Home

After a seriously turbulent night flight across the pond, a bus ride over the Frankfurt tarmac, a multiply-delayed ICE train and a missed local connection, it was nice to arrive at the Nestor Hotel and have a room ready to go. Walking over from the train station is very easy indeed, and helps you stay awake. Check in was easy even in zombie mode.

Sadly, the Nestor chain appears to be set up to accommodate conferences and large groups more than anything else. This is a four star in Germany, which puts it right smack in JW Marriott territory. Everything looks pretty good on the surface, but it is really cheap veneer with thin carpet allowing lots of noise between rooms. A business class hotel. Not NPS’s cup of tea.

The little NPS cubicle (replete with tiny bed) is 308.

Lil teeny bed in 308

The sitting area and desk are all within 15 feet of the bed

Fortunately, Ludwigsburg is resplendent today.

View from 308

The bathroom is likewise “cozy” and very Euro.

Not plastic unless you count the tub, which is plastic

Sink stand

There is a big pipe in the bathroom. That is just weird.

After a much-needed invigorating shower, it was off into town for lunch. Greek food at Die Griechin is very homey. Great people. Authentic, if not uninspired fare.

Breakfast at the hotel is very nice, and the restaurant serves a decent lunch as well. Service is friendly even if the kitchen is slow.

On a more upbeat note, the Black and White Cocktail Bar just a few short blocks away is cozy and excellent. We were among the only patrons on a Tuesday night.

Amer Picon in the house means a Liberal or two.

La Barrosa Cocktail (by Mario Wirth)
50 ml carlos I brandy
10 ml Strega
.5 ml Balsamico creme (can sub px Sherry)
Amaretto spray on top
Stir. Serve on one big rock.

Make sure to visit the Black and White Bar if you are in Ludwigsburg.

Dinner at the very friendly Zum Urigen was authentic and about as German as you can get. The owners are from Vietnam, but have lived in Germany for 30 years. This place has a very local feel with lots of patrons who know each other.

A very low three showerheads for the Nestor, where function overrides style, and things feel fairly fake.

Third time’s a charm. This year’s cocktail extravaganza was hashtagged (as always) with a tip of the hat to the Clash. (See #londonculling and #rockthecasbar entries.)

From our base at the Mondrian London, we headed out to the shard for lunch.

The food at Aquashard is remarkably good. Fuel up!

After lunch, it was off to the Alchemist. Espresso was in the cards since it was early yet.

Next we paid a visit to our friend Alessandro (and delivered greetings personally from Jacques Bezuidenhout) at Duke’s hotel bar. Simply put, Duke’s somehow makes the best martinis in the world. Better to only have one.

Plans called for a visit to the Ritz bar, but we ran into a shoe-ware issue (someone had on trainers that cost as much as a car). So fuck the Ritz. We will be back never.

No worries, the Connaught Bar manned by Micheal was incredibly great. We sat at the bar. Somehow the Connaught became our home away from home with two visits the next day during much fun was had.

We paid a visit to Gerry’s Wines and Spirits to amass a treasure trove of Amer Picon and some very old Cuban rum. Graham and insta-graham were a blast. Gin tasting occurred.

Then it was time for prophylactic ramen at Bone Daddies. Great ramen with a rock and roll vibe. Beer seemed like a good idea.

Bar Swift was our next target. Without a reservation we shlepped downstairs. After a round, our waitress took pity on us and gave us a great round booth. Then we got into the George T Stagg 2016. Wise?? Of course it was wise.

Next up was a visit to one of our all around favorites, the American Bar at the Savoy. Our barman on point at the establishment did what he could to find us some Catoctin Creek rye to use in the Red Lips Rye. He had 24 hours. Sadly, his attempt was unsuccessful, but he did put in a real effort.

We always seem to get stuck at the American Bar for 2 or 3 rounds, after which we head downstairs and transfer our tab to the Beaufort. Two of our party bowed out after the American Bar visit around 10:30.

