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Hard to believe it has been five years since the last NPS visit to Pittsburgh!  Dang.  The great news is that the Hotel Monaco in Pittsburgh is like stepping into a Kimpton time warp—in all the good ways.

The first good thing was discovering that our ancient Kimpton points of yore (which were transformed into some kind of mystery pointy prickly spire IHG points) were still valid and useful!  Who knew?!  So a quick cycle with GM Rob Mallinger hooked us up with our very favorite room at the favorable price of zero.

You may recall that 835 is the bomb.  And the staff at this hotel is just awesome.  In particular we want to give shouts out to Matt for an outstandingly personal welcome and to Annalisa for going above and beyond the call of duty to retrieve some data for us while we were out and about.  Outstanding.

Welome to 835. Wine, cheese, a personal note. Yes, welcome indeed.

 

835 Living room

 

 

 

835 bed room

 

 

This shower is not at all plastic. Yays.

 

 

 

 

It snowed. Classic Pennsylvania. Arriving after 7, we found a sea of fundraising private school hipsters dressed to the nines. It was well nigh dinner time.  Fortunately, Rob set us up at Union Standard where there were oysters, Negroni’s and other good eats. Sadly, by the time a leisurely dinner was consumed, the plan to hit up Butcher and the Rye had the kibosh put right on it. Who closes a good bourbon bar at 11 on a Saturday night? Well, apparently the James Beard winners do.  Alas.

Union Standard

 

A dirty martini? On this blog?! WTF?!

So it was back to the commoner (found in the basement of the Monaco) for a nightcap.  Though the clientele leaves a little something to be desired (Trump country assholes abound in the PA private school world), there was good Rye.  Not to mention Gina, a delightful barkeep.  (The bar itself was established by Kenny many years ago and then properly curated by Mike Ryan before he headed to Sable to build another gem.)  The commoner bar is still world class.

At the commoner, Gina and some rye

So how do you recover from all that Rye?  With some “Pittsburgh hash” at Pamela’s (a great greasy spoon diner for breakfast).  Right next door, you’ll find some very interesting tiny ass doughnuts at Peace, Love, and Little Donuts (sic).

Pamela’s, a Pittsburgh tradition

 

Just like it says

The Warhol museum is a great place to visit in Pittsburgh.  Excellent art properly curated.  See pictures here.

Excellent Taiwanese comfort food can be found at Cafe 33.

And there is live music in Pittsburgh.  Saw an intimate show of aging punks featuring John Doe. See lots of pictures and videos here.

john doe krisin hersh grant-lee phillips pittsburgh

Day two breakfast was just super good. Great espresso, tasty crepes and art.  Make sure to go to Geppetto Cafe in Pittsburgh for breakfast.

Geppetto Cafe Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is hoppin.

This old school Kimpton thing going on at the Hotel Monaco is well worth five showerheads with a couple of plus signs tacked on for good measure.  Wish there were more like this in the rest of the country!

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.

No fly July just barely ended this morning and I am still down South working on the screened in porch. Round about this time of year we usually head up to Boston and see our good friends at the Hotel Marlowe. Sadly, this year’s plans call for a different route, so we can’t say hello as usual and break our no fly July travel drought in the most perfect way possible.

The incredible staff at the Hotel Marlowe has pooled together a donation to support the Team Tartan Leukemia Cup boat two years running. (See this post from last year and this one from two years ago.) I figured since this year we are skipping Boston, we might be out of sight, out of mind. But no. Joe Capalbo and his staff made a very sizeable donation anyway.

Team Tartan sails the Leukemia Cup in Kilts!

Team Tartan sails the Leukemia Cup in Kilts!

Just wow. You guys are the best. Thank you for helping us fight blood cancer!

When we hit our goal (a formidable $42,000 this year), we sail in kilts. We’re well on our way to that again thanks to Hotel Marlowe and Kimpton Karma.

You’re welcome to donate too, dear reader. Every penny counts.

DONATE TO TEAM TARTAN 2016 LEUKEMIA CUP

Special thanks to Hotel Marlowe from Team Tartan

Special thanks to Hotel Marlowe from Team Tartan

NPS loves San Francisco, and so did Bill Kimpton.

