Hotel Stage, Hong Kong
Hotel Stage is a sleek 97-room design hotel with a stylish wine bar, a superb organic restaurant, and its own art gallery and performance space
By Monique Burns
People and places often inspire great works of art. Perhaps that’s why the bustling, densely populated, even chaotic neighborhood of Yau Ma Tei seems such an unlikely locale for Hotel Stage. One of Hong Kong’s newest boutique establishments, Hotel Stage—a sleek 97-room design hotel with a stylish wine bar, a superb organic restaurant, and its own art gallery and performance space — seems more at home in a tonier neighborhood.
But there’s more to Yau Ma Tei than meets the eye. In the heart of Kowloon—one of Hong Kong’s three main islands and site of most major visitor attractions—historic Yau Ma Tei is Hong Kong at its most authentic. Artists and artisans have always lived here, but, in recent years, Yau Ma Tei has attracted a new breed of artist, inspired by the neighborhood’s in-your-face sights, sounds and smells.
A five-minute walk from Hotel Stage—and the nearby Jordan MTR subway station—is Tin Hau Temple with garishly painted statues of a Chinese sea goddess afloat in the smoky, incense-choked gloam. Steps away, at the Temple Street Night Market, stalls sell everything from Nike sneakers and cheap Chinese souvenirs to jade jewelry and Chairman Mao’s quote-filled “Little Red Book.” Surrounding all is a warren of old lanes and thoroughfares like Shanghai Street, whose dusty but fascinating emporiums have been family-owned for generations.
In the heart of the hubbub ascends high-rise Hotel Stage. On Chi Ho Road, it’s at the intersection of the busy Gascoigne Road Flyover, an elevated expressway that’s part of the West Kowloon Corridor and Route 5, and Pak Hoi Street, a Yau Ma Tei microcosm with an herbalist selling ginseng and other medicinal remedies, several neighborhood restaurants, a 7-Eleven convenience store, and one of Hong Kong’s oldest photographic studios, its vestibule plastered with portraits of local residents, past and present.
Step inside Hotel Stage’s tall glass doors and leave frenetic Yau Ma Tei far behind. The spacious, high-ceilinged lobby is an oasis of calm.
It’s also a stage for the creations of neighborhood artists. When I was there, whimsical ceramic creations were displayed in the lobby and its floor-to-ceiling glass walls were covered with painted cut-outs depicting neighborhood residents, a surprisingly interactive tableau that comes alive when silhouetted against views of actual pedestrians streaming by.
Another stage is the Muse Wine Bar in a large basement space beneath the hotel lobby. Accessible only from an outside door, the Muse Wine Bar is intended, like all the hotel’s public spaces, to be both a community gathering place and a stage for local art, music and theater projects. The handsome downstairs lounge, with a long wooden counter, wood and bamboo floors, and contemporary-style tables and chairs, serves carefully curated wines and cheeses from around the world plus organic teas and artisanal chocolates.
Flanking the wine bar, Muse Art & Books sells design books as well as beautifully wrought fountain pens, notebooks and other hand-made objets. On the other side of the wine bar, Muse Gallery has an intimate multimedia space where film clips of art and artists play virtually nonstop, and a display area staging revolving art exhibits and occasional music and theater performances.
With no walls separating wine bar, bookstore and gallery, all arts—applied, literary, culinary and viticultural—flow contemporaneously, influencing and informing one other just as they do in the outside world.
Arriving at Hotel Stage around 10 p.m., after a long 15-hour flight from Boston, followed by the usual mind-numbing airport formalities, I only dimly sense the art in the spacious lobby, yet a sense of calm and beauty envelops me. Aaahhh….peace at last.
Opposite the elevators, I see a long glass-enclosed area with wooden benches arranged beneath the leafy branches of an artificial tree. It’s at once a permanent art installation and an outdoorsy space for relaxation. Like the Muse Wine Bar, the indoor park is only accessible from the street, allowing passersby to join hotel guests for impromptu moments of contemplation.
Taking my cue from friendly, moon-faced hotel manager Maxing Tam, I head to nearby Temple Street Market for a late-night supper. Along with various stalls, the market is lined with hole-in-the-wall eateries specializing in dishes made from exotic Asian vegetables, fresh seafood from the China Sea and nearby Victoria Harbor, and arcane parts of pigs, chickens and cows that most Westerners have never even heard of much less eaten.
I tuck into a harmless-looking bowl of steaming chicken soup with long curly Chinese noodles, browse through several blocks of stalls, and cap off my stroll with a grilled-chicken skewer from a popular barbecue stand manned by a frenetic husband-and-wife team all but lost in the smoke and sizzle.
Back at Hotel Stage, now well-fed but thoroughly exhausted, I look around my room, a suite actually, and am immediately lulled by the sense of spaciousness and the soothing palette of grays and tans.
Glancing out the floor-to-ceiling windows, I note that, even well past midnight, the expressway traffic is in full swing. Yet my windows are so well insulated that I can’t hear a sound. Drawing the double set of shades, I tumble head-long into my king-size bed and slowly sink into a deep, downy European-style duvet. Aaahhh….