It was left for the remaining cocktail enthusiasts to pull all of the weight. Down to the Beaufort we went. Frankly we were not impressed with this visit. Though we love the bar and past visits have been fun (if not expensive as hell), there seem to be too many Russians around for comfort these days.

Back home to the Dandelyan it was. We made it in time for fernet and a last call that seems to have involved two CR#2’s and six Liberals. These things happen!

So, after all this we somehow ended up opening a bottle of champagne at 2am on the balcony. That was a bad idea.

You would figure that we had learned our lesson, but we had not. The next afternoon after some ramen (medicinal this time) at Monohon ramen we walked over to the Zetter Townhouse for some hair of the dog.

Which naturally led us back to the Connaught Bar to see Michael again before our fancy night out.

We leave you with a recipe for a Coburg Collins
50 ml London dry gin (no 3)
20 ml lemon
15 ml simple syrup
10 ml fino sherry
2 dashes celery bitters
top up with soda water over big ice.

Here we are again in a university town, this time Ann Arbor. This town is great. Books, coffee, food, cocktails. Almost everything you need, but still no good hotel.

The Residence Inn is a Marriott property, and it is brand new. It’s pretty much what you would expect of a mid-tier mid-market Marriott hotel. Shiny suburban fake is the style. NPS has different style.

When the reservation was made, we requested a high floor and a Panoramic City View Suite. The first room we were assigned was 414 which is ADA formatted. When asking for a non-ADA configured room instead were assigned down to 214. The rooms are almost exactly identical. Moving down was a big mistake because traffic noise starts at 5am. Alas.

So much for the high floor request.

The manager, having heard tell of checkin problems, was very gracious. We had a nice chat. His valet staff is super.

The view from 214 says it all

The room is filled with lots of shiny new veneer cheap furniture that looks better than it feels when you use it. The suite includes a kitchenette.

Entry hallway kitchenette

desk room

desk room couch

View from the bed to a nice bank of windows

large (impersonal) bathroom

The real problem is the shower, which is partially glass and partially plastic. It is open to the huge bathroom without a glass door. Cold air makes for a less than stellar shower experience.

shower. not approved

Anyway, we knew what we were getting into when we agreed to come to Ann Arbor. Apparently, there is a copy of The Graduate here too BTW. Sure wish university towns had better hotel kung fu!

Dinner at Mikette was delicious. Great service.

The cocktail scene in Ann Arbor remains vibrant. A Sunday night visit to Nightcap was optimal in all respects. Andy was a blast behind the bar.

Because there was Handy in the house, we present, The Handy Handy
1.75 Thomas Handy Rye
.3 oz Del’erborista ultra-bitters
.3 carpano antica
2 dashes scrappy aromatic
Stir. Strain. Express orange peel and drop in.

Three showerheads for the Residence Inn in Ann Arbor. Dang university towns.

If anything is true, this is: NPS votes with its money. Sure, we pile on the praise (and the snark) as necessary. We even take on hotel chains that think they have us irreversibly trapped in their loyalty program. (See, for example, this fun entry out of Los Angeles.) Well, the time has come to do some fund re-allocation.

You see, the Buchanan Hotel in San Francisco (a Kimpton) has been our San Francisco home for a couple of years. Sadly, due to too much demand, we are unable to get the room we want when we stay there. So how do we solve that problem? We remove demand. Last time we were in San Francisco we walked across the street to the Hotel Kabuki to check it out. As a result, we’re staying at Kabuki this time.

The lobby, common areas, and bar are all very upscale, nicely designed, and worth a visit. On our arrival, we dropped off the bag upstairs and headed straight to the bar. Sazarac? Yes please (with a little help from our friends).

We requested and were happy to occupy a corner room up high. Room 1402 is most likely indicative of the best room category on the property.

design sensibility 1402

The bedroom sector is the most up to date, with interesting design.

bedroom sector 1402

1402 offers a very good view of Japantown and even the Golden Gate in the distance. Two banks of windows provide a very wide view. Mornings were beautiful this week.

