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Our first foray into the city was not that long ago, but was directly impacted by COVID when both stars of Plaza Suite were infected.  We went to see Hangman instead, an OK play, but not really all that.  And then it was back in Virginia for the advent of the Spring green.  Were some of us disappointed?  Why yes we were.

So, soon enough we were back in the city to take another crack at Plaza Suite do some business on the side.  The original plan was to fly in Saturday evening, so we booked a room at the Muse, one of the Kimptons of yore.  Bottom line: the IHG takeover of Kimpton is complete.  These days, the lobby of the Muse seems to be filled with aging midwesterners who have accumulated enough IHG points by staying at many Holiday Inns that they are splurging on a trip to Broadway and the big city.  Kimpton is hip no more.

Times Square remains a Disneyfied tourist attraction and a traffic snarl.  That’s nothing new.

The Muse does retain much of its old staff, and that is nice.  But its computers are corporate and the wiggle room is gone.  So our request of room 1703 was ignominiously ignored due to the fact that we expanded our stay to two nights instead of one (really with plenty of time for the hotel to adjust) and didn’t feel up to switching rooms halfway through our stay.  That leaves us surly and disappointed.

Somehow I think we ended up accumulating lots of IHG points due to all of this.  But guess what?  NPS does not give one shit about IHG points.  None.  We just want really great rooms for our cash money.

Plus it rained the whole time, so 1506 was not all that it’s cracked up to be what with a soggy balcony.

It was great to see Madou.

The rain made business in Brooklyn interesting too.  Traffic was a thing.  Our visit to One World Observatory for dinner was hilarious with zero visibility.  LOL.

Finally we ditched the tail and ended up at Katana Kitten for some real fun (thanks to Jacques for the pointer).  I mean, check out this before and after!

Before Katana Kitten

 

After Katana Kitten

Things were blurry.

Thankfully the canary extracted us before the blurry things got much farther out of hand.  They did get far enough though, and Saturday morning was hard.

Returning to 1506 after a night on the town?  Nah.  The Muse days are over.

At least the shower is NPS approved.  A very nice one.

After recovery, we visited the Guggenheim for a Kandinsky fix.  Ahhh.  That and ramen will do it every time.  It was a glorious afternoon.

There are times when ramen can save your life

After a nap that stretched on just a little too long, it was dinner at Junoon.  Highly recommended.

Breakfast at Banter (the original one south of Washington Square) is fantastic.  The mushrooms are worth talking about.

All dressed up and ready for Plaza Suite

Now it’s time to see the play and then scoot to EWR for a quick hop home.

Four showerheads and a demotion for the Muse.  We miss our Kimpton.

 

 

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).

It all came together just about perfectly. A morning talk at Georgetown, a nice dinner out (sadly not at Rose’s Luxury), cocktails at the Columbia Room, and then the highlight of the weekend, attending the inspiring March for our Lives. Our base of operations was the commendable Palomar DC (a Kimpton).

Turns out that our friend Matt Hurlburt (once of the Alexnadria Monaco) is now Director of a bunch of DC properties, including the Palomar. And Harald Han, as assistant GM, is running the ship day to day. The front desk staff is as professional, courteous, and great as always, remembering us from our time at the Lorien and from previous visits in the mosquito. This is a great thing!

We finagled our way into 1024 (again), a gorgeous room at the very top of the hotel. Nothing makes us wag our tails like the Presidential Suite (though, we agree with Jacques that maybe they should change the name of it for now until the #assholeinone is impeached and out of office).

palomar 1024: yes please

The shower is NPS approved.

bed room 1024

extra bathroom

the usual mess

An amenity of cheese, fruit, and a cocktail arrived with a note from Matt just before we headed out. Very nice. Thanks you guys!

