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Oh the Kimpton of yore, how we miss it.  After the IGH acquisition, the properties have gone completely corporate.  No brand left at all.  No personality.  No staff that loves their jobs.  So sad.  Our last two Kimpton attempts in NY sucked (see https://noplasticshowers.com/2022/10/17/quick-hit-in-nyc-hotel-indigo-is-very-corporate/ and https://noplasticshowers.com/2022/05/08/back-in-new-york-the-muse-hotel-ihg/).

But the good news is that some of the properties have the old magic.  Like the Zelos in San Francisco that used to be the Palomar.  This was once one of our favorite hotels.  And maybe it will be again.

We remember fondly talking to Mike Defrino about adding good bars to the properties (using Bourbon and Branch as one of the examples of what people will pay for a cocktail).  Jacques Bezuidenhout was hired, and Dirty Habit was born under the direction of Brian Means.

We remember the battle of the Palomars.

At what os now the Zelos, we were assigned 712 (which is a nicely renovated version of a room we’ve stayed in back in the Palomar days).  Great room.

In fact, enough space to conduct a zoom meeting with multiple attendees in the same room. (Don’t ask.)


The bathroom could be bigger.  But it works.  The shower is over a tub, but the nice glass doors make it all OK.

Though we arrived late, there was time for a slightly adjusted Boulevardier before bed.

And then a Cloudbreak (from Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Philly).  This is still a magical cocktail.  Make one!

Though it arrived late, a welcome note did arrive (along with a nice bottle of wine that I gave to madou since I was not checking my bag.  Thanks for that Ben!

This is not your usual hotel art.  Love it.

Breakfast at Cafe de la Presse is always recommended.  At the Chinatown gate.


And for fun?  How about Wildhawk, followed by ABV, followed by the Good Good Culture Club all with a bunch of great friends?  Yes please.

So, a Negroni or a Breakfast Negroni??  Jacques, which should it be?


Maybe Suzu (who has become quite famous, aparently) knows.

While at ABV, tequila (or mezcal).

Thee guys…

Good Good was very good.  What a treat to be in San Francisco for 32 seconds!  Merry Christmas all.

Five showerheads and a big thumbs up for the hotel zelos.  Looking forward to returning.

Way back when, I stayed in the Estancia La Jolla MANY times for MANY years.  I have some very fond memories of my time there.  Since we were on a quick hit to Qualcomm, it was time to revisit and see how things are going.

The Christmas Nisse was present at the front desk.  My dude, you are a long way from Norway!

The thing about room 390 is that it is generic.  But the other thing is that the construction is substantial.  Heavy, wide doors.  Things that keep noise out.  It’s true that the architecture is boring, but it is also built properly to last.

Sadly, the shower tub thing.  But the tub is low and is very wide.  Nonetheless, the hotel needs to put in some glass.

Could be anywhere. Get this, there is a clock!  LOL.

But its not!  It’s La Jolla.  And there is a balcony.

Even in December, everything is green.

A fantastic after lunch coffee post meeting.

And possible one of the worst Negronis ever.  The airport bartender measured mediocre ingredients just so and then added a shot of Angostura!  LOL.  What?!  We had a chat.

Extruded ice.  Shitty gin. A dry peel improperly squeezed.  And an extra shot of bitters.  San Diego airport Negroni.

 

Anyway, four showerheads and warm Christmas thoughts for Estancia La Jolla.

The Lowry is a business hotel of reasonable quality in Manchester, England.  It rains every day.  Manchester is a cool town.

 

Room 223 at the Lowry is a nicely spacious hamster cage that is just fine, thank you.

Though the shower could use some water pressure and the HVAC system is a disaster.

The view is nice, but short.

Florence will break her foot kind of putting a major damper on the whole thing.

On a rainy evening, head on over to Home and see a movie.  If you’re lucky it will be as great as the Banshees of Inisherin.

Do some retail in the center.

Have breakfast at Côte.

Have dinner at 20 Stories  (which sports not only a great view, but an excellent bar).  Get Lisa to come up.

Visit Chinatown (open all night).

