24-hour Room Service: The Opposite House, Beijing
Saturday 12 February 2011
More than 100 new hotels opened in Beijing in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics, ranging from two- and three-star chains to international five-star brands such as the Ritz-Carlton, the Park Hyatt and the Shangri-La, which lies near the top of the 81-floor World Trade Centre complex. Given such a surge before the Games, scheduling your official hotel launch for three days after the Olympic opening ceremony seems a little... tardy. However, in a show of sheer bravado, the Swire group did just that, unveiling its first hotel as the centrepiece of its shiny new project, the Sanlitun Village.
This modern development in the capital's embassy district embodies the new face of Beijing, bursting with glass, glitz and global brands (it's the home of Apple's first store in China).
The "village" purports to be based on Beijing's traditional hutongs, so the hi-tech complex is held together by narrow lanes and alleys. The Opposite House (whose name originates from the ancient custom that a guesthouse always faces a traditional courtyard home) loosely follows this rule, combining a vernacular architectural blueprint with dazzling modern design.
Housed in an emerald-green glass building, the hotel was conceived by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. The floors surround a large central atrium where metres of metallic mesh sweep down from the ceiling to the lobby area.
Inside the lobby, Chinese furniture, such as a large red lacquered Gansu sideboard, decorates the soaring space. Staff members armed with laptops will check you in on sofas rather than at a designated desk.
The focal point is a 6m-high acrylic apothecary unit, a play on traditional Chinese furniture, with more than 6,000 drawers.
The area also displays funky exhibits by Chinese artists that change every month. and is selected to fit in with the contrary theme of the hotel, for example: a series of ceramic Chinese monks holding Star Wars-style lightsabers illuminating the way to breakfast.
Sanlitun Village is in Chaoyang District, which is also home to the Olympic Park and the central business district (CBD) as well as most of the city's embassies. It is one of the fastest-developing areas of Beijing and has become a popular drinking and shopping hub. There is little evidence of any history here, not so much because it has been bulldozed to make way for the latest DKNY or Louis Vuitton store (although these are plentiful), but because Chaoyang lies beyond the old city walls.
The nearest metro stop is a 15-minute walk from the hotel; the flat fare on the city's excellent network is 2 yuan (20p) per trip, regardless of changes).
Cabs are ubiquitous and affordable. The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square are a 20-minute drive away, the airport half an hour – the fare to the latter will cost around 100 yuan (£10). The hotel can also organise trips to the Great Wall: a return journey in a private cab takes 75 minutes each way and costs around 1,000 yuan (£100).
The Opposite House has 98 large studio rooms and nine spacious suites. If you're feeling flush, there's also a penthouse with roof terrace. Wooden floors and glass partitions give the rooms, which have floor-to-ceiling windows at one end, a pleasantly uncluttered, contemporary feel. There is a desk as you enter and a king-size bed with down bedding. Pride of place in the open-plan bathroom, sectioned off by a glass wall, is a large oak spa bath.
On the tech front, each room has free Wi-Fi. The mood lighting is a nice touch, providing every conceivable option except – and this was possibly down to the inadequacies of this particular guest – off. Still, with the lights on, you can exploit the free minibar with its range of Chinese and Japanese beers, soft drinks and snacks. Leaving the comfort of the room is not an easy task but if it's achieved there's a beautifully lit stainless steel pool in the lower basement, and a gym.
For breakfast, the Village Café offers everything from dim sum to a top-notch full English via muesli and a continental buffet. There are two other restaurants – if you can find them without walking into a wall (the corridors are troublingly dark). Bei serves Japanese, Chinese and Korean food at 45 yuan (£45) per head, while Sureno offers Mediterranean dishes at a similar price.
For after-dinner drinks there is Mesh bar, a classy low-lit establishment to sup a cocktail or two (if you don't mind the smoking).
The Opposite House also has its own club, Punk – a pulsating spot packed at weekends with Beijing's bright young things.
Opposite House, The Village, Building 1, No 11 Sanlitun Road, Beijing, China (00 8610 6417 6688; theoppositehouse.com)
Doubles start at 2,357 yuan (£222), room only.
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