Our last visit to Vancouver was a quick one. We had little time to explore this striking Pacific metropolis during a brief stopover after an Alaska cruise, and on this occasion, determined to give the city its due, I booked a weeklong stay. I rather wish it had been longer.
Although Vancouver now counts as Canada’s third-largest metropolitan area, the pedestrian-friendly city is quite young, with a founding date of July 1, 1867, the day “Gassy Jack,” a man known for his loquacity, erected his tavern in what is now the neighborhood of Gastown. Vancouver appears its age, with only a few historic enclaves, Gastown among them. Taken individually, most of the buildings lack architectural distinction. But the city as a whole looks magnificent on its peninsula, a gleaming forest of glass and steel surrounded by water and deep-green mountains.
Even more than its setting, Vancouver’s most valuable asset is its cosmopolitan and unfailingly polite populace. We never received anything less than a warm welcome, whatever hotel, restaurant, shop or tourist attraction we visited. The “friendly Canadian” may be a stereotype, but it’s one with its roots in truth.
We received the warmest welcome of our visit at the historic 156-room Rosewood Hotel Georgia, where the urbane front desk clerk seemed genuinely pleased to meet us. Noticing that our rate included an upgrade on arrival, availability permitting, he checked the room inventory and upgraded us into a Junior Suite without our having to ask. In fact, this proved to be a proper suite, with a bedroom fully separate from the living room and complete with a dining table for four, a comfortable art deco-inspired seating group and a powder room. The contemporary décor kept within a range of cream to brown, but framed Rothko-esque prints added splashes of color. The bedroom contained an armchair, built-in writing desk and capacious closet. A striking white freestanding tub formed the centerpiece of the dark-brown marble bath; it was flanked by nicely lit vanities and a large walk-in rainfall shower. I also appreciated touches such as the decanter of bath salts, the plush oversize robes, the well-marked light switches, the Nespresso coffee maker and windows that opened sufficiently to allow in fresh air.
Our Junior Suite faced the Reflections: The Garden Terrace restaurant patio, but our 10th-floor location ensured that our views were chiefly of the skyline. Accommodations on the fourth floor are level with the restaurant, making privacy an issue. Request a room on the sixth floor or above or, better yet, a view of Robson Square (once construction there is finished).
Although the property reopened as the Rosewood Hotel Georgia in 2011, the original Hotel Georgia first accepted guests in 1927, and the current incarnation shows off rich period details in its public spaces. Elaborate gilt molding accents the wood paneling of the double-height lobby, which centers on a seating group surrounding an ornate fireplace. An eye-catching contemporary chandelier and abstract prints keep the space grounded in the present. In the elegant 1927 Lobby Lounge, we had eponymous “Hotel Georgia” cocktails, a delightful drink that bore more than a passing resemblance to a Ramos Gin Fizz. One evening, I had a nightcap in the intimate art deco-styled Hawksworth Cocktail Bar, choosing from its selection of Canadian whiskies (try the beautifully crafted 12-year-old Pendleton 1910). The neighboring Hawksworth Restaurant, also art deco in style, routinely tops lists of Vancouver’s best.
The spa, on the other hand, feels thoroughly contemporary, with a full range of treatments and a bright fitness center next door. I didn’t have a treatment, but I did take advantage of the saltwater lap pool, illuminated from below by color-shifting quadrilateral lights and surrounded by large porthole-like mirrors. Strangely, the small men’s room contained just a shower and toilet facilities (no lockers), and I couldn’t find any water other than that dispensed from a drinking fountain.
Quibbles like these aside, the Rosewood Hotel Georgia ranks among the best urban hotels in Canada, and I checked out with regret.
The ornate period detail in many public spaces; the polished service; the central location; the indoor pool; our plush, spacious and thoughtfully designed suite.
The lack of water views; the absence of beverages by the pool.
The hotel is within a two-minute walk of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Bill Reid Gallery; its 1920s-themed Prohibition bar offers craft cocktails Tuesday-Saturday.