But maybe skip the Cloud 23  at the Hilton.  No skill.  Just view. (We went so you don’t have to.). An attempt at a CR#2 was just, well, just.

This cocktail should be renamed the “Lavender Yeah No.”

And by all means don’t go to the Lowry bar unless you must.  (And just for the record, sometimes you just must.)

WTF?

We did make them try an industry sour.

 

Finally, sort out your ride to the train station the night before.  Manchester traffic is a thing when it rains.  And it rains!

We’ll be back when Florence heals.  Can’t wait to do some dancing in Manchester.

Three showerheads for the Lowry.

Well, there may not even be showers.  And people may steal your boots (accidentally?!) overnight.  But where else are you going to hear a folk story accompanied by live music recounted by Solbjørg Kvålshaugen?  Or run up an impressive bar tab for your 20th year festivities??

We started the night before in Bergen (maybe?).

And then got motivated in the morning and headed up into the mountains towards the Hytte in Tyinkrysset.  On our way, we took a detour to Fondsbu, arriving just in time for the last dinner of the year.  Here’s how Gøran describes it, “If you remember the ski trail we followed along the water last winter. Well, if we follow that road to the end, we get to a place called Fondsbu. They have their closing dinner on Saturday 8th with entertainment and live music.”

A stop by our favorite bakery in Norway.

The best way to spend the drive?  Definitely if you are a teenager.

We arrived and staked out our rooms.  The rooms are very basic and tidy with sinks and bunks.  It all feels like a ship cabin (especially after a bunch of rum).

Eidsbugarden

Dinner was delicious and communal.  Reindeer filet and some red wine.  During the festivities, the moon arrived (one day from full, still waxing).

The dinner marked the opening of winter (and the closing of the summer season).  The live music was great, even though this song is not at all about Norway.  It’s about boneheaded racism.

 

We partied late into the night, meeting mountain men, musicians, and hotel hosts.  Much fun was had.

The boots disappeared.

Late the next morning after fortifying ourselves with some porridge, we headed to the Hytte.

An incredible experience, about as Norwegian as you can get.  My only regret is that I failed to bring my fiddle along to play.  I guess in 20 more years, I will get another chance.

More post-COVID business travel in 2022.  Trondheim, Norway is well north of Bergen and Oslo, situated on a Fjord, and is the home of NTNU where NPS was participating as adversary for a Ph.D. defense.  That meant travel was dictated by university policy.  Fortunately, breakfast was included.

In case you have forgotten what Norway is like, here is a video.  About the same geographic size as California, Norway has only 5.4 million people.  It is a gorgeous country.

Flying in to Trondheim is always an adventure, as you have to stop off in Oslo for customs and then brave the winds at the Trondheim airport.  One poor old lady on my flight was literally screaming in fright as we made our approach and landing.

The great news is some of our good Norwegian friends were in town to greet us.  Our first committee meeting was a very nice dinner out at the cozy Fagn bistrot.

The Scandic chain has done nothing to improve post COVID.  A middle tier hotel chain on par with Marriott in the US or maybe Hyatt, Scandic pays more attention to their common areas and meeting rooms than they do to their actual rooms.

The Scandic Nidelven does boast the “best breakfast in Norway.”  And the spread is actually quite good (and equally crowded).  So go for the breakfast!  I got two breakfasts in while in town.

The shower in my room (423 I think) looked something like this.  Distinctly uninspired, yet functional and not plastic.

Views from the breakfast room over the Nidelva canals are very pretty.

In one minor wrinkle, my suitcases followed me into town by a day.  That meant borrowing a coat and a dress shirt from friends just to stay warm and presentable.

 

The defense itself was interesting and fun.  We minted a new doctor!


After which it was time to celebrate.  First with a large dinner at Rive Gauche a droite (LOL) and then for some late night cocktails at the Britannia.  The hotel has undergone major renovations and now has a world class cocktail lounge fittingly reminiscent of its London cousins.

We had to sort a major travel SNAFU on the way to the cocktail bar (NPS does sometimes drop packets, but we also bring along our credit card to buy entirely new packets…and sometimes a router.)

