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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.

Sure is fun to be back at a top notch hotel where they know you: email banter up front, warmly greeted at the front desk (even by the super nice newbie manager guy), allocated a great room, dropped sparkling water and everything. We could get used to this. Oh wait, we are used to this! Kimpton rocks.

It’s Chicago high

727 is not a high room (nor it is the rumored artist’s suite) but it is a great room with an outstanding shower.

Chicago low from 727

727 in

727 out

Amenity with a personal note

Sitting room

Perhaps this showerhead is new. It is nice.

In Chicago there is no time for sitting down or for benches in the shower or anything relaly.

Superior glass cube.

A cocktail at Sable was in order and a Chicago pizza pie.

Special NPS announcement: Chicago deep dish pizza is pizza!

Now for some doughnuts at Glazed and Infused.

Maybe it is time for another battle of the Palomars??

This super quick hit in Chicago involves a rental car we do not need, multiple meetings, and and early evening flight out. Who needs art? Heck, who even needs dinner?? But what we do need for sure is a great morning shower, and we got that at the always five star forever Palomar. Thanks you guys.

NPS has not been to the Palomar in Philadelphia for a while—six years! So why not. (Just between us, the Philly Monaco takes the win when it comes to Philly. More about why below.)

What’s happened in the last six years at the Philly Palomar is some renovation and some aging, both seemingly in equal parts.

Thanks to Abby Raymond’s magic, we find ourselves in room 2102 which is an exec suite of sorts (but on the small side and with a noted lack of design pop). The bathroom is great, however the rest of the room needs some work.

Did we mention the bathroom? Its great.

Lets start with that.

Yes please. A HUGE bathtub IN the shower. This one is a Kimpton record.

The view from the shower/tub combo package is nice. And you can leave the shades up if you feel like flashing the world while scrubbing your hair.

The hot tub IN the shower.

View from the shower (not the one through the huge window).

Obviously, NPS approves of the shower situation in 2102.

But then there is this view from the door.

Hamster’s view into the room. Nope.

You can see the dated couch thing in the background. Design. Design. Design.

The ’80s called and they want their TV pod thing back.

So the TV pod? Probably used to be nice in some previous decade. We no longer worship the TV. Stop it.

Water damage obvious. Time to haul this thing to the dump.

The rest of the room is small and very gray.

Nice bed. That goes without saying.

Anyway, the shower is nice.

Philly is nice too. After scarfing down a cheesesteak at Jimmy G’s it was off to Friday Saturday Sunday for some world class cocktails. Philly’s outstanding cocktail kung fu persists to this day. Make a point of visiting Friday Saturday Sunday. NPS liked it so much we went two days in a row. Thanks to Alec and Sasha for making Wednesday fun and Paul for the icing on the Thursday cake.

The Cloudbreak is a fantastic cocktail invented by Paul MacDonald who runs the bar program at Friday Saturday Sunday.
1 oz bonal
0.75 oz bols genever
0.75 oz lemon juice
0.75 oz simple syrup
0.75 oz heavy cream
egg white
dry shake. ice. shake. serve up. grapefruit peel + cinnamon

And glass shape does matter. Make sure the foam has a delivery mechanism with each sip.

On our Thursday return, we tried a brand new experimental cocktail by Paul that remains As Yet Unnamed
1 oz mezcal (del maguey vida)
1 oz lime jiuce
1 oz eden orleans herbal (a vermont aperitif cider)
1 oz buddha’s hand, juniper steeped syrup (no heat but 1:1)

Delicious. Paul is a master.

In other Philly news, skip Rouge. Too trendy and a lackluster wine list.

Maybe we just miss Tom Stoppard (it was great to meet Abby though). Four showerheads for the Palomar in Philly.

storm_mini1

After a salubrious summer respite from travel, it’s back on the road in a serious way come mid-September. This is good and it’s bad. Let me explain:

1. Washington, DC = GOOD because Kimpton (The Donovan)

2. Boston = BAD because United; GOOD because Kimpton (Hotel Marlowe)

3. Bloomington, Indiana = BAD because United; GOOD because Grant Street Inn

4. NY = BAD because United; GOOD because Kimpton (The Muse)

5. Chicago = BAD because United; GOOD because Kimpton (Palomar)

6. Palo Alto = GOOD because Virgin America; ??? because new hotel

7. Seattle = GOOD because Virgin America; GOOD because Kimpton (Alexis)

8. Pittsburgh = BAD because United; GOOD because Kimpton (Monaco)

9. Denver = BAD because United; ??? because new hotel

10. Las Vegas = BAD because United; BAD because Las Vegas just sucks

11. Hartford = BAD because United; ??? because new hotel

Anyway, we can conclude that flying United is unavoidable when you are stuck flying out of Dulles. Too bad United just sucks. At least the cross country flights are mostly with Virgin America!

