The hotel industry in China is absolutely exploding right now. Starwood and IHG are both poised to nearly double their number of hotels in the next 18 months. That's a lot of hotels! But are any of them any good? Do they stack up to the best of the rest of the world? That's what we want to find out. So City Weekend has selected our 25 favorite hotels in China and we're reporting one per issue. The list isn't reader-voted like Conde Nast Travelers, it's not based on reviews like TripAdvisor's. It's based on a lot of conversations we have had, formal and informal, with luxury travel agents, savvy travelers and industry insiders. Next on the list is the La Maison du Maitre des Thés.
Hotels, especially from the big box brands, rarely surprise. Mainly because they’re not supposed to do anything except deliver, McDonald’s-like, the same experience the world over. Newly-opened Andaz Shanghai is very different. It is a hotel that delights in surprising guests. It has the most élan of any hotel we have experienced in China and it well deserves a spot on our Top 25 List.
Andaz is a new boutique-inspired brand from Hyatt. It only launched in 2007, and there are only six of them worldwide. Shanghai’s is the first in Asia-Pacific. The word “andaz” is Urdu and means “personal style,” and the hotel has plenty of that.
First, there is no traditional check-in desk. Instead there is a semi-enclosed space—more kitchen than concierge—where hosts (not receptionists) sort you out. The entire lobby with its books and framed photos (of actual staff at other Andaz properties) feels like the living room of your best friend’s house. All day drinks and snacks and evening wine service from 5-7pm at the Host desk prove just how cool (and generous!) your best friend is. All this and you haven’t even seen the glowing bathtubs yet.
Wilson Lee is the Andaz Shanghai General Manager. Impeccably stylish, he delivers the Andaz story with irrepressible passion. “We are not funky. We are not trendy. We are not hip. We are uncomplicated and fun, personal and real,” he tells me.
One of Andaz’s strongest suits is its portfolio of art. They teamed with Neocha Edge to curate a series of provocative pieces displayed in the hotel hallways revolving around chengyu (famous Chinese sayings). They shot a wonderfully emotive series of short videos which deftly interweave themes of nostalgia, family, return, love and transience—all set in the neighborhood around Xintiandi. Wander the hotel and come across sculptures—plastic and digital—here and there. Your best friend has a very good nose for art.
Andaz is also very much an homage to Shanghai’s present moment, exemplified almost perfectly by the famed glowing bathtubs. Indeed, they do glow—along with the sinks—and you can even adjust the colors. Weird lighting: isn’t that as much a part of contemporary Shanghai as the authentic doujiang served in a bowl at Hai Pai or the amazing treats found at Éclair, their dessert bar? Interestingly the glowing tubs were almost killed off near the end of the design process―another intriguing bit of serendipty for a hotel that wasn’t even supposed to be there (the building was originally built for the Jumeirah).
Need another surprise? The hotel is only two-thirds complete. Before the year is out, expect a suite that takes up the entire top floor, a glass house set in an outdoor garden served by a private elevator and an outdoor terrace bar with a huge Jacuzzi. And a series of Thursday-night parties in the lobby lounge starting in June should add that most elusive quality—renqi, the buzz—which turns an ordinary night into a surprise.