Luggage pod is exposed in the hallway to the door.

Luggage and refrigerator

An amenity (!!) on our first stay was very much welcome. Thanks Kabuki!! Champagne and fruit is very nice indeed.

wow, a welcome amenity and they barely know us

the window bank

Then there is the bathroom. Number one, the open design is a bit chilly. A door instead of a doorway would help. That bank of windows in 1402 (including two sliding doors installed in the ’70s) can keep things pretty chilly in February, even with two sets of curtains. Updating the glass would probably help too.

bathroom sector 1402

The shower area is huge. Too huge, as it turns out, mostly because the glass door (approved) does not shut tight and chilly air comes in to make a great shower less than great. Looks like nobody actually took a shower to test this design before implementing it.

glass shower…huge

The shower has both a drench head and a handheld shower head. But that cold air.

shower head 2

So, all is not yet well at the Hotel Kabuki, where some attention to detail is in order.

Did housekeeping remove your not quite empty bottle of sparkling water? Try calling down to get some more. No dice. And no creativity from the front desk. High end hotels solve problems.

Want espresso for breakfast in the morning? Nope.

Want to adjust the temperature? Good luck figuring out how the thermostat works (it appears not to do anything at all).

Did you open the sliding glass door to access the balcony? Getting it closed again may be an issue.

On the positive side again, Japantown is a great base of operations in San Francisco. There are exceptional restaurants and cocktail locations within striking distance, and the Filmore corridor up the hill is hopping.

We schlepped out to Haight-Ashbury for dinner at Black Sand. This local bistrot has great food and good cocktails.

We taught the bartenders how to make Bill’s Big Birthday Beverage:
1 oz Ancho Reyes
1 oz cardamaro
1 oz fresh orange juice
.25 oz hot pepper infusion (in this case, house made)
Shake. Strain. Serve up.

Anyway, with more attention to the details above, Hotel Kabuki will displace the Buchanan as San Francisco’s default location for NPS. Four showerheads for the Hotel Kabuki. Rise to the occasion please!

Is NPS spoiled? Yes. Does that make life harder for hotels and airlines when it comes to expectations? Yes. Welcome to the world of high end travel.

2018 started with a trip across the country on the NPS “trip across the country” airline—Virgin America. Or what’s left of it anyway. Virgin America is becoming more and more like Alaska. And frankly, that sucks. Sure, we’re MVP Gold on Alaska by default. But who cares? Going from the Nordstrom’s world to JC Penny is not gonna cut it.

Here’s an example of what is happening to Virgin America. The checkin process at Dulles was always super friendly, efficient, and FAST. Now there is a line and it is a line of Alaska flyers.

The flight across the country was just fine after using cash money to upgrade to First. So there’s that.

Next came the wrong room problem at the Buchanan in San Francisco (216 versus 316 or 416). Sadly this happens almost every time we stay here. Sure, NPS helped to establish the Kimpton InTouch program years ago (now known as Karma and soon to be known as IHG Rewards Club (blech)), but super elite Kimpton/IHG status does nothing to add to the number of available Kimpton rooms we like in San Francisco. The staff at the Buchanan does all they can to accommodate demand. But demand is just outstripping supply. And as a demander, well the market is about to speak.

Time’s up you guys, only two OK quality San Francisco Kimpton properties still?? IHG needs to step it up in this city. Really.

View from the Buchanan San Francisco (Japantown)

Of course, Emily Glick and her people get all the blowback in public, but really it is corporate that is at fault by this stage. Hopefully Emily will forgive us for making clear what we expect!

Amenity. Thanks to the Buchanan team

216 has a few of problems from the NPS perspective. Number one is that the shower needs a better shower head. Water pressure is not sufficient. At least it’s a glass cube! Number two, the room is ADA sanctioned and we are not special needs campers. That means the closet is not usable, and the tub is a mess of machines. Number three, the second floor is too close to the street and it is noisy.

So no more 216 for us. We’ll just have to stay elsewhere next visit.

