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Good food and crappy service, does not a meal make! [Chicago Chophouse review]

Calgary isn’t the mega food mecca that one can hope for when booking projects. That being said Alberta AAA beef is a very good standard of beef … which makes for excellent steak eating here in Calgary. After a couple weeks in Calgary, I can say that the steaks here are very good, but will not beat Argentina for quality, price and value of phenomenal steaks or even parts of Brazil.

On Stephen Avenue, there is a litany of higher end steak houses, and my goal is that by the end of my project, I would have had the 10 best steaks in Calgary to compare to steak around the world. (Note : I’ve been harangued by my Canadian friends about my lack of love for Canadian Beef)

The list of downtown steakhouses I’ve tried or will try are the following (I’m not going to try Ruth Chris or the Keg, since I am intimately familiar with what their food tastes like and honestly they’re like McDonalds … it all tastes the same regardless of where in Canada you are)

CHARCUT Roast House
Carver’s Steakhouse

Saltlik Steakhouse
Palomino Smokehouse
The Bank Restaurant
The Trib
Quincy’s
Chicago Chophouse
Caesar’s Steak House

Paul’s Pizza & Steak House

The first on the list of reviews will be the Chicago Chophouse (Wednesday 28th, 2011 , 8:45pm)


So we get into the restaurant and the place is almost completely empty … yet I had to wander around waiting for the 3 girls at the desk or the counter to acknowledge my paying presence. She actually asked me if we had a reservation in an empty restaurant – this bitch was dead to me already and we hadn’t even gotten our a drink as yet.

The service started negatively and continued on a horrifically downward trend. At the price point of this place, I would expect a smile with some water to start … but that didn’t happen. When you review the menu, you have to KNOW that the steak is literally JUST a steak. No veggies or sides, no nothing but a 40$+ price point.


Notice the large slab of meat on the far right hand corner … that was a 14oz Cowboy Rib Eye, but the plate is empty aside from that … know why??? Because you have to order your sauce and sides all separately … and even the menu is organized like a Horse’s Ass (not in a good way, mind you!)


That being said …  the atmosphere was nice, even though it felt like an upscale sports bar …


Getting back to the ultra shitty service – it took a while for our server to come after we were served our food, I asked for hot sauce and some water, but we never saw her again until after most the food was gone.

More importantly … the waitress who sat at the counter filing her nails, or scratching the AIDS off her head or whatever she was doing, didn’t even have an inkling of how to serve a god damn dram of scotch.

I asked for a dram of Glenmorangie Port 18, after all this nonsense and this is what followed

<Rishi> Can I have a dram of the Glenmorangie 18?
<Dumb bitch waitress> Which one is that?
<Rishi> The one that says Glenmorangie with the Orange Label (points at it …)
<DBW> Are you sure that’s Glenmorangie? Is that Scotch?
<Rishi> … holding back rage and spit … yes it is scotch …
 (A couple minutes pass)
<DBW> Here you go sir …
<Rishi> Are you going to bring some water with it?
<DBW> Why?
<Rishi> Because you don’t serve any single malt scotch by itself, but with water on the side. Have you never served scotch before?
<DBW> No most people order Soda and some wines …
<Rishi> Well consider yourself educated …
 (A couple minutes pass)
<DBW> Here is the water sir .. (She brings cold ice water)
<Rishi> Well you obviously have no clue … I’d ask for you to bring some room temperature water, but I think you might just fall and piss yourself and the water, if you had to do anything else. Go away and bring the bill and if I have to wait … you can pay for the 300$ meal yourself.

Conclusion:

The food was quite decent and my very well done Rib Eye (I asked for it like that) was quite good. Everyone was happy with their food, but the service was dogshit.

Slow, inattentive and unknowledgeable service. Decent food. Extremely high prices = Completely not worth your time.

