Chopstix booked a three night stay at The Carlyle to celebrate a special occasion and the whole experience was superb. The hotel embodies wonderful Upper East Side New York glamour, just as we’d envisaged. A discreet entrance just off Madison Avenue leads to the small, elegant lobby decorated in Art Deco monochrome with splashes of golden velvet. While the hotel is exclusive we found the service friendly and attentive throughout. And everyone seems to be greeted with “nice to see you” whether it’s your first or hundredth visit.
Opened as a residential hotel (The Carlyle still includes apartments) in the 1920s it went on to become a favourite with presidents, royalty and celebrities. JFK infamously met with Marilyn Monroe here, allegedly smuggling the film star in via the kitchens; it was reputedly Princess Diana’s favourite hotel in New York , William and Kate stayed in the Royal Suite on their visit to the city and it’s where VIPs get ready for the Met Ball fashion extravaganza.
The Carlyle is being subtly refurbished by Tony Chi (the designer behind Rosewood hotel group owner, Henry Cheng’s Hong Kong home) in parts but cleverly all the classic features that make it special are still there including the famous Bemelmans Bar (where Harry and Meghan were spotted this week) and the elevator attendants. Our room was one of the recently refurbished ones and successfully blended classic with contemporary. There were some lovely touches such as Central Park murals and quirky rabbit objects reminiscent of the Bemelmans bar downstairs. The room wasn’t huge and the bathroom a bit tight but that’s usual for New York and the beautiful décor made up for it.
We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts every morning in the chic Carlyle Restaurant. And dinner there was the icing on the cake of our stay. We were given the type of table we’d requested beforehand (a corner banquette) and the classic menu and slick service matched the stylish setting perfectly.
For exploring the Upper East Side the hotel’s location was also superb. We had the Met museums and Central Park right on our doorstep and of course the shops of Madison Ave. There are newer, trendier hotels in more fashionable parts of New York but for sheer class this is hard to beat.
The Carlyle currently has a Fall Limited Time Offer – book a reservation before September 30th 2021 and receive up to 30% off the best available rate – excluding the Presidential Suite.
As I write this I am at Halcyon House in Carabita Beach, Australia. Not literally as global pandemic will not allow but figuratively as the hotel’s “signature scent” wafts from the lighted candle on my desk. Our sense of smell is a strong memory trigger numerous scientists have found. That appealing fragrance you notice when you arrive at a great hotel is not only an olfactory welcome, it can stay with you (hopefully in a positive way) for years after the trip.
“A signature scent expresses a venue’s character, it’s an added dimension that becomes an emotive recall of memories of magical times,” says Azzi Glasser a perfume designer who has created scents for hotels including Rosewood Bangkok and Chiltern Firehouse in London.
Increasingly hotels are commissioning perfumers to create custom room scents. Aman has recently launched three candles – Grounding, Purifying and Nourishing – to evoke its famous spas. “The Spa Candles deliver exquisite scents, making it possible to escape the frenzy of daily life and enjoy the serenity of Aman from the comfort of one’s home,” says the brand’s spokeswoman.
Soho House has a range of scented candles evoking its clubhouses around the world and taking you through the day. Sicilian Thyme “captures the essence of Italian breakfasts on the morning terrace at Soho House Rome”, Bergamot and Mandarin Zest is “inspired by mornings overlooking the terrace in Little Beach House Barcelona”, Rose Water is “an ode to the English rose” at Babington House’s walled garden, Tonka and Florum evokes “long lunches on the terrace at Soho Roc House in Mykonos”, Fig Verde “recalls evening strolls around the courtyard garden at Soho House Istanbul”, Patchouli is “inspired by fragrant evenings overlooking the Arabian Sea at Soho House Mumbai”, Pomelo is “reminiscent of sunset cocktails at our Miami House”, and Leather and Oud is “reminiscent of nightcaps at Soho House Hong Kong”.
Meanwhile the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong was long associated with Ginger Flower by Shanghai Tang but now has its own freesia and osmanthus fragrance. “We wanted to develop something original for the hotel that is only found here,” says head of group spa operations, Andrea Lomas.