Morning view from 2007

Morning view from 2007

One super tragic side effect of the IHG buyout of Kimpton was a major defection of San Francisco properties from the chain. There are now two (count ’em two) Kimpton properties in town. There used to be twelve. And the whole thing fell apart over worker’s rights, which given the superior way Kimpton manages its people is terrible and ironic.

You know how we feel about Kimpton on this blog. We’re cheerleaders for the most part. (Oh sure, we get snarky when we have to, but that is how hotels improve.) Sadly, our loyalty is being tested in San Francisco. In fact, it was overtested all week.

The fact that we do have a Kimpton room at all during this week is nice (thanks to Mike Defrino’s major string pulling which we hugely appreciate), but what would be nicer is an upscale property and some adult supervision. There are elements of Kimpton design here at the Sir. D, but more needs doing (especially bathroom-wise). And real management/staff issues are clear after a few days on the property. I miss the SF Palomar. (A couple of visits to Mr Means at Dirty Habit made the pining worse.)

A last minute change in reservations due to rampant bday shenanigans was necessary, and it was not easy. But it got done. I flew into town late.

Check out this beautiful amenity

Check out this beautiful amenity

Having a mystery cocktail (??!) with some fancy fruit and cheese is a nice welcome.

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When you drink this mysterious elixer you may forget about the shower situation

When you drink this mysterious elixer you may forget about the shower situation

And the view at night is very much city in all directions from the 20th on a hill

And the view at night is very much city in all directions from the 20th on a hill

Kimpton style

Kimpton style

Sitting room 2007 suite

Sitting room 2007 suite

2007 has plenty of light and is nicely if not slightly shabbily appointed. All of the tables need to be replaced.

Table for work

Table for work

desk nook

desk nook

The sleeping part of the suite is a standard-issue room with a tiny bathroom that needs some more updating. The old tub is nice. What about a solid glass door on top of that? Nothing gets us quite as riled up here at NPS as a shower curtain! Down with shower curtains!!

This shower. No no no.

This shower. No no no.

Bedroom style

Bedroom style

2007 bed

2007 bed

NPS was already surly from the not-quite-up-to-par ride on Virgin America. We were dehydrated and there was no sparking water—anywhere—in the entire hotel.

For the record, we’re still dehydrated this morning. So we’re talking a very low three shower head situation for Sir D. Which, while average, is a low mark indeed for a Kimpton property. If anything the rating went down instead of up as the week progressed. The difference in management between the Sir D approach and many other properties is like night and day. There is much learning to do here by the staff.

Eventually (thanks to Lauren) the water memo arrived and a case of water appeared. Which was nice. But typical for this property there was no note or joke or apology or anything human from management in the room, just a plastic shrink-wrapped case of water plonked unceremoniously on the beaten up table.

To pile on the management misery, attempts to raise anyone downstairs in the lobby Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful for over an hour. I must have called 5 times with well over 100 collective rings. After corporate/social media read the deriding tweets, a surly front desker called up too late to get the things done that needed doing before it was out for the evening. Excuses won’t do it you guys. Inner circle guest expect better service. And for the record, it is YOUR damn fault you did not answer the phone, not mine.

While we’re complaining, we should also note for the record that the starlight lounge plays bass heavy music late into the evening. If the young ‘un thump bothers you, do not stay on the 20th floor.

So lets review.

Did a guest reserve a car to the airport? Let us know that actually happened.

Did someone call down to the desk from an expensive suite? Answer the damn phone.

There was no sparking water in the hotel one evening? Send someone out to get some NOW. Deliver it.

Did a guest turn 50? Apparently not at this property. Hell, even the restaurants figured this one out.

The final straw for the Sir D in my book is location, which in terms of my standard SF week is too far off the beaten path. I sure hope Kimpton finds an upscale property in SF soon. This one is off the list.

