In Taipei, travelers now have a choice of good accommodations in between the top and bottom portions of the scale – and some smaller hotels are introducing new concepts in design.
BY STEPHANIE POON
With only a handful of international-brand hotels available, visitors to Taipei for years sometimes wound up staying at a shoddy facility with inferior service. But over the past five years, the situation has changed. Taipei’s urban scene has been upgraded with a new breed of boutique business hotels, thanks to a new generation of hoteliers, real estate developers, and service-industry professionals who have traveled the world and come home inspired with new ideas. Boutique hoteliers have made great efforts to differentiate the design of their facilities from Taiwan’s “love motels,” and gradually domestic customers – who make up the bulk of the hotels’ visitors – are learning to shed their preference for Greek columns and golden chandeliers in favor of accepting a more modern and chic ambience.
Here are some hotel choices in Taipei that are economical and at the same time fun to stay at.
Hotel Eight Zone
8 JinShan Road, Section 1, Taipei
Tel: (02) 2358-3500
Located by the side of a busy elevated roadway through the center of Taipei, Hotel Eight Zone succeeds in creating a lifestyle oasis for fatigued travelers amidst the urban bustle. Upon arrival, guests are welcomed with a choice of complimentary alcoholic beverages at the contemporary lobby bar, which doubles as the check-in counter. Front desk personnel are all trained bartenders. While sipping our shaken-not-stirred martinis under the ceiling adorned with overlapping ecliptic discs, we discovered that Eight Zone has put itself in a different league from the many wannabe design hotels that are still trying to be hip.
Since its opening on August 8, 2008, the hotel has been vigorously focusing on eight aspects – lighting, space, cuisine, beverages, music, bath, ambience, and pace – that it sees as making the property unique. “We have eight different room styles, but we don’t want to articulate them lest customers confuse us with love motels, which always emphasize different themes in their rooms,” says Hotel Eight Zone’s special assistant, Rick Chen.
The owners have their own ideas about design, and not only refrained from filling the hotel with designer furniture but even audaciously abstained from hiring a designer. Instead, the company dispatched a task force of five young employees to New York, Hong Kong, Thailand, and China to conduct research and then come up with their own design concept for the hotel. “We try to use the customer’s point of view to make decisions about every detail, so the space is user-friendly,” says Chen. “For example, we note the importance of the bathroom space for relaxation. Both business and leisure travelers want to come back and relax in the bath after a long day out. All our bathrooms take up one-third of the overall room space, which is rare. We also offer guests complimentary milk baths.”
Besides communicating directly with contractors on how the construction should be done, the task force also opted to use only “Made in Taiwan” furniture and lighting. One of the hotel’s missions thus becomes branding Taiwan – showing international customers that local interior work is every bit as good as that of other developed markets.
Besides the spacious bathrooms, high ceilings (2.9 meters), and comfortable room size (13 pings), the hotel seeks to present travelers with a mod lifestyle. “Unlike hotels that only want to provide a sleeping space, we want our guests to stay in and experience the eight-sense lifestyle,” says Chen. Music and lighting are two elements in which the task force invested much thought and energy. Each of the 50 guest rooms features distinctive concept lighting to make the space homey, and international DJs were commissioned to customize music – mostly drum and bass and ambient tunes – for the hotel. Night Zoo is one of the hotel’s signature CDs, featuring nocturnal sounds of animals, birds, and forests.
Another lifestyle feature is the 8 Fun Cigar bar, a well-ventilated space with LED glass lighting and a wide wine selection. The tango nights each Friday and salsa nights on Saturday, open to the public, are perfect for people watching. For these occasions, the lobby and reception area is transformed into a lounge bar with a dance floor and party spotlights.
Rooms at this funky hotel go for NT$3,800-$4,800 per night.
370 DunHua South, Section 1, Taipei 106
Tel: (02) 2784-8888
Red increases the pulse and heart rate and raises blood pressure.
Red is aggressive and outspoken.
Purple implies nobility and spirituality.
Purple is mysterious.
Predominantly red and purple, Hotel Éclat presents a palpable visual shock.
A monumental Czech-made purple chandelier covers the entire circumference of the lobby ceiling. Striving to be a “museum hotel,” Eclat sets out impressive art pieces where they can be spotted at every angle. Topping of the collection are two of Salvador Dali’s surreal dancing statues, bronze pieces that together weigh a ton and are valued at NT$50 million. Works by celebrated modern Chinese artists are also displayed throughout the property. Two classical armchairs – neo-French except for the Roy Lichtenstein-esque design on the upholstery – are perched before the elevators; in between them is a bureau topped with a “flying baby” figure made of fiberglass.
If the lobby is not spellbinding enough for you, the Cantonese restaurant in the basement will certainly dazzle. The walls are dressed in a plush red texture with velvet red chairs to match. Andy Warhol’s “The Queen” – the original – hangs inconspicuously in one of the private rooms. But décor is not the key here. The food is. And Éclat’s Cantonese dim sum tops the chart of Taipei’s yum cha selection (though there wasn’t much competition to begin with).
