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After a false start in the Sydney Hilton hamster cage category, we upgraded ourselves to a Relaxation Suite. This was a GOOD MOVE! Thanks to Callan at the front desk for making the whole thing go smoothly and for cutting us a sweet deal.

Apparently there are 16 of these rooms on the property. If NPS is stuck in a big corporate hotel, this is the kind of room we want. 2925 is big enough to stretch out in. Comes with exec level perqs (free breakfast, cocktail hour, concierge service, etc). A completely different universe from “free conference room” category. Yes please.

2925 suite

Hey look, room to breathe!

The furnishings are sturdy and nice, and the shades are all automated. Lots of room to work and play.

The sitting room with a nice desk

Powder room

The bathroom is huge with a gigantic tub (probably never to be used) and a very nice shower that has so many control options we’ve only figured out half of them over the last two days.

Four of the five shower nozzles. The drench head (not shown) is superb.

This huge tub comes with a city view

Visit the botanical gardens!

Spanish helmets

After a nice long walk through the city on our first day, we had a quick pizza at Macchiato. The pizza is better than the service (friendly though inept), and we won’t even mention the bartending. There has to be better pizza in Sydney.

Watson Bay ferry dock

Day two was spent ferrying over to Watson Bay, walking the bridge, wandering the Rocks, and buying way too much product at Aesop.

You can’t leave Watson Bay without consuming mandatory fish and chips

The gap

The Aesops store is in here somewhere

Dinner at Tetsuyas was world class. Very expensive but very very good indeed. Bite the bullet and overpay for dinner.

A negroni with homemade sweet vermouth (cherry). Delicious.

Day three is a rainy disaster, good for getting up late, processing some bits, a nice Thai lunch in the very weird Holy Basil, and some coffee at Doppio.

Before dinner, we stopped in at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. A very powerful video piece on the Palm Island uprising was the highlight for sure.

MCAA

MCAA

MCAA

MCAA

Dinner at Aria was solid. Excellent views at a great table, delicious food, and very good service.

Aria Sydney view

We also went to see a (bad) play at the Sydney opera house. Yeah, probably not the best theater location in the city, but it was the only thing on. The actors were great, the set was creative and high tech, and the writing may once have been good too, but it has aged poorly. What is billed as an “iconic masterpiece by Nobel Laureate Patrick White,” A Cheery Soul is more like a cartoon from long ago. It was fun to do, though.

The next day we did a say trip to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Highly recommended even though the train ride is long. (See a blog entry here.)

Then it was a mad dash through the city in order to shower before dinner in the best restaurant in Australia. That would be quay. Though we were grateful to sneak in with a last minute reservation, we were not satisfied with a table in the “annex” (which seems to be a thing in Sydney). Dinner was remarkably great, but childre’s table treatment is just wrong when you are paying so much money.

View from the children’s table at Quay

We opted for the “drinks” pairing which was really excellent. Not just wine, but beer, sake, fortified spirits, cocktails. A great idea done in an outstanding fashion.

Negroni with QQQQ Pillars gin (a hack from four pillars for Quay)

Here are some pictures from the dinner. World class. Outstanding and well worth a visit.

Quay

There was not much time to explore the cocktail scene in Sydney what with all of the fancy Negronis we had in some of the best restaurants on earth. We did at least pop over to the Lobo Plantation for some nice tiki-style cocktailing after a group dinner. Lobo Plantation was hopping and much fun.

Lobo Plantation is a great bar

Fernet and coconut cream based cocktail (with a side of fernet of course)

CR#2

Did these stairs get curvier?

We’ll have to leave these other bars unexplored for now (including the (gasp!) marble bar at the Hilton which we never made it downstairs for): Bulletin Place, Old Mates Place, Shady Pines, and Hubert.

Here is a view of the sunset from the really cool “window in the mirror” from the suite.

Sunset at the Sydney Hilton

Five showerheads for the Sydney Hilton Relaxation Suite product. Recommended.

Right, so we flew from New Zealand which was pretty much of a paradise to a big city in Australia on purpose. That’s how it goes sometimes! Fortunately, Sydney turns out to be a great place for a look around.

We must say that the so-called “partnership” between United Airlines and Air New Zealand is utterly useless. No star alliance perqs here. Just middle seats in economy. Not impressed at all with the Air New Zealand experience. Global services my ass.

Anyway, we arrived and cabbed basically across town to the Sydney Hilton.

Any loyal reader of NPS knows that these kinds of big, industrial hotel chains are not our cup of tea. But we’re here on business and the hotel choice is out of our control. The Hilton is a nice property and it is centrally locaded, so that’s all good.

On arrival, our room category (which I believe turned out to be the “crappy” category) was not available, so we went and got some ramen. The front desk staff was helpful and friendly about the delay. Thanks SooYeon.

