Monday, December 10, 2012

What is Hip?

 The Hip Room, 2012
(Click on images to see larger)

When I travel for work I tend to stay in hotels designed for business travelers who aren’t trying to break their clients’ travel budgets. This means I value cleanliness, comfort, a congenial staff and good wi-fi and don’t go to many places that have swim-up bars.
Over the last year, though, circumstances have landed me in hipper hotels than usual. Many are older hotels that went “boutique” (which used to be referred to as “European” until the designers got hold of the concept and repositioned it as young, urbane and hip).
I don’t have anything against boutique hotels. Some are quite charming and strike a good balance between authentic hip—e.g. young, urbane and edgy design—without completely losing sight of the concepts of comfort, customer service and basic ergonomic practicality. The Mercer, in New York, is extremely hip, but hasn’t lost sight of why people stay in hotels. The Shangri-La, in Santa Monica, manages to combine comfortable and stylish rooms and attentive customer service in a carefully updated Art Deco building overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Despite a name that conjures up images of illicit Hollywood affairs—and any number are said to have taken place there—I could stay at the Shangri La for a while and be quite happy and comfortable.
At the other end of the spectrum, regular readers may remember how I was told, when I complained to thedesk clerk at one of New York’s Gansevoort hotels that the sink didn’t have a stopper, “The designer didn’t like they way they look.”
The Soho Grand, too, is famous for hiring models to do hotel jobs. They don’t care whether the models have any qualification to do the jobs for which they’re being hired. What’s important is that they look good and impart a stylishly insouciant attitude.
I can live with all of these attitudes. You expect it in style-centric cities. Besides, attractive models aren’t hard on the eyes when you’ve been stuffed into a window seat in Row 56 for a few hours on a plane.
What bugs me, though, is the proliferation of self-styled “boutique” hotels that have sprouted around the edges of airports and interstate highway interchanges. I stayed in a place like that last week in Dallas. It was built to resemble an old warehouse. The interior floors are polished concrete. The walls are rough concrete. All of the infrastructure—plumbing, wiring and HVAC—is exposed. The furniture is so tragically fashion forward that it’ll be stylish for all of a week. 

NyLo Dining, 2012

But as far as being hip is concerned, it’s a fake. The “warehouse” is three years old. The wall panels in the elevator that are supposed to look like a stainless steel-lined freight elevator are instead made of plastic. My guest room was barely ten feet wide and the bed’s headboard was so hard against the typical and decidedly overworked suburban motel-style heating and cooling unit—a device with such a bad compressor that it groaned like a dying buffalo—that I barely got any sleep.
The place I stayed makes no concession to urban life. It’s surrounded by a big suburban parking lot, for crying out loud! How modern and hip is that?
Sometimes I think I’m getting too old for this s--t. But I’m never too old to hear Tower of Power’s mighty hit, “What is Hip?”

1 comment:

  1. Too funny. I stayed in a hotel in Irvine, California that used to be a lima bean factory before it became a hotel. It was bizarre. Love your travel stories.