Owner Huang Jian-hua took on the task of conceptualizing the décor, while contracting LRG Designers to implement the scheme. The 62 rooms continue the splendor with Starck’s Louis Ghost chairs, Mont Blanc stationary, Salvatore Ferragamo bath sets, and Nespresso coffee machines. To that impressive display of designer brands, add Bang & Olufsen sound systems and Riedel crystal wine glasses. A total of 62 commissioned paintings from Taiwanese artists are also distributed among the guest rooms.
For NT$6,000 a night and up, travelers can experience the luxuriousness produced by an NT$15 billion renovation. The property (the Petite Sherwood in its former incarnation) is conveniently located near the intersection of DunHua South and XinYi Roads.
297 ZhongXiao East Road, Section 5, Taipei 110
Tel: (02) 2528-8000
The doorman flashed a friendly grin and said “good morning ma’am” as I whizzed past to enter the next hotel on my list. Turning left at the front door, I found myself in a long dark corridor. My pupils enlarged. My pace slowed. Beams of indirect blue light lit the way. Several steps later and voila! – there’s the reception.
A smiling receptionist led me to a curtained area within a Faberge-egg steel frame, with customized sofas snuggly fitted inside. The rest of the lobby retains its dark mystery with a black marble floor and absence of furniture and decoration. Sales and Marketing Director Wendy Lin quickly ushers me to another multipurpose space where guests can take breakfast or midnight snacks, or just sit. Midnight snacks? While most small hotels do not even provide breakfast as a cost-cutting measure, Tango caters to guests’ late-evening cravings. From 9:30 to 11 p.m. every Friday and Saturday, customers can pig out on pastas, grilled meats and vegetables, noodles, fried rice, and an assortment of other selections. “Fifty percent of our weekend guests are Taiwanese,” says Li, “which is why we have this service on the weekends.”
But the Tango’s main selling point is its location just on the periphery of the new XinYi shopping and business district. It targets foreign business travelers who like hotels off the beaten path. “The name Tango is to illustrate the harmony of hardware and software of our hotel, and the dynamism of our service, just like the dance,” explains Lin.
Architect Chou Jin-liang sought to use free space and strategic lighting to create the atmosphere of a futuristic dream. The lobby features a spaceship motif at the entrance area, and the textured walls on each floor are lighted by halogen lamps clustered in groups of three to create a wave effect. The rooms, in contrast to the public space, are well-lit with warm, indirect lighting.
Each 14-ping room features Kohler & Hansgrohe toilet facilities, Pioneer 5.1 CH surround-sound DVD systems, goose-down bedding, ergonomic Contessa chairs designed by Ferrari, jacuzzi tubs with a nano bubble hot-spring function, and Yingo hand-made Argillaceous tea sets with Gao-Shang tea. Some executive rooms even feature a small Japanese garden leading to a private washing machine.
Besides the XinYi property, which was opened in June 2006, Tango Hotels have been opened in two central Taipei locations: NanShi and LinSen. The newest premises is in Taichung. The corporate rate for guests at any of these properties starts from NT$3,900.
No. 15, Lane 83, Chung Shan N. Rd, Sec 1, Taipei 104
Tel: (02) 2531-9999
No. 3, NanJing West Road, Taipei 104
Tel: (02) 2531-9999
No. 525, DaDuen Rd, Taichung city
Tel: (04) 2320-0000
77 LinSen North Road, Taipei 104
Tel: (02) 7743-1000
Hip-hop bling meets nouveau riche. Fendi cushions, chandeliers adorned with 10 bulls’ horns (a controversial piece that might outrage animal rights activists), and gold panels. These are the first elements to meet the eye at Hotel Sense. Each corner of the lobby is splashed with opulence. You can almost imagine a souped-up Cadillac complete with powered hydraulics parked out front. Bringing back 1930s symmetry and hints of cubism, the architect fused neo-classical furniture with geometric touches, plus a color palette so filled with yellow and golden hues that it would put Versailles to shame.
The ardent general manager came to meet me while I was perched on a frightfully expensive Italian sofa, trying not to run my fingers over the diamante of the Fendi cushion. “You’ve come to the most stylish hotel in Taipei,” Doris Liu announced proudly. “Every detail you see here is top-notch. We use only the best materials.”
Each of the 79 rooms is laden with imported customized Spanish furniture – Marnier (a brand dating back to 1893), solid art-deco wood furnishings – juxtaposed with present-day amenities. The square motif is ubiquitous, from the floor plan to lamps to wood panels. Doors were made extra-wide (1.2 meters) and trimmed with Romanesque wood frames to enhance the grandiosity. Elevator doors are carved in a geo motif and the floor is clad with intricate mosaic. The four owners, each with cosmopolitan backgrounds, have not been deterred from using top-quality products.
The bathrooms are a refuge from this extravaganza. Bolgarli amenities from Canada are paired with natural black and grey stone counters and floors. Executive rooms and above also feature a small balcony or garden where guests can relax and enjoy the Taipei cityscape. The regal experience starts at NT$3,600, with breakfast included in the new Italian fusion restaurant.
