Consider any major world city – and plenty of minor ones – over the past 20 years and you’ll see thousands of hotel openings. But more than that, you’ll see how hotels have changed their host cities: architecturally, gastronomically, zeitgeistishly.
That’s because hotels themselves have changed. The great hotels were once discreet presences, like expert maître d’s hovering in the wings of the metropolis. No longer. The new breed of hotels – arty, foodie, glitzy – are at the heart of the action.
So what of Hong Kong? In 1997, the city was still dominated by The Peninsula and the Mandarin Oriental, two grandes dames eyeing each other across Victoria Harbour. The exciting newcomers opened since have spread deeper into Kowloon and further east and west on Hong Kong Island. But here’s a message to the developers and entrepreneurs: how about a funky beachy hotel or a super-cool B&B in Shek O or on Lamma Island?
The Upper House, Admiralty
The new breed of T-shirted financier, tight-trousered creative guru and heavily spectacled art mogul needed a Hong Kong bolthole. That was a cue for the Swire Group (also owners of Cathay Pacific) to open this universally applauded super-boutique, with architect and interior designer Andre Fu’s cool, calm yet very sexy suites.
Four Seasons, Central
It was high time Toronto’s greatest contribution to upscale business travel and short-breaking came to Hong Kong. If it was waiting for the right spot, then the wait was worth it: a commanding but not excessive block between the IFC Mall and the harbour. Is there a better swimming pool in Hong Kong? Not unless you live on The Peak and own one.
Ovolo, Southside, Wong Chuk Hang
You can’t talk about Hong Kong without talking about space and the ingenious ways to maximise it. Ovolo Southside’s bright little box rooms make the most of the few square feet they have, perched high above the hills and new MTR in gentrifying Wong Chuk Hang. A terrific roof terrace and arty public areas make this the choice for creatives without an Upper House budget.
The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Central
If the Mandarin Oriental was the symbol of old Hong Kong money and power, its younger sister rode the new wave of affluence and glamour. Its constantly updated suites, eye-wateringly brilliant Amber restaurant and symbiotic relationship with the city’s fanciest mall have all helped it live up to its name.
The Mira, Tsim Sha Tsui
If you had to choose one hotel to star in one of the 21st century’s biggest international dramas of state secrets and cyber security, it wouldn’t be this. But it was to The Mira that ex-NSA fugitive Edward Snowden fled in 2013, making it the most googled Hong Kong hotel ever for a few crazy days. Those results would have turned up photos of plush suites and a lobby resembling an ultra-luxe boutique (as in shop), a hugely comfy roof terrace and views over buzzy Tsim Sha Tsui.
The Ritz-Carlton, West Kowloon
Highest; most marbled; fastest lifts; most stratospheric bar – there was plenty to make Hongkongers proud when The Ritz-Carlton moved into the upper floors of Kowloon’s ICC tower. It’s a classy production, albeit one not afraid to say it loud and say it swish.
The Pottinger, Central
This elegant boutique hotel on a narrow street in Central is typical of so many modern hotels created from fine 19th century buildings no longer required by the banks and government offices that once occupied them. But don’t be misled by the high ceilings and solid pillars – this is pretty much a new build. The service and amenities (Acca Kappa toiletries! Finally!) are the match of anywhere in the city.
Little Tai Hang, Tai Hang
The future? Small-scale, super-cute location, possibly Hong Kong’s best ever pub (Second Draft) on the ground floor. More Little Tai Hangs, please – and set beyond the over-familiar areas of Central and Causeway Bay.