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New friends, great wine, excellent food, great conversation—donnie, you sure know how to do it!

Lets start things off with a Negroni

Lets start things off with a Negroni

We convened slightly off the beaten path on a flooded, rainy day at Officine Brera in LA.

Convocation

Convocation

Tasting two

Tasting two

Everyone brought a bottle to contribute and describe. Probably the most interesting was a 17 year old bottle from China.

A flyer from Trentino-Alto Altige (Grenache, Syrah, Teroldego)

A flyer from Trentino-Alto Altige (Grenache, Syrah, Teroldego)

The food was just as good as the wine.

Cinghiale

Cinghiale

The menu

The menu

Chaos

Chaos

Delightful. Lets do it again.

OK, strap in for some first world problems and whining. We’ll try to get it over with quick.

NPS exists because, well, no plastic showers. Kimpton usually fulfills that mission admirably and is NPS’s hotel group of choice by a country mile. But San Francisco suffered a massive property meltdown during the IHG acquisition, and its impact can be felt all the way to today. Bill Kimpton would not likely be pleased.

After a very long day of flying across the country and working into the evening on a challenging task, a nice dinner at Slanted Door followed by drinks at Hard Water was just what the doctor ordered on a rainy rainy night. Which means we arrived way late at the Buchanan (after midnight). More about that is a sec.

Hard Water was a blast. If you like bourbon and rye, you need to go there.

We concentrated on Rye, doing a Handy Rye comparison experiment with a Sazarac chaser. Awesome.

On arrival at the Buchanan, things started off OK. We were assigned a room, but it was not the one we explicitly requested. So we proceeded on up.

Which meant, a room with a plastic shower. What happened? Did the system fail? Did nobody bother to work this through? Yes.

811

811

After a brief and very disappointing entry into 811 we went down to see what could be done about it. That is when the Demarco demerits set in, about which we’ll write only that the situation later required management intervention. Someone needs some more training.

A crappy plastic shower in 811

A crappy plastic shower in 811

811 is just fine by Marriott standards, but it is not a room to shlep all the way to Japantown for. The shower is the worst kind of plastic shower. Shower curtains are our bane.

There was a nice amenity, sparkling water, an interesting view, and a note from GM Emily Glick. They knew we were coming, kinda. You see, it turns out that nobody put two and two together about NPS and this mystery inner circle member of 14 years. Dang. We appreciate the perqs, kimpton but all we really want is NO PLASTIC SHOWERS.

The shower was plastic.

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And it got worse. Very early in the morning when it came time to use the crappy plastic shower, the shower curtain was filthy. Just gross.

The nuclear option was pursued, and everything was discussed if not resolved. Thanks to the social media team, mike d, and email for making all of that possible. The room we wanted was (miraculously) free the next day, but there was no time to move stuff on this quick hop. And no we were not expecting any kind of upgrade. We’re happy to pay retail when on business. Flowers were involved, which was a very nice touch.

Thanks for the flowers.  Lets get this right next time.

Thanks for the flowers. Lets get this right next time.

Anyway, we can’t exactly cross the Buchanan off the list, because it is the best remaining Kimpton option in San Francisco. We’ll be back soon hoping that things run more smoothly.

Two showerheads, seven demarco demerits, and a trip to detention for the Buchanan. Thanks for working things out Emily, but lets just have nothing to work out next go ’round please.

If the Lorien sounds familiar to you, dear reader, that’s because we stayed here just a few short weeks ago in a last minute mad dash to the Kimpton inner circle finish line. We made it across by the skin of our teeth! But we also got a great meal in old town as a fabulous side effect. Read all about that here.

We’re back, this time in the city on a keynote talk gig. Of course the conference is being held at some awful Hilton or other where NPS would not be caught dead staying. So Kimpton it is!

This time we’re in room(s) 611 and 615. I am here first for an evening and then the rest of the posse comes later. Plenty of room in this set of rooms! And a balcony to boot, which on a 68 degree day in January is awesome.

The balcony would be a great place for breakfast!

The balcony would be a great place for breakfast!

Sadly, the weather promises to turn to snow by Saturday morning. We might even get stuck here in the mosquito!

Looking in, French doors.