73 XinYi Road, Section 2, Taipei
Tel: (02) 2358-2799
Primal vitality. That was the feeling I got from the raw wooden furnishings in Hotel 73’s lobby. Armchairs, stools, dining chairs, a coffee table and dining table were all constructed from discarded pieces of wood found on the streets of Taipei. The displays were paired with an exhibit of selected wallpaper from Rotex, Taiwan’s largest exporter of wall coverings. “The intention of this hotel is to provide a platform for experimentation,” says Assistant General Manager George Dai. “We want to help promote the design education and culture of Taiwan to foreigners.”
Teaming up with Stockholm Style, a design consultancy, Hotel 73 invited a young and rugged Swedish artist named “Godspeed” Finn to create a series of coarse industrial style furnishings for exhibition. Utilizing only a hammer and nails, Finn can build a chair within 10 minutes and a coffee table in half an hour. Some pieces show the original wood hues and others are coated with rough layers of primary-color paints. At first sight the furniture seems frightening to sit on, but they are actually quite comfortable.
Since even before it had Godspeed’s speedy creations, the lobby has also featured graffiti themes. Local graffiti artists were commissioned to display their creativity on blank walls, attracting the attention of both guests and the media during the transformation. Guests can feast their eyes on new creations on each return visit.
Perhaps the boldest co-promotion move by the management was allowing freshmen at Shih Chien University to design eight of the 50 guest rooms. Divided into teams of three, the design students were given 20 days and access to Rotex’s wall covering materials to transform the rooms. Jack Huang, the hotel’s seasoned artistic director, played the role of mentor.
Positioned as offering economical lodging with breakfast included, Hotel 73 has a clientele composed 65% of international travelers, many of them from Hong Kong and Macau. Before the rather recent advent of boutique hotels, the choice in Taiwan was largely limited to either luxury or low-end accommodations. Seeing an opportunity in the NT$2,000-$3,000 market, the owners invested in a series of small business/leisure hotels, with Hotel 73 as one of the more experimental properties. Rates start from NT$1,800 for a room of 3.5-pings.
64 ChangAn East Road, Section 1, Taipei
Tel: (02) 2541-0077
Switching gear from experimental to Ambience, this sister property of Hotel 73 offers travelers the sensation of a glacial paradise. Think snow queen living a perpetual white winter in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The frosted interior is a welcoming tone on a warm and humid Taipei summer day.
White on white on white. From ceiling to flooring to accessories, the interior is covered by various hues of white. Only stainless steel and mirrors thaw the snowy dominance. “The owner took a courageous move to make everything white. The Taiwan market is still used to warm and opulent colors like brown and gold,” notes Deputy General Manager Diana Dai. “We are the first hotel in Taipei to experiment with this Scandinavian minimalist concept.”
Since its opening in December 2005, this 60-room hotel has been a hit with foreign travelers, who comprise over 70% of the guests. Regional representatives of luxury designer brands such as Marni and Gucci have been among the returning guests. Although the property does not offer gym facilities or a business center (the front desk provides basic business services), complimentary breakfast is served from 7 to 10 a.m. daily, and each room has free video-on-demand channels.
Owner Ted Su – who designed In-House, the first lounge bar in Taipei’s XinYi district, was also the brain behind Ambience’s Nordic approach. Believing the Taiwan market was sophisticated enough for a complete departure from the mainstream, Su completes each room’s Arctic look with Philippe Starck’s Louis Ghost chairs and Ferruccio Laviani’s Bourgie lamps. “This is a HIGH maintenance property,” says Dai. “The lobby sofas and armchairs have to be reupholstered often. Every nook and cranny has to be cleaned every day. Any small blemish ruins the look of the hotel.”
Travelers can enjoy the experience for as little as NT$2,800 a night for a standard room of 5.5 pings. One-bedroom suites complete with a living and dining area are also available for around NT$6,000.
Other Taipei boutique hotels:
Les Suites Taipei
135 DaAn Road, Section 1, Taipei 106
Tel: (02) 8773-3799 www.suitetpe.com.tw
12 ChingCheng Street, Taipei 105
Tel: (02) 8712-7688
Taipei Fullerton Hotels
32 NanJing East Road, Section 5, Taipei 105
Tel: (02) 2763-5656 www.tapeifullerton.com.tw
41 FuXing South Road, Section 2, Taipei 106
Tel: (02) 2703-1234
315 FuXing North Road, Taiwan 105
Tel: (02) 2713-8181
San Want Taipei Residences
128 NanJing East Road, Section 1, Taipei
Tel: (02) 2511-5185 www.swresidences.com
33 XinYi Road, Section 3, Taipei
Tel: (02) 2707-6899 www.dandyhotel.com.tw
City Inn Taipei
7 HuaiNing Street, Taipei 100 (near Taipei Train Station)
Tel: (02) 2314-8008 www.gocityinn.com
317 FuXing S Road, Section 1, Taipei 106
Tel: (02) 5579-3888 www.parktaipei.com