Three blocks to the east is the less expensive L’Hermitage Hotel. This 60-room property in a residential tower has a more contemporary décor than the Rosewood Hotel Georgia: An immense red chandelier presides over the small lobby, which has unadorned wood paneling and a floor of black-and-white-striped marble. On the fifth floor, a lounge offers comfortable armchairs and sofas set around a double-sided fireplace. Guests can order drinks and light snacks throughout the day; a connecting space houses a breakfast buffet. The patio outside offers additional seating as well as a narrow, heated lap pool and hot tub.
With all other room categories sold out, we reserved a One-Bedroom Signature Den suite, which, despite its 810 square feet, still managed to feel cramped. The suite crammed in a full kitchen with stainless steel appliances, a living room with a sofa and decorative fireplace, a study with a writing desk and daybed, a bedroom with a queen-size bed and television, a walk-in closet, a full-size washer and dryer, a terrace and two baths clad in composite tile, comprising a guest bath with a shower and a master with both a large shower and a tub. Had we wanted to stay a couple of weeks, this suite would have been a good value for the money. But the postmodern décor was not to my taste — especially the cheap-looking fireplace, which glimmered with light but not flame. The staff, while very friendly, lacked the polish of that at the Rosewood. One front desk agent failed to endear herself with repeated attempts to commiserate about the on-time record of my home airport.
The cheerful staff; our suite’s apartment-like amenities; our terrace; the quiet guest lounge; the courtesy car for short trips downtown; the price.
The less-than-stylish décor; the sometimes too-casual service; signs of wear on our suite’s wood-laminate floor; our cheap-looking fireplace.
The hotel has bicycles guests can borrow, but reserve your time slot in advance; families can use the fold-out sofa and/or the daybed in a One-Bedroom Signature Den.
We had better luck at the Loden Hotel, a contemporary 77-room hotel centrally located on the edge of the West End, an upscale residential neighborhood between downtown and Stanley Park. The hotel's name refers to the dark-green color of loden fabric, a material used in various garments in Austria and southern Germany, and it is also meant as a reference to the dark-green hue of the mountains facing Vancouver.
The small, chic lobby had two seating groups facing a hearth clad in gray-and-white-striped marble. A side table near the check-in desk held a complimentary coffee bar in the morning and tea with scones and other baked goods each afternoon. A well-dressed and cheerful front desk clerk checked us in and gave us a map of downtown, indicating points of interest.
We had reserved one of the suites, which are approximately double the size of the rooms and are located on the top three floors. Each has a similar décor, but our Zephyr Suite had an ideal location at the corner of the hotel, with partial views (between buildings) of the harbor from the floor-to-ceiling windows. The open-plan living/dining room felt contemporary and stylish and was accented with Asian touches, such as a screen that separated the entry hall from the round dining set. Some 1970s elements, including a brass chandelier and a starburst clock, gave the room additional warmth.
The bedroom had two walls of windows, a comfortably firm king-size bed, a chair and an oblong writing desk that wrapped partially around a structural pillar. A hallway connected to the marble bath, which comprised a long counter with a single vanity flanked by pendant lights, a brown marble-clad shower stall and a deep tub accented by a wall of white marble tile. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the heated floor to function, even after receiving instructions on how to work the controls.
We had a fine lunch at the attached French restaurant, Tableau Bar Bistro, where the front desk clerk had made us a last-minute reservation (“Just in case — it’s a popular spot with locals,” she informed us). The fish cakes with rouille (a spread of garlic, saffron and breadcrumbs) were crunchy, and the duck breast with a blueberry-mustard jus and pommes dauphine (potato puffs) was rich and tender, though slightly overcooked. A room-service order from the restaurant arrived in 29 minutes in excellent condition, with warm, crispy French fries and a crunchy, gooey grilled cheese sandwich. At breakfast, however, it was disappointing to discover that Tableau Bar Bistro served no made-to-order dishes.
Alas, we didn’t make it into the Loden Hotel's spa suite — which contains an infrared sauna as well as a treatment room for massages and facials — nor the fitness center, despite the fact that this hotel has something of a wellness theme. Nevertheless, the quality of the accommodations and the level of service are both commendable.
Our large, bright and stylishly decorated suite; our partial water views; the friendly and professional service; the upscale residential feel; the location near the West End, Stanley Park, downtown and the harbor.
