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No Fly Noël 2016: Kinda

December 3, 2016

Regular NPS readers and lurkers know all about “no fly July” and “no fly Noël.” The idea is simple. Stop. Rest. Think. Read. Get out of the hubbub of everyday modern life, sit by the fire, and exist.

This year’s No Fly Noël is much needed as 2016 was about the most stressful year on record for NPS in 17 years. It was a great year in the end, but boy are we glad it is over.

So, how did the year look? Kinda like this (according to the tripometer).

The 2016 NPS tripometer

The 2016 NPS tripometer

Travel according to the new regimen is trending nicely low. The goal for 2016 was 20 trips and we came in 15% high at 23. Well, almost. Looks like we have to throw off the chains of No Fly Noël and hit the road one more time in December to strategize with the corporate overlords. Or maybe that is overlord with the corporate strategists? Something like that anyway. Stay tuned for those data. (And make that 24 trips and a 20% overrun.)

In other news this year, the Elevate Gold status on Virgin America is a good thing. We switched the firehose from United to Virgin America in 2014 and there is no looking back. NPS likes main cabin select. NPS also likes using points to upgrade to Europe. How that will work going forward is a good question!

Fly too much?  Try Virgin America.

Fly too much? Try Virgin America.

Of course since NPS is based at Dulles, there is no avoiding United. Honestly, they did better this year. Flying United was not great, but it did not completely suck. So maybe the Smisek effect is finally washing out.

And then there is Kimpton which remains the NPS go to hotel chain of choice even after the disaster that is the San Francisco Kimpton property crater. Years ago we helped to start the Kimpton Intouch program (which is now the Kimpton Karma program). We do what we can to stay qualified without calling in air support from Mike Defrino. You go Kimpton!

Inner Circle?  Why yes, we'll have some

Inner Circle? Why yes, we’ll have some

NPS has been to San Diego so many times that the count is lost in the ashes of oblivion. See, that was back before the blog, and that means memory is hazy. This blog is the best prosthetic travel memory ever. Back in the day, we stayed up in La Jolla at the Estancia (highly recommended). Since then, Kimpton has invaded San Diego. And you know how we feel about Kimpton at NPS! So here we are right in the gaslamp quarter.

It took a bit of doing to get here due to San Francisco fog. But Virgin America did its hip thing. Their cross country jaunt in main cabin select is the best in the business.

This is our first visit to the Solamar, and it surely will not be the last. We were greeted by Q at the front desk who was courteous, helpful, and most of all fun. And then we found this in 1003 (a nicely appointed suite):

Cheese! Flowers! Sparkling water! Notes! Kimpton Karma.

Cheese! Flowers! Sparkling water! Notes! Kimpton Karma.

This is a very nice way to re-up our Inner Circle status! At least we think that is what is happening??! Who knows, the system is too complicated for NPS.

Anyway, 1003 is very nice.

1103 living area

1103 living area

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1003 bedroom

1003 bedroom

Of course, the bathroom is the coup de grace. Excellent design. Glass showers. Big giant tub. Windows. Yup.

1103 shower cube (approved by NPS)

1103 shower cube (approved by NPS)

Just cool

Just cool

The event we’re in town for is at the Coronado (an old school resort with more flowery wall paper and old carpet than style). That’s why we’re staying here. Later, we’ll figure out the water taxi situation.

Dinner at Kettner Exchange was very good. Their bar is good but not excellent. Go for the food.

Kettner Exchange

Kettner Exchange

Richard Walker’s pancakes (even though it is utterly full of convention goers with little lanyard tags) is quite fabulous.

Watch a San Diego sunset.

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Take the ferry from 5th avenue pier to Coronado island.

Have a great old school steak at Lou and Mickey’s.

Drink more bourbon

Drink at Noble Experiment. NPS was seated at the bar and served by Tony Roehr, a very talented bartender indeed. We had some classics and some experiments, including what we will call the Dump Trump
1 oz cocchi americano
1 oz cynar
1 oz gin (sipsmith)
sea salt
dash of chocolate bitters
Stir down. Serve up with a twist of orange peel.

Also in the house was Woodford Reserve brand ambassador Luke Ford who go everyone destroyed as an accidental side effect. Much fun was had by all, even the frat boy fascists who invaded.

Five showerheads for the Solamar. Tops. Max.

NYC and the Eventi

November 13, 2016

It’s New York City, where this building is.

Sadly our view from 1104 looks like this instead of like that.

Eventi 1104

Eventi 1104

We’re staying for several days here at the Eventi, and we were really hoping for an even better room (height and view-wise). Sadness.

1104 is a nice room category at least. We’re happy about that. It is kind of weird that this hotel seems to have no memory of which rooms it assigns. I know many other kimpton properties that do a better job with that (say, hotel marlowe in boston).

