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Maybe we here at NPS are getting even more spoiled? Or maybe hotel standards are rising? Probably both. Whatever it is, the College Hotel seems to be fraying around the edges.

What used to be a quirky and particularly stupid internet solution involving a password for each device (I have 4) and no tracking of MAC addresses is no longer tenable. Even with a monolithic wifi router for “VIP’s,” the throughput today is so bad that OOKLAs speedtest takes several minutes to load. Need to get some high-throughput work done? Better find better net elsewhere (like, say, the RSA Europe Conference). The net and its denizens have changed in the last few years, and the creaky unreliable net available here at College Hotel is no longer going to work.

When I went to see whether there was a better solution this morning, I was informed that the VIP net has a different ISP. I am pretty sure they mean different wireless router (same ISP). No dice. Need proof?

Speed test from the College Hotel (woe is us)

Speed test from the College Hotel (woe is us)

The bar program has also receded drastically since the days of Luke Gertsen who sadly has left rainy Amsterdam for Curacoa where he is, fittingly enough, running his own bar. You may recall that Luke and his understudy Mads Voorheove went so far as to procure a bottle of Amer Picon from France last time NPS was here just to try a real Liberal. That bottle has long since disappeared as has most of the mixology clue.

Case in point. As cocktail fanatics, we wanted a pre-dinner cocktail but the default list was pretty dull (no serious house concoctions anymore). I asked for a Liberal, wrote down explicit instructions, asked for them not to try to make one without the proper ingredients, talked about whether there was Amer Picon still in the house. Eventually they brought me something which they claimed was a Liberal. I even tweeted its picture. It was not.

Betrayed by a bartender. After dinner I went to show the bartender (who shall remain nameless) how to do it right and he revealed his trickery. I think that sucks. I would rather not be misled. And I sure as hell don’t want to pay to be misled. So as a reward I taught him to make a Nevada. At least there’s that. Grumble.

So how about the rooms? I am in 101 this time which is very similar in flavor to 109 but with a better bathroom.

One way 101.

One way 101.

Other way 101.

Other way 101.

The problems with this room are all small but niggling. Like, no outlets by the desk. Incomprehensible room light switches that do random things. No tissues in the bathroom. No music playback device. But the real kicker is bad net (as discussed above). These are all things that upscale hotels (like say, the Kimptons) are doing well. Time for Europe to catch up.

The shower is really nice though. A serious drencher.

Shower pod and toilet pod?!

Shower pod and toilet pod?!

There was a welcome note from the manager Bobbby and some candies when I arrived. That is a very nice thing for Europe and very rare indeed.

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While we’re on the very good aspects of the College Hotel, we need to give some serious kudos to the restaurant. I’ve had several meals there and last night’s dinner was the best so far. Very good oxtail ravioli soup followed by excellent and very Dutch/Italian risotto. Delicious and expertly put together. Thank you chef.

And a bar redemtion. Tonight, barman Rick made both a very good Dutch Negroni and a McSherry Sour:
4 cl Maccallan Amber
20 cc Amontillado Sherry (medium dry)
25 cc Lemon juice
15 cc vanilla simple syrup 2:1
Stir down. Serve on the rocks with a fancy lemon garnish. [This desperately needs a Luxardo cherry and a smidge of such syrup to make it perfect.]

We held an event at the College Hotel on night2, and the event was very nicely executed by the staff, including the barman. Live jazz always helps. After the event we headed out for a late dinner at Solo which was pretty not bad. Then late night drinks at the fantastic door 74. It’s still impossible to get in without a reservation. Absinthe hour stretched to 4am.

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Day3 included trick or treating with the kids (not mine…some friends’) followed by an absolutely world class round of sushi at Okura’s Yamazato Restaurant sushi bar. As good as any sushi I have had anywhere (NY and San Jose might be just a tad better), this restaurant is beyond authentic. No wonder they have a Michelin star.

Of course no visit to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to the exquisite Van Gogh museum. It was a particular treat for two reasons: 1) just after the Phillips visit there was lots of data in my head, 2) Friday night there is live music and video art.

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Better net and a better bar will earn the College Hotel the ranking it should have. Meanwhile, four showerheads it is.

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Regular readers know that the College Hotel is by far my favorite place to stay in Amsterdam. We’re running a small Conference here this week, and the venue is absolutely perfect for a meeting.

And get this. Serious mixology is available at the College Hotel now too! Bartender Luke Gerntsen is leading the way and is particularly good with the knife.

I checked in way early after an awful flight and a swing and a miss at Privium (did I mention that United sucks? Oh OK). The College Hotel was kind enough to allow me to shower in an unoccupied room since my room was not yet available. Here is how the shower in 301 looks. 301 is cramped but quirky. All bed.

Shower in 301. Nice to recover in from a crap flight on United.

