Ace In The Hole

Posted in Hotels, Travel with tags on May 7, 2009 by travelwizard


I have fallen in love. Truly, I have fallen hard. I have just come back from three days at the fabulous Ace Hotel in Palm Springs and my emotional state is quite melancholy. I am not sure why I feel so nostalgic for those three magical days but I can say with absolute certainty that is felt great to be there. I am a huge fan of the desert. The warm night air, the calming breeze, the clear blue sky.. I can’t get enough!

I stumbled upon the recently opened Ace Hotel about a month ago and by the time this weekend rolled around, my excitement had reached a fever pitch. My first impression upon driving in was “hey, good lighting”. I pulled in around dusk and when I entered, I was immediately struck by the warm, inviting atmosphere that the good proprietors had created. Warm, orange light bathed the exteriors, which contrasted nicely to the white-washed buildings that housed the hotel rooms. Each building ( there are five) is outfitted with a larger than life fireplace surrounded by a decked out atrium that is wrapped in twinkling orange bulbs. The overall effect  is stunning – designy but not overly done up. In fact, the best way to describe the ACE is low key, subtle and intensely comfortable.

The rooms look as if they were deigned by the baby of Indiana Jones and Phillipe Starck (clearly a surrogate would be necessary – Isak Dinesen?) The walls and the windows are flanked by canvas, which sounds stramge but works really well..creating a tent-like vibe that makes one feel as if they are on some fabulous luxury safari in some far off land. Morrocan accents  in deep oranges, browns and blues offer a great contrast  to the beige canvas and white bedding. All the lights are on dimmers ( big plus! ) so it is easy to create a mood without really doing much. 

I opted for one of the rooms with a private patio and fireplace and having the outdoor space was  a nice extra. It felt private and spacious and it was completely worth the 100 dollar price difference. The hotel offers a DIY BBQ dinner and we opted for this on our third night. Having the outdoor patio with the fireplace lent itself nicely to this and it was beyond pleasant to enjoy a private meal outside our room. While the meal was slightly pricey ( I mean, you do have to cook it yourself), the head chef himself came to the room and explained our feast and we were given a selection of lamb, chicken and steak along with a green and potato salads, coleslaw and pickled cabbage. It was a super fun thing to do and one of the many services that make ACE a unique experience. 

What must be noted about ACE is that wherever possible, the hotel uses  organic, locally grown and in season food to prepare meals. You would think that this would make everything super pricey but in reality, this is one of the most reasonably priced hotels I have ever stayed in. On average, breakfast  and lunch ran us a mere 30 dollars for two including tip.  (you can’t leave without trying the bison burger!)Each meal always included at least two alcoholic beverages. There are no added room service charges, facility fees, parking fees or service fees at any time..seriously… SHOCKING! 

The two pools are both great. In addition to be salt-water, they are flanked by gigantic pillows that actually float. There are shady hammocks that line the exterior of the pool and make for a nice place to get out of the scorching sun. 

Overall, it was a total success. This is a great place if you are looking for laid back luxury with a funky flair.  I am counting the days until I can return..until then…





Simply Aces..

Posted in Hotels, Travel with tags , on April 12, 2009 by travelwizard


I have been a bad blogger. Shame on me. I haven’t lifted a finger for this blog in over two weeks and that is not acceptable! If there were a place to house neglectful bloggers, surely I would be sent there. Forgive me dear readers, my absence is not without reason and I will try not to stray so far again. 

I am happy to report that travels are on the horizon, and this time, I am heading back to my favorite weekend destination ( Palm Springs) to check out the latest in a new hotel chain making waves..Ace Hotels. So far, The Ace Hotel has popped up in Portland, Seattle, New York and now Palm Springs. I have been scoping out Ace for a while now, just waiting for the day hen one popped up in my vicinity. That day has come and in two weeks, I will be chillaxing poolside at their latest endeavor.

Here is what I know about The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs. It used to be a Howard Johnson. It underwent a serious makeover. There are six different room set ups, all of which are incredible well-priced and seemingly very decked out. Some more than others, which account for the price range but all contain the following amenities. A record player (three cheers!), flat screens, products from Rudy’s Barbershop, robes. those are standard these days. But guess what else Ace offers? Um, a dog park, do it yourself BBQ, communal fire-pits an two salt water pools. A dog park? My dog just got so lucky..

On the low end, a simple double or a simple king will run you around 89 a night. For between 100 to 200 more, you can opt for a rooms with a private outdoor porch, with or without a fireplace (I have opted for the fireplace, who doesn’t like a fireplace in May)?  I will write a full review upon return but for now, here is what I have to look forward to:





The Hotel St. Cecilia – Austin, TX

Posted in Hotels, Travel, Uncategorized with tags , , on March 22, 2009 by travelwizard


Poor St Cecilia. As if it wasn’t bad enough that she was the Patron Saint of Musicians( a group of people that I love dearly but would hate to be a patron anything to) when it came time for her to be executed, they not only tried to boil here alive (unsuccessfully I should note) but  she also endured three failed  beheadings before she actually succumbed.