Chicago Chophouse
Address
Stephen Avenue 604 8 Ave SW, Calgary, A2B T2P
Phone (403) 265-3000
Hours Mon-Thu 11:30 am-11 pm, Fri-Sat 5:00pm-2:00am, Sun 5pm-11:00 pm
Chicago Chophouse on Urbanspoon

Let your loyalty to one hotel chain, give you benefits everywhere else [Hotel Status Matching 101]

Ever wondered how those people who stay at hotels in “First Class” style manage to do it? You know the people I’m talking about … they always get the upgrade or best room type, they always have free perks like

  • Free Internet
  • Free Local Calls from the room
  • Welcome amenities : Fruit Basket, Complimentary waters, chocolate and candy
  • Free Breakfast (continental or buffet)
  • Executive lounge and gym access
  • AND Most importantly … Super Late (4-7pm) Checkout (which is the 2nd best perk to have, unless you’re hungover, then it is the greatest thing ever)

I’ve only figured out that there are two ways to do this

  1. Have a gazillion dollars and pay for the best room type and pay for everything else listed (which easily can add 50$ a night to your room rate)
  2. Status match these bitches to death!!!

Since I don’t have a gazillion dollars … I always use the Status Match to stop the hotel raping of my wallet. Your next question is:

What the hell is a Status Match?

Think about how loyalty programs are designed. Theoretically, they are there to remove a barrier from staying at a hotel.  I’ll pose these questions …

  • Why would you stay at a hotel that doesn’t give you the shit I listed for FREE?
  • Why would you want to pay out of your pocket for that stuff?
  • Even if you company is paying your rate … why would you give an extra red cent to the hotel and not keep the perk for yourself?

To answer these questions, the hotel/airline guys came up with “status matching”. It’s a courtesy that many airline and hotel loyalty programs will extend to customers that want to switch some business to them. Basically, it’s when a loyalty program “matches” your elite status in another program to a similar tier in their program. The idea is that they want to win over your business, and the way to do that is to treat you right from day one, assuming you have a history as a frequent traveler.

Here are a couple basics

  1. Status matches are typically once in a lifetime for any given program. Typically, you can use any given status to match to more than one program, it’s just that each individual program can typically only be matched to once.
  2. There’s typically no status matching within alliances – but this only applies to airlines. Hotels don’t give a shit, and will status match once they know you’re going to stay with them.
    • BTW … I’ve tried matching my Air Canada “Super Elite” to United’s 1K level – they didn’t even attempt to match or make me feel better!
  3. Enjoy status for longer by matching in the second half of the year.  If you match in the first half of a year, the status is typically good for the remainder of the year, while if you match in the second half of a year, status is typically good for the remainder of that year and the entire following year.
  4. Status matching only appplies to the big boys with the five leading loyalty programs,
    • Hilton
    • Hyatt
    • Marriott
    • Priority Club
    • Starwood.
    • Until recently Hyatt was very aggressive about status matching, offering anyone with a dozen or so stays with a competitor a status match to Diamond, their top tier status, though as of earlier in the month they have apparently stopped status matching altogether. Hilton and Marriott typically don’t offer status matches, though will sometimes offer a “challenge” if you can show enough nights. There’s no hard or fast rule, as far as I know, about how many nights are required to qualify for a challenge, as it seems to very much be on a case-by-case basis.
  5. Check through the Status Matching threads on Flyertalk … they will give you all the information you need on the individual programs
    1. Starwood : Status Matching 2011
    2. Hilton : Status Matching, Comps, etc 2011
    3. Marriott : 2011 Status Match
    4. Priority Club : 2011 Status Match

As an example … you can status match SPG Platinum to Hilton Diamond … without even staying a night there … I faxed over my information to the Hilton desk …. I used the template below … and yes I know my numbers are below … :)

Times Square @ Night … as much as I hate it, I do love it …

Times Square, also known as the Crossroads of the World, is a small area in New York City bound by 42nd Street to the south, 50th Street to the north, Sixth Avenue to the east and Ninth Avenue to the west.

I’ll set the record straight, no self respecting New Yorker loves Times Square … it is touristy, overpriced, tacky and generally a clusterfuck to wander around. Like it or not, Times Square continues to be as mindblowingly WTF-worthy as ever – with the Naked Cowboy and Stripper, Dingy Elmo and Fake Spongebob.  It’s like being in Toronto but not really, since no one I know in Toronto actually goes to Niagara Falls or the CN Tower or wants to see crazy stuff, unless they are showing visitors around … then it is a mandatory stop.

Personally, I love the tackiness of Times Square, the hawkers trying to sell you overpriced comedy club tickets, all the tacky stores like the Toys R US store, Hershey’s World, M&M’s World!!! Even the restaurants in Times Square with the overpriced menus add to the atmosphere.