Shower? Glass is good.

The tub has served as a closet for hanging clothes this trip

Or maybe you can hang your coats on this thing in the hall

Of course, Japantown is great and the Buchanan is hip and well located. Staying here is always a good thing.

Green tree view

216 does not suck. But pretty not bad is not good enough.

Yeah, we brought the violin and even managed to play some music with our friends in Oakland.

Some data from San Francisco. Sweet Maple is a great place for breakfast and so is The Grove. For a real Japantown meal, try to find Kui Shin Bo.

Dinner at Flour+Water is just as fantastic as ever. The Progress is, likewise, a very good place to eat (and unlike its sister next door, you can walk in).

The Dando from The Progress
1 oz rye
.75 oz amaro angelino
.5 aperol
1 oz meyer lemon juice
.5 oz pear shrub
shake. up. large cube.

Cocktails at Wildhawk are highly recommended.

This time three showerheads for the Buchanan’s failed Tetris game. No more games of chance for NPS. 2018 is gonna be interesting.

There’s nothing like experiencing a new Kimpton property for the first time. In all of our countless trips up to NY, NPS has never visited Ink 48 (though we have heard tell of it). Hell’s Kitchen is pretty far up there, but sometimes business uptown happens!

Our greeting at the front was warm and welcoming even though it was supposed to be scary. We were assigned the fantastic river-view suite 1416 (for which we thank Steph and Barry). What a great room.

Room 1416 on a gorgeous day overlooking the Hudson

The sitting room section.

The bedroom section.

And the all important huge bathroom with a distinct shower cube in the corner. Plenty of room in here, and no sign of plastic.

Glowing shower cube of 1416.

The “hot and cold” amenity was impressive and delicious.

Dinner at Taboon is not to be missed. Outstanding bread, delicious food, a real cocktail program, a nice wine list. Seek it out. We enjoyed ourselves so much before the play that we returned after the crash.

Spirits Bisbas
1.5 oz hendricks gin
1 oz rhubarb puree
1 oz lemon
.5 oz dry vermouth
shake. serve up in a coup. smoked paprika on top

We tried to see a play at Lincoln Center, but it was not to be. About an hour in to “Junk,” technical things went south and never recovered. Frankly, we expect more out of NY Theater.

The “hot” part of the amenity came in handy late night when we got back from our cocktail run at Taboon.

Five showerheads and a warm glow for ink 48 in NY.

Hotel Christiania Teater

We’ve been here before at the Hotel Christiania Teater, even in this very room (number 620), so we knew what to expect. And it was good.

Room 620 is a large suite with an interesting layout that takes up the cupola of the building. The shower does not suck.

620 sitting room

The cupola

Oslo in the distance

Large comfortable bed

A view out the back cupola (yes, there are two sets of windows)

The extensive bathroom with multiple sinks and heated floors.

One of the best parts of the hotel is the breakfast. A generous spread with fresh squeezed orange juice. Sadly the espresso grinder broke down on day 2.

Breakfast buffet

The orange juice machine

The bad downstairs from reception is very capable. Many good cocktails thanks to Barbara and Martin, including this variation on a Hanky Panky.

A Norwegian Hanky Panky
3 cl gin bareksten
1 cl sweet vermouth mancin
1 barspoon bitters Gotlands “fernet”
2 dashes angostura
stir down. serve on a large cube.

And of course Oslo is a great city to visit. The Vigeland Sculpture Park is striking at night.

Two dinners out could not have provided more contrast. The first was a family run fish place with home style recipes and local beer. The second, Om Restaurant Klosteret, was world class food and wine. Both were delicious.

Om Restaurant Klosteret

Cocktails at Himkok were great, even if we did have to leverage ourselves in the door and into a proper booth.

Mezcal or aquavit? Why not both

Himkok back bar

The still at himkok

Five showerheads (and a new espresso grinder) to Hotel Christiania Teater.

Of course, the best was yet to come:

 

A view from the trail