262 rue Saint-Jacques Ouest; lhotelmontreal.com; 514-985-0019; 59 rooms from $160 a night. No eco-rating.
It's unthinkable for first-timers (or even second- or third-timers) to visit Montreal without checking out the historic district. Old Montreal was once the hub of the city and still maintains the spirit of the past with its cobblestone streets and 19th-century buildings.
In the centre of the district is LHotel, an offbeat monument to pop art owned by Georges Marciano, co-founder of the Guess jeans label. The Victorian building, built in 1870, was originally a bank office and later housed the law firm of former Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. By the time Marciano took over the building, it was operating as the luxury L'Hôtel XIXe Siècle. The denim baron renovated the property to display his pop art pieces, considered one of the largest private collections in North America. He turned the penthouse into his own private residence, and reopened the hotel (this time named LHotel) to guests.
Like Guess's flashy, youthful brand image, LHotel's eclectic decor is anything but subtle. Vibrant lights and vivid colours collide with the hotel's Old World architecture and classic furnishings. In one corner, you'll find a modern, black lounge seat with zebra-print throw cushions. In another, an antique wooden desk.
But the main focus is the artwork installed throughout the building. About 250 pieces by some of the most celebrated names in modern art, from Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella to James Rosenquist and Marc Quinn, adorn its sunny yellow walls. Outside, a sculpture of Robert Indiana's iconic 1970 Love and Fernando Botero's plump Man On a Horse stand on either side of the entrance. And taking pride of place in the lobby is a 1986 portrait by the legendary Andy Warhol of the dashing, young Marciano himself.
The greatest convenience of this hotel is its location, within a short walk of restaurants, cafés, shops and landmarks, such as the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal and the Marché Bonsecours.
LHotel has a modest, 24-hour gym, located in the basement, that consists of a basic set of free weights, a treadmill, stationary bicycle and a recumbent exercise bike. If you're desperate for a quick workout, it'll do. But better yet, consult the concierge, who will happily suggest a nice, scenic, outdoor jogging route.
Also in the basement is the hotel's humble business centre, a single computer and printer.
In the late afternoons, the neon-lit lobby bar, dubbed "Botero Bar," hosts happy hour, with cocktails and live music. The lobby level also has three meeting rooms, which can accommodate about 50 people.
The decor of the standard rooms and suites, with their Oriental rugs and patterned drapes, is more conventional than that of the funky lobby. High ceilings and large windows make a stately impression. All rooms have cable television and complimentary Wi-Fi. Suites also include sound systems and CD players. DVD players are available upon request.
Many of the suites are named after featured artists. For example, the massive Roy Lichtenstein suite, one of the hotel's finest, is decorated with several of Lichtenstein's works. An impressive painting hangs above the bed and another above the living-room sofa. There's also a gas fireplace in the bedroom, and in the bathroom, an ultra-modern glass shower. With the push of a button, the shower emits hot steam, turning the entire compartment into a luxurious steam bath.
As a boutique hotel, LHotel lacks some of the amenities and finer qualities of a grand chain hotel. But it makes up for its shortcomings with warm, gracious service. At every turn, staff greet guests with a smile and a friendly "bonjour," and they recognize that even the smallest gestures count. The moment guests walk through the door, staff offer a refreshing, chilled bottle of water – a welcome touch after a tiring journey.
LHotel does not have a restaurant. However, you needn't wander far to find a great meal. On the corner of Saint-Paul Ouest and Rue Saint Pierre is Olive & Gourmando, a hot spot known for its comforting breakfasts, gourmet sandwiches and baked goods.
For dinner, splurge on a sumptuous meal at renowned chef Normand Laprise's Toqué! Restaurant, a couple of blocks away on Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle.
The hotel does offer a continental breakfast in its main-floor dining room, with a buffet of croissants, bagels, jams, cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt and fresh fruit. It also has a limited room-service menu of snacks, such as cheese platters, fruit plates and late-night comfort food: nachos with salsa and cheese
Like the pop art movement itself, LHotel won't appeal to everyone. But if you've ever dreamed of spending the night in an art gallery, this may be the closest you'll get. Besides, how many people can claim they've bedded down next to the 20th century's leading artists?