Platinum List 2018: Best City Hotels

Faena, Hotel Café Royal, Hotel Emma, The Peninsula, The Upper House

September / October 2018
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These establishments consistently provide five-star excellence in the world’s great cities.

Faena

Miami Beach, Florida, United States

As the first hotel designed by Baz Luhrmann, the Faena lives up to the extravagance of the Australian director’s films, featuring a fantastical kaleidoscope of elaborate prints and novel sensations. Peppermint-striped umbrellas dot the pool deck, a gilded skeleton of a woolly mammoth by arist Damien Hirst occupies a beachfront lookout, and, in the feline-themed Living Room, a chandelier flickers whenever lightning strikes the Argentine Pampas. In the three years since it opened, Alan Faena’s brainchild has easily become one of the city’s buzziest spots.

Hotel Café Royal

London, England

Since it opened in 1863, the Café Royal has attracted luminaries of the time, from Oscar Wilde to Winston Churchill, Brigitte Bardot to David Bowie. Early in its history, owner Daniel Nicols enlisted his cousin from Burgundy to stock its wine cellar, which was once considered the greatest in the world and today boasts an extensive list with a focus on French regions. In 2012, British architect Sir David Chipperfield unveiled a sweeping restoration that transformed the former restaurant into a luxury hotel, ushering in sleek, modern touches to rooms and suites while adapting this Grade II-listed building to the 21st century. Naturally, architectural details such as gilded boiseries and carved stone moldings reflect its 150-year history.

 

Hotel Emma

San Antonio, Texas, United States

Long before the Hotel Emma was awarded AAA’s Five Diamond designation, the 146-room hotel was the site of the Pearl Brewery, which hotel namesake Emma Koehler successfully ran after her husband’s death in 1914 and, through her ingenuity, survived Prohibition. It finally closed in 2001, and the next year interior designers Roman and Williams were tasked with preserving the 1894 buidling. An enormous bottle capper transformed into a chandelier and brew tanks converted into seating areas at the bar are some of the quirky touches that allude to its past. Books from San Antonio writer and historian Sherry Kafka Wagner can be found in the wood-paneled library. Reserve the grand Emma Koehler Suite for its double-height floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning views of the San Antonio River.

The Peninsula

Shanghai, China

Soaring over the Huangpu River with sweeping skyline views, The Peninsula is the newest building in the historic Bund district in more than 70 years. Though this 235-room hotel opened in 2009, its opulent, art deco interiors, soaring pillars and gilded chandeliers evoke the glamour of the city’s storied past—even the indoor pool area features a deco fireplace. The only hotel on mainland China with two Michelin-star-rated restaurants, The Peninsula also incorporates an upside-down room at the clandestine Salon de Ning, where a portrait, bookcases and other decor are whimsically anchored to the ceiling.

The Upper House

Hong Kong, China

The moment I step inside the elevator at the entrance of The Upper House, I realize something is amiss. An urge forged from years of living in Hong Kong’s frenetic furnace has me searching for the ubiquitous “close door” button, desperate to avoid wasting precious seconds.

But I’m foiled. Instead, I find a gap where the button should be—a subtle hint that relaxation is the priority here. As the doors close and we ascend, I can’t help but smile and enjoy this moment of enforced calm.

Such touches are precisely how The Upper House, which occupies the top 13 floors of a 50-story tower in Hong Kong’s gleaming Admiralty financial district, enacts its brand of “relaxed luxury.” The phrase was coined by André Fu, the Hong Kong-based interior architect who oversaw everything from the furnishings and artworks down to the customized signature scent (ginger and verbena). Hallmarks of Fu’s refined style include symmetry, clean lines, neutral tones and luxurious natural materials such as marble, oak and bamboo, as well as the use of sculptures and installations as focal points—even in the bathrooms. Of course, the fact that every room also boasts large windows overlooking Hong Kong Island and Victoria Harbour doesn’t hurt: “The views of the city are quite spectacular, the rooms are extremely comfortable and the service is more than perfect,” says jewelry designer and Platinum List expert Eugenie Niarchos. “They make you feel better than home.”

Fu, freshly graduated from the University of Cambridge, had never undertaken a hotel project when he won the commission. Since the property opened in 2009, he has become one of Asia’s most sought-after designers.

“I hate to use the word ‘minimalistic.’ ‘Pure’is a good word,” he explains of his creation. “‘Relaxed luxury’ implies not the notion of the big chandelier and so on, but rather the essence of calm and comfort.”

Alongside the exquisite design, the 117 studios and suites at The Upper House also offer that most premium of Hong Kong luxuries: space. At 730 square feet, the hotel’s Studio 70 is the biggest standard room available in Hong Kong, with the two largest penthouse suites measuring a palatial 1,960 square feet. The spectacular bathrooms are another key feature. 

“We dedicated half of the room to the ritual of changing and bathing, which is very unconventional,” explains Fu. “We could have done three rooms, with a living room and a bathroom adjoining. But when a guest is awake, where do they spend the most time? They need a place to sleep, and a place where the experience [of bathing] is desired after a day of work.

“A lot of the grand hotels in Asia follow a certain formula—arriving at a grand lobby, a ballroom, five restaurants,” he continues “It’s very much the Asian high-end hotel matrix. We are trying to focus on what guests actually want.” 

To that end, the small ground-floor lobby of The Upper House is little more than a welcome desk. Upon arrival, guests are guided up one of the city’s most photogenic escalators, into the oh-so-serene elevator and through the stunning 10-story-tall atrium, before conducting a swift paperless check-in within the room. The hotel gym is compact but offers every machine you could need—as proven by Britney Spears, who posted a video of herself working out during a recent stay. There’s only one bar and restaurant, but an evening at the atmospheric Café Gray Deluxe, which offers contemporary European cuisine and views from the 49th floor, is a must. 

Ultimately, the sheer simplicity of The Upper House provides its singular appeal. “I’ve learned that less is more,” says the hotel’s general manager, Marcel Thoma. “And just stick to things you do well. We don’t do banquets, for example, because we’re not good at it. We don’t have the space. But we can try to deliver superb service. And that’s what we do.” —Anna Cummins

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