 

The next day a public talk at the university on Machine Learning Security was in order.

After lunch with the faculty (deeply interested in MLsec), there was a very short window for some tourism in Trondheim.  The Rockheim museum is almost worth a visit..if you go with the right attitude it can be silly and fun.

The Trondheim sense of humor is even visible in the cafe signs.  “probably the best espresso in the world” (more LOL).

 

After a parting Negroni at the Scandic bar (inundated with business types having a cocktail before their conference dinner), it was off to the airport to wait several hours for a quick flight to Bergen?

All in all, three showerheads for the Scandic Nidelven.  Like the headline says, go for the breakfast.

 

 

What was to be a long weekend in the city shrunk down to one night when business did its usual thing of melting away.  NPS stayed on the lower east side on somewhat of a whim.  The verdict?  Meh.

Thing is, Madou had no idea that we weren’t in midtown.  So we shlepped up there for sushi at Sushi by Bou.  Which was hilarious and definitely worth the subway time.

The place is tiny, so make a reservation.  Immediately after coffee, it was back downtown for our meetings, and then back to midtown for dinner at Freemans.  Dinner was great.

But skip the rice pudding fad!  LOL.  Ride pudding is way too filling to catch on.

After dinner, the plan was to wedge into PDF, but the hot dog place was being its persnickety self.  So instead we headed to Amor Y Amargo for some fantastic cocktails.  We made up an experimental cocktail called the McGillicutty.

The Indigo was generic and boring.  All of the Kimpton magic has dispersed.

The shower is not plastic.

The lower east side is close to some stuff, we guess.

NPS doesn’t remember the room number.  Not returning.

Back to EWR you go (in an early Uber).

The United club is all new and fancy, but the flights are still delayed.

All told, three showerheads and no more strikes for Kimpton.  Anybody have a good boutique hotel chain to offer?

 

 

Do you speak English?  Do you fancy (or maybe, like, if you are American, “like”) sitting by the pool when it is 100 Fahrenheit degrees outside?  Are you a hipster, or maybe hipster inclined?  Perhaps hipster curious?  Then this is the place for you!

The fact that this place had rebranded itself to CoolRooms Palacio de Atocha from what was most likely Palacio de Atocha before says a bunch.  In English.

The pool rocks.  Just come for the pool.

We’re having a grand old time by the pool.

Our room is 40.  Maybe it is a “junior suite” or some such.  The room is built into the top floor attic.  It’s pretty hot in Madrid still, and the A/C is having some issues trying to keep up.  It does OK if you close all the windows, shut your eyes, and try to be invisible.

The room is nice. Hipsters dig it.  There are USB ports in random locations.  There is a bluetooth doohicky for music.  Right angles are rare. There are two copies of everything but the toilet and the makeup station in the bathroom.

Two copies!  Romey can take a cold shower while I take a hot one.  Simultaneously.

\

There is a note from the GM with some yummy items.  This is so hipster that NPS felt instantly at home (but add an email address so we can ping you Señor GM).

We’re just swinging back out of Spain tomorrow and still moving slowly.  So time by the pool with too many Negronis is just what the Doctor ordered.  Doctor Feelgood, is that you?

Oh it IS doctor feelgood.  Yay!

Before we got here there was no graffiti in the furniture pile.  We fixed that.

…do dee do deeee do…

Dinner at Los Porfiados was very good indeed.  Fernet and Coke for the win.  We were the only English speakers in the place.  And, frankly, we should have spoken Italian.

Do you know how to make a fernet and coke?  There is THE WAITERS WAY (which is wrong) and there is the way they do it in BA.  Do it the BA way.

We will deface your napkin.  A cute hack.

Honestly, the empanadas here are the best I have ever had anywhere.  Just wow.  The veal was good too.

On our last day in Madrid, we bought some stuff and we had some drinks by the pool.  It was perfect.

Five showerheads and an upgrade to Spanish plus some more powerful A/C units for the CoolRooms BestRooms YouAreNotWorthyOfTheRooms Palacio do Atocha.