On a lighter and more fun note, here is other useful data about the SF trip, and its many delightful times:

  • Breakfast at Mels’ Diner is always great. Long line today during RSA week.
  • Lunch near the Moscone must always be Fang
  • Need to host an event? NPS recommends Forgery
  • Late night dinner at Bouche
  • Lunch at Cafe Claude is always fantastic (but guard your food)
  • Coffee and conversation go together at Cafe de la presse
  • Annabell’s is no longer, but Keystone is nice
  • Perbacco remains a superior location for getting some business done over lunch
  • Dirty Habit rules and Brian Means is at the top of his cocktail game.
  • Might as well skip the Sip Bar if the Hancock room in the back is occupied.
  • State Bird Provisions is super fantastic.

This just in. The cocktail mystery solved. The drink is La Perla designed by Jacques Bezuidenhout himself
1.5 oz Partida resposado tequila
.75 oz manzanilla Sherry
.75 oz pear liqueur
Stir/ coupe/ lemon peel

The Ten Year Itch by Brian Means
2 oz bourbon (henry mckenna 10 yr – 100 proof)
.5 oz kalani coconut
.5 oz orgeat
.75 lemon
1/2 egg white
dry shake ingredients, then wet shake, strain into coupe, garnish with peychaud’s

And now we close by looking down on the Westin…

Beautiful San Francisco

Beautiful San Francisco

Last year, the fine folks at Hotel Marlowe served up the best amenity ever by making a collective donation to my Leukemia Cup boat. Talk about Kimpton Karma! Wow.

How could they ever top that? Well pull up a chair…

The first thing they did this year was double their donation! I mean holy cow, that is the coolest thing ever. Supporting a good cause and fighting blood cancer. You guys rock.

Skirmish Leukemia Cup 2013y

(You’re welcome to join the fun by making a donation of your own, dear reader.)

Kimpton Karma Supreme

Kimpton Karma Supreme

The valet Jonathan said hello when I arrived. He knew my name!

Then my friend Joe Capalbo plussed up the room to the gorgeous Presidential Suite (820). Awesome.

820: The Top of the World

820: The Top of the World

But wait, there’s more. The very nice amenity involves bacon(!!!) and a craft cocktail from downstairs. And a personal note from Joe.

Bacon

Bacon

This is definitely the way to ease in after no fly July. Thanks you guys!

Kimpton rocks.

820 Bedroom zoom 1

820 Bedroom zoom 1

820 Bedroom zoom 2

820 Bedroom zoom 2

820 Bedroom zoom 3

820 Bedroom zoom 3

Of course the shower in here is way not plastic.

Glass shower in 820

Glass shower in 820

Dining/meeting

Dining/meeting

Telescope is a Kimpton thing

Telescope is a Kimpton thing

820 Hotel Marlowe

820 Hotel Marlowe

Anyway, ten showerheads (double the max) for Hotel Marlowe and Joe. Home away from home in Boston.

This visit to the Monaco in Alexandria (across the river from Washington) was designed to perfection by GM Matt Hurlburt. Everything was all set before arrival. Even traffic in northern Virginia cooperated. Kimpton Karma. Hopefully not the last of it. (Now that IHG has bought the chain we will keep our fingers crossed that inner circle goodness persists. IHG also owns Holiday Inn Express??!!)

Room 403 is a nice suite with a great glass shower. A liquid amenity was just what the doctor ordered. Personal note, fancy cocktail, fruit and cheese (featuring apricots) and a bourbon flight for late night. Excellent.

Welcome to Monaco 403

Welcome to Monaco 403

The Virginia Gentleman made a great evening cocktail before the Leukemia Cup party at Port City Brewery.

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Then it was off to the Leukemia Cup event where we were surprised to learn that Team Tartan was the 3rd biggest fundraiser in the nation in 2014! Thanks to all of our supporters, including the Hotel Marlowe staff.

A quick drive back to the Marlowe got us there just in time to meet Matt for a drink. We decided to go to Society Fair and meet the czarina of the eat good food group twitterz, Vina Sananikone. She turns out to be a video artist as well.

Matt and I had a Wine and Whiskey designed by Todd Thrasher and implemented by Justin Owens. It’s a great beverage, but complicated to make:
Base
Sauternes
Orange Peel
Cardamom Pods
Star Anise
Cloves
All spice
Cinnamon
Honey
Crush and toast spices. Simmer 30 minutes. Strain

2oz base
1 oz bourbon (four roses)
1 oz canadian whiskey
dash orange bitters

This one was a bit too sweet for my palate. Would skip the honey and maybe add some heat to the spices. But a nice cocktail all told.

