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We’ve made quite the habit out of holding an annual data crunching summit at the Lorien. Third year in a row. And third time’s a charm.

Helped out by Kimpton/IHG big shot Steph Vogel, we secured a great working space and a bunch of rooms. My room was 611, the presidential suite. Thanks Steph!

Sparse but interesting porch 611

611 is nicely appointed, with almost too much room to spread out. The decor has been updated and is very nice.

611

An amenity was very nice (needed some crackers and silverware tho). The personal note was a great touch too. Nice to be back.

yup. thanks Lorien peeps.

611 includes a separate bedroom with a closet and many windows.

The bathroom is pretty far away from the bedroom, but it has a two-headed shower that is huge with a bench at the end and room for ten.

Looking in

Looking out

One of the highlights of our trip was a meal specially made for us by chef Sebastien Rondier. Chef Sabastien is from southern France, and his cooking reflects that. Absolutely delicious. Best duck a l’orange I have ever eaten. Thanks chef, for the fantastic meal. And thanks Steph for the great idea.

Chef Sebastien presents his fantastic duck

The menu, designed exclusively for us

Fois gras

Delicious Vichyssoise, very thick and served Dutch style over caviar

Peaches, goat cheese, and pine nuts

Here’s that duck again

The servings were generous, to say the least

Though we were full and very happy, dessert was incredible. The cherry tart was out of this world. But so many other delicious things.

That tart back there looks simple and is just fantastic

caffeine cake, LOL

If you get a chance to have Chef Sebastien create a meal for you, take it. A great evening.

Then there was work.

Everyone loves work

On our second evening we headed into the city, mostly targeting the Columbia Room for another visit. Somewhat by accident, we ended up dining and Kinship, which was world class and excellent. Impeccable design. Great service. Tasty food. Great Wine. Boy was that a good find!

Roast chicken (give it 70 minutes…worth every second)

Pork and beans

Caviar and potato chips

The two block walk to Columbia Room was easy. Shaw is so hopping. Though we had a great time at Columbia Room in the usual booth, we were not blown away by the summer cocktail menu. Much fun was had.

Summer menu.

pretend funnel cakes

Though served in a plastic cup (a keepsake), this cocktail is delicious

the pearl

Maybe we were so blown away by Kinship that we were not properly prepared for the Columbia Room. Love that place, but this visit was not as stellar as usual.

In any case, for a week in “no fly July” this visit to DC/Alexanria was pretty not bad. Five showerheads and 10,000 compliments to chef Sebastien at the Lorien.

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.

Well, Cambridge actually. But close enough. NPS has not been here in many months (since October 2016), and apparently we missed it.

The Hotel Marlowe reminds us of everything we like about Kimpton:

  • a great property with our kind of showers
  • a gracious and welcoming staff (especially the great valets)
  • a welcome cocktail
  • a beautiful room(s)
  • GMs who care

It’s all good. Sure is nice to be back.

Thanks to Joe Capalbo for alerting the troops, and to the troops for giving a damn. Lets spread this goodness to the rest of the IHG universe, shall we?

This time we’re in 825 (tantalizingly close to the Presidential suite). This exec class room is perfect, with plenty of room to exist, a comfortable bed, and a real shower.

825 sitting room

825

825 bedroom

We were welcomed with a note, water (almost sparkling, and promptly swapped out), a nice snack including fresh fruit, and a cocktail ready to mix put together by Patrick. Speaking of which, we visited with Patrick for a drink, and he is still at his professional best.

English cup

The shower in here has a new showerhead. NPS approves.

yes please

There is also a huge tub that once again remains completely unused. Alas.

big giant tub 825

On the first night in town, we took a cadre of business colleagues to Craigie on Main. This is one of our favorite Boston restaurants, and it is still super fantastic. Pork plate. Pork plate. Pork plate.

On the second night, after a cocktail with Joe, we headed to a new restaurant called Row 34. The staff at the Marlowe figured this all out somehow and called ahead to order an appetizer for me. It was delivered by the gracious Row 34 manager. Row 34 is very good indeed. Recommended.

The it was off to Drink for the usual shenanigans. Pretty sure the late night tequila shots were a bad idea. Ezra Star is now the manager of the bar. Sadly she was in Japan when we visited. Eric the barman, though fairly new, was an ample substitute for fun.

Here is the Meal Worm, which is apparently verboten to make unless Ezra is in Japan
2 oz ancho reyes
.5 oz demerara
.5 oz lime
(4 dashes of tobasco+mezcal rinse)
rise highball. Shake. Strain. Serve neat.

Five showerheads and wishing that somehow the future involved slightly more Boston and slightly less Germany. These things happen.

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!

Ah, The Muse. Last time we were here it was too short and about as good as they come. This time was very similar.

Night view from The Muse room 1703

We figured out that 1703 is the room number of the room we like (because lucky dogs that we are, we snagged it again). What a shower! Sadly, we were all by ourselves this time. (Thanks Ray Mannon for your magic.)

1703 anteroom

Thanks for the amenity, especially the two LARGE san pellegrinos

After way too much korean food at Gayeon in Fort Lee, NJ, there was no room left for even one wafer thin slice of cheese. The sparkling water was perfect, however.

Gayeon was solid Korean in a suburban mall kind of upscale NJ space. Why is it that all of these restaurants in the ‘burbs feel the same? We had a blast watching the completely wasted couple one table away try to cope with reality.

desk nook 1703

bedroom 1703

looking thru the “takeout window” into the bathroom

SHOWER NIRVANA

NPS loves the shower in 1703. Yes on all fronts. Even has a bench. Sadly, the city of NY decided to turn off the water somewhat arbitrarily in the morning. We got a shower, but always under the threat of ending up all soapy. This is a bummer, and we must return.

This quick trip was so fast that there was no time for cocktails outside of the restaurant.

There is very good news about being Global Services on United! First class upgrade on the way out, and a free efficient switch to an earlier flight on the way back. We even managed to get a seat that did not suck. NPS approves of Global Services.

Uber on the other hand needs to get a map of NY and commit it to its computer’s memory.

Five showerheads and a fervent wish that NYC would get their utilities act together. Thanks to The Muse for a quick but nice stay.

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.

This California in December thing seems to be a trend now that NPS works for a silicon valley company. What that means is a week-long delay in the start of our annual no fly nöel thing.

So how did 2018 stack up? Well the tripometer was up year over year after many years. And most of the travel was international. This year we visited:

  • London (twice)
  • Inverness
  • Stuttgart
  • Neuremberg
  • Tokyo
  • Kyoto
  • Oslo
  • Sardegna
  • Malta

Lots of time outside the confines of the broken United States and its Orange Caligula of a “President.”

Here’s the graph.

The annual tripometer. Trips are up for NPS.

Because of all of the international travel, we had some interesting impact on loyalty programs. It’s not even clear we’ll make inner circle this year at Kimpton (horrors)!

Other than the “not really Virgin America” we have no loyalty anymore for any airlines. Treat them all the same and let the chips fall where they will. Use money to “upgrade” by starting out upgraded. My my how things have changed.

A direct comparison of international business class shows United has the best service. Here are two examples.
Delta
United

Anyway, time to stay home by the fire for a while.