Ramen at Yasaka Ramen was authentic and delicious, but super heavy. Be forewarned.

Ramen in Sydney

When we returned about an hour later (after coffee at Doppio which we highly recommend), our room was ready. We were assigned hamster cage 2203.

Lets just be cheerful about the whole thing and call it “cramped.” We have so much stuff in tow on our 25 day trip, that there was not even room to stash our luggage.

No room for walking in 2203

This is as far away from the bed as the camera can get. LOL.

The bathroom is likewise very tiny.

But the shower was at least glass!

If you are a hamster or some other kind of tiny rodent, this is the room category for you. Sure it’s free. Yup.

Two showerheads for the “crappy” room category at the Sydney Hilton. Just don’t.

Fortunately, after a walk around the botanical gardens, we ambled right back into the lobby and switched ourselves up to a Relaxation Suite. Apparently there are 16 such rooms available on this property. For more, see part two!

The Bayfront Hilton in San Diego has exceeded NPS expectations and set a new record for Hilton goodness. Lets see why.

One view from 2935

One view from 2935

The other view from 2935

The other view from 2935

Getting here on Virgin was very good indeed and a huge step up over united. On time, relaxed, room to work, wifi. You go Virgin.

Room 2935 is a hamster cage design, but it has two banks of windows with a gorgeous view of the city. A very nice room indeed.

Windows in 2935

Windows in 2935

From the door 2935

From the door 2935

And the shower is glass. NPS approves.

Hilton has a glass shower.

Hilton has a glass shower.

One of Kimpton’s fun hacks is putting a fish (usually named Walter) in your room for your stay. Hilton is trying to go there by putting virtual fish on the TV. Not quite the same.

And now some good things and bad things about this Hilton.

Real hangers = good

Real hangers = good

iPod dock = good Power by bed = good

iPod dock = good
Power by bed = good

Water for sale = bad

Water for sale = bad

All in all we’ll give this hotel four showerheads, which is a definite step up for a major chain. Most excellent!

In other San Diego news, El Dorado bar has seriously great cocktails as well as a bunch of antique collection bourbon and rye on hand (real Stagg from multiple years for example). Brionnie Briem made a superb and masterful Sazarac (with Sazarac 18). The experimental cocktail she whipped up was only meh, but hey you can’t have everything!

Experiment
2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
t of fallernum (too sweet!! too sweet!!)
2 dashes Angostura
lemon zest

Lou and Mickey’s is still a great place for a steak. Amazingly, they can handle a group dinner of over 20 without a hitch (perfectly cooked everything). Well done chef!

The secret speakeasy Noble Experiment is an oasis of hip in San Diego. Superb entrance, great skull decor, and best of all seriously good cocktails. My spoiled cocktail geek friends and home brewers all loved it.

We were served by Jesse Ross who was happy to play. Though my friends started with a Nevada (nice to see that on the list), but I went straight for the fun.

Pine and Rye
2 oz sazarac 6 rye
.25 oz sapping (a piney French concoction)
.75 oz Dolin’s dry
heavy dashes of Pernod Absinthe

This drink was so similar to what I have been drinking at home lately (the old 48) that it was a shock! Serve on a big cube with a healthy slice of orange peel. Boozy deliciousness.

Non-cyn Thriller
1.5 oz Whistle pig rye
.75 oz Port
.75 oz Campari
dashes of Chocolate Mole Bitters

We ended the evening with some 2014 George T Stagg. Hotter than the last couple of years, but something unbalanced about it.

The evening was just super fantastic. Do not miss Noble Experiment if you find yourself in San Diego.

What happens when you drive down to the Stick? You have to stay at the crappy Hilton in Wilmington, NC. Um, yay? Here we are again. But we must say that this room 829 is better than the junior suite from years past. Only three of us crammed in here this time.

Nice view on the river side. If you like WWII battleships especially.

Boat.

Boat.

The hamster cage persists at the Hilton. Nice to finance Paris’ nonsense.

Please pick a cage.  They are all the same.  This one is 829.

Please pick a cage. They are all the same. This one is 829.

Two tiny beds.

Two tiny beds.

Please make yourself small and comfortable in this bed.

Please make yourself small and comfortable in this bed.

The other half of the room.

The other half of the room.

Of course the shower is plastic. And the sink is curvy.

Yuck.

Yuck.

Anyway, screw this Hilton and its awfulness. On to the rest of Wilmington (which is a delightful little town for the most part.

First we stopped by Circa 1922 for some average cocktails. They make a mean French 75, but their ice needs work. We made the most watery Corpse Reviver #2 ever and followed that with a drink w/o ice.

French 75
1 oz gin (London dry)
brown sugar cube
.5 oz lemon juice
champagne to top
Mix the first three ingredients and add champagne in a flute. Lemon twist.