While things for me are not as bad as poor St. Cecilia, in more ways than one, this has been without a doubt the most hectic, stressful and tiring week of the year. I believe I am on the road to recovery though. I returned yesterday from Austin, Texas, where I was attending the SXSW Music Festival ( and scoping for new hotels on the side), and since that time, I have been fairly horizontal. I went to bed at 10pm last night for the first time in many, many years. It felt amazing. I have woken feeling 90% better and I am hoping it is only going up from here.

As anyone who attends SXSW knows, there is really not much time to do anything else except hustle from club to club, chugging shiner bock’s and shoveling down tacos from the local taco truck but somehow, in between all this, I managed to learn about a new hotel that has just opened in Austin called The Hotel St. Cecilia. By “somehow” I mean I ran into my friend Anne, an Austin resident and local purveyor of cool tips and she gave me the heads up. The Hotel St. Cecilia is worth mentioning because it is one of the coolest new places I have come across in recent travels. Let me give you the rundown. 

Fourteen Rooms in total occupy a enormous Victorian Compound down a secluded street in Austin’s  South Congress District. As they say in their description, ” Privacy is God” and right a way this pleases me. This is an inn masquerading as a hotel – my favorite kind. All the privacy and luxury of a boutique hotel wrapped up with the quirkiness and funky touches generally reserved for an Inn. For instance, each room features its own turntable and record collection. As Austin is known for being a music town, this is hardly surprising as an amenity but it is the first place I have ever come across that actually had anything beyond an IPOD Dock. As St. Cecilia was the patron Saint of Musicians (poor gal) and I myself am a music lover.. I can really get behind that sort of distinguishing touch.

As I looked into the Hotel St. Cecilia, I discovered a couple of things. One, it is owned by the same people who brought us the Hotel San Jose, which I have spoken about in an earlier post. Two, if The Hotel San Jose is a hotel more in the thick of it all than the St Cecilia is the exact opposite- a stylish, private compound where one can escape the madness and retreat into the art full bliss that exists behind these walls.

The Hotel features Suites, Studios and Poolside Bungalows, all of which feature Flats Screens, DVD players, Hastens Hand Crafted Beds, Rivolta Carmingani linens, twice daily maid service and of course, those beloved Turntables. The Hotel itself has 24 Hour Concierge Service, breakfast made to order and a 50 foot lap pool on the grounds. Phew. Did I also mention it is pet friendly? 

I was thoroughly impressed with the Hotel St Cecilia. while I was unable to actually stay this time I will definitely be making plans to return as soon as possible. For now, I will leave you with some beautiful photos of the property I found on this great blog called Desire To Inspire. They were photographed by a woman named Jackie Caradonio and you can find her website here. 







Deep In The Heart of Texas…

Posted in Food, Hotels, Travel with tags , , on March 17, 2009 by travelwizard


It’s Texas time. Yep, SXSW is here again, the annual, Austin based music festival that spans a week in the middle of March each year. In preparation for 6 solid days of beer at breakfast, BBQ and bands, I have been steadily increasing my beef  and beer’s kinda like training for the marathon, except instead of improving my BMI, I will be expanding my stomach so that I arrive in Texas prepped and ready Here’s a rundown of my favorite spots to take a break from music madness – and it is truly madness. If you’ve never been, it’s like nothing you have ever done and it requires great stamina, a good pair of sneakers and a full stomach.

Here’s my quick guide to navigating Austin and surviving SXSW:

Where to Stay: The Driskill Hotel

The Driskill is one of the oldest establishments in Austin. Started in 1886 by a distinguished cattle baron, The Driskill is one of my favorite hotels in Austin. It’s design is distinctly southern, right down to the hospitality and taxidermy animals. Each room is stately and luxurious and it’s location right on 6th street makes it a perfect hotel to navigate the festival. 

Eat right:

Texas cuisine offers up two distinctly delicious choices – Tex Mex and BBQ. You can’t go wrong with either but lucky for you, there is plenty of time for both. For breakfast, I always make a point to head to Polvo’s, an Austin institution for Mexican food. GOD, Tex-mex is amazing. I especially crave the breakfast taco’s here. I don’t even want to know what kind of calories exist within this food because I don’t want to kill my buzz. I shall refrain from investigating. 

