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Best of the Best: Hotels

Jessica Taylor, et. al.

The Mansion at MGM Grand Las Vegas
Just off the Strip in Sin City is a little corner of heaven.

 

In a city that blends a Manhattan skyline and an Eiffel Tower, an 18th-century Tuscan palazzo is more of an anomaly than one would suspect. Influenced by a vacation in Italy a decade ago, J. Terrence Lanni, the chairman and CEO of MGM Mirage, envisioned a grand residence in Las Vegas, where a gracious staff would be charged with ensuring that you, the honored guest, experienced complete comfort. The estate’s storied—albeit fictional—past would be reflected in antique furnishings and fine art decorating the interior. In the courtyard, under the shade of palm and lemon trees, you could enjoy the clean air, perfect weather, and splashing fountains—subtle pleasures in a city so bereft of subtleties. As is the custom of his industry, especially in Las Vegas, where seemingly no limits are placed on the imagination or on real estate developers, Lanni created his vision, a 6.5-acre corner of heaven behind the MGM Grand.

The Mansion at MGM Grand Las Vegas debuted discreetly in 1999, hosting coveted, high-rolling whales who arrived by invitation only. But last year, Sin City’s best-kept secret opened its hand-forged iron gates and immense crystal doors, though only to the most discriminating clientele. A whale’s appetite for gambling is no longer required of the Mansion’s guests, only a willingness to spend $5,000 or more a night for a room.

The term room, however, is a misnomer. The Mansion’s 29 villas range in size from 2,400 to 12,000 square feet, and each has a living room, a dining room, and one to four bedrooms. The main bathroom in each—containing an oversize hot tub, a television built into the wall, a personal steam room, a heated tile floor, and a towel warmer—constitutes a suite unto itself. Each of the four-bedroom villas also includes an indoor swimming pool, an exercise room, a study, a full-service bar, a boardroom-size dining table, and a private elevator.

Some 800 pieces from the hotel’s art collection are displayed throughout the property. These include works by Picasso, Matisse, and Degas, which hang on the walls of many of the villas. Persian rugs and centuries-old tapestries also accent the hotel’s decor, which is opulent but not ostentatious. Because the hotel is sensitive to its guests’ array of backgrounds, you will find no nude paintings or statues on the grounds. Likewise, there are no white flowers and no villa numbered four, both symbols of death in Asian culture.

What is found here is service on a par with Europe’s finest residential hotels. The 180 staff members include chefs, personal butlers, and concierges who are on duty 24 hours a day. The staff will address every guest’s request, whether as simple as arranging a massage in one of the two personal spa suites or as complex as creating a meal inspired by a Buddhist poem. (In the latter instance, the chef further impressed the guest by garnishing some of the meal’s 10 courses with lotus flowers.) 

Alfresco dining is available in the 125-foot glass-domed atrium. This
climate-controlled environment—which remains a steady 72 to 75 degrees even when the desert outside reaches a dizzying 125 degrees—is supplied with negatively charged ions that keep the air fresh, even as you enjoy your after-dinner cigar. Other amenities include a 10-seat theater, a formal boardroom, a fruitwood-paneled grand salon with a fireplace, a billiard table in the Great Hall, and a private dining room.

There are, of course, no slot machines or crowds at the Mansion, but there is private access to gambling at the casino. After all, you may think you are in heaven, but as the Manhattan skyline and Eiffel Tower in the distance remind you, this is still Las Vegas.

The Mansion at MGM Grand Las Vegas
877.225.2121
($5,000–$15,000)

A Celestial Orientation
The glass parallelogram shape of the AOL Time Warner Center makes its towers appear as eerily two-dimensional as a stage setting. It is a fitting first impression for guests of the Mandarin Oriental New York, which occupies the North building’s 35th through 54th floors, given that this opulent aerie constitutes a style statement as much as it does a contemporary urban luxury hotel. Stepping from the elevators into the lobby, guests enter a sculptural space of glass, steel, stone, wood, and light that, with its grand vistas of Central Park 280 feet below, gives the illusion that the entire structure hovers in zero gravity above the tumult of the city.