Without further ado, 1104.

Eventi 1104

Eventi 1104

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The fruit amenity was actually almost completely consumed! But still water?? Really? Seems to us here at NPS that the “infrastructure staff” is not quite as stellar as the “front desk/downstairs staff” here at the Eventi.

No cheese for you.

No cheese for you.

The bathroom is super fantastic with a great shower.

Eventi 1104 shower highly recommended

Eventi 1104 shower highly recommended

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Two meals at the restaurant/bar downstairs were particularly noteworthy. NPS is not a fan of hotel restaurants (even at Kimpton properties), but an exception can be made for the eventi.

Of note in NY this trip. Dinner at Il Buco (the old one). Dinner at Ramen-Ya. Lunch at Tac-N-Roll. A cocktail at Pegu. Drinks at Lantern’s Keep with Natasha and Natalie. Heisenberg the play.

HIghline tree

HIghline tree

The end of the line

The end of the line

Lantern's Keep cocktails

Lantern’s Keep cocktails

On the stage at Heisenberg

On the stage at Heisenberg

And the Whitney was outstanding as always.

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A very high four showerheads and an upgraded database to track rooms with for the Eventi.

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Well, here we are in North Carolina where NPS owns some land (at the beach) but can’t vote and where the idiots in state government pass absurd laws about bathrooms. This is not where I would choose to spend my travel dollars. But work is work, so, well, here we are.

The flight down on American Air was very nice. Great equipment. Expensive wifi. Good seating.

Nice parking lot view from 424

Nice parking lot view from 424

The Ballantyne is 20 minutes from the airport away from the city and is one of those luxury compounds where you just get stuck and maybe play some golf or have a “spa day.” NPS does not play golf. This property is part of the Starwood family of hotels who seem to have suburban luxury down pretty well—lots of recently planted trees, over manicured lawns, the whole shebang. It is a gorgeous day.

Coffee and water pod

Coffee and water pod

We are assigned cubicle 424. Which means we have the usual hamster cage design but with a much better bathroom pod than usual, and enough room to work (and to eat it turns out, but more about that in a minute). I arrived in a huge rush 4 minutes before a critical phone call. The room key failed to work. So back down to get that fixed, and back up with 30 seconds to spare and no net authenticated yet. Argh!

424 bed land

424 bed land

424 working and eating penensula

424 working and eating penensula

Style = generic

Style = generic

With the call over, it was time for a very late lunch (after 2), but strangely you can’t get any food at the compound between 2 and 5 unless you are in your room? That’s just weird. So anyway, you can eat in 424.

The bathroom is very nice if not a bit rococo. Lots of marble.

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With a huge tub.

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And a glass shower, which we must absolutely approve.

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The porch outside by one of the golf holes (replete with Canadian geese) is a great place for writing blog entries.

Dinner at Baku was very nice indeed. Reasonable cocktails, outstanding sushi and wagyu beef cooked at the table.

Anyway, that’s about it. Once you know what real luxury is, it is hard to experience the suburban kind and be all tail waggy. But this hotel beats the heck out of a Courtyard by Marriott or a Springhill Suites. Four showerheads and a free golf cart ride for the Ballantyne Hotel.

Lets tip our NPS hat to the people in marketing, shall we? We’re running a conference for a couple of hundred senior people down in Florida. So Amelia Island it is, and the Ritz-Carlton at that. Anyway, how does this property rate? Off the charts.

Room 832

Room 832

United pulled a ridiculous head fake on the way down: You’re upgraded. Oh, sorry, nevermind. Oh no wait, you ARE upgraded but now there is no room for your suitcase since you’re already seated in the back. In the end the trip was great and NPS appreciates the upgrade. Nice try united! Lets do it again and get it all right next time!!

The hotel provided car service at the airport, and our driver was superlative. He took a shortcut that saved us 20 minutes getting on the island. There was some evidence of hurricane damage on the sides of the road coming in. This island dodged a bullet when hurricane Matthew stayed off shore just two weeks ago.

We were greeted by name at the door with some champagne (which we sadly had to skip), and whisked up to 832 by gregarious staff. Outstanding greeting.

And the amenity shows that someone has been doing their homework. Cocktail? Yep. Sparking water? Yep. Hand written note? Yep. It’s all here and all awesome.

Pirate Loot (chocolate treasure, a cocktail, and sparkling water).

Pirate Loot (chocolate treasure, a cocktail, and sparkling water).

832 is nothing short of palacial. A gorgeous room with an incredible view of the ocean from its five balconies.

The suite has two main sections and 5 rooms.

Living area off the bedroom

Living area off the bedroom

832 bedroom

832 bedroom

Dining area

Dining area

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Of course, we’re here for the showers. This non-plastic shower is also off the charts. Multiple shower heads and a bench? OK then.