After a cocktail and some time with Matt (a great guy), we headed over to Restaurant Eve where we opted for the Thai/Philippines inspired tasting menu. Delicious and absolutely packed with flavor. The first course was incredible. A delightful departure from Eve’s solid fare. Go chef go!

Then it was back to the Monaco for a late night bourbon taste.

Bourbon flight

Bourbon flight

And a dip in the tub?! That’s right. First time ever in the big Kimpton bathtub.

Bathtub with actual hot water, bourbon and a book

Bathtub with actual hot water, bourbon and a book

403 bedroom

403 bedroom

403 sitting room

403 sitting room

403 sitting room

403 sitting room

this shower is not plastic

this shower is not plastic

Anyway, five showerheads and a tub full of steam for the Hotel Monaco. Everything a quick visit could be! No fly noël can still include car based travel, and to great effect.

I am back at the Riverplace in Portland, Oregon. I was just here for the first time this Spring (the property is newly Kimptonized). The showers are (sadly) all plastic in this city when it comes to Kimptons. Must have something to do with the rain??

I liked the Riverplace way more than the Portland Monaco though. Sadly, for my last stay, the number of hours in room could be counted on less than one hand. This time I am staying two days with some down time and I am stuck in dinky little 403. Oh well.

Anyway, Hell was clearly beginning to freeze over when United actually had power, wifi, and a comfortable ride for my cross continent journey. I was not upgraded. But I have learned the hard way over the last two years that my 1,579,471 of loyalty really don’t mean jack shit to United. Upgrades? Ha ha ha ha. Not for me. Only on flights that never take off.

hell-frozen

I was psyched to arrive at the Riverplace again. Hoping for another shot at a nice room, this time with some time to be IN the room. But I must have arrived too late. And sadly even though I booked this room MONTHS AGO, the kind of room I like was unavailable. We’ll chalk that up to bad planning. NPS does not like bad planning. No we do not. We do not reward bad planning with super happy drivel blog postings. No no. We strap on the asbestos suit from the ’80s flame wars and flame on.

Step down in room quality at Kimpton PDX? United making me a happier camper than Kimpton? Inner Circle guy does not get a hot damn room?? Hell is clearly frozen over. Maybe the inner circle of hell.

My favorite interaction of the night was when the front desk called to, “make sure everything was satisfactory with the room.” “No, I said. I don’t like this room as much as 202 where I was last time.” Want to flumox the front desk? Tell them the truth! hah. “Um, well we were all out of that room category?!” {insert something here about bad planning} Did I mention the bad planning?

Here is the plastic shower in the tiny bathroom of 403.

This shower is not the kind of shower we like.

This shower is not the kind of shower we like.

And here is a Vine of the room. It all fits nicely in 6 seconds. Just sayin’.

Margo Helgen of the social media interwebs did try to pull off something nice, arranging a Hibiscus Mule cocktail (bit on the sweet side unlike this posting). But apparently Margo has no sway over computer system room allocation. Alas, Margo they should upgrade your magic wand! Thanks for playing along.

Hibiscus Mule cocktail. Afraid Jacques would not really approve.

Hibiscus Mule cocktail. Afraid Jacques would not really approve.

And there was some serious confusion over just who ordered what cheese plate. One did arrive we must say!

So we’re going to bed. Maybe tomorrow during downtime after my early morning keynote we will be in a better mood. I doubt it.

It’s true that NPS has been here countless bajillions of times. And it is true that like in all relationships we’ve had our ups and downs. But the Hotel Marlowe staff (ably led by GM Joe Capalbo) outdid themselves this time. Best amenity ever. Wait for it…

Team Tartan sailing in the 2013 Leukemia Cup.

Team Tartan sailing in the 2013 Leukemia Cup.

The staff made a sizeable donation to my Leukemia Cup sailing team. Holy cow you guys absolutely rock. (You, dear reader can join em here.) We’re trying to raise $22,000 this year, and every penny counts. Just wow.

Thanks Amanda and Ryan and everyone else involved.