A cloud motif that subtly repeats itself throughout the gleaming lobby underscores this celestial aura, as does the establishment’s 14,500-square-foot spa and its impeccably attentive staff, who caters to the needs of guests in all 251 of the hotel’s high-tech, yet calming rooms and suites.
Chef Noriyuki Sugie’s new restaurant, Asiate, offers French-Japanese cuisine (of note is the roast suckling pig, which literally melts on the tongue) in a stunningly streamlined setting, while MObar, designed by Tony Chi, provides a whimsical and casual lounge in which to sip one of the Mandarin’s perfectly formulated sake martinis. —Brett Anderson 

Mandarin Oriental New York
212.805.8800
www.mandarinoriental.com
($595–$12,595)

Shang High
Tomorrow Square stands tall over Shanghai’s, shops, restaurants, nightclubs, and skyscrapers. The 60-story multiuse development, located just minutes from People’s Square and the Shanghai Art Museum, comprises commercial space, apartments, and Marriott International’s new flagship property: the JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai.

Occupying the top 24 floors of Tomorrow Square, the JW Marriott offers panoramas of the city from each of its 342 guest rooms. A business center, 24-hour health club, and 2,600-square-foot spa complement the spacious rooms and suites, while epicurean selections include the 360º Bubbly Brunch at the Marriott Café, dim sum delights at Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant, and exquisite high tea in the Lobby Lounge.

As the first “JW”-branded hotel in mainland China, the Marriott offers both familiar comforts (you can order a Marriott burger any time of the day or night from the 24-hour in-room dining menu) and an authentic taste—as well as unmatched views—of Shanghai. —Emilia Hwang

JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai at Tomorrow Square
+86.21.5359. 4969
www.marriotthotels.com
($320–$3,800)

Grande Dame of the Games
The Hotel Grande Bretagne closed for more than a year to undergo a nearly $100 million renovation. But soon after reopening in March 2003, the Athens landmark regained its reputation as the city’s premier hotel.

Once a private residence facing the royal palace of King Otto, the Grande Bretagne became a hotel in 1874. It has since served as the first choice for visiting dignitaries and the preferred spot for locals to meet over coffee (in the Winter Garden restaurant) or a drink (at the legendary Alexander’s bar).

The Grande Bretagne’s generously sized suites, many with views of the Acropolis, include the services of private butlers, and some of Europe’s most opulent bathrooms. With Athens shaping up just in time for the Olympics—and with the city’s limited number of fine lodging options—a room reservation at the Hotel Grande Bretagne promises to be one of the most coveted tickets in town. —Samantha Brooks

Hotel Grande Bretagne
+30.21.0333.0000
www.grandebretagne.gr
($327–$5,085)

Chilean Harmony
Chile is a nation of contrasts: the soaring Andes peaks with the flat, fertile valley floors; the arid deserts with the Pacific’s gleaming sapphire blue; the Belle Epoque avenues of Santiago with the 21st-century trapezoidal high-rises of the growing metropolis’ financial district. These extremes find a gratifying harmony in the new Ritz-Carlton, Santiago, the chain’s first in Latin America.

At once understated, supremely elegant, modern, yet unmistakably Old World in its sensibilities, this latest addition to the group imbues a contemporary high-rise with the more civilized charms of an 18th-century French château. Dark, satin-textured hardwood paneling greets the guest in the oval-shaped lobby, whose polished terrazzo floor reflects its immense crystal chandelier. The lobby lounge has the comforting cigar-box feel of an English gentleman’s club, while the palette of the 205 rooms (including 49 Club-level rooms, three Club Suites, 12 Executive Suites, and the Presidential Suite) remains vibrantly Latin—ocher, scarlet, and spring green frame the ever-present blue of the Andes looming through the windows. The hotel’s four restaurants also salute its unique identity. At the strikingly sophisticated Adra, French chef Bertrand Eginard designs menus that take advantage of the country’s incomparable seafood, giving his preparations a light Mediterranean flair. Wine 365, under the direction of sommelier Héctor Riquelme, offers guests a taster’s journey through Chile’s richly diverse wine regions, including such treasures as Sol de Sol Chardonnay and Casa La Postolle’s seductive Clos Apalta. —Brett Anderson