For lunch, there is BBQ. Delicious, delicious BBQ. The brisket, those ribs, THAT SAUCE. It’s criminal how good it can be. It’s really the only time I feel justified eating numerous animals at the same time. There are a few place in and around Austin I tend to hit up. The first being Rudy’s…a fantastic spot right outside of town that seriously has the best brisket and baby backs west of the Texas border. Okay..maybe it is not that good but it’s pretty special. This year I might venture to Green Mesquite or Salt Lick if I procure a car but sometimes that can be tricky when navigating set times for over 1500 bands. Green Mesquite was recently featured on one of my favorite late night food network shows – Diners, Drive In’s and Dives. I swear Guy Fieri has the best job but I really want home to lose the bleached hair – but that’ s a side issue.

What to See… many great bands to see…The Temper Trap, Fool’s Gold, Lissy Trullie, Little Boots, Pains at Being Pure At Heart, Glasser, Rye Rye and so on and so on. 


Did I mention I went to the Rodeo pre-sxsw? A staple of Texas culture. 


The White House Inn, Napa

Posted in Hotels with tags , on March 4, 2009 by travelwizard


This weekend I stayed in The White House. Okay, not THAT White House but rather the incredibly quaint and charming White House Inn located in Napa, CA. After a few hectic days in San Francisco, where I was staying for a music festival, I joined up with my BF for some much needed R&R in one of the prettiest spots in California. I can’t even remember how I stumbled upon across The White House Inn but I am glad I did, as it proved to be a great example of what a B&B can really achieve.

 The Inn consists of 18 rooms spread over three floors in a beautifully restored victorian mansion. For an inn, 18 rooms is on the large size but despite this,  I felt really isolated from the other guests – a big plus. My BF and I stayed in a king deluxe located on the top floor towards the back (number 16 ). We were so pleased by its layout, which included a fireplace, sitting area, king bed and flat screen television. Being on the third floor, the ceilings are sloped, which added to the already overwhelming coziness of the room. Beyond these amenities, what made the room stand out is how absolutely comfortable it felt – almost like you were staying in at your own home (except a really upgraded version complete with maid service). 

Almost immediately, I felt relaxed and comfortable. I turned the fireplace on, laid down on what was surely some of the softest linens to touch my skin and allowed myself to take in the ambiance. Deciding that I wasn’t fully relaxed, I headed to check out the bathroom, which to my delight, included a two person jacuzzi tub and a rain-shower. Despite the fact that it was 4:30 in the afternoon, I decided a bath was in order…if I was going to review the room, it would be best if all aspects of it were tried and tested….right?

Once that was complete and I was squeaky clean, warm and on the verge of a cat nap, I realized that is was wine time. Here at The White House Inn, 5:30 to 6:30 is happy hour, and every day the Inn provides free wine tasting and hor d’oeuvres. Since it would be sacrilege in Napa to skip wine, I dragged myself down the stairs an indulged in some free drinks. I was totally in full vacation mode. In a matter of hours, I had been transformed from the business me to the vacation me – I was loving it. On top of it all, I was taking part in a weekend special which included one free night . Essentially,  I was living life to the fullest – for free.

Let’s summarize -shall we?

The room was well-sized, comfortable and private. The service was appropriate to an Inn, helpful and friendly without being overbearing. The breakfast (included in the price) was plentiful, varied and tasty. If there was one thing that was slightly disappointing, it was the Inn’s location. It’s not that it was bad – it was actually walking distance to downtown Napa, but what surrounded the Inn was a neighborhood that was slightly mish-mashed- and not all that pleasing to the eye. When I go on vacation, one thing I am definitely not looking for it to stay in neighborhood worse than mine. I am not going to ding the Inn too much for this as once you stepped on to The White House grounds and into the house, you felt completely closed off from the surrounding neighborhood. Overall, the experience was really satisfying. I recommend checking it out the next time Napa calls and you are looking for a well-priced B&B. Check out some snaps of the Inn below.




The Jacuzzi Tub pour deux

San Francisco – City On The Bay

Posted in Food, Hotels, Travel with tags , , , on February 17, 2009 by travelwizard


After what has seemed like ages at the homestead (well, three weeks to be exact), I am getting ready to head off on an excursion to one of my favorite destinations: San Francisco. While most of my journey will be based around work, like many a resourceful traveler, I will parlay the work trip into a personal one, and spend the weekend in my number one destination in California – The Napa Valley.

The tanking economy is in my favor and I was able to get an astonishingly low rate at The Clift, the stylish but ridiculously space-challenged hotel in the heart of Union Square. However, at 139 a night, I am willing to make concessions and sadly, my beloved Palomar proved to be too expensive this time. I am not sure what is going on with Ian Schrager but 139 seems scarily low for a hotel that normally runs in the 200 to 300 dollar range. I am hoping not to find rats between my sheets. I’ll keep you posted. 