We can further conclude that Kimpton is a fantastic hotel chain.

And finally we can conclude that Las Vegas is a living hell, equal parts Disney, porn, and Walmart shoppers.

At each destination, we’ll seek out great cocktails and fantastic food.

Follow along as we blog up the 11 trips. Should be fun.

A rose

A rose

The Palomar in San Fran is home away from home. Been staying here for years. One of my favorite Kimpton properties in a city I have grown to know well. It is great to be greeted by the door staff and front desk staff who know you by sight.

A fish

A fish

902 is quite literally one step (or story) up from 802. Looks familiar and Palomar-y. Thanks to Christopher Smith for getting everything arranged during a very busy week indeed. This town is packed with geeks.

Welcome to RSA week, with a note, massive hunks of cheese, and fresh flowers

Welcome to RSA week, with a note, massive hunks of cheese, and fresh flowers

We really appreciate the flowers, but we’re gonna have to explain why FTD arrangements don’t work in modern design. Simple lines are always better.

We will be hosting a number of meetings during the RSA week, so it is great to have room to do that.

902 sitting room

902 sitting room

902 sitting

902 sitting

902 bedroom

902 bedroom

And of course there is the usual big giant bathtub and the ’80s parent’s shower. No plastic!

Big ole tub in 902

Big ole tub in 902

The 902 shower is in better shape than 802, but could be upgraded to a glass cube.

The 902 shower is in better shape than 802, but could be upgraded to a glass cube.

RSA week is always intense and long, and having a home away from home to return to (though the respites may be brief) is great. Five showerheads for the Palomar.

Guarded by gorgons

Guarded by gorgons

In other San Fran news, annabell’s is great as usual but is slated to close for renovation soon. This is one of my prime meeting places.

And as always, Cafe Claude is the best place for lunch (French style) in all of San Francisco.

I was lucky enough to visit Dirty Habit three times this week. The first drive by was with some of my friends in the tech press who, lets just say, had a big head start on cocktail hour. Raul Ayala served up an invention of his called the Date in India:
1.5 Herradora Blanco
.5 lime
.5 luxardo
.75 spicy tamarind puree (hmmm)
.25 all spice dram
This is shaken and then strained over the rocks. The coup de grace is a dehydrated orange slice liberally spiced with paprika, cayenne, and sugar floated on top.

Congrats to Raul for placing a nicely designed beverage on the list at one of the best bars on earth! We returned late night with a group of 40 or so after a dinner at Perbacco. The bar kindly accommodated our group. Excellent bourbon and some more Dates in India.

Also spent a bit of time at BDK, a new Kimpton bar and restaurant on Geary. The bar is good but a bit noisy and open for my taste. It feels just a bit too much like a meat market. Had some nice cocktails that could have used a bit more attention to measurement detail.

I returned late night one night by myself to see Mr. Brian Means himself. It’s always a pleasure to sample his delicious masterful cocktails. The bar was busy at crunch time, but everyone backbar (raul, crystal, and brian) took time out to chat and hang out. Such a pleasure.

Thursday madness approaches. Fasten your seatbelts.

Stop three in the college and the arts tour was UC Santa Cruz, followed by a drive up 17, through silicon valley on 101, to San Francisco. The arts was an especially magical set of Beethoven Quartets played by the Elias String Quartet.

Which means we went from coastal nature to the city and all of its culture.

Live oak: UC Santa Cruz

Live oak: UC Santa Cruz

The Pacific: UC Santa Cruz

The Pacific: UC Santa Cruz

We arrived at the Palomar in a flurry around 4ish. They were more than ready with a classic welcome. So nice to return to such a great Kimpton property where we know them and they know us. We were assigned 802, a beautiful suite with substantial room to hang out and no plastic shower.

Fresh flowers in 802

Fresh flowers in 802

Walter the fish was present (hey Hilton, look, the fishy is real).

Hi Walter...blooop...blp...

