Shanghai can be deceptive, at least in today’s day in age. It is heavily crowded, traffic congestion is choking, and with the inflation rate rising, the prices of general things in life are rocketing sky high. A closer look however will reveal certain differences. The local health and leisure industry is one area to have grown substantially in recent years. Development projects over the past decade or so, especially in the sphere of luxury boutique lifestyle, have brought along with them the sharp increase in the demand for five-star quality boutique hotels. Located in a chic and quiet area close to both the hustle and bustle of Nanjing road and the former French Concession district is the eco-friendly URBN boutique hotel- China’s first carbon neutral and earth conscious hotel.
Conceived by owners Scott Barrack and Jules Kwan with the desire to provide guests a unique Shanghainese urban experience, the 26-room boutique hotel was remarkably transformed from a former 1970s Shanghai post office building. The vast majority of the crowd are from France, Germany, and Australia, with a considerable bunch from America and Italy. They all are attracted by the traditional feeling of a European posh setting. Wonderful architecture and a lovely attention to the minor but important things in life has been assured. The staff are all fluent in conversational English, and are most willing to assist.
The first thing that would greet you is a huge door engraved with the URBN logo in the middle. As you make your way into the open-air veranda, that resembles something similar to a traditional Shanghainese courtyard, you will come across the flamboyant reception and minute lobby facing straight towards you. The lovely open veranda, that brings a traditional Mediterranean feel to the hotel while located right in the heart of Shanghai, has become a favourite hangout with most expats who want to enjoy a relaxing brunch, lunch, or dinner in good company and wine. Shanghai inspired contemporary settings and design, yet ridiculously laid back, and stylish. With luxury surroundings like this, it’s so easy to forget that you are in China. I felt as if I was at somewhere like Hampton Court Palace, or something similar. While you wait to be checked in, treat yourself to the complimentary watermelon juice.
Then there is that inspiring original 1950s suitcase wall behind the lobby reception. The hotel carries a lot of antique baggage cases, most of it from locally sourced suitcases from antique markets around town that over 60 years old. The suitcases are cut in half and displayed stylishly on the wall. The brains behind the URBN hotel Shanghai have it all right and at the right places because Shanghai is all about fashion, nostalgia, and antique fanfare.
URBN hotels Shanghai is one of a growing number of hotels throughout China that are displaying a strong commitment to energy management excellence and as a result of this, reaping financial and environment rewards. Examples of this are demonstrated throughout the building- a water generating purification system is in place that allows the hotel to recycle its water; the reception has original Suzhou slates that are well placed on the wall tiles; some of the designer furniture is made from recycled paper- including a recycled paper chair; and all the wood used in the hotel was recovered and recycled from 1930’s and 1940’s homes from Shanghai’s French Concession. All of this goes perfectly well with the ethos that URBN are committed to sustainability.
The rooms themselves are very stylish and spacious with plush yet simple decor. Dark woods, oblique angles, designer toiletries are by URBN Spa (green tea), while those in the penthouse are by Gilchrist & Soames, Jamaica mountain coffee, and plenty of space to have an indoor rain shower- it’s no surprise that the URBN is part of the ever-trendy boutique real estate market run by SPACE. What might raise an eyebrow here is that the ‘buzz-word’ does run deep here: public areas are sleek yet simple, understandably cool as the rooms themselves, with sunken lounge areas with long comfy sofas that are big enough for 15, and ‘30s Shanghai jazz oozing leisurely from the speakers while the barman in ‘Downstairs with David Laris’ mixes the type of cocktails that definitely don’t come with a slice of shaved papayas on the edge. At which point you may want to give the ‘almond & pear martini’ a go ass devised by Crystal McConchie, URBN’s in-house bar mixologist.
For the dining and wining, there are three venues where you can while away those ample free times: ‘Upstairs’ is a rooftop bar with sweeping views across this historical part of Shanghai, ‘THE SOCIAL’ is URBN’s exclusive lounge tucked away on the 4th floor, and last but not least is ‘Downstairs with David Laris’- the flagship restaurant of the hotel. Now, URBN hotel has joined forces with a leading Australian restaurateur, David Laris, to present a spanking new line up of dining and drinking venues. This includes ‘Downstairs with David Laris’, which has somewhat become a buzz word of the present among the many Europeans in Shanghai because it is the roost of exquisite escapism for foreign tycoons on the run from responsibility for a week or two. Seriously, the food is so good that it would even challenge chefs at most five-star hotels in China.
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