Bathroom pod in 301.

Lunch with colleagues (which we’ll just ignore) and a trip to see the tulips began to improve my mood.

Keukenhof beauty. Stunning.

Upon return, my room, 123, was ready. My first reaction was that I preferred 105, but 123 has grown on me and I enjoy the three major windows and light during the time I spend here in the daylight. FWIW, I was met with a fruit plate and a personal note, which is a nice touch and fairly uncommon in Europe.

Through the double doors.

The shower is plenty big with multiple heads (including a soaker) and a very interesting double door.

The rest of the room is set on two levels with a sitting room (small but very nice) and a bedroom. The layout is quirky and nice. It takes a while for me to remember I am in Europe and to recall the size of my apartment in Trento way back when!

Window seat in the sitting room.

Comfortable bed (well, anything is great after 36 hours awake).

Architecture.

Now back to mixology. Mads Voorheove (who I suppose it Luke’s understudy, but who is very good in his own right) mixed up a nice Royal Navy for me, after which we had an extensive lesson in Genever. We tried three Bols products (Songe Genever, Oude Genever, and the one I have at home…trendy Genever for export) and two Corewyn products (standard and 10 year). Both of the Corewyn products were superb.

We visited Feijoa and said hello to Rob and company. The rum selection is still top notch. And then we paid a visit or two to the speakeasy at door 74 where we were served by Ben and Tess.

What a joy to have real drinks in such a nice hotel. Life is good.

College Hotel, Amsterdam

November 13, 2010

By now I am getting used to staying in the College Hotel when I come to Amsterdam. This time I even requested magical room 105. So far, the electricity seems to be cooperating. Uncharacteristically (and most excellently) there is free net at the College Hotel, but it has a rather silly registration system that barely works on my mac and my google G2.

I have already talked about the really cool bathroom in this room with the infinite mirror effect in previous entries. But here are a couple of new photos anyway. The shower is like a little stage with a stage curtain.


I had the usual tough time adjusting to time zones even with an uneventful flight in. I went out with some friends to the Van Gogh museum in the late afternoon. My favorite part was running around between paintings with a 5 year old girl talking about what she liked and what she saw. That was a blast. It’s nice to see young ones like that get so exceited about art. Upon my return, I went to bed early (I know, I know, a waste of a Saturday night in Amsterdam). Of course I woke up randomly in the middle of the night and did some reading on my new kindle. The kindle is way cooler than I would have expected it to be. The passive screen is really nice.

I finally fell asleep way too early in the morning. I guess the most surprising part of the trip so far was being awakened by my friend marcus who showed up at 10 fresh off a US flight and knocked on my door. I figured I would be up by the time he arrived. No dice. We all went out to the Jazz brunch at American Hotel which has become somewhat of a tradition on my visits to Amsterdam. If you’re in Amsterdam on Sunday make sure to check that out.

Marcus and I walked in the rain from the Eden to Centraal to catch the train to Rotterdam. The Saint Nicholas day crowds were impressive indeed. It rained.

Ultimately, the College Hotel is great. Five showerheads and a permanent place on the list of really nice places to stay on planet earth.

The College Hotel in Amsterdam has already been covered in the blog. It was nice to be back, this time with my son and my dad in tow. We are on a three-generation Spring Break European blowout.

Here’s a picture of the hotel at night taken at midnight yesterday after a visit to my favorite mixology/rum bar in Amsterdam called Feijoa. The rum collection there is world class.

We had some shenanigans getting the room right and had to do what I guess I should call the “College Hotel shuffle.” But in the end we got a great suite with excellent showers and plenty of room to stretch out. Add to that live jazz, a great restaurant, and beautiful high ceilings…what a nice way to visit Amsterdam.

Five shower heads again for the College Hotel.

College Hotel, Amsterdam

January 28, 2010

I’ve been to Amsterdam several times but really had never found a hotel that made me happy.  That all changed this trip.  I can now heartily recommend the College Hotel.

Of course there is a catch. I checked in and got a beautiful room on a very rainy awful day. This was all good because I had a ton of work to get done. Here is a shot of the first room.

The view was gorgeous, and the bathroom was really cool too.  In fact, I was bummed that I had to leave the room when the electricity went on the fritz.  I hope the place doesn’t burn down.

Here’s the shower.

And more importantly the very well designed sink. Check out the infinite mirror effect. Could be very dangerous to certain Amsterdam visitors if you know what I mean!

But I ended up having to move and the move was non-trivial.  You see, once you give someone the best room in the hotel, it’s pretty much impossible to move them to a much inferior room!

After three attempts, I finally ended up in an upstairs room with interesting beams.  It’s shaped along with the roof of the old building.  Here is a picture of the bathroom.  Note how the sink area is directly connected to the room with a couple of long steps down.  And the mirror is tilted at 45 degrees or so (making shaving an adventure).

