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Call it the Airbnb effect. Private rentals are booming right now, even amongst traditional hotel stayers (right now, for example, we’re writing this from a Greek island, in a house we booked on Homeaway because it was half the price of the hotels we looked at).
Spanish chain Room Mate is, of course, ever hip and always trendy – and now it’s following the trend with the launch of Bemate.com, a private rental site. “The way we travel has changed,” they say on the intro video on the website. “Now we want to feel at home anywhere… We want to be as local as the locals.”
BeMate launched yesterday with 2500 apartments (“handpicked”, according to the chain, though that is, of course, one of the most overused words of the past few years). Right now, it’s in cities where Room Mate already has a presence; by the end of the year, it plans to cover 150 cities, including London.
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It’s summer, and wherever you live, that means a trip to Europe. New to the continent? Keen to try something other than your major chains, but nervous about going independent? Here are six of the best European chains. NB: These are all also suitable for anti-chain snobs.
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“You have got a new friend in Istanbul” said the email that popped into our inbox yesterday. Good thing we didn’t click the spam button – it was from Room Mate Hotels, announcing their first place in Turkey will open 1 July.
Room Mate Kerem (so new, they have yet to put a face to the name*) will be in Beyoglu, a block up from pedestrianized shopping strip Istiklal Street, right by the British Consulate (a few minutes away from the Pera Palace).
It’s a historic building (of course – it’s Beyoglu) re-envisioned by designer Lázaro Rosa Violán, and the renderings look superb: a modern take on Art Deco, with lofty ceilings and oversized windows, lots of mirrors and glass to flood the lobby with light, and even a library and what looks like an antique display cabinet of glass and pottery. Drool over all the pictures here.
Which is probably why we were so excited during our recent stay at Room Mate Laura in Madrid. Because, of course, we can barely stay in a nice hotel without a fancy umbrella being thrust at us by the concierge or the cupboard. But an offer of a raincoat? That’s a new one. A thoughtful one, too.
We first learned about Spanish chain Room Mate when they took over the QT Times Square way back in 2008, and talked to founder Enrique “Kike” Sarasola to understand what they’re all about. In short, that’s individual hotels with distinct personalities (called Oscar, Grace, Isabella, and so forth) that should give you the feeling of staying with a local friend who knows the ins and outs of each city.
That philosophy has resulted in a total of 18 hotels today, from Grace in New York to Carlos in Buenos Aires, and now Aitana in Amsterdam. Not a Dutch name (in case you were wondering whether it was locally inspired), the 284-room hotel is located on the man-made IJ Dock (the IJ is the surrounding water) northwest of the city’s central station.
At last, Ocean Drive's new Room Mate moves in! The renovated Waldorf Towers is now open as The Waldorf, a Room Mate Hotel--with rooms this weekend going for $199 a night and up.
This is the second U.S. boutique hotel from the Spanish chain--the other being Room Mate Grace in New York City. The hotel has an unbeatable location and a lovely Art Deco pedigree. We're loving the orange detailing of the exterior. But what about inside...?
The Waldorf, a Room Mate Hotel, is set to open in Miami on April 15. (It was formerly the Waldorf Towers Hotel and of course, has no relation to the Waldorf Astoria.)
The hotel has just 44 rooms but it's located on Ocean Drive which is, as seasoned Miami Beach visitors know, the best place to watch ladies in cheetah bikinis and men in Brazilian speedos go roller-blading.
And the Waldorf is exactly the kind of "room mate" who would do such people watching with you. Check out this cheeky note on its website:
I was expecting you, but I had to go to the yacht. My partner will give you your keys, get yourself comfortable. If you want to, we will see you later at the beach. I have a friend who makes some wonderful cocktails, and if you are encouraged, we will play a few beach volleyball games. Be ready for tonight to discover the South Beach night life, you will be excited. Welcome to Miami Beach.
Now we know what Madonna is doing in hotels (and with whom--cough, cough, 24-year-old Brahim Zaibat), we thought we should check in on her ex, Jesus Luz. Turns out, just like his namesake, Jesus wants to walk on water. Or, well, float on it, anyway--at New York's RoomMate Grace Hotel.
We thought that his split with Madonna may send Jesus back into the dark, cold depths of Nobodiesville but thanks to the latest issue of Page Six magazine, he gets to live again! He appears on the cover of the magazine that came with The New York Post last week, and in these photos inside, taken at the Midtown hotel most famous for its pool.
Room Mate Leo, Granada
Room Mate Hotels first caught our attention when Andre Balazs sold the Hotel QT to the Spanish chain and Times Square's pool-in-the-lobby hotel transformed fairly quietly into Room Mate Grace. Today, Budget Travel mentions the Spanish brand on a list of some of Spain's chicest hotel chains, and we just found a deal on Quikbook promising $119 rooms (if you stay 3+ nights) at NYC's Room Mate Grace.
Still, we didn't know too much about the chain's concept or, for that matter, exactly why all the Room Mate hotels had person-names attached to them. So we put on our investigatin' pants and got in touch with Enrique “Kike” Sarasola, President and CEO of Room Mate Hotels and (fun fact!) a former Olympic horseback rider.
Kike started the chain in Spain after realizing that most guests don't spend time in their hotel doing much besides sleeping, showering, or eating breakfast when they're there to see the city. With that in mind, the key priorities for every Room Mate hotel, he says, are 1) to make sure that all properties are in prime locations and 2) that the beds, showers and free breakfasts are excellent and consistent across the entire chain.
Think Spain, think hip and think ultra-modern, but without a too-distressing price tag, and you’ve got what some are saying is a revolution of hotel mini-chains across cities like Barcelona and Madrid.
A cross somewhere between boutique hotels and budget hostels, we’re talking places like the two Gat hotels in Barcelona; Matt Gross gave the the Gat Raval kudos a couple of years back but the Gat Xino goes one step up by skipping the shared bathrooms, and gets more love than the Raval. Although you should be warned that even the Gat manager says herself that “Gat is not for people who like to spend a lot of time in their rooms." Gulp.
The boutique dorm room hotel QT has become Room Mate Grace.
"She" appears to be an actual woman, and all the marketing stuff sort of talks about the property as though she is, like, a person. The website asks you to "discover her":
Room Mate Grace is the stylish solution for the savvy traveler who wishes to experience the sophistication and fun New York has to offer. Room Mate Grace features a unique lobby and event space, complete with an indoor pool, sauna and steam room. The 24 hour kiosk is stocked with everything from the most basic supplies to the most decadent treats.
Um, er, yeah. We're just happy the free WiFi is still there.
Fellas on the other hand, now you can say you went to Manhattan and slept with your buddy's Room Mate, Grace, and not be lying! Ha!
Rooms start around $249 per night.