Thanks Amanda and Ryan and everyone else involved.

I am in 621 which seems to be my default room these days (though I do fondly recall the Presidential Suite…yes I do…love that prosthetic blog memory unit!). Things are very nice here with plenty of room to relax and get some work done before the work starts…or something.

Bedroom 621 at Hotel Marlowe.

Bedroom 621 at Hotel Marlowe.

Living room with really TALL furniture in 621 at Hotel Marlowe

Living room with really TALL furniture in 621 at Hotel Marlowe

I do really like the bathroom part of this room, though I still have never been in that huge tub. One of these years, I swear.

What is that in the mirror?

What is that in the mirror?

The shower is definitely not plastic. NPS approved.

No plastic to be seen near the shower in 621 at Hotel Marlowe

No plastic to be seen near the shower in 621 at Hotel Marlowe

Though I am missing my rock in the middle of the Shenandoah River now that no fly July has come to an end, Hotel Marlowe and their killer staff are a home away from home. Five showerheads plus two.

The evening started with a delicious cocktail at Brick and Mortar. Great space. Great vibe. Great cocktails. Good place for a business chat. After a Greenpoint, we tried a house invented More Than Classic:
1 oz wild turkey 101
1 oz Aperol
1 oz Braulio
.25 oz demarara syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
A roller coaster of a drink that starts bitter and is a bit too sweet in the end. Not much in the middle. But a decent experiment.

Dinner at Bondir was nice, but they are trying too hard. The first three courses (bread included) were a veritable confusion of great tastes. Too much going on. But some sublime ideas in there. Main course and desert were much better. All in all, Bondir seems overpriced to me. The atmosphere is nice and homey though.

All this and a telescope to boot.

All this and a telescope to boot.

Again I find myself at a sub-optimal hotel. This time mostly because Hartford, CT appears to be off the hipster beaten path. At least my friend Drew is accumulating Marriott points! The Marriott Hartford seems to be like most Marriotts. You can decide whether that’s a good thing.

This is a plastic shower.  Bane of this blog's existence.

This is a plastic shower. Bane of this blog’s existence.

The rather unfortunate report on the shower is that not only is it plastic and over a tub, but also the hot water is tepid and there is no water pressure. Because the pressure is bad, the plastic showerhead does not work properly. All of this results in the worst shower of 2014, and sets the bar nice and low. Life is too short for a bad shower.

Hamster cages for everyone. Even Drew’s super Elite status lands you a room like this.

Bedroom 717.

Bedroom 717.

TV homage.  Bedroom 717.

TV homage. Bedroom 717.

Tiny plastic bathroom 717.

Tiny plastic bathroom 717.

At least the concierge floor is on 21 and there is a nice view and some almost acceptable net.

Frozen tundra from the Concierge Lounge.

Frozen tundra from the Concierge Lounge.

There’s just not much more else to say. Two lowly showerheads and no surprise for this place.

On the restaurant side of things, Max Downtown is world class, but standard issue. Want a good meal? Max will do it. Decent wine list and a great slab of cow.

Steeerike. Straight over the plate, and the Kimpton batter didn’t even notice.

A very last minute trip to DC to do the way early Sunday morning talk show thing (on the MSNBC show Up with Chris Hayes), meant a night in DC. Refactored Saturday completely. Too quickly I guess. (BTW, here is a link to the show segment.)

Room 438 is not at all like room 835. In fact, its not quite up to Kimpton standards in my book.

Bed room.  Bed only.

Bed room. Bed only.

Room layout is the main problem. 438 is a suite made of two long rectangles. The room with the bed fits only the bed. Good thing the TV is flat! The suites two rooms are separated by doors so thin they rattle and clonk in a hollow way and don’t close properly. And there is this massive blank section of the room in the corner. Design feature? Mistake?

What belongs here other than nothing?

What belongs here other than nothing?

But the sad thing is, a plastic shower.

Tiny bathroom with plastic shower.

Tiny bathroom with plastic shower.

CIMG2682 CIMG2681

No welcome note either.

I guess it is better to plan ahead! We’ll find out next week in San Francisco, won’t we. Three showerheads for this trip to the Palomar DC. Next time I hope somebody is paying more attention.