Up until the turn of the new century, hotels would stick to safe clusters where the tourists and business travellers were most concentrated. But as city centre rates rose, the creative energy began to be dispersed into the neighbourhoods and suburbs. Welcome, then, to the age of the hip neighbourhood hotel.
Our list is a mixture of the indie and the diffusion brands of the big operators (like Hyatt’s Andaz). That latter phenomenon is worth noting. It’s another stage in the big operators’ long march away from globalised homogeneity. First they started incorporating local elements into their city centre properties. Now they’re going local in geography as well as aesthetics.
Andaz is Hyatt’s hip incarnation, with an emphasis on uber-urban tech and style (see London’s Square Mile and New York’s Wall Street retreats for the new breed of finance pro who’s as likely to be in a t-shirt as a suit). But Singapore is moving the brand in a different direction.
The Andaz Singapore opened at the end of 2017, in the top floors of the DUO towers off Beach Road. Though check-in is on the 25th floor, the concept is very much grounded in street level culture. Andaz is Hindi for ‘personal style’, and the hotel’s own draws on the surrounding Little India, Kampong Glam and Bras Basah Bugis neighbourhoods. Designer André Fu’s colour palette evokes the same burnt yellow, paprika and aubergine hues found on Kampong Glam shophouses; while the olive greens mirror those from the inside of the nearby Sultan Mosque. Even the keycard readers resemble old-school letterboxes.
The minibar is stacked with local snacks, while French perfumer Christophe Laudamiel’s ‘Singapore Fusion’ bathroom amenities feature ingredients like orchids, orange blossoms and ginger lilies, inspired by the city’s botanic gardens. For when you want to get out, the copy of The Andaz Times in every room cherrypicks dishes, boutiques and experiences to tick off in the neighbourhood.
Fu’s Alley on 25 dining area brings the alleyway shophouse restaurant concept inside – offering Singapore’s zi char hawker cuisine at Auntie’s Wok and Steam, modern Asian barbecue at Smoke and Pepper, and Western options in the other eateries. All this can be washed down with an ice-cold Andaz Pale Ale, made by local brewers RedDot, which also happens to pair nicely with the 360-degree views of the neighbourhood and harbour from rooftop bar Mr Stork.
The Curtain, London
This plucky little boutique really couldn’t be anywhere but Shoreditch. Firstly, because it’s named after the road it’s on (formerly gritty, now trendy Curtain Road) and, secondly, because there are bare brick walls; Sunday brunch with a gospel choir at an outpost of Harlem’s Red Rooster; and a shimmering rooftop pool (badged the ‘lido’, naturally) – so compact if you blink you’ll miss it – overlooking Victorian brick and Square Mile glass. A constant stream of Instagrams from VVIPs propping up the newly opened Green Room bar – serving cocktails like Rough Trade, named after the record label; and MaBelle, a tribute to East London’s Victoria Park – add to the Shoreditch vibe.
Akyra, Chiang Mai
The Chiang Mai itinerary is pretty well established: Old City, night markets, excursions to see elephants and temples, shopping on the Handicrafts Highway. Nimmanhaemin offers something different, as well as a teasing twister to non-Thai tongues. This artsy, studenty quarter known to its friends as ‘Nimman’ has the kind of low-level, laid-back, upscale vibe you’ll find in Tokyo’s hip neighbourhoods.
The five-star Akyra hotel was a signal that wealthy investors had noticed. But far from changing Nimman, the Akyra fits in nicely. Its ambitious lattice-work exterior looks as if it was modelled by one of the nearby ateliers, while its rooftop bar and pool serves equally ambitious cocktails, with views over the city and the northern kingdom that’ll have you reaching for the panorama setting on your phone’s camera.
Little Tai Hang, Hong Kong
Read enough breathless local press and you’ll get the sense that Tai Hang is ‘the’ district to see and make a scene in. They’re right: and the blood of this former fishing village – land reclamation has set it well back from today’s shoreline – has coalesced around Little Tai Hang, which opened in 2016. Little Tai Hang distils everything about the district – quaint, local, full of great places to eat and drink – into a boutique hotel and serviced apartment complex with views over Victoria Park and the harbour. Downstairs Italian restaurant Bond, where the star attraction is the spaghetti prepared tableside in a roundel of cheese, is a real neighbourhood spot – as is gastropub Second Draft, from local food hero May Chow.