We spent the mid-afternoon wandering around Dupont and getting a coffee. Then it was off to try our chances at Roses Luxury. When we arrived at 5, the line was already way too long. We could have been seated at 9, but instead went to plan B, a dinner at Convivial (in Shaw). The food and cocktails were great (as was the company), but the service was terrible. Super nice, and caring, and about as unprofessional and useless as possible. Can’t win them all.

Then came the booth at the Columbia Room, always just an incredible experience. If you have not yet made it to the Columbia Room, do it. Make sure to do the tasting room and go for the entire experience.

A late night drink at the Urbana bar was just what was needed for a good night’s sleep.

The next day we headed in to DC for the March for our Lives rally. Incredible. So proud of what the Parkland kids have done. Keep it up and we will change this country for the better!

After some great ramen at Jinya and a chance encounter with our neighbor Harry, we headed back to the Palomar to retrieve our car and our bags.

It was chaos. And the reason why turned out to be that the kids from Parkland had been staying at the Palomar as well. They boarded their bus to fly back to Florida as we hopped in our car. Amy got a hat from Emma’s mom.

Five showerheads and a hope that our next visit is just as incredible.

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.

New York is a fantastic city to visit for any reason or no reason (and this time we had a reason as you will see). The Eventi, because of its location, makes a good base of operations. Thing is, after having been to the Eventi many times, the place still feels corporate and soulless and the property seems to have no recollection or any memory at all of NPS stays. Not sure why.

This time, NPS was doing the complicated free night reward thing. The Kimpton twitter fairies did a formidable job shaking loose a free night at the Eventi and then did what they could to combine the reservations. Which meant we were able to stay in the same room for our two days running. That was good. The no maid service until explicitly requested in the afternoon? Not so good. The Eventi front desk even turned off the keys requiring a trip downstairs. Service much? Nope. Strike one.

We were assigned 2217. This “city view” room is on the south side of the building and has views down 6th Avenue. You can see both the Empire State Building and Freedom tower from the room. The view is very nice.

The Empire State Building in purple for NYU Graduation

We arrived late at night after one of the worst United Express flights ever. It never ceases to amaze NPS just how bad United can be when it is bad. Commute air should not be flying props in 2017. Sorry. Just no reason.

Having an amenity in the room with a personalized note and two tiny bottles of sparkling water was nice. Later on night two we had to order up our own water for $26. Inner circle people don’t like that nonsense. Strike two.

Greetings

Dual view, South and East.

New York is always pretty at night.

2217 is all one bed dominated room

The bathroom is nice but not too fancy as far as the Eventi goes. The room category NPS usually stays in has better showers.

Shower 2217

Up early, we headed to Yankee Stadium for NYU graduation.

Cum laude!

NY was exceptionally hot as was the stadium!

After our sweltering morning in the direct sun, we changed scenery by chartering a 41 foot sailboat and sailing in NY harbor and up the Hudson. Awesome!

No fun was had (at all)

Dinner at Il Buco was fantastic as always.

Day two featured a great brunch at Cafe Orlin.

The plan was to switch hotels after brunch and before the second graduation ceremony. Sadly, the drunk driving incident at Times Square had traffic snarled by the Muse. We hopped the subway uptown.

NPS is very sorry to say that the staff at the Eventi was entirely unhelpful in arranging to get our bags taken to the Muse (during a 7 hour window). We were forced to come back at 9:25pm and pick them up after dinner. Good hotels do better than this. Minus twenty Eventi staff! Strike three. And you’re out at home plate.

We did manage to find one very helpful bellman who stashed our champagne in the employee fridge. Now that was creative and a huge help.

Radio City

So you see, the Eventi has this corporate bureaucratic approach that just grates and causes a constant barrage of swings and misses. The staff seems friendly enough, but impersonal. The lack of a creative, helpful solution to a pretty easy bag moving problem is telling.

The Eventi’s stylish open restaurant and lobby as well as its prime location almost makes up for the IHG (not very Kimpton) feel, but not quite. Three showerheads and a mandatory training program for the Eventi.

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.