Hi Walter…blooop…blp…

802 SF Palomar

802 SF Palomar

802 SF Palomr: this folds out to a bed

802 SF Palomr: this folds out to a bed

The unused big giant bathtub

The unused big giant bathtub

A reasonable shower

A reasonable shower

There was not much time to decompress before we were due for a pre-concert dinner at SPQR. Dinner was interesting, quirky, and delicious. Of particular note, the dessert was fantastic all around.

Then Beethoven.

A nightcap at dirty habit sealed the evening (though we really missed having Mr Means around). Brian, there is substitute for the real you!

The lesson in the “Palomar delta” between LA and SF is personal connection. People make all of the difference in the hospitality business. Thanks Christopher Smith for making it happen properly on this quick hit. See you in 20 days for a longer stay!

More than five showerheads for the Palomar in San Francisco, one of my few homes away from home.

UC Berkeley Massive Group Tour

UC Berkeley Massive Group Tour

It's college and the arts! Get ready for this.

It’s college and the arts! Get ready for this.

UC Berkeley Fossil Collection on High

UC Berkeley Fossil Collection on High

Bear in the Sky: UC Berkeley

Bear in the Sky: UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley: Massive Group Tour ][+

UC Berkeley: Massive Group Tour ][+

Next up, Colorado.

When properly motivated, NPS is about as loyal a traveller you could get. Note that this behavior is less motivated by rewards than it is by habit. NPS knows what it likes in a service company and it knows where to go to get it (and where to avoid going to not get it…hah parse that). Once we find what we like at NPS, we go over and over again back to the well.

But when things go south in a loyalty relationship, NPS does not shy from corrective action. Just trawl the United airline entries here and see what we mean. After 1,590,963 miles on United (ten years as a 100K flyer), Jeff Smisek’s terrible operational leadership finally squandered and squeezed every iota of loyalty out of NPS. So what did we do? We pledged to fly any other airline possible in 2015. And we’re doing it (thanks Virgin America! Jet Blue! Delta! American!). For the record, Virgin America seems a bit surprised by just what a business traveller firehose of cash looks like!

NPS is run by capitalists—the kind of capitalists who remember who has the money, who is paying for the service, and how capitalism is supposed to work. Woe to the business that forgets this, because at NPS we mostly vote with our hard cash (oh and we tweet sometimes too).

Loyalty programs are a nice perquisite of abundant travel, but as mentioned above, NPS never choses a hotel chain, airline, or rental car organization for its loyalty program. Accumulating frequent whatever status is just a side effect of habit.

Given all this, it is high irony indeed when a theoretical “reward” associated with a loyalty program screws things up in a loyalty relationship. Consider Hertz. NPS chooses to rent only from Hertz because price differential in rental cars is completely arbitrary and, most important of all, remembering which flavor of car you have rented takes cycles we don’t have to spare. If we have a rental car reserved for a trip, we don’t want to dig around in our stuff trying to remember which company it is. So it’s Hertz for NPS.

A side effect of always renting Hertz is membership in the super gold plus “presidential circle” which as far as we can tell is utterly meaningless, oh, and accidental accumulation of points. Recently NPS looked into the points reward thing to get a bunch of cars lined up for the #collegeandthearts tour. Multiple free cars on multiple legs is great and makes us feel good! But wait, you wanted a convertible to take one way from LA to San Fran up the Pacific coast with your son? Well that will cost you more! You see your “free” reward involves a generic car type that you don’t rent by default. Talk about squandering loyalty capital, Hertz did it in spades! To make $300 in short term revenue Hertz chose to made NPS unhappy, crumpled up all the loyalty and threw it in the trash can by the door. That tradeoff is just ridiculous if you think about it. So, yes, NPS will spend the $300 bucks, but we may also switch our business cash spending hose to Avis.

Instead of “stickiness” the Hertz loyalty reward has led to brand “slipperiness.” FAIL.

What prompted this tirade was some Kimpton behavior that NPS does not approve of involving its loyalty program. Read the entries here and you will see that Kimpton has NPS right where it wants us. We love Kimpton. If we are in a city with a Kimpton, we thank our lucky stars and stay there. But do we do it for the inner circle status or the rewards? Nope. We do it because we abhor plastic showers, terrible hamster cage room design, and Disney-world-Walmart-shooper consumers (in precisely that order). Plus over the years we have come to know many Kimpton GMs and executives and we are pleased to count them as friends (I’m talking to you Joe Capalbo, Steph Vogel, Jacques Bezuidenhout, Brian Means, Chris Smith, Matt Hurlburt, and Mike DeFrino! You guys rock.)