The unimpressive breakfast buffet; the problematic heated floors in the bath.
Second-floor Garden Terrace rooms come with yoga accessories, and their patios face greenery and water features.
Compared to the Loden Hotel and the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, the 367-room Fairmont Pacific Rim is a bit of a behemoth. In the late afternoon and evening, the white marble lobby can fill up with patrons listening to the (rather loud) live music, having drinks at the bar or dining on sushi in adjacent The RawBar restaurant. Fortunately, the hotel offers an easy way to escape the buzz: the Fairmont Gold “exclusive lifestyle hotel experience.”
Floors 20, 21 and 22 function as a hotel within a hotel, with their own front desk and lounge (higher floors in the building are residential). The lounge, with a sweep of windows facing the harbor and the green mountains beyond, is a refuge of calm and exclusivity. The wood paneling and framed black-and-white photos give the room a midcentury modern atmosphere, as do the tables with Saarinen chairs and a curvaceous wood-and-metal staircase leading from the lounge up to floor 21. The staircase, in fact, was one of my favorite features, because it allowed us to access the lounge without waiting for an elevator. A terrace with additional seating affords panoramic harbor views.
A buffet serves four food presentations over the course of the day: breakfast, afternoon snacks, evening canapés and then desserts. Options such as candied salmon, local cheeses, charcuterie, beef kofta with spiced couscous, and hazelnut espresso tarts rose to the occasion, but the scrambled eggs at breakfast, which appeared to be reconstituted from powder, were inexcusable. (Instead, we took advantage of the chef manning the omelet station.) Between noon and midnight, guests can pour themselves drinks from an honor bar, which features a range of local and international wines and spirits. I particularly enjoyed the zesty Blue Mountain sparkling wine from the nearby Okanagan Valley. Cocktail connoisseurs can also avail themselves of a wide selection of fresh mixers and bitters.
The smallest of our accommodations in Vancouver, our 400-square-foot Fairmont Gold Harbour View Room nevertheless proved exceedingly comfortable. Beyond the wood-paneled entry hall, the bedroom contained a firm king-size bed; a built-in unit comprising a writing desk, minibar, drawers and leather bench; and a long Monet-like photo of a pebbly pond. A tan leather armchair and an ottoman stood next to a sliding glass door opening onto our furnished balcony, from which we had breathtaking views of Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain and the harbor in between. I also enjoyed the marble bath, with its ample counter space, an inviting tub, a wide walk-in shower and a television set built into the well-lit mirror. Its remote control, I can say with absolute certainty, is waterproof.
Service, it will come as no surprise, was unfailingly friendly and helpful. When we first arrived in the lounge, for example, a staffer introduced herself and asked if we had just checked in. When I said that we had, she insisted on giving us flutes of sparkling wine as welcome drinks. The Fairmont Gold concierge speedily changed my restaurant reservations twice. And at breakfast, the server remembered exactly how I liked my coffee. Nor did the staff slouch outside the confines of the Fairmont Gold level; one server at breakfast in the ORU restaurant brought us two helpful maps after I mentioned our plans to circumnavigate Stanley Park by bicycle, plus bottles of water to take with us. And in the spa, staffers bustled about constantly, making sure that the locker rooms, lounges and terrace were in good order. It was a delight to relax there in one of the terrace’s hot tubs after our bike ride, and then to curl up under cashmere blankets on a daybed by the fire pit. A second terrace holds a large swimming pool overlooked by loungers and cabanas.
The Fairmont Pacific Rim — the newest of the four Fairmont properties in the city, including the hotel attached to the airport — lacks the historic patina of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. But the Fairmont Gold experience provides the traveler with a tranquil, well-serviced oasis, and its harbor views are unforgettable.
The panoramic views from our room and the Fairmont Gold lounge; the warm and professional service; the impressive and easy-to-use in-room technology; the tranquil and exclusive lounge.
The sometimes-loud main lobby; not receiving curbside registration as was promised with our Fairmont Gold confirmation.
Like the Loden Hotel and L’Hermitage, the Fairmont has complimentary bicycles and a house car for downtown trips; the famous Bella Gelateria is on the hotel’s ground floor.