Looking in, French doors.

Living room

Living room

Living room

Living room

The bedroom is tucked away in the corner, but is very nice with doors that open to the outside. It is basically the penthouse corner of the 6th floor.

Bedroom 611

Bedroom 611

With all of the adjoining rooms, we need a huge shower to fit everyone. Fortunately, that’s all set.

A glass shower big enough for everyone!

A glass shower big enough for everyone!

The shower barely fits in the mirror.

The shower barely fits in the mirror.

After settling in, it was time for a drink in the great cocktail bar downstairs with Steph Vogel. NPS recommends highly the practice of having a drink with the big boss. Inner circle karma all around as barman Phil Clark and chef Wiedmaier made cocktail hour special.

The Apples to Apples
1.5 oz appleton VX rum
1 oz laird’s apple brandy
.5 oz cynar
.5 oz demerara syrup
4 dashes bittermen’s tiki bitters
Shake. Serve on large rocks in a whiskey glass.

After driving off for dinner with an actual sibling, we returned for a midnight snack. The charcuterie plate was remarkable.

Wine, notes, meat, cheese, dessert, sparking water? What more is there in an amenity. Thanks you guys.

Those black sesame things, just wow.

Those black sesame things, just wow.

Out of this world charcuterie

Out of this world charcuterie

Five showerheads for the Lorien. Can’t wait to see the style evolve at this hotel. We’ll be back as often as we can.

You know that quandry where you’re just below the threshold for Inner Circle status by one night? That. Somehow it happens every year.

Why leave this?

Why leave this?

Fortunately, NPS can always make the best of it by visiting Steph Vogel and finding out what he is up to. A little backstory, Steph has run a number of DC-area Kimpton properties, lifting them every time up into excellence: the Palomar, the George, and the Donovan. Now it’s time for the Lorien.

The Lorien’s main problem is competition from the very fabulous Hotel Monaco just down the street (and much closer to the water). The Monaco seems to have sucked up all of the great design resources, leaving the Lorien marooned in the dreamscape ’90s. That is all starting to change now that Steph is in charge.

For example, the bar and restaurant are already going places. Once a scary exclusively white tablecloth space is now a bar buzzing with life and engaged with the street (not to mention soaked in cocktail excellence). Phil Clark runs a very nice bar.

The Lorien bar program is top notch

The Lorien bar program is top notch

Get those drinks right!  Attention detail, you are now on call.

Get those drinks right! Attention detail, you are now on call.

Just take a look at the glassware. This is top shelf.

Liberty Punch

Liberty Punch

Bourbon Crusta

Bourbon Crusta

The amenity deposited for NPS in 619 highlighted both the bar and the kitchen to great effect. Just gorgeous, very welcoming, and kind.

Fancy a sweet?

Fancy a sweet?

How to make a Liberty Punch: Some Assembly Required

How to make a Liberty Punch: Some Assembly Required

Watching the rooms transform from their current stark, almost bland design to something better will be fun. NPS money says that in six months this property will be the hottest ticket in town.

619 Bedroom

619 Bedroom

Stark

Stark

The shower, we are happy to report, is glass shower excellence (and huge). NPS could shoot a movie in there!

Enter the glass door for showering

Enter the glass door for showering

NPS approved shower

NPS approved shower

And off the bedroom and sitting room both, is a balcony overlooking Alexandria. Can’t wait to come back and see what that is like in the summer.

View from balcony of 619

View from balcony of 619

Our visit was punctuated by a drink with Phil and Steph at the bar. And then it was off to the always fabulous Restaurant Eve for dinner. Eve did not disappoint. The five course tasting meal was absolutely delicious and worth every penny (that’s lots of pennies for those counting). Three hours of laughter, great flavors, and fun was just what the doctor ordered after this year.

We returned for a nightcap of Liberty Punch.

Four showerheads and massive velocity towards five for the Lorien. Let the transformation begin.

Great food. Great drinks. Great hospitality. 2016, we bid you adieu.

Lafayette, CA is tucked away in the hills behind Berkeley, CA, through the tunnel and into an HO Railroad time warp. This cute little town is a classic Bay area amalgam of chic and blue collar in only the way that California can be. Lafayette Park fancies itself an upscale destination resort designed like a French Châteaux. In reality it is more like a local wedding location just off the highway next to a row of car detailing places.