In fact, back when the Kimpton loyalty program first started, NPS provided lots of advice to the setter uppers, most of which was operationalized. A compliment/complaint to Mike DeFrino long long ago regarding training 14 properties about NPS habits one at a time (and its relationship to arbitrary leadership from different GMs) was met with a fantastic solution. NPS was inner circle back before there was such a thing, and watching Kimpton build such a strong chain and associated brand has been a joy.

Then there is the rewards system, which should be icing on the cake, but somehow misses the mark. Just for the sake of repetition, we stay at Kimpton to see our friends and avoid plastic showers. So when we get a reward night at a new property what would we expect? Certainly not a plastic shower. NPS is not in it for the free night, heck, we have plenty of money. We’re in it for other reasons. A generic rewards program that ignores that fact does so at its peril. Give us a free room with a plastic shower and watch us become upset.

A quick aside on social media is worth a few words. Part of Kimpton’s brand strength comes from decent use of social media. But Kimpton needs to make sure to engage just as well with the hard lessons of dissatisfaction as they do with happy happy back slapping bonhomie of people who don’t travel much. NPS will aim its pea shooter in whatever direction it pleases and hopefully make the world a better place for spoiled travelers in some way. Better pay attention!

What does NPS do when unhappy? Is this all about social media and rampant complaining? No not really. NPS votes with cash when push comes to shove. So brand managers, here is a lesson for you: do NOT let your rewards system squander so much loyalty capital that you cut yourself off from the cash flow river.

The good news is Kimpton has a store of plenty of loyalty left in the lake, so there is no danger of NPS jumping ship anytime soon.

OK enough of that. Dismount.

Now on to College and the Arts hotel number 2, the Palomar in LA that got all this thinking started. NPS has sent spies here, but we have never been here ourselves. Usually, a first visit to a new property is a joy. This time, not so much.

Do tell, we hear you saying…

Wine hour in the packed lobby

Wine hour in the packed lobby

We arrived from the arts part of the day (at the LACMA) right at wine hour. Optimal! Free wine is a great Kimpton perq. The lobby was abuzz and there was even a DJ and a long line to check in.

At the front desk they told us we had been “upgraded” to a special room. But if room 1020 is superior, this property needs some work. You see, we have stayed at many a Palomar over the years and we expect way better than a gussied up hamster cage with a plastic shower. Yes, Kimpton, you have created a monster. Please just do your homework before we get there.

1020 at the Palomar Los Angeles is supposedly an upgrade?!

1020 at the Palomar Los Angeles is supposedly an upgrade?!

Anyway, our reaction to 1020 is “this sucks,” which frankly is not the reaction Kimpton is probably looking for what they dole out a loyalty reward?!

A plastic shower at Kimpton's Palomar in Los Angeles

A plastic shower at Kimpton’s Palomar in Los Angeles

As NPS readers know, we spend endless hours avoiding plastic showers. The worst variety is the kind with the bent out obesity-friendly shower curtain bar designed for Walmart shoppers. Here’s a picture of what we can’t stand.

PLASTIC SHOWER. Look at that light shine off the curtain.

PLASTIC SHOWER. Look at that light shine off the curtain.

So we called down and let the front desk know about the plastic shower thing. They were stymied because all of the glass showercube rooms were taken. BUT I MADE THIS RESERVATION MONTHS AGO IN 2014!!! Here’s the deal with loyalty. Track us all you want, but read the dang computer file and do some planning. Assign someone to read the blogs of inner circle people before they show up at your property and see what makes them tick. Free? Not us. Glass shower? That would be it.

We did say when we called down and had a chat about the room that they would hear about it. And so we took to the twitterz where we were met with cricket chirps and resounding silence from the crack Kimpton social media team who seems to have been on break for 14 hours. That meant we needed to find the GM, which we are doing in a different thread.

We’re looking forward to a chat with Rob Hannigan who has been ultra responsive so far. NPS is confident that things will resolve nicely because Kimpton is about the best there is.

Oh, and the water was still. So we went and bought some San Pellegrino ourselves when we joined friends in Topanga for dinner.

A Kimpton all time low two showerheads and an upbraiding for the Palomar in Los Angeles on this trip. You can do better Kimpton.

1020 a room with a view (and a plastic shower) at Palomar LA

1020 a room with a view (and a plastic shower) at Palomar LA