 

 

 

We came to Spain for an in person meeting—our first encounter as a group since COVID struck the planet.  High bandwidth.  Full of energy. Intense and productive.

The meeting was organized by the best of professionals who discovered an excellent location in the Pestana Plaza Mayor, a refuge in the heart of the tourist zone which manages to avoid most (but not all) of the Disneyfication of Plaza Mayor.  The location really couldn’t be better for first timers to Madrid.

The Pestana is squarely in four star category, like right smack in the middle.  This kind of hotel is perfectly suited for its demographic.

Our arrival process in Madrid was definitely a let down after all the rumors of long lines at customs, COVID QR codes, and lost luggage.  The QR code that took so much effort to secure was not even glanced at in the blue lane.  Our plane was first in. Customs took less than 2 minutes.  Our luggage arrived within 5 minutes, barely enough time to get our bearings.

About the only challenge at arrival was the absolutely cocaine-addled Serbian taxi driver who insisted on aggressively hauling ass through Madrid, unceremoniously dropping us off at the wrong corner past the hotel and insisting on being paid cash.  Anyway, we made it in quick.

So quick, in fact, that we were way way way too early to check in.  We were offered a shower in the (common) spa area.  Which was OK if you don’t mind other people stopping by while you are in your underwear.  The spa was very hot and not properly cleaned and cared for, but the showers work.  Management could do with a better solution to offer early arrivals a more civilized welcome.  FWIW, this problem happens all over the world.

Somewhat freshened, we crossed paths with a colleague just in from Chicago and sought out some espresso and juice for breakfast.

The irony of having an intensely good tiny espresso and some fresh squeezed orange juice just next door to a generic Starbucks was not lost on us.


We stopped in at the Mercado San Miguel for some tourist-priced street food and made our way through old Madrid.  Finally it was time to check in.

We were assigned room 117, a superior room in a classic hamster cage design (nothing like a rectangle with some strategic mirrors).  This room is too tight to spend a week in (more about that to come), but it is fine for a day or three.

The superior category rating comes from the balcony which overlooks Plaza Mayor.  All of that seems awesome until the fourth or fifth night of listening to the hack “musicians” loop through Hit the Road Jack or the Disney princess medley accompanied by a Casio soundtrack on accordion.  Someone should invent a pandemic that wipes out the accordion players in one fell swoop.  The most amusing part of the street music problem is the cat and mouse game they play with the police.

The view from the balcony is excellent.  It is hot as the Dickens in Madrid this week, with temperatures above 101 Farenheit every day.  The breeze through the balcony door is hot.  The A/C in our room is almost up to the task.  Almost.

The shower in 117 is fantastic.  Glass. Lots of hot water.  Plenty of room to get clean. 100% NPS approved.

Lunch with the team from the company we’re advising was incredible at Sa Brisa Restaurante en El Retiro.  We started at 2:30 and finished at 5.  Very Spanish of us!

The rooftop pool at the Pestana is a long skinny rectangle maybe a lane and a half wide.  It is unlikely that the Madrid summer olympics will be held here anytime in the future. But the water is refreshing and the beer is, well, beer (don’t tell Markus).

After this excellent start, a major setback in our trip happened on day one.  After receiving an email from NH about a positive COVID test among the people I was on stage performing with, I decided to test myself in the morning even though I was pretty much asymptomatic.  One positive test result later, it was isolation time and worry for my partner who was also well exposed by that time.

We are still in isolation and recovery mode.  By now I am almost fully recovered and plan to retest tomorrow.  My partner is still in the heart of it (though she has never tested positive we are treating her as if she did).

Anyway, the pretty much constant view became this as the table was shifted over to the balcony door for a day long zoom meeting.  AUGH!  Honestly, I know we are all done with zoom by now, but imagine being fully prepared to chair an in person meeting full of great people from all over the world and then being relegated to zoom less than 200 yards away from the actual meeting.

Lets just say we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trapped in 117, venturing out to walk the city in the evening once or twice, remaining masked and socially distanced.  Eating room service food, take away pizza, and breakfasts fetched by whichever one of us was the most healthy.  Masking even in our room together.