I also really like the billboards and video boards at night. It is a photographer’s night dream, in that it’s so easy to shoot everything, since there is so much ambient light. I do apologize about the advertising, but they do make for great photos.

Making that intersection a pedestrian only zone was a very good but slightly insane thing, since I remember being in Times Square in the early 2003 and this is what Times Square looked 8 years ago. Notice all the traffic and the pedestrian foot traffic weaving in and out.

Notice the difference in 2008, with the pedestrian foot traffic …

Times Square (and in fact most of midtown Broadway) is now permanently closed to traffic. The idea was to make it into an outdoor pedestrian mall because it was a great success in Copenhagen. (Have you met Danish people … they are droll and boring, but very polite … doing this in NYC could only result in craziness).

In light of creating this mega tacky strip mall in the middle of NYC, here is a picture of the chairs on the side in front of Toys R Us were graciously donated by dead people from the 60’s – you have to look on the right side… far off into the pic 😀

You know what I also love in Times Square … Dingy Elmo!! The dingy life-sized Elmo that stands on the corner of 45th and Broadway, luring innocent tourist children and their parents into paying for photos with him.

Here are some telltale signs that it might not be the real Elmo … wholesale borrowing from Dear Time Square

  1. The bizarre beaded Canal Street purse he is carrying? Elmo doesn’t need a purse. And if he did, you best believe it would be some high-end leather messenger from Barney’s, maybe Henri Bendel. Elmo is loaded.
  2. Elmo lives in one of the ritziest neighborhood in all of New York, where even the garbage cans have more spacious accommodations than most East Village studio apartments. He does not need to whore himself out to make a couple of bucks.
  3. Those digs, that Elmo’s got going on? There’s at least 3.5 bathrooms happening in that shit. And a personal groomer… on staff. Elmo would not be caught dead with anything other than pristine, shiny fur.

My 2012 Travel Resolutions

Every year, we make resolutions for the New Year. It is the typical procrastinators excuse … “I’ll wait till the New Year to start the gym/diet/travelling etc”

For me, after I’ve made out my mental New Year’s resolution check list to lose weight, be nicer to people, organize my life, get married; I always go back to the top of that New Year’s check list and add ‘travel more!’. Travel keeps my sanity in check during a busy year of work schedules, project plans, and all the hectic personal and social events that life presents us with on a hourly and daily basis … that being said I’ve really stopped making resolutions and I just make plans!

Here are my 5 travel resolutions in no particular order …

  1. Antarctica:
    • This is on many people’s bucket list, but I’ve resolved that I will step foot on the last continent for Christmas 2012. Antarctica’s tour season covers about five months, mostly over the Southern Hemisphere summer (November to March). All other times of the year are extremely cold, dark, and the pack ice freezes out a long way.
    • I don’t care what the hole in my budget is … this is the ONE travel destination where budget travel is not much of an option unless I’m going to work hard on some boat – This will not happen!! I’m expecting at least US$5,000 and this is using airline points and hotel points  and this will only cover the bare necessities –  but who cares how you got there … as long you get there!!
  2. Get my country count to 80+
    • I’ve hit my goal of 70 countries before 35, so the upcoming year I’m aiming to get to 10 new countries. Antarctica doesn’t count as a new country, so I will have to figure out how to spread the love. The tentative country plan will be the following
      • Dominica in February … Hopefully, I’ll recreate the blog post listed.
      • Ecuador and Galapagos Islands in March
      • Peru and Machu Picchu in April
      • El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in June
      • Turkey, Greece, Hungary and Poland in
      • St. Lucia and Martinique in May
      • Antarctica in December
  3. Get to Carnival 2012 in the best shape possible
    • This won’t happen. But I’m going to try my best … 3 months of working out and I’ve only dropped 20lbs, but at least I won’t embarass myself in my costume.
  4. Revisit an old favorite
    • There are spots that are meaningful to us all, whether it be somewhere in your own town, a honeymoon spot, or somewhere you went as a child. I think that I would like do somewhere old that’s new for someone else 😛
    • I’m thinking Paris again. It’s been 7 years since I was in France … why not??
  5. Challenge yourself
    • I would like to do something that would be outside of the typical travel routine, I’ve developed. Maybe hiking Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail.