Ritz-Carlton, Santiago
+56.2.470.8500
www.ritzcarlton.com
($220–$1,500)

Earning Interest
From behind converted bank teller stations in a dimly lit lobby, hosts welcome guests to Houston’s Hotel Icon. Thirty-foot Doric columns and original European artworks flank the stations, while on the back wall, an antiquated vault door serves as another not-so-subtle reminder of this new hotel’s previous life.

Towering over downtown Houston, Hotel Icon is the product of a $35 million transformation of the Union National Bank building. And while the renovation remained true to the early-1900s structure, the hotel staff seems more interested in the recent past. The Icon, which opened in January 2004, employs a “guest historian” who specializes in anticipatory service, keeping a confidential record of all concierge requests, guest room temperature settings, and food preferences to facilitate service on extended and future visits.

Standard rooms at Hotel Icon are spacious, but for the finest Houston has to offer, try the hotel’s three-story Ritz Suite, with a full wet bar and a rooftop terrace, or one of the five spa guestrooms with personal fitness equipment and a butler who will run your bath. —Jordan Morris

 

Hotel Icon
713.224.ICON
www.hotelicon.com
($255–$2,500)

 

The Right Wing
On a recent visit to Singapore, President Bush and the first lady pulled up to the secluded and heavily secured driveway of the Valley Wing at the Shangri-La. They bypassed the lobby, with its high, chandeliered ceilings and free-flow champagne bar, in favor of a private entrance and elevator that whisked them directly to their suites.

Following a $32 million renovation, Singapore’s most prestigious address is more exclusive than ever. The reception area utilized by the first couple was only part of the refurbishment of the Valley Wing, a 136-room, self-contained extension of the venerable Shangri-La hotel. Completed in September 2003, the six-month update also transformed the wing’s rooms and suites into lavish urban retreats complete with plasma-screen TVs, personal laptops, butler call buttons, rainforest showerheads, and Wedgwood china.

While enjoying the Valley Wing’s accommodations and privileges—such as the full-service private lounge and complimentary breakfast in the circular Summit Room—guests also have access to the restaurants, business facilities, and other amenities of the Shangri-La at large. The hotel’s famed gardens offer additional opportunities for seclusion with 15 acres of tropical greenery. —Emilia Hwang
 
The Valley Wing at the Shangri-La Singapore
+65.6737.3644, 800.942.5050
www.shangri-la.com
($370–$3,291)

 

Jackpot in Jersey
Jaws dropped last summer when the world got its first look at Borgata, CEO Bob Boughner’s $1.1 billion hotel/casino/spa in Atlantic City. Commissioned artworks? Lavish suites? Gourmet restaurants? World-class entertainment? Where did Boughner think he was, Las Vegas?

No, but he wanted his customers to forget that they were in New Jersey. “I’m after the Atlantic City rejecter,” Boughner says, “the customer who wants something more sophisticated than what this town has offered.” 

There is no denying the Borgata is different. From afar, it suggests a gleaming spacecraft at rest amid the sand dunes. Inside the lobby, Borgata is no less striking, with dramatic Dale Chihuly blown-glass chandeliers and statuary and a sculpted wall of flowing water that serves as a backdrop for the front desk. Less obvious is the attention to detail evident in the rich wood trim and Asian artworks that adorn the public spaces. Among these spaces are 11 restaurants, including Luke Palladino’s Specchio and Susanna Foo’s Suilan, where chef Patrick Feury fuses French and Chinese cuisine.