The hotel has been a very good base of operations, the staff accommodating to the highest degree (we are being very careful and mindful of them), and the interstitial time long and full of nothing.  We even streamed 21 grams one night.

Speaking of which, the room TV/Internet tech all needs to be replaced here.  It is old and it does not work with modern gear.  Good luck making it stream anything.

We are existing on Spanish time, getting up late, lunching well into the 4pm hour, and eating after 10pm.  Can’t wait until we can do that with other humans.

A special breakfast salad brought up for consumption.

A socially distanced Negroni. This plaza (Plaza de Santa Ana) was filled with packed restaurants at 9:30pm.  We asked for a table far from everyone, and had our first proper Negroni of the trip.  We were hoping that would cure us.

That night it was ice cream and potato chips for dinner.

Incidentally, our room is on the first floor above the plaza the bottom right of the lighted doorway square.

Great take out pizza can be found at Pizzamascalzone.

Have an Aperol Spritz…if you can find one.

Be a human.

Walk madrid.

Finally, a word about the common areas of the hotel.  The grand stairway leading to the Plaza Mayor (and to the breakfast room).

Breakfast is excellent.  Having it in the breakfast room and hotel restaurant would be nice.  But so far, no dice.  Fortunately there is Paula.  Paula helped arrange for special treatment for my partner during a number of breakfasts this week.  She was the most helpful and friendly person we encountered.  Be like Paula.

 

We did finally venture out (carefully, slowly, and fully masked) to do some shopping at Paloma del Pozo and to see some art at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.  See our blog entry here.

And we greatly enjoyed an in house Aperol Spritz conjured up by Paula.  (See Aaron?  We fiigured it all out.)

There is obviously much more of Madrid to see.  Until our next visit!

All told, four showerheads and escape from the global pandemic woes for the Pestana Plaza Mayor.  Can’t wait to experience Madrid properly.

 

 

Ah Kimpton, you’ve become so corporate.  Such a great hotel chain ground down by middle management cost cutting and the boredom of crank turning.  Dang.  We remember the old days, yes we do.  They are never coming back.

Anyway, getting to Texas on United was not so bad even in double masks.  The flight was very sparsely populated, though it is a longish one.  Austin is a great city to visit.  Or is it a town?  Kind of hard to tell.  Here’s the story of our brief stay at Hotel Van Zandt.

The only pair of actual cowboy boots at the hotel when we were there happened to be ours.

First of all, IHG has forgotten everything about what NPS likes.  Just for the record, we like high floors, certain kinds of pillows, and rooms with no plastic showers.  We have also become accustomed to welcome notes from the GM, delicious amenities, sparkling water, and sometimes even a craft cocktail greeting us in the room from a barkeep hired by Jacques.  Not this time.  Even though the Kimpton twitter dwarf (they used to be fairies, but corporations) was given the heads up, not one bit of prep was done.  Kind of astonishing, really.

So NPS paid a pretty penny for an excellent king spa room with a view, and was given a plastic bottle of water at checkin by the Assistant Manager who had obviously not read our secret file in preparation for our arrival.  Hell, there probably isn’t a secret file anymore.

Room 701 is a great room style category.  But the floor?  Not a high one.  The amenities and water?  Nope. And the “lake view” is mostly a dusty construction site surrounded by homeless encampments.  Seriously.  Every city we’ve visited lately has a massive housing problem.  What is wrong with this country?

The bathroom was awesome.  Great tub (which we used a bunch) and a nice glass shower.

Not plastic

 

Tub with a view (that cuts both ways)

 

Sink area

The king size bed is surrounded by a bank of windows on two sides.  The view will one day be better.

Given our late arrival sometime just after 8pm, we headed for a drink to Geraldine’s on the fourth floor.  It was a Saturday night and the unmasked Texas crowd was dense.  After ordering an outstandingly made Negroni (what ice!  what ingredients!) we opted for dinner.  Dinner was delicious, service was smart and snappy, and all was well with the world.  There was a band.  They were OK.