Here are my 5 travel behaviour resolutions in no particular order …

  1. I will make every effort in the year ahead to be courteous and respectful to airport and airline personnel and members of the TSA; they work under unusually stressful conditions, fielding enormous pressures, and they deserve our smiles and understanding.
  2. I will constantly remind myself of the moral obligation to leave a generous tip to the chambermaids who have made up my hotel room — theirs’ is an underpaid profession and I should supplement the measly wages of the hotel chains.
  3. I will avoid traveling on airlines that delight in public-be-damned attitudes, the companies that exult in an openly-expressed disdain for the traveler, making a virtual point of their arrogant references to the passenger. Screw you Spirit Airlines … forever!
  4. I will give some thought (I’m not sure I have the courage to do so) to changing into pajamas on an overnight flight across the Atlantic. First class passengers are currently encouraged to do so (and sometimes supplied with pajamas and robe by the airline); why shouldn’t economy passengers wear the same?
  5. I will continue to regard travel not as a mere recreation, but as a serious learning activity, a way of understanding the world, an essential element of a civilized life.

Getting a great taco in Harlem? Sure .. El Aguila is your spot!

Of course,  has a NYC Best Taco list.

There were two places after traveling the strip between Lexington and Second Avenue in the El Barrio section of East Harlem and taste testing at the best taquerias and definitely El Aguila was a winner for me. (Disclaimer .. I’m not the greatest fan of tacos .. I think they’re small and stupid – when you get them in those crappy chain Tex-Mex restaurants)

Here is a great criteria list of judging a great taco from Serious Eats (note this is straight copy/paste … why bother, when someone did the work for me … unlike my roti ranking scale … )

The Taco Criteria

I evaluated the tacos on criteria of  the tortilla, filling, and topping quality.

  • The Tortillas (10 points): They need to be properly warmed through on the comal. Cold, brittle, or stale tortillas are not acceptable. They need to be moist and pliable, with the ability to stay intact, despite any amount of juices soaked into them. Ideally, there should be little charred spots here and there to add a touch of flavor, and unless they are of the particularly thick hand-made variety, they should always be double stacked in order to provide both structural support, as well as balanced corn flavor.
  • The Filling(s) (15 points): Whatever the choice of filling, it should be moist and flavorful, well salted, and either tender enough or chopped finely enough that you can bite into a taco without dragging half a cow out from between the folded tortilla. Obviously, the meat should taste fresh and relatively gristle-free. Fattiness is generally a good thing here.
  • The Toppings (5 points): A great taco really needs nothing more than onions, cilantro, lime, and a salsa. And I’m not talking the jarred, tomato-paste based variety, or even a fresh, chopped pico de gallo. Tacos should be topped with a relatively thin, chili-based salsa with intense, fresh chili flavor, and heat. Once these basics have been settled, there’s room for a few extras if desired. Fresh crema, perhaps a few beans (if you really want—I’m not too keen on the idea), chopped tomatoes or chilis—anything goes, as long as the cardinal rule is followed: every topping must support the experience, not detract from or dominate it.

So walking into El Aguila … this is a tortilleria, panederia, and taqueria all rolled into one, their main feature is a giant copper cazo in which pork shoulders slowly simmers. Also ordering is not really intuitive, but if you sit down and observe for 3 mins, you will figure out the procedure.

However, once you figure out which tacos to get, you take note of the fresh unlimited salsa bar and generous portions. Never mind that it doesn’t look that great, but it’s usually covered – but the salsa are damn awesome!

As for the food – the tacos include slowly simmered pork shoulders enveloped in yummy tortillas reheated in pork fat, and topped with fresh onions and cilantro, and great rice and beans.

In the end, here are the stats on the tacos

  • The Tortilla: 7/10 The tortillas are made on premises and are reheated the right way, with a few little spots of char and a moist, tender, supple texture.
  • The Filling: 14/15 They reheat their fillings on a flattop in pork fat. While the Al Pastor were the best, the carnitas is no slouch, especially when it crisps up on its edges in the pork fat.
  • The Toppings: 5/5 Onions and cilantro are fresh as can be, and you’ve got your choice of four salsas–a verde with legitimate heat, an avocado puree, a bright orange chipotle-based creamy sauce, and a classic rojo. All are flavorful and fresh.