The suites, which range from 1,500 to 5,000 square feet, are Italianate and stylish, with rough-hewn limestone accents on the walls, marble floors, shrouded chairs and tables in the dining rooms, and fantastic floor-to-ceiling views of the other casinos in the distance. Viewed from this perspective, Atlantic City has never looked so good. —Jack Smith

 

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa
609.317.1000
www.theborgata.com
($329–$5,000)

 

New Look in the Old World
In a city renowned for its Baroque charms, Le Meridien Vienna offers a refreshingly new experience. Ideally located only a few steps from the Vienna State Opera on the famous Ringstrasse—a circular boulevard lined with palatial 19th-century buildings—the hotel is the first European property to realize Le Meridien’s Art + Tech concept, which integrates modern accoutrements, such as plasma televisions, with contemporary art in minimalist interiors.

Le Meridien transformed a block of imperial Viennese apartment buildings into this modern design temple replete with 258 rooms, 36 suites, a restaurant, bar, spa, and conference rooms. Guests at the hotel, which opened in December 2003, can relax in their rooms’ Zenlike baths or enjoy stunning views of the Vienna Secession building from the comfort of their Ligne Roset beds. Downstairs in the bar, cubic spaces known as Chill Out Lounges offer intimate settings in which to enjoy Le Meridien’s trademark cosmopolitan or one of the 30 available varieties of mineral water. —Ruth Baljöhr

Le Meridien Vienna
+43.1.588900, 800.543.4300
www.lemeridien-vienna.com
(starting at $305)

 

Mainland Attraction
The competition for the Four Seasons Hotel Miami, which occupies floors 22 through 29 of a $350 million, 70-story skyscraper in the city’s business district, is not another hotel. Rather, the Four Seasons’ rival is South Beach itself, the magnetic strip of sand, nightclubs, and restaurants that serves as the city’s main attraction and lies a 15-minute drive away. However, the hotel’s location is not necessarily a handicap. “There is a large number of people who think they want the beach,” says General Manager Ignacio Gomez-Tobar. “But they really don’t want to deal with the sand and the mess. It becomes a view rather than an actual usable thing.”

Anyone seeking views of the beach will find grand ones from the hotel’s inimitable Presidential Suite ($4,000 per night) on the 29th floor and three cavernous Premier Suites ($1,450 per night) on the 26th, 27th, and 28th floors. 

The Four Seasons building, the tallest structure in Miami, also houses condos, apartments, office space, a Sports Club/LA, a restaurant named Acqua, and—on the seventh floor—the hotel’s outdoor terrace. Here, a bar and several pools offer a quieter alternative to South Beach’s bustle. —Fluto Shinzawa

 

Four Seasons Hotel Miami
305.358.3535
www.fourseasons.com
($325–$4,000)

 

Northern Comfort
Cosmopolitan Toronto, Canada’s largest metropolis, has quietly become one of the most sophisticated cities in North America. Fittingly, the SoHo Metropolitan—an urban gem tucked into a corner near the Air Canada Center, SkyDome, and the theater district—opened with understated fanfare last spring. And while this spiffy boutique property has just 88 rooms, it contains an abundance of treats. A vivid Dale Chihuly glass canopy lights the entrance, but the interiors are soothingly neutral, warmed by brush strokes of color. Chef Claudio Aprile invents surprises at Senses restaurant, and the adjoining bar is a chic, candlelit gathering place. A separate Senses café does double duty as a bakery and caterer. Business travelers will find full conference and fitness facilities, along with cheerfully impeccable service.

While even the most basic rooms are configured like suites and have king-size Frette-covered beds, heated marble floors, and the requisite electronic bells and whistles, the three-story penthouse promises to be the reservation of choice. The 4,000-square-foot abode topped by a roof deck with 270-degree views, a hot tub, and a barbecue is set to open in late spring. —Karen Cakebread

SoHo Metropolitan Hotel
866.764.6638
www.soho.metropolitan.com
($265–$3,600)

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