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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

Travel was thankfully almost reasonable this year, down to thirty trips off last year’s forty-two. (FWIW, we’ll shoot for 25 in 2015.) But we did do an out of character trip in December, delaying the start of no fly noël by a few days. We’ll make up for it somehow.

tripometer for 2014

tripometer for 2014

In 2014 we finally gave up completely on United airlines which topped its awful 2013 behavior with an even worse 2014. Bye bye United. You are too broken to pay money.

So lets sit by the fire and regain our sanity. Maybe with a Liberal or two. Then we’ll do it all again.

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!

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.

IMG_2233

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.