Recent Writing // Three Hotel Reviews

This is a copy of my email newsletter, which you can sign up for here. It arrives semi-monthly and has a recap of my recent work as well as an original essay. This time, it’s about hotels.

In December of last year, I went to Berlin to give a talk on my AirSpace essay at Freunde von Freunden. It was really fun in a kind of ironic Gladwellian way — thinkfluencing! But it was also an extension of AirSpace itself: the perpetuation of a homogenous global culture through likeminded people gathered in a tasteful modernist space.

In the wake of the election, the forces of AirSpace and Kinfolk lifestyle porn seem less relevant, or perhaps worth considering from a different angle. They pale in comparison to politics, but I wonder what we retreat to when the world becomes too much to bear. Can an aesthetic cocoon be a productive shelter, or are these things just further symbols of an elitist cultural divide that we’re not doing enough to reconcile?

I think some pieces I have coming out over the next month or two will approach that problem.

My Recent Work:

Diary: Three Hotels

1. Dallas, TX

On its website the NYLO hotel in Dallas boasts, “Expansive lofts. Dynamic shared spaces. Creative escapes. Unexpected discoveries.” Rising out of the zoning-less valley of office parks and McMansions splayed around the DFW airport, the building looks like an attempt at adaptive reuse where there was nothing to reuse in the first place. Shiny black boxes with floor-to-ceiling glass break through the faux-warehouse structure.

NYLO’s pitch is bringing some bohemian loft-living to the decidedly uncool prospect of a business trip or company retreat. It is Donald Judd’s Soho live-work studio taken to its nightmare neoliberal conclusion. The lobby features a kind of coworking lounge space with ornate couches, but I was the only person to nest down there with a laptop.

Brutalism might be experiencing a resurgence but I would have preferred a room where the ceiling, walls, and floor were not all made of polished concrete, inspiring a looming sense that murder evidence could be easily hosed down there and indeed had been many times. The geometric wooden bed frame was set on two giant wheels. On the too-small TV I watched HGTV hosts remodel a tasteful mid-century home while maintaining its character.

At NYLO, it is possible to witness the aesthetic signifiers of hipsterism disconnecting from whatever larger values it might have once had. As far as dining options beyond the generic hotel restaurant, if you dodge traffic it’s possible to walk to a plaza with an In-n-Out and a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Chateau. So much for urbanism.

2. Berlin

The thing everyone tells you about Berlin’s Michelberger hotel, which can be name-dropped like a celebrity acquaintance, is that all the DJs who play at the nearby Berghain club stay there if they’re lucky. The second thing they do is ask if you’ve been or plan on going to Berghain. I didn’t, but Sunday morning is the suggestion of locals for convenience and atmosphere if you are so inclined. Don’t walk through Gorlitzer Park at night.

Michelberger has been described as a miniature Berlin. It is indeed a self-sustaining ecosystem. The lobby comprises a living room with low-slung gray couches arranged around wire bookcases and a cafe-bar where 24 hours a day caffeine and alcohol are sold in equal measure. There is always someone working on a laptop, a fact that I found comforting as I often joined them. Cross the forested courtyard and you’ll arrive at the restaurant, which serves an elaborate (albeit expensive) breakfast buffet and a high-concept locally sourced dinner menu at long communal tables. I had the venison with pickled black walnuts but later experienced a pressing need for a lowbrow kebab from outside.

My room was outfitted to an almost laughable degree of spareness: bed, one minimalist chair, two modular bookcases, the pelt of some small animal for a rug. I used a stool as a nightstand. From the span of tall windows I could see the lights click on and off daily in what looked like a small start-up office. The tiled bathroom resembled a high-school locker room and was almost as large as the living space. I regretted that I had no need to film fetish pornography.

Michelberger produces its own clothing line and a branded coconut water. It is less lodging than a lifestyle. When I checked in one morning delirious with jet lag the angelic concierge expressed admiration for how long I was staying — apparently most DJs only get a night. By the end of the trip I felt like a patient in a beautiful sanatorium, content to remain ill.

3. Lexington, KY

The 21c hotel in Lexington, Kentucky, represents the intrusion of contemporary art culture into spaces it heretofore didn’t occupy, an extension of the creative class thesis that if you build it, artists will come and money will follow. It’s part of a chain of “boutique art hotels” in cities across the American south and center funded by a wealthy art collector. Each hotel is installed in an historic local building given a luxuriously minimal renovation; in Lexington’s case it’s one of the city’s larger structures, a 15-story bank. Each 21c comes with a museum-quality contemporary art gallery and a curatorial team to match.

A 14th-floor corner room with huge rounded windows and a bathroom that could have been designed by Richard Meier solved every problem a hotel should, except for the absence of a desk (the lobby also lacks workspace). I spent more time looking at the light than the TV. Be sure to walk 20 feet down the street to the Sunshine Bakery, a charming local institution with uneven hours that bakes its own bread and pastries. If you need an anti-local coffee shop, Daily Offerings is the empty box of your dreams.

While 21c’s rooms are immaculate the gallery programming leaves something to be desired. It’s one-liner art, often illustrative and based on a catchy, easily graspable concept. But it’s a far cry better than nothing, which was what was there before the hotel.

As an extension of the gallery, there are blue fiberglass sculptures of penguins everywhere. Other 21c hotels have penguins of different colors. One night I went down to eat at the Lockbox, the Lexington hotel’s upscale restaurant. I sat alone. While I was looking down at my pimento cheese and pickle plate someone stationed a penguin across my table, as if we were engaged in a romantic meal. Later the waitstaff adjusted the penguin so it gazed at me more directly. When I got back to my room another one was there waiting for me.

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