Shower in the bathroom suite (itself several rooms)

Shower in the bathroom suite (itself several rooms)

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The bar situation here is not good, which in 2016 is just plain sad. Sure, you can get some scotch if you try hard enough. But no bourbon to speak of. And if you order a proper cocktail (say, something like a sazarac) you will be sorely disappointed. Ever had a cocktail served hot in a glass straight from the dishwasher? How about a sazarac made with angostura? Yeah no.

Time to invest in some people who actually know what they’re doing Marriott. In the meantime, stick with the Mt Gay Extra Old rum (in a glass that has cooled off).

Four showerheads and a sincere wish for some more free time and a real bar for the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. Gorgeous property run by hospitality experts.

NPS was in a bad mood because United improperly rejiggered seating into economy from economy plus (how do people stand that kind of travel?) and then an Uber driver pulled a super flaky move doing a multi-client pickup dropoff scam. So a taxi it was into Chicago in heavy stop and go traffic.

Fortunately the Gray fixed everything instantly. Alexsis and Happy greeted us at the front desk so cheerfully we knew we were in the midwest. The Gray, being a Kimpton, was alerted to NPS arrival and had already plussed us up into a fantastic suite. (Thanks Nabil Moubayed! You rock.)

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1113 is new, modern, spacious, and excellent.

Amenity including a "Come Sail Away" from Volume 39

Amenity including a “Come Sail Away” from Volume 39

Living area

Living area

1113 bedroom

1113 bedroom

The shower is not plastic in the least. World class.

Awesome shower (with tub inside and bench)

Awesome shower (with tub inside and bench)

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After dropping off stuff it was down to Volume 39 where Barman Bob (no, not that one) created a bastardized (but very delicious Liberal before we headed out for some pie.

Volume 39

Volume 39

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Volume 39 is a welcome addition to Kimpton’s excellent bar program. Mr Ryan, well done!

Then it was off to some pie. Call ahead and see whether it matters!

Best burned cheese deep dish in town

Best burned cheese deep dish in town

By 9pm it was cocktail time. We headed over to Barrelhouse Flat for some excellent drinks. Fernet backbar shots, amaro tastings, general merriment. The George T Stagg was definitely a bad idea though

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Barelhouse Flat

Barelhouse Flat

We did finally have some of the hyped up Plantation Overproof Rum. It is a good product, but frankly the over the top hype built it up too much. Solid. Drinkable. But not the gods’ gift to rum salvation.

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And then it was back to the Gray past last call. The Come Sail Away came in very handy.

Five showerheads and best of wishes to the brand new and utterly fabulous Gray.

Oh and guess what, United upgraded us on the flight home. Woo hoo!

Not only is the Hotel Marlowe (in Cambridge, MA really) a beautiful property, it is a well-oiled hospitality machine. GM Joe Capalbo always treats NPS as a friend and colleague. One of the highlights of any Boston visit is catching up with Joe.

Hotel Marlowe

Hotel Marlowe

NPS visits do seem to coincide with visits by the owners of the hotel. That keeps Joe pretty busy. It also tends to occupy the presidential suite, but that’s OK because room 621 is fantastic all on its own.

621 Executive Suite

621 Executive Suite

621 Natural Light

621 Natural Light

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Outstanding

Outstanding

Check out this cool decanter.

Barrel aged Boulevardier

Barrel aged Boulevardier

The only minor detail left out was still water versus sparkling. But you know, all those blue bottles look the same! The oversight was easily remedied.

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621 has a fine bathroom situation. Glass showers!

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Dinner at Sportello was very nice. It’s always great to catch up with old friends. Afterwards, our plan was to sneak down to drink by the back stairs. Our plan failed when we were told we would have to stand around for 20 minutes before getting a seat. Things used to be much smoother between drink and sportello three years ago! Ezra was in London anyway.

Fortunately the manager at sportello detected our disappointment and ushered us right next door to Menton’s Gold Bar.

Cap’n Cook
.75 oz chamomile syrup (2:1)
.25 oz luxardo lemoncello
.5 oz salers
1.5 oz grappa
1 dash Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s spanish bitters
1 gram olive oil powder
Stir down. Serve over large cube. Spoon powder on cube.

Spectre
1 oz grappa
.25 ransom old tom gin
1.5 oz barolo chinato

The barrel aged Boulevardier that Patrick made was so good that we had to go down to Bambara and get another!

Dinner at Craigie on Main was spectacular as always. Whole roasted chicken, great wine, and superior cocktails makes Craigie a top destination.

A final nightcap or two at Journeyman backbar included house made milk punch and a Liberal made with real Amer Picon. Somebody has been to France!

All told this was a five showerhead visit to Boston hands down. Lets do it again!