Of all the things I love about San Francisco, the city features one quality which soars above the rest – the availablity of great, cheap food. While the city has it’s share of fine dining as well, I find myself stopping off at my favorite haunts which are inevitably low-priced and delicious. Here are four of my particular favorites:

1. Pauline’s Pizza 

Pauline’s is the best pizza I have ever had. I know that is a bold statement and I am sure there are some New Yorker’s out there who would challenge me even as I write this but I stand firm. I don’t know if it is the cornmeal which coats the crust, or the inventive combination of ingredients which makes me so crazed but Pauline’s is a must stop for anyone who is a pizza connoisseur. Set in the ever – gentrifying Mission district, this pizzeria is comfortable, welcoming and extraordinary.

2. Luccas  Ravioli Company

Luccas is a great place to stop in and grab an Italian Sub. With an enormous selection of fresh meats and cheeses, Luccas is always among my litany of food stops upon hitting San Francisco. It’s always mobbed but it is well worth the wait. Their sandwiches are made to order and come served on freshly baked rolls. Since Luccas is mainly an Italian Grocer, be ready to cop-a-squat on the street if you are looking to dine-in. I would recommend take out if at all possible.

3. Pancho Villa Taqueria 

As a person who has spent the majority of their life in Los Angeles, I would think that at some point, I would find a burrito as pure and delicious as the ones at Pancho Villa Taqueria. Well, that point has not come sadly so it is with great anticipation that I make my yearly pilgrimage to San Francisco, to indulge in the best burrito north of the border. Simplicity is what defines Pancho Villa. Beans, Rice, Cheese, Meat and Salsa are the main ingredients but in my humble opinion, I feel nothing else is necessary.  For somewhere around 6 to 8 bucks, you will get an enormous fresh burrito – so enormous that basically you could eat it for lunch and dinner. I am already salivating just thinking about it.

4. Swans Oyster Depot

Yes, the line is enormous. Yes, it is cash only. Yes, they do not take reservations. Despite all this, Swans is worth carving out a portion of your day for. For lovers of Oysters and Clam Chowder, this hole in the wall – counter only San Francisco institution serves up classic seafood fare at really affordable prices. I am an oyster fanatic so I never miss a chance to indulge in many of Swans selection. Here’s hoping I have a chance to do so this time!

After spending four nights at The Clift, hopping from club to club and eating my way through most of the city,  I will be ready for a little relaxation. I decided to try a new place in Napa called The White House. Set in a stunning Victorian mansion near Downtown Napa,  The White House has been open less that a year but they reviews are so gushing that my interest is sufficiently peaked. As an added bonus, I was able to take advantage of a special that is running until the end of February that allows new guests to stay the weekend and get two nights for the price of one. I am tickled pink! I am looking forward to lazing in my two person soaking tub or perhaps engaging in a film on my LCD Flat Screen. I will write a full review upon my return but for now, see below for some pre-stay snaps:



NYLO Hotels: New York Style Sans New York Prices

Posted in Hotels, Travel with tags , on February 4, 2009 by travelwizard


Only a few mere weeks ago, I was wondering to myself when we in North America were going to steer our eyes across the pond and incorporate Europe’s explosion of hotel chains which feature high design at low prices. Sure, we have budget hotels…no shortage there…but nothing that warrants writing home about. Well, it turns out someone was paying attention. The proprietors of NYLO Hotels (short for NY Lofts) are on their way to creating a chain of hotels which spotlight design and function for affordable prices.

Thus far, two Nylo Hotels are up in running. One in Plano, Texas and one in Warwick, Rhode Island. By 2012, those busy Nylo’s hope to have 50 properties under construction all around the USA. It seems that thus far, the reviews have been good, give or take a few. Their Warwick property seems to fare much better than the Plano property but in all fairness, they are a new chain and despite some of the reviews, I am hoping a bright future awaits them.

Let’s start with the basics…NYLO Hotels want to show their customers a good time for a fair price. Right away, I am intrigued. The USA may have many things- a drugstore on any corner, doggie daycare and other absurd businesses, but what we are missing is a cool hotel for an affordable price. Is that really so much to ask? The good people at NYLO believe that it isn’t.

They consider themselves ” a unique hotel for unique individuals” (all you boring, ordinary people please disregard this post..NYLO is not for you) and I think that is a pretty cool standard. For between 100 and 200 per night (depending on the location and room) here is what you can expect at NYLO Hotels: Stylish accommodations, flat screens, ipod docs, allergy free rooms(listen up people!), hi-speed FREE internet and free parking. They even manage to do all this while still being 100% mind full of environmental concerns. Hooray for NYLO. A job well done..look for new NYLO popping up everywhere from Dallas to Chicago to New York. Hold tight cash-strapped travelers..NYLO is coming to your rescue..