Monday, February 18, 2008

Sophisticated, relaxing, not a touch of lace.

An unusual city deserves an unusual hotel. For Boston, that would be the Onyx Hotel. The ten story edifice in the Bullfinch Triangle isn't your average beige cookie-cutter room and a bed you'll find in almost every city of size in America. It's something different and new, geared specifically at the male traveler.

This Kimpton property is one of three managed by the company in the Boston area (the Marlowe in Cambridge and Nine Zero on Tremont are the others). It was designed by Group One's Lynn MacMurty, with architect Harry Wheeler. The 112-unit hotel features whimsical designs such as bright red furnishings, black and white checkerboard patterns, and locally furnished artwork.

The Onyx Hotel and Ruby Room have been operating for the past four and a half years. When it came time for Klimpton Hotels and Restaurants to place a lodging facility in the area, they chose a lot on Portland Street, for its proximity to a large number of male-centric sports bars and to the Banknorth Garden (formerly the Fleet Center). The focus -- the traveling businessman who wanted a relaxing home away from home, not a frat house.

Everything about the hotel was designed with that in mind. Rooms are bold -- with striped wallpaper, heavy modern furniture, and leopard print bathrobes. The amenities (Aveda bath and shower products, shaving kits, leather appointed desk sets) are masculine yet luxurious. Hallways are appointed with works from artists affiliated with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Travelers will find in their closets a handy umbrella, and cozy socks they can purchase to take home.
The bathrooms are accessorized in chrome and the tubs and sinks are ceramic -- not the plastic, "could be anywhere" you'll find in a typical franchised hotel.

General manager Mark Fischer says a big part of the hotel's success is knowing what its clientele wants, and putting those things into guestrooms. That can range from making sure there's an appropriate beverage on-hand in-room, to catering to male-specific functions. "We have two penthouse suites, and they can be used as one big penthouse for when the guys are going to the big game. We can have a bucket of beer, pretzels, and Sports Illustrated waiting on them."

And then there's the Ruby Room. On entering the hotel, your eye is immediately swept to the gigantic red light sculpture over the serpentine bar that dominates the back of the room. A partial divider separates lobby and bar ergonomically, embracing both of the room's functions. Group One also designed this fantastic centerpiece of light and sound. The music is soothing -- a cross between trance progressive and smooth jazz. The area is designed so that conversations can still be intimate, even though the space is vast. The bar is well appointed, and there are plenty of comfortable nooks and soft spots to recline.

I got the impression from my first entrance that this wasn't your average hotel. An attentive doorman pointed me in to the front desk, where three (three!) attentive desk people were ready to assist me. My check-in took less than five minutes -- and I was asked if I'd like wine sent to my room, if I needed any transportation made for the night, and whether I might like some dinner suggestions.

On entering the room, I was greeted with sunlight. The ninth-floor room looked out onto the horizon and into the valley of buildings along Portland Street. It took a little craning to see the street below -- but the floor to ceiling windows were clean and clear and the day was beautiful.

The rooms each feature a desk with a booklight, phone, and leather desk accessories (the full-size, easy grip pens were a surprise bonus).
The desk chair's ergonomic and more comfortable than it first appeared. There are wet bars and foods available for snacking (for an additional fee), red suede chairs to relax in, and plenty of magazines and literature about Boston and the area. I was pleased to find a comfortable pair of black slippers and a leopard print robe already laid out for use. The water pressure in the bathroom was great, and the water was always hot -- something I can't say I find everywhere, sadly enough.

I found quickly that I could ask the concierge about just about anything. The men and women who staffed the desk always had good information on just about anything I asked about -- sporting events, the Haymarket, Faneuil Hall at Quincy Market, the Freedom Trail, even the T. The concierge asked if I'd be interested in attending a Celtics game (I thought it was a sellout, but he insisted he had connections if I was interested in going) or a Bruins game the following night.

I spent a lot of time during my visit walking through the area -- and every time the doorman saw me he greeted me by name. In fact, almost everyone at the hotel greeted me by name -- the good folks at the front desk, the guy at the Ruby Room bar, even some of the housekeeping staff. I was mightily impressed.

The Onyx Hotel offers some things I wasn't expecting from a hotel. For one, I was pleased to hear about the availability of in-room massage. The idea is, going to a spa may not be a "manly" endeavor -- but most guys would welcome a chance to have a private massage session in their rooms.

What surprised me more, though, was the large number of pet services available. Having traveled quite a bit recently, I'd noticed just how many properties required hefty pet deposits -- if they allowed pets at all. Most hotels have rules that include not leaving your pet unattended in a room. Not here. When the folks at the Onyx find out you have a pet, they'll set you up with a pet-friendly room. Good dogs are greeted in the lobby on arrival with a sign and even a bowl of food. Snackies and walkies are available and even encouraged -- and there's even a pet massage service, would you believe? If it weren't for the difficulties you might imagine in bringing a Great Dane on an airplane, I could see the possibilities of bringing my own dog along for a stay!

The Onyx Hotel does offer a breakfast to guests in the Ruby Room. For those who aren't staying over, it's $13 for adults at $6.95 for kids (the entire visit, I didn't see one child). The buffet offers a variety of great items -- eggs, sausage, bacon, and the usual, sure -- but also granola, fresh fruit (including blueberries, melon, grapefruit, and kiwi), yogurt, a wide selection of bakery products, several different types of juice and milk, and several teas and coffees. For someone who tends to avoid typical breakfast fare, I enthusiastically enjoyed this repast.

For travelers on the go like myself, there's also a business center downstairs with internet access and a printer/copier. For the fit-minded, there's also an exercise room with a pretty decent selection of equipment. And if you're needing to have a client meeting, there's also a 500sf meeting room available.

If you're traveling in the Boston area and like a place that takes care of you without being bland, you'll want to check out the Onyx Hotel. You'll find it at 155 Portland Street, about two blocks away from Banknorth Garden and about two and a half blocks from the T. You can actually take in the T from Logan International and save the cab fare. There's also valet parking available.

For more information about the Onyx Hotel or the Ruby Room, call (617) 557-9955 or check out the hotel website.

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