The shower is interesting too.  Here is a shot of the door.  Inside, the shower is shaped in a most peculiar way due to the roof line.  Also there are two showerheads…one that slides up and down Euro style, and another that is a drench shower.

The College Hotel is very likely to become my hotel of choice in Amsterdam.  Not only are the rooms great, the bar is interesting and fun, the restaurant is top notch, and the service is young and committed.  Five showerheads and an “I’ll be back.”

Exciting times here in NPS-land where the youngest progeny is setting up an apartment for his last year of college. That required a visit to Beloit.

This trip we tried out the brand new Hotel Goodwin (walking distance to campus and much of the downtown in Beloit). Excellent service and a stellar property.

We were assigned room 3008, which is very nice. About the only fly in the ointment is highway noise early in the morning (this may only be a problem for people who live in the country…city folks are unlikely to even notice).

The shower

The bathroom is a nicely appointed marble palace with a huge walk in glass shower sporting multiple shower heads. Yes please. Interestingly, design-wise the shower is also exposed to the bedroom through one of its glass walls.

View from the bedroom

The room is also a very spacious design with plenty of room to hang out comfortably.

While in Beloit, a nice Japanese dinner can be found at Zen Sushi. A great burger can be had at Lucy’s. Reasonably good mexican is available in Janesville at El Jardin. Two great breakfast dives are Jerry’s Cafe and Mr B’s Coffee.

United also performed well on this trip, even providing car service between gates for a tight ORD connection. Awesome!

Five showerheads for Hotel Goodwin. Recommended. Oh, and the bar has Fernet.

NPS will be spending an inordinate amount of time in Beloit, Wisconsin in years to come. Fortunately, Beloit is a cute little town with a great hotel. The Ironworks is in a reclaimed building just a hop skip and a jump from Beloit College.

Stylish lobby

Stylish lobby

We arrived separately and stayed in a sizable executive suite. There are six such suites per floor. Request an upper floor facing the river. Room 201 is not one of those and it was too noisy due to the nearby main artery road.

Frontier design sensibility

Frontier design sensibility

Bet this will come in handy come winter

Bet this will come in handy come winter

The mostly rectangular suite is divided by a fireplace that opens both ways.

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The spacious bathroom has a great set of showers and plenty of room.

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The restaurant is a steakhouse (of course) with an emphasis on the potato. Your mileage will definitely vary with the wine list which must be policed and corrected one of these years. Solid, but nothing to write home about.

Sunset on the restaurant patio

Sunset on the restaurant patio

For breakfast, make sure to hit Bushel and Peck’s which has a quirky vegan vibe (though they do have bacon for the record).

And don’t forget that Madison with all of its University town goodness is only an hour north.

Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin

Four showerheads for the ironworks hotel. Real potential to become a home away from home.

Stop three in the college and the arts tour was UC Santa Cruz, followed by a drive up 17, through silicon valley on 101, to San Francisco. The arts was an especially magical set of Beethoven Quartets played by the Elias String Quartet.

Which means we went from coastal nature to the city and all of its culture.

Live oak: UC Santa Cruz

Live oak: UC Santa Cruz

The Pacific: UC Santa Cruz

The Pacific: UC Santa Cruz

We arrived at the Palomar in a flurry around 4ish. They were more than ready with a classic welcome. So nice to return to such a great Kimpton property where we know them and they know us. We were assigned 802, a beautiful suite with substantial room to hang out and no plastic shower.

Fresh flowers in 802

Fresh flowers in 802

Walter the fish was present (hey Hilton, look, the fishy is real).

Hi Walter...blooop...blp...

Hi Walter…blooop…blp…

802 SF Palomar

802 SF Palomar

802 SF Palomr: this folds out to a bed

802 SF Palomr: this folds out to a bed

The unused big giant bathtub

The unused big giant bathtub

A reasonable shower

A reasonable shower

There was not much time to decompress before we were due for a pre-concert dinner at SPQR. Dinner was interesting, quirky, and delicious. Of particular note, the dessert was fantastic all around.

Then Beethoven.

A nightcap at dirty habit sealed the evening (though we really missed having Mr Means around). Brian, there is substitute for the real you!

The lesson in the “Palomar delta” between LA and SF is personal connection. People make all of the difference in the hospitality business. Thanks Christopher Smith for making it happen properly on this quick hit. See you in 20 days for a longer stay!

More than five showerheads for the Palomar in San Francisco, one of my few homes away from home.

UC Berkeley Massive Group Tour

UC Berkeley Massive Group Tour

It's college and the arts! Get ready for this.

It’s college and the arts! Get ready for this.