Atelier Lumira in Sydney designs bespoke scents for boutique hotels across Australia and Antica Farmacista in Seattle crafts fragrances for The Ritz Carlton among others. They usually begin by checking in to the hotels for inspiration. As well as talking to the hotel owners and general managers, they take in everything: the location to the design, atmosphere, lighting, food, drink, music, art and books on the shelves. “We analyse each and every element and begin our process of creating a scent that embodies the spirit of the hotel,” says Shelley Callaghan creative director and co-founder of Antica Farmacista along with Susanne Pruitt.
For Halcyon House, Almira Armstrong creative director and founder of Atelier Lumira says: “I wanted to capture the warmth and carefree nature of this destination. We did this by fusing sunburst citrus notes with warm spices and a signature floral heart of sheer neroli petals.”
In the case of Rosewood Bangkok, Glasser had her boots on the ground before the hotel was even completed. “I visited the site with my hard hat on and learnt about the heritage of the city itself and the materials that would make up the design,” the London based perfumer says. “I wanted to use the finest natural ingredients: the opulent top notes of elemi, rosewood and fresh water; the heart accord of vetivert, moss and amber; and the base notes of oud, cedarwood and labdanum adds a velvety warmth.”
As Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives is owned by LVMH when it decided to launch a signature scent it naturally turned to the luxury group’s fellow houses. Guerlain and Christian Dior perfumes’ “head nose”, François Demachy, created Island Chic fragrance for the resort. “The idea was to try to translate this feeling of tranquility and beauty specific to the Maldives and to Randheli,” says Demachy. “For this I started with an aroma of black tea accented with the local spices cloves and cardamom and base notes of the marine aroma, seaweed.”
Demachy, the subject of new Netflix film, Nose, has also been enlisted by Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc to create a fragrance including in the form of a scented candle to commemorate the French hotel’s 150th anniversary.
Some hotel chains have a signature scent for all their properties to ensure a reassuringly familiar experience. Essence of Shangri-La – vanilla, sandalwood and musk with top notes of bergamot and ginger spiced tea – will greet you in any of Shangri-La’s lobbies around the world. “The scent is fresh and subtly Asian, to evoke serenity,” says director of marketing Mavis Ko. And Essence du Sofitel – a top note of fresh citrus, a middle note of white rose and base of white sandalwood – was designed by master perfumer Lucien Ferraro in Grasse to remind guests of “an afternoon in the South of France” which ever Sofitel they check in to.
Others tailer the aroma for different locations. The Ritz-Carlton has personalised fragrances for some of its properties so a Ritz-Carlton in Miami, for example, will smell differently to the one in New York. The latter hotel is on 50 Central Park hence the name of its signature scent and its inspiration. “We used a botanical map of as well as specific destinations in the park to include quince, elderberry, floribunda rose, and Strawberry Fields. We created a scent that essentially brings the outdoors in,” says Callaghan.
Where once a luxury hotel with a signature scent could be deemed risky, now it could be missing out without one. “Introducing scent into a hotel environment used to be considered risky, as hotel owners were afraid to offend guests,” says Callaghan. “That is no longer the mentality, we have found that our hotel partners rely on fragrance to help convey their message. In a sense, a hotel feels ‘naked’ without that fine fragrance element.”
Of course most of these scents are available for guests to buy in the form of candles, diffusers and sprays at the gift shop or on line. As Armstrong says, “Scent is such a powerful connector to memory so what better way to remember a wonderful vacation than by returning to the fragrance that surrounded you during your stay.”
Visiting dignitaries to Singapore tend to plump for the Shangri-La hotel and its exclusive Valley Wing. And it’s likely Vice President Kamala Harris is staying in the hotel’s best, eponymously named, suite.
Guests arrive at the Valley Wing entrance – more private than the main hotel lobby – where the Shangri-La suite has its own entrance in the form of a private elevator.
Two dressing rooms, a gym and sauna await in the vast suite as well as personalized bathrobes, pillow cases and stationery. Butler service is available around the clock. Want gourmet cuisine or hawker street food served on fine china at the walnut dining table? No problem. As well as the primary bedroom, there’s an ensuite twin – usually utilized by guest’s security detail.