Dinner was at the not so cleverly named “The Little Dipper” fondue restaurant. Meh. My parents made way better fondue in the ’70s.

Never fear, though, there is a cover band called the “Breakfast Club.” They played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Ah. What more does Wilmington need?

No stars whatsoever for the Hilton. They should burn this place down and start over. But tomorrow is the Stick.

This hotel is very nice, especially if you are a lady of a certain age.

But they have fatal flaws. Lets list them just for fun.

FLAW 1: They apparently do not have a computer. So they have no idea that I like the “high 03” room category. In fact, they seem to have no idea that I have been here before at all. Hey Hilton, everybody else has computers these days and CRM systems. You should get one!

FLAW 2: Maybe they are trying to save money, because if they charged themselves for Internet access on the computer that they don’t have, they would go bankrupt. There is just no excuse for no free net in 2013.

Argh.  Internet, water and oxygen cost $$ at the Conrad.

Argh. Internet, water and oxygen cost $$ at the Conrad.

FLAW 3: There is nowhere to plug in your ipod here in room 1021.

This speaker no ipod jack.

This speaker no ipod jack haveth.

When I checked in, the checkin woman at the front desk seemed put off by my pointing out that they should have a computer and know what kind of room I like. (The hotel is overrun by Canadians from Eli Lilly in for a sales confab who apparently took all of the good rooms.) Oh well. She was not friendly at all. Then the room keys failed multiple times. But super friendly Jacob Barnes did what he could to salvage the situation. Jacob to the rescue! Good work Jacob, you should get a job at a better hotel chain.

But wait, there’s more.

FLAW 4: At exactly 3:15am this morning, some carousing party animals showed up on the 11th floor above my room. They made huge amounts of noise until 4:15am. Rude yes, but they were drunk and having a good time. Hotel management remained blithely unaware. I tried to put a pillow over my head.

Here is the rectangular bliss that is room 1021.

1021 is tight but well appointed.

1021 is tight but well appointed.

No more showerheads for the Conrad Hilton. Next time I am in Indianapolis, I plan to try the Alexander.

Never fear, all is not lost; the Libertine is still just down the street. Superior mixology and excellent fun, even when overrun by Canadian pharmaceutical types.

Barman Randy Gray kept his wits even while under complete deluge. Even Chef Paul got in on mixing drinks (which was kind of a riot to watch). Randy made time for this experimental beverage which we will call the ho hum (it still needs work)
1 oz hum (too much)
.75 cynar
.5 montenegro
.5 fernet branca
.5 lime
Absinthe rinse on glass. Stir down. Strain.

I have never heard tell of a drink with such a crazy variety of bitters. And it was almost good. We’ll see what we can do to make the ho more respectable at the home bar.

Bacon flight: 3 types, jowl, duck, regular

Bacon flight: 3 types, jowl, duck, regular

Bacon flight. Nuff said.

This posting written and posted over a cell phone wireless net.

Well pickled okra anyway. In a martini. At circa 1922 which is a pretty good restaurant in Wilmington, NC, but nowhere near as good as they think they are. (The Dixie Grill is still the best thing in town.)

Okra martini (pickled) from Circa 1922

Okra martini (pickled) from Circa 1922

Okra beats this.

Rectangular building paying homage to parking lots and puddles.

Rectangular building paying homage to parking lots and puddles.

But you already knew how I felt about the Wilmington Hilton. Somebody build a real hotel down here!!

Preferably one without bathroom consoles like this.

Curvey.

Curvey.

One showerhead for Wilmington Hilton. Only stay here if you have to.

Hiltons? You can have them all. But if you have to come to Indy, you might as well stay at the Conrad. It’s the highest most five-star link in the Hilton family, and it has everything required by the moneyed graying class.

CIMG0360

Room 1503 looks strikingly familiar. But this time I had to pay to get upgraded to a suite. Alas. No Hilton kung fu in noplasticshowers land.

Bed room is separate from the...

Bed room is separate from the…

sitting room.

sitting room.

or the couch

or the couch

Nice shower cube with a very strange shower head device thing.

Glass cube good.

Glass cube good.

Weird shower head?  Not so much.

Weird shower head? Not so much.

No free net. No free water. No free upgrade. The Conrad is hereby demoted to three showerheads. You guys can do better than that!

Stick it in the bathtub.

Stick it in the bathtub.

Hopefully a visit to the Libertine next door will lift my spirits. Well something about spirits anyway.

Indeed, we concocted a Hum Cocktail as follows:
1.5 hum
.75 Lime
.5 Angustora
.5 Campari
top with soda

The Libertine is a blast.

You're not in Kansas, Toto, you're in Indiana.

You’re not in Kansas, Toto, you’re in Indiana.