel restaurant is called Blakes, so-named after the designer Sir Peter Blake, who created the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Clubs Band. The walls are adorned with images of the people on the album cover, while the hardcover menu boasts an outline drawing of the album cover.
Further details: Hard Day’s Night Hotel, North John Street, Liverpool.
FOSSHOTEL, HUSAVIK, ICELAND
What’s So Special About It?: Fosshotel Husavik, located within walking distance to the harbour, is the world’s only whale-themed hotel, based as it is in the town that describes itself as ‘the whale-watching capital of Europe’. The establishment boasts unique whale-related features and exhibitions via art work, sculptures and – keep still thy beating heart – an extensive stamp collection. The hotel’s bar/pub, The Moby Dick, is based around Herman Melville’s book, and features sculptured whale stools, rocking chairs and tables. There is also a local whale museum.
Where To Eat: Gamil Baukur, Hafnarstett 9. A restaurant made from driftwood – a must-visit after a day’s whale watching.
Further details: Fosshotel, Ketilsbraut 22, 640 Husavik.
HOTEL PUERTA AMERICA, MADRID, SPAIN
What’s So Special About It?: A unique hotel concept project that brings together 19 of the world’s top architecture and design studios from 13 countries. The architects and designers include Norman Foster, Marc Newson, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Arata Isozaki, Ron Arad and Kathryn Findlay. Each of the hotel’s 12 floors (and rooms thereon) showcase a different design concept that is a triumph of avant-garde interior design and architecture. While some floors are undoubtedly more style than substance – First Floor room wastebaskets, for instance, have been specifically designed not to be discovered – others fuse simplicity with beautiful design ergonomics. The Eighth Floor rooms (designed by Scottish architect Kathryn Findlay), for example, have separation between spaces via simple, sweeping white curtains.
Where To Eat: The hotel restaurant, Lágrimas Negras (Black Tears), blends traditional and avant-garde cuisine, and is designed by French interior designer Christian Liaigre. The wine cellar, which can hold 4,000 bottles, is as much a sculpture as a working cellar, while – credit card alert! – there is a ‘Water Menu’, which boasts “the ideal type of water for each occasion”.
Further details: Hotel Puerta America, Avenida de America, 41, 28002 Madrid.
APOSTROPHE HOTEL, PARIS, FRANCE
What’s So Special About It?: Billed as the first ‘poem’ hotel to open in one of the world’s most famous literary cities, Apostrophe – located in the arty Montparnesse district, which houses many publishers and booksellers – is equal parts chic’n’arty and really very clever. The design, décor and concept coalesce from the moment you step into the rooms (which are titled Alphabet, Calligraphy, Urban Writing, etc), and reflect the primary design concerns of owner Christian Gatien, designer Sandrine Alouf and architect Vincent Bastie (who previously worked on Hotel du Petit Moulin and Murano Urban Resort). Everything is linked by writing and letters; from the ground floor up, the history of language is displayed – from cave drawings and alphabets to travel notes, graffiti, posters and newspapers.
Where To Eat: The Apostrophe is so boutique it doesn’t have a restaurant, but hey – this is Paris, so you won’t be stuck for choice.
Further details: Apostrophe Hotel, 3, rue de Chevreuse, 6th, Paris.
HOTEL RATHAUS WINE & DESIGN, VIENNA, AUSTRIA
What’s So Special About It?: This is a family-run wine-themed hotel with a difference – it’s everywhere: wine cheese on the breakfast buffet, wine-related literature, the wine guglhufp with your coffee to the wine cosmetics (yes, really) in your room, each of which is dedicated to a leading Austrian vintner (who provides wines for the decidedly unique mini-bar). In-house wine experts – directed by wine academician Martina Pöll – organise individual wine tastings and one-day excursions into local wine regions, while ‘Vintner of the Month’ wines are available in the Wine Lounge (which has more a Wine Book than a Wine List).
Where To Eat: Close by is Gaumenspiel, Zieglergasse 54. It’s a small restaurant (no more than seven tables), provides a great wine list and makes, according to one review, “Michelin-starred places seem stuffy and overwrought”.
Further details: Hotel Rathus Wein & Design, Lange Gasse 13, A-1080 Vienna.
HOTEL DE FILOSOOF, AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND
What’s So Special About It?: We know of no other hotel in the world like this one: each of its 38 rooms is dedicated to a philosopher. Take your pick from French philosopher Georges Bataille Room (his book ‘The Tears of Eros’ inspires the room’s red/risqué décor), Confucius Room (calm shades of violet), Goethe Room (which has above the bed a quote from Faust: “Stay with me. You are so beautiful!”) or the Middle Ages Room (with wise words from St Thomas Aquinas on the ceiling). Rooms aside, other pertinent touches include tributes to the likes of Plato, Nietzsche, Hegel and Kant snaking up the spiral staircase, and the monthly meetings of members of the Association of Practical Philosophy, when the meaning of life is mused over a cup of coffee and glass of Dutch gin. The downside: the rooms are very small. Our tip? Try to be philosophical about it.
Where To Eat: You’re in Amsterdam – take your pick…
Further details: Hotel de Filosoof, Anna van den Vondelstraat 6, Amsterdam.
LE MONDE, EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND
Theme: Cities of the world.
What’s So Special About It?: We’ve all dreamed of it: after a romantic evening meal in Paris or a cocktail in Vienna or Milan, why not wake up in Los Angeles, Shanghai or Sydney? With 18 individually designed suites (as well as three bars, a nightclub and a restaurant) inspired by some of the world’s most exciting cities, that’s exactly what might happen if you stay at this boutique hotel. It’s a cute idea that is executed with contemporary design verve and panache.
Where To Eat: The hotel’s restaurant, Paris, is a modern take on a Parisian brasserie.
Further details: Le Monde, 16 George Street, Edinburgh.
(This first appeared in The Irish Times/Go, August 2009.)