Last night I went to Raffles again. I didn’t dream it, and thanks to the delayed Hong Kong – Singapore Travel Bubble I wasn’t actually there either, instead, I watched an interactive play set and filmed at the hotel by Singaporean theatre companies, Double Confirm Productions and Sight Lines Entertainment.
The Curious Case of the Missing Peranakan Treasure, conceived, directed by and featuring Hossan Leong of Double Confirm and written by Jean Tay, was filmed entirely on location at Raffles with 360 degree virtual reality cameras. So I was able to virtually enter the familiar white façade, “check in” in the lobby and revisit the hotel’s bars, suites and courtyards while watching a mystery enfold through a cast of front of house staff and guest characters.
Leong who has previously filmed one man performances at the Grand Hyatt and W hotels in Singapore says: “From 2020 there was not a lot of work for us in the arts so I decided not to sit around but to create something for actors and crew. I have always wanted to create a production with the beautiful Raffles as a backdrop and they were very supportive of my idea of having a ‘whodunnit’ set in the hotel.“
Up until June 30th you can watch this entertaining tale online and attempt to solve the mystery yourself – there’s the prize of a real life stay at Raffles in the offing. Those lucky enough to be in Singapore can book a Daycation or Staycation package, watching the play on a tablet in their suite and then explore the hotel for clues (as well as being treated to Singapore Slings and satays). Alternatively, Virtual Play allows guests to buy a ticket from ticket agency SISTIC and watch from anywhere in the world.
“Raffles Singapore always had a connection with literary luminaries in our storied heritage with playwrights and authors being very much a part of who we are,” says managing director Christian Westbeld. Suites named after the likes of Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham attest to this and the former suite appears in the production. The hotel did have its own theatre, Jubilee Hall which opened in 1991, although this was transformed into a ballroom in the most recent refurbishment. Westbeld adds: “The virtual interactive play arose out of a business need to pivot, given the current pandemic.”
Also in Singapore at Hotel Soloha in Chinatown surreal comedy meets murder mystery, The Bride Always Knocks Twice, was also born out of a need to adapt in the current climate. “Arts and tourism were some of the key industries impacted by the pandemic and this project really shows how creativity and cross-industry collaboration can lead to new possibilities,” says Kuo Jian Hong, artistic director of The Theatre Practice, behind the production which streamed in the first week of June.
The fourth floor of the hotel, set in a converted row of shophouses, stood in as the mysterious house in The Bride Always Knocks Twice where seven women from different eras of Singaporean history co exist. Reflective of the Lion City the women variously spoke Mandarin, Indonesian, English, Cantonese and Malay with the multimedia platform allowing for sub titles in Chinese and English.
Split over several nights, viewers watched the first act of the play then had the chance to interrogate the characters by submitting online questions which they answered live to camera. Originally it was intended that the audiences visit the hotel to hunt for clues in act three though due to the heightened measures this had to be changed into a virtual crime-scene investigation. In the final act the murderer was revealed but not before viewers had an opportunity to submit their theories with a chance to win a stay at Hotel Soloha.
One of the first and still existing theatre and hotel synergies was The Savoy in London. The Savoy theatre actually opened before the legendary hotel which it sits adjacent to. Impressario Richard D’Oyly Carte opened the then state of the art venue in 1881 to stage the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. With the success of the comic operas he segued into hotels eight years later. Famous theatrical actors of the day flocked to stay at The Savoy including Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry.
While the venue is now owned by The Ambassador Theatre Group which operates several playhouses in London’s West End, there are regularly accommodation or F&B packages in conjunction with the hotel. A themed afternoon tea is currently being planned in homage to the just opened Pretty Woman The Musical, and starring actors often stay at the hotel.
Grand Hotel Timeo in Sicily also has a theatre adjacent, there’s even a secret entrance from the hotel into Teatro Antico. The well preserved amphitheatre was built by the Greeks in the third century for dramatic and musical performances, adapted by the Romans for gladiator games and now once again is used to stage the performing arts.
Other hotels are embracing opera and ballet as part of their guest offerings. In St Petersburg, Grand Hotel Europe patrons have access to the hotel’s private box at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. And in Milan, Hotel Principe di Savoia will arrange private guided tours of La Scala including behind the scenes access to backstage areas.