All decked out for Santa

All decked out for Santa

Lafayette Park is part of the family-owned Woodside hotel group that includes the Plaza Hotel in Monterey. Frankly, the Plaza Hotel is a notch or three farther up the food chain (and we’re not just saying this because we were in the Presidential Suite last time we were there). That said, Lafayette has a few things going for it and a few things to fix.

For example, the food is remarkably good for hotel food. But the meeting rooms are dated and stuffy. The staff is gracious and well trained. But the same staff has a hard time going off script (as an example, try having the front desk deal with your car valet because the valet line is four deep and there is no time. No really, I am going to want you to do that.) The common rooms have interesting design. But the bathrooms (even in the superior class rooms) need serious redesign.

So it’s hit and miss.

NPS was assigned 354 (not the Presidential Suite sadly). The room has a fantastic ceiling and a real wood burning fireplace (sans wood of course since this is California but rather stocked with a walmart grade fire log?!). But (there it is again that proverbial “but”) who decided to keep the circa 1974 mirrored closet. At least the hangers are real hangers (but you can see on the pole back to the time when they were not).

Excellent ceiling

Excellent ceiling

Dated, but at the same time classic design in 354

Dated, but at the same time classic design in 354

A solid wooden writing table

A solid wooden writing table

But really, WTF?!

But really, WTF?!

The real drawback as far as this blog and its particular hangups goes is the bathroom design. Just start over.

Nope

Nope

So much tile ruined by obesity bar

So much tile ruined by obesity bar

Why all hotel bathrooms in properties grasping to be upscale still have shower curtains over bathtubs is beyond us here at NPS. We travel for glass showers.

Apparently somebody got some kind of memo WRT NPS arrival, because there was fruit and san pellegrino. Whoever brought this stuff up forgot to remove the default “upsell water” (an NPS pet peeve) and management seems to have overlooked the idea of writing a note. Oh well. So close and so “but.”

Fruit and sparkling water, a nice touch

Fruit and sparkling water, a nice touch

no

no

One last quibble or two and we’ll shut up. Outlets by the bed. Get some. Delete the clock radio from a previous decade. And conjur up some espresso to avoid the 5am walk to Starbucks just down the street (past all those car detailing places and Ace hardware).

All in all Lafayette Park earns four showerheads and best wishes for “but”-eradication. I guess we get surly when we travel during no fly noël. Can’t be helped.

Dressed up for Christmas at Lafayette Park

Dressed up for Christmas at Lafayette Park

The cocktail scene in Lafayette was surprisingly decent. After dinner at Postino one evening, we went around the corner to The Cooperage for a cocktail or two.

We were ably served by Ryan Wehrenberg who played along nicely with our gin range shenanigans.

Ryan also happens to be a local distillery rep for Bay Area Distilling company.

He mixed us up a cocktail called the chimneysweep which was interesting but not quite ready for prime time.

1.5 oz vodka
.5 oz orgeat
.5 oz lo-fi gentian amer
.5 oz fernet
.5 oz lemon juice
2 dashes bitter girl orange bitters
dash activated charcoal
shake. double strain into glass atomized with laphroig

The drink looked better than it tasted.

Back at the Lafayette Park hotel bar, we proceeded to get into the William Larue Weller (2016 edition)

The next evening we shlepped into San Fran for a business meeting at Forgery. They still have the bottle of Amer Picon that NPS dropped there before opening night.

We were served by a delightful server who dutifully made us a Liberal and then moved on to this “so darn close” cocktail Experiment Fifty-seven

.75 oz tio pepe palomino fino sherry
.5 oz amer picon
.25 oz agave syrup
1 oz partida añejo
.5 oz lemon juice
2 dashes bitter truth grapefruit
shake. serve up with lemon peel.

The concensus at our table was that the grapefruit bitters were overkill. Anyway, we’ll play with that one back at Coal Stove Sink Bar.

And guess who showed up? Our great friend Jacques Bezuidenhout himself. What a delight. And CONGRATULATIONS!

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.