24-hour room service: Zero 1, Montreal
A study in elegance: Montreal's latest digs
Sarah Baxter is part-time Associate Editor of Wanderlust travel magazine and a part-time freelance travel journalist and editor. She has written many features for The Independent, as well as for other newspapers, magazines, blogs and books. She loves exploring the great outdoors, and when she's not thinking travel, she's likely lacing up for a run instead.
Saturday 24 December 2011
Dead of winter or height of summer: there always seems to be a festival going on in Montreal. Be it jazz, comedy, snow, fireworks, dragon boats or burlesque, Canada's second-biggest city is dedicated to celebration. And Zero 1, located in the city's Quartier des Spectacles, puts you at the heart of this perpetual party.
However, a little over a year ago, you'd have been sharing these digs with a satchelful of students – the stocky, 12-storey block was formerly a hall of residence. But after a speedy renovation and the input of an award-winning design agency, it opened in June as an industrial-chic hotel.
There's still a faint whiff of university grunge about the place. Pockmarked walls – the result of past freshers' week high jinks, perhaps – have been left unfilled; concrete pillars remain exposed (one guest, says manager Jean-Martin, quipped, "Did you forget to paint it?"). There's also a look of Ikea about some of the furniture. The pay-off, however, is that you get bargain style and centrality.
That style is important. Montreal is one of just a handful of Unesco-designated Cities of Design, an indicator of its strong creative identity, and Zero 1 feels right at home here.
The hotel's design is playful: there's a central void accessed from the reception, part open to the elements high up on one side – an inside-but-outside space filled with loungey chairs, bean bags and lanterns. To be properly outside, there's a decked panoramic terrace on the fifth floor. And, from the architecture books and long sofas in the lobby, to the black walls, lime-tinted glass and bare concrete, the décor stays the right side of studenty.
There are some of the usual trappings – a conference room, business centre, (small) gym – but this place really isn't for the business crowd. The aim is to place visitors "at the heart of the arts" and provide them with a suitably edgy base to explore it all from.
On my autumn visit, some carpets were not quite tidied at the edge. And the in-house Alys Restaurant, set to serve tapas-style fare from renowned Québécois chef Louis-François Marcotte, was a work in progress, due to open in January. This meant there wasn't anywhere to serve a proper breakfast, but muffins and coffee were available in a room behind reception. In any case, the city's glut of patisseries, chocolatiers and droolingly-good eateries means venturing out for breakfast isn't a hardship.
Staff are helpful, but not over the top. "What we want to offer," says Jean-Martin, "is style without too much expense." And that's just what you get.
Montreal is a city of Manhattan-esque neighbourhoods: cobbled Old Town, Chinatown, Little Italy, Plateau and trendy Mile End. Zero 1 sits in the Quartier des Spectacles (the Festivals Quarter), on the corner of two main arteries: René-Lévesque Boulevard and St-Laurent. Stay on a higher floor to get away from the traffic noise and for better views. Note, rather insalubriously, the city's minuscule Red Light District is just behind the hotel – but the area doesn't feel dodgy. Concentrate on what else is on your doorstep: it's a short walk south to the historic streets of Vieux Montréal; the trendy shops of Ste-Catherine are 10 minutes west; the cultural venues of the Place des Arts even closer.
Rooms come in five styles (and price bands), the main difference being their size. "Pop" rooms feel quite compact, though clever design makes good use of the space; at the top end, the seven "Living" suites have two bedrooms and a lounge.
Comfort is key throughout. Sizeable beds with high-quality white linens are standard, as are neat kitchenettes, meaning those on long stays can eat in at space-age white plastic table and chairs.
The feel is overtly modern – black walls, dark-wood floors and huge lime-tinted mirrors are the backdrop to out-sized lampshades, flat-screen TVs and iPod docks. Bathrooms aren't overly generous and towels could be fluffier, but who needs to linger? Enormous windows flood the rooms with light and will tempt you out into the city.
Zero 1, 1 René-Lévesque Boulevard East, Montreal, Canada (001 855 301 0001; zero1-mtl.com/en)
Doubles start at C$129 (£80), room only, though free Wi-Fi is included.
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