Before the pandemic Shangri La The Shard in London held Theatre in the Clouds, partnering with private theatre concept Revels in Hand to stage three actor plays for a small number of guests in one of its suites. Whether this returns remains to be seen but other hotel projects look to continue whatever twist happens next for the arts and hospitality industries.
“We believe that arts and hospitality is the perfect marriage and with technology, we are able to not only entertain in-house guests but have international reach,” says Derrick Chew, artistic director of Sight Lines who adds the company is looking to collaborate with more hotels following its successful collaboration with Raffles. And Kuo does not rule out The Theatre Practice staging another hotel play saying: “Our works have never been constrained by genre or format, much less specific locations so never say never.”
[UPDATE: If you live in Singapore lucky you, you’re eligible for Scott Dunn’s staycation flash offer at Raffles. Priced exclusively at S$1,330nett for a two night stay between 1 October and 13 December 2020, enjoy complimentary breakfast for two at the Tiffin Room, the Raffles Heritage Evening dinner experience for two at The Grand Lobby, a specially curated trishaw ride around Raffles Singapore detailing the locations mentioned in A Life Intertwined: Reminiscences of an Accidental Raffles Historian and an autographed copy of the book by Mr Leslie Danker himself. This flash offer is valid for 24 hours (book by 16 September 2020) at http://www.scottdunn.com ]
Raffles hotel in Singapore has today reopened following a two and a half year, multi million dollar refurbishment. Here’s what to expect from the revamp by interior designer Champalimaud and architect Aedas.
The grand lobby has a fresher feel and a new, stunning take on a chandelier. Afternoon tea will now be served here rather than being side lined to the Tiffin Room (more on which later). The heavy wooden reception desk with pigeon holes behind has been replaced by a more inviting desk and chairs, more in keeping with luxury 21st century hotels.
Off the lobby, the Grill restaurant has been replaced by a new venture from chef Anne-Sophie Pic whose restaurant in France holds three Michelin stars.
The room is almost unrecognisable from the former Grill with softer tones and furnishings though the white columns and French windows overlooking the Palm Court remain.
It’s also gratifying to see that the alcove tables in the restaurant still in situ, albeit with a more modern edge. Statement lighting abounds here too.
On the other side of the lobby the Tiffin Room, serving Northern Indian cuisine, has re opened. This too has been given a transformation with the addition of open shelving displaying tiffin boxes (naturally) and Chinese porcelain and again, statement light fittings. The new furniture with a nod to colonial style (dark wood and rattan) is said to be inspired by the hotel’s archives.
Elsewhere in the hotel, a new Alain Ducasse restaurant in the Bar and Billiard room and Yì by Jeremy Leung are due to open in September.
All the suites have been restored and look lighter while retaining a heritage feel. The separate parlour room has been retained in the Stateroom, Promenade, Courtyard, Palm Court and Personality suites – a good choice since it’s so synonymous with guest rooms at Raffles.
Updated technology and bathrooms also figure with Peranakan inspired tiles in the latter – in homage to the Chinese Malay settlers in Singapore.
To celebrate the opening Raffles is offering two special rate packages: Opening Package From now till 31 October 2019 guests may upgrade their stay for S$120 plus taxes per night including additional privileges of daily breakfast for two either in their suite, on the verandahs poolside or at Tiffin Room. They will also receive a $100 daily credit for spending at the Raffles Spa or at one of the restaurants. A commemorative Raffles heritage souvenir and guaranteed late checkout until 3.00pm is also included. Staycation Package Available to residents of Singapore, this staycation offers a 50% reduction on an adjourning suite for families to stay together. The package includes daily semi buffet breakfast for two adults at Tiffin Room, where children can dine for free (for two children aged 12 and under), S$50 Raffles Spa Credit per adult per stay, Raffles Children Customised Programme, Complimentary souvenir for children from the Raffles Boutique, guaranteed late check out till 3pm, early check in at noon, subject to availability, 10% off Raffles merchandise at the Raffles Boutique. Adjourning suites are subjected to availability of interconnecting suites. More details on offers are available at www.rafflessingapore.com and enquiries or reservations can be made via firstname.lastname@example.org