I rise early the next morning, thoroughly rested. If I’m jet-lagged, I certainly don’t feel it. And, curiously enough, I won’t feel it in upcoming days either.
My King Suite—the hotel’s only suite category—looks spacious, but is actually quite compact. The illusion of spaciousness emanates from the minimalist design. Not minimalism that feels empty and austere, but a luxurious minimalism that’s warm and inviting. Well-made furnishings in wood and bamboo, with spare lines and beautiful upholstery, create a look that’s a cross between Scandinavian modern and Asian contemporary.
The kitchen/dining area has a teak table with two stylish wooden chairs clad in pearl-gray fabric. Against the wall is a wooden buffet with cabinets, shelves and square display boxes. There’s a mini-fridge, filled with complimentary Hotel Stage mineral water, a high-end Nespresso coffeemaker and a nifty stainless-steel English electric tea kettle that can boil water in a trice. One case spotlights a pair of sleek Finnish-designed coffee cups. Another: a sensuously curved glass teapot with matching cups plus several boxes of organic teas.
The adjoining living room is stage-like with a square bank of spotlights above a futon-like pale gray couch with big square pillows. The couch faces a low Oriental-style table with a large-screen HD-TV, and a “Handy Phone” for free long-distance calls to 10 countries, free local calls, and free Internet access in the room and on the run. Beneath the windows, a big black exercise ball with a racy yellow stripe is part design element, part work-out equipment—a handy alternative to the hotel’s 24-hour gym with its stylish high-end exercise equipment.
I could actually live in my living room. For more stimulation, I’d head downstairs to the wine bar, bookshop and gallery. Or retreat to the third-floor Club Lounge. Open to guests in suites and on upper Club Floors, it boasts Eames-like easy chairs, soft lighting, and shelves of art magazines and books, including the limited-edition Annie Leibovitz SUMO, a 20”x 27” volume of celebrity images by the acclaimed American photographer.
Next I explore my bedroom, easily separated from the living room by a bamboo sliding door reminiscent of a Japanese shoji screen. Beside the big comfy bed, the nightstand has a little black alarm clock, a remote control for lighting and a Biozone air purifier.
Along with well-crafted wooden hangars, the closet has two white robes and two pairs of gray slippers. There’s also a high-quality steam iron and ironing board in case you need to press a pair of slacks but don’t want to call the hotel laundry.
Having downed my second cup of coffee, I am, by now, in an almost Zen-like state, partly induced by the warm caffeinated beverage coursing through my body, but mostly induced by the sense of well-being that comes from being in beautiful and harmonious surroundings.
Awash in warm grays, my spacious bathroom has a separate W.C., a big deep tub, and a long gray counter with a contemporary square vessel sink inspired by old Chinese washbasins. Thoughtful touches enhance the design. A matte-black ceramic soap dish carved to look like a clam shell. A potted white orchid with lime-green spots and striations. Premium KAMA Ayurveda toiletries scented with cypress and orange. Aaahhh….
The pièce de résistance is the shower, a commodious gray-stone chamber with soft lighting and a movable stainless-steel arm with dual eco-massage showerheads that can be independently adjusted to spritz, spray, pummel or massage any part of my 5’4” frame—or anyone else’s. A separate wand-like showerhead provides a finer spray. Aaahhh…let the waterworks begin.
When I emerge from my lengthy morning ablutions, I’m in a spa-like trance. In a mere eight hours, Hotel Stage has completely rejuvenated me.
Could I ask for anything more?
Well, actually, right about now breakfast sounds good. And Hotel Stage is the perfect stage for the culinary arts, too. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Kitchen Savvy, the hotel’s European-accented gourmet restaurant, serves the finest organic foods shipped within hours from Hong Kong’s busy international airport and huge seaport.
I walk through a salon-like anteroom with leather couches, easy chairs and ceramics by local artists, then pass shelves displaying Italian-made pastas, avocado, walnut and olive oils, blue-and-orange bags of LavAzza espresso beans and other fine goods before reaching the spacious dining room. Bathed in sunlight, it’s decorated with wall-size graphics in bold primary colors with positive messages like “It’s OK to be DENSE! Nutrient Dense. SAVVY?” and “STRESSED spelt backwards is DESSERTS.”
I start with coffee and fresh-squeezed apple juice, thick and flavorful with natural pulp. An appetizing buffet displays fresh breads and pastries, meats and cheeses, fruits and yogurts, teas and coffees. Ordering Lobster Eggs Benedict from the menu, I soon savor the fresh-from-the-sea taste of shellfish, the crunch of well-baked English muffins, the silky yolks of farm-fresh poached eggs and the tart, citrusy tang of Hollandaise sauce.
IF YOU GO
Hotel Stage. 1 Chi Wo St., Jordan district, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong. 852-3953-2222. www.hotelstage.com
Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.