Ace Hotel Shoreditch
100 Shoreditch High St., London; acehotel.com/london; 264 rooms start at £103 ($190.60 Canadian).
"You've been upgraded" were welcome words to my merry ears after hours propping up the bar at the Ace Shoreditch. I had visions of hot tubs dancing in my mescal-induced head. The hotel chain is legendary: for practically inventing the lobby-as-artistic-thinktank concept, for propagating the "hipsterpreneur" aesthetic, for being lampooned on Portlandia.
The denizens of the lobby lounge, clad in thick-framed glasses and Givenchy sweatshirts, represented some of the top creative agencies in London – nay the world. This would be stellar. Go on then, I said to the check-in agent with the skinny tie. What do we get?
"Turntables and a collection of records!" he cried, and nodded toward a stack of vinyl featuring Tracey Ullman's You Caught Me Out.
Wouldn't you know it, the turntables never materialized. And the so-called Deluxe Double was so tight we were stumped as to what the Standard room might have offered. There was a daybed along the slim window, but it was as shallow as a subway seat and the king bed was rather queen-like in stature, leaving us royally vexed. The decor, a palette of denim-blues, dirty yellow and functional metal, referenced a high-school staff room. Clipboards displaying safety info, printed in courier font, hung next to an empty bulletin board. "That's a really big notice board for someone staying overnight," said my friend as we settled into a late-night session of Bitchin' Kitchen on basic cable. This fifth Ace location was the hotelier's chance to redefine the tired, bare-essentials hipster look, we thought. Instead, it's fed us more of the same. It will be interesting to see what direction Ace takes future properties after the passing of founder Alex Calderwood, who died in an upstairs suite late last year.
The Ace can get away with its decorating transgressions. A dated Crowne Plaza prevailed at this address, however improbably, for decades, despite the young, bearded natives scratching their heads and wondering, in vain, if they offered free WiFi and a respectable flat white coffee. This is the most important axis in the new, east-skewed London, a 10-minute walk from anywhere that matters, saving my friend the epic commute home to the suburbs and me the indignity of stumbling home after a night flouting my New Year austerity.
WHOM YOU'LL MEET
New York investment bankers who dress like underemployed web designers. Underemployed web designers who spend like investment bankers. And middle managers running on inertia from the Crowne Plaza days.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
Hoi Polloi, accessed via the in-house florist, is a reprieve from the exclusive-inclusive contradiction in the lobby. The room is vast yet cozy, warmed with brass lighting by Canadian designer Philippe Malouin and, per the name, hospitable to the rank and file; servers, though tattoo'd to the eyeballs, cheerfully flout the fine line between high-waisted jeans worn ironically and unironically. The inclusive breakfast is a choice of "full English" or yogurt, granola and toast, with a cuppa from the Rare Tea Company or Square Mile coffee. Lunch and dinner feature honest, meaty platters – a charming pork cheek with spiced apple, a roast beef rib – with toothsome greens alongside beakers of salty fries. Prices are humane; the generous employment of garlic less so. Those extra inches of bed were grieved for later that night.
IF I COULD CHANGE ON THING
Is it ecoconsciousness? Frugality? Reluctance to jump on the Molton Brown bandwagon? Whatever the case, we were disenchanted by the motel jugs of 2-in-1 shampoo and shower gel fixed to the bathroom wall. Not a deal-breaker, admittedly, but surely not the path to a shiny Shoreditch coif.
The minibars. Plural. Proper 700 millilitre bottles of Sipsmith gin and Jameson whiskey; mega-packs of M&Ms, Jelly Bellys, HobNobs and Tyrrells chips. Like puppies we bounded around the room from the wine fridge to the pantry to the free one-litre bottle we thought was Russian vodka but turned out to be "ethical water." Shame on us for falling for that one. But bonus points for working out that the supermarket across the street sold it all for half the price.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.