Negroni featuring Botanist gin and Antica Formula vermouth…a house favorite

 

Behind the glass

Sadly the restaurant was not open for breakfast during our stay.  Instead there is a starbucks knockoff cafe on the ground floor with a microwave.  Not the sign of a great hotel, guys.  Frankly, the place feels more like a Marriott than a Kimpton.  No human touch and no magic.

Sunday was devoted to fun without a plan.  Brunch at Fixe was absolutely stellar.  Great Bloody Mary’s and cinnamon roll biscuits.  Fantastic food and friendly Texas service.  We took our time.

Bloody Mary of the highest caliber at Fixe

 

Hard to describe how delicious this was

 

The famous deviled eggs

 

Shrimp and grits with some garlic kale and a poached egg

In a great mood and in weather befitting Spring (60 degrees), we headed to South Congress for some idle shopping.  Our only real destination was Heritage Boot Company.  Though we got no pictures, we did manage to pick up a knife for my kilt and three pairs of handmade boots.  We even had a margarita of sorts with “Mr. Avocado.”  Great people, great boots, and a down home Texas vibe.  (Thanks Kimber.) NPS hears tell that once you buy one pair you are on a slippery slope to ten.  We shall see.

View down Congress toward the state house

 

Coffee and people watching at Jo’s Cafe

We did manage to singlehandedly support the American economy with our credit cards.  And then it was time for a margarita and some music at Half Step.  The margaritas are on tap.  We were served by Nick Cage himself.

And that band.  Three blind fellows joined by two sighted musicians and a heap of funk.  These were real Austin professionals.

Have a listen for yourself.

 

 

About the time we extracted we were late for our dinner reservation at Canje.  Dinner was excellent.  The jerk chicken was hotter than hell.  The drinks were fun.  The vibe was casual.

Seated at the bar (our choice)

 

An emergency clothespin

 

Jerk chicken that will blow your mouth off

Really it would be hard to ask for a better Sunday in Austin.

Monday was a work day with a working lunch at Qi.  Get the soup dumplings.

Part of the late afternoon meeting happened at the Proper hotel.  This place is interesting but just a little too artificial after an hour in the lobby.  The music loop may kill you if the extruded ice doesn’t.  Dinner was slated for upstairs at la piscina ceviches and fajitas.  Our hosts are enamored with their fajitas.  They were (as Sammy says) pretty not bad.

The highlight of the evening Monday night was a quick stop by the Roosevelt Room.  What a place.  Cavernous and somehow still intimate.  Superb cocktails served with whimsy and great care.  One of the top bars in the world for sure.  NPS had a paper plane (with a paper plane) and a Liberal.  Yup.  Amer Picon in the house.  We seem to have lost our party all night energy during the pandemic, especially after a full day of working in person.  So we’ll have to go back.  Thanks for the hospitality Justin.

The paper plane with a paper plane

 

Yet another emergency clothespin

 

The list is first class

 

A Liberal in Austin

Well, Austin, we will definitely be back.  We’ll probably buy some more Heritage boots.  We’ll definitely have a few more drinks at the Roosevelt Room.  But we’ll stay at the Driskill.  Three showerheads for the Hotel Van Zandt where you get what you pay for (and nothing more).

What a difference a pandemic makes.  Having been to Bergen many many times (13??), NPS was pretty skeptical about the hotel situation.  But lo and behold, while we were trapped in the United States, a new hotel opened up and not only is it a good one, but it also houses the first Michelin star restaurant in Bergen.  A great combination!

We stayed in room 440 which was a “loft suite.”  I think in the future we would choose another type of suite, but we were in the hotel for just a few days before joining our friends at their house for the weekend.

Hotel Bergen Børs from the street

The hotel is situated in an ideal location in town.  Close to the touristy old town, a few hundred steps from the funicular, 8 minutes from the train station, and close to the museums.

Bed in the loft

The electricity situation in 440 is confusing (at best) and difficult to use.  Took me 2 days to figure it out.  This makes waking up to head down the steep stairs to the bathroom a challenge if you don’t want to awaken your partner.

The very steep stairs