UC Berkeley Fossil Collection on High

UC Berkeley Fossil Collection on High

Bear in the Sky: UC Berkeley

Bear in the Sky: UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley: Massive Group Tour ][+

UC Berkeley: Massive Group Tour ][+

Next up, Colorado.

Most college towns have no hotels worth visiting. Staying near a college campus can be a complete drag. But UC Santa Cruz is a welcome exception. Paradoxical? Sure, why not.

Hotel Paradox is in a college town and it does not suck.

CA Route 1

CA Route 1

We arrived sunburned and exulted after a 384 mile road trip up the California coast from Los Angeles. Hey, nobody said that college and the arts was going to be easy! The drive was mesmerizing.

Paradox is also self-referential in a sense that the architecture is 100% hamster cage. Holiday Inn, Days Inn, you name it, this is the rectangle. But somehow they pull it off with a design-forward approach and an inclusive feel. A paradox.

Coolest front desk ever

Coolest front desk ever

Apparently they read the blog. We were upgraded (really), we were given a bar credit, we were greeted by name. Dang!

Room 534 is situated at the very end of the rectangle and involves two rooms making a suite with a virtual porch on the side. Surprisingly nice.

Time warp to the '70s

Time warp to the ’70s

Sitting room with fold out couch

Sitting room with fold out couch

Bedroom 534 (rectangle done right)

Bedroom 534 (rectangle done right)

Wood

Wood

The bathroom has a non-plastic shower. You know how we feel about that around here!

534 has a glass shower with a silver twig handle and a pebble floor

534 has a glass shower with a silver twig handle and a pebble floor

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The nicest thing about 534 is the outside space associated with the suite. Just very well done.

The park next door

The park next door

Virtual porch in 534

Virtual porch in 534

So we’ll need to revise our “university towns have no hotels” opinion. A very high four shower heads for the Paradox. Well done!

In other Santa Cruz news, the Oswald is apparently the best bet restaurant-wise in town. Hmm. Not bad, but also not good.

We leave you with more CA Route 1 footage.

I don’t know what it is about academia and academic towns, but the hotels in the academia sphere appear to be trapped in the late 70s. (For example, see State College, Palo Alto, Bloomington, and Ann Arbor where I find myself again again.)

Last time I was in Ann Arbor, I tried out the Campus Inn. Three showerheads for them and a resounding “meh.” This time I am staying at the Bell Tower Hotel. It is better, but it’s still trapped in the 70s.

So what does that mean?

That 70s hair.

That 70s hair.

Well, check out this collection of items. First there is the clock, on which I have superimposed my usual alarm clock (an android device). I had to unplug the wood veneer hotel clock radio thing to plug in my phone. (Equals not enough plugs near the bed.)

70's clock technology.

70’s clock technology.

And then there are these country club chairs which my mom had a copy of in her dining room way back in, yes, the late 70s. Their sales people must have been phenomenal, because these chairs are everywhere. (I believe the style is Queen Ann and the nice ones are mahogany or cherry.)

That 70s country club chair.

That 70s country club chair.

The key technology is also solid state. Really solid. Do not lose this key!

Solid state 70s style key technology.

Solid state 70s style key technology.

My great travel people requested a non-plastic shower, and lo and behold there is one! yay.

Glass shower.

Glass shower.

Orange.  Check out the curtains.

Orange. Check out the curtains.

The rest of the suite in room 212 looks like this.

212 Sitting Room.  Dark carpet.  Flowery curtains.

212 Sitting Room. Dark carpet. Flowery curtains.

212 Mirror Bar.

212 Mirror Bar.

212 Bedroom

212 Bedroom

Ultimately, the Bell Tower Hotel is functional and much better than the Campus Inn. But neither hotel is up to world level. Still looking for somewhere hip to stay in Ann Arbor. The Bell Tower Hotel squeeks by with a low four showerheads rating.

On the flip side of the coin, dinner, jazz and cocktails at the The Ravens Club was delightful. The barman on hand, Robyn, was great fun to work with even though he was really busy. He concocted some nice experimental beverages. The best one of the night was what I will call the Ann Arbor Ain’t Manhattan:
1.5 oz Elijah Craig 12 year
1 oz Apero
.5 oz Cardamaro (a house made bitters)
.5 oz “Nectar” sherry
2 t green chartreuse
Stir down. Garnish with orange peel.

Bass player Ron Brooks put together some great jazz sounds heavy on the Thelonious. The food was serviceable and good, but nothing super special. Come for the drinks and the jazz.  εὕρηκα heúrēka

Night two included a visit to the Last Word, which though hard to find is quite fantastic. We had Wiliam Larue Weller bourbon. We had house made concoctions. Like this one which we’ll call the Next to Last Word.
2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
.5 oz Punt e mes
.5 Bonal gentian quina
5 drops lemon tree bitters

And then a really bad idea. Cigars at midnight. Oh well.