Overall: 26/30

7 mindtricks that stop you from travelling big!

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”… Paul Theroux

There are days I hate my job … not because of the challenges or the people or even the waking up in yet another hotel room but just the fact that I’ve had to make this grand bargain with myself. Real life gets in the way of your dreams … yet without going through your real life, your dreams are just a compilation of paper tigers. I allowed myself to get swept away by this tide of reading specs, coworker drama, managing staff and other random nonsense. There were so many times I wanted to take my laptop and randomly smash someone in the head. We all have these times. It helps when I sit at the hotel and reset while writing a blog.

One thing about writing a travel blog is primarily a selfish and self entitled endeavour. I correspond with many travel bloggers online and participate on a couple travel forums, and in those conversations, I’ve come to realize a couple things about the majority of people who want to but don’t venture out on their own into the world.

  1. If not now, when?
    • Procrastination is like eating a souffle – it tastes so great, yet it’s just filled with hot air and nothing. People often come up with great ideas and then do nothing about it. Often, while drinking with friends, we come up with good ideas to go somewhere new and see something new sometime, but you know what that means, right? It means, it usually means never. That’s just the harsh reality. If someone was truly passionate about something, then they wouldn’t hold it off until some random day in the future at some point.
  2. Excuses
    • It’s really easy to think of excuses for not getting anything done. I wanted to start a personal travel blog in early-2003 but I kept on putting it off. Why? Because I would tell myself that I didn’t understand HTML, PHP and other obscure programming languages. I used many other excuses for 3 years, then one day it hit me, “Just open up an account on an online forum and type … the rest will play out naturally”
    • Stop creating excuses. It’s foolish. Your excuses are always worse than actually doing what you want to do.  There will always be more reasons why you can’t do something than why you can. I can spew about 15 other cliches off the top of my head about this.
    • You want to go to Antarctica, Australia, Himalayas or down the street. Same difference! One just requires slightly more planning than the other.
  3. You can’t find the time, because you’re so busy.
    • Are you really that stretched to the limit that you can’t work on projects that interest you? If you’re really that busy, then you should be super rich or super successful and wouldn’t have anything blocking your way to your goals.
    • I don’t want to pass judgment on those with kids and super busy lives – those are choices that have been made. However, with those choices, it naturally puts a slight damper on travelling – but only a slight damper. There are tons of families who travel together and make choices to allow that to happen. I’m just saying that it could be done and you can find the time.
  4. XYZ country has terrorism, airborne AIDS, floods and shit flinging monkeys, so I can’t go …
    • Every new place will have cultural differences, different food, new languages, crazy drivers and a million other different things.
    • Aren’t you travelling for the differences? Why complain about it or allow those differences to stop you from going somewhere new? Paradoxical, it is! 
  5. I’m poor, broke, don’t have enough money …
    • How much money is enough money? Is there ever enough? I’m sure billionaires still think they don’t have enough. Seriously!!! Enough is a state of mind, not a state of your bank account.
    • I typically find that it’s less about money and more about ignorance. It’s not so much that people don’t have the money to travel, even in these hard economic times, but it has more to do with cultural ignorance, as in “not knowing about other cultures” and not “the French, Americans, Trinidadians are ignorant buffoons.”
  6. I have no one to travel with …
    • So?!?! You will always find that you’re your own best travelling companion.
    • People have a variety of hangups about travelling alone … (as do I .. Trinidadians are naturally in a crowd, so imagine how tough it is, for me to travel alone), here are some fears about travelling alone
      • looking lonely to others
      • not being able to share the experience.
      • Safety
      • Serious illness
      • Fear of being lonely
      • Getting wallet/pport/etc. stolen w/no support
      • Getting scammed by crafty businessfolk who prey on “tourist-looking” peeps.
      • Getting lost. Having to figure out an unfamiliar place on my own is nerve-wracking.
    • I still get nervous when traveling alone. I’m not afraid but I am nervous. It’s not for my safety as I trust most people and I’m careful. I’m not anxious about getting lonely because I’m quite capable of starting conversations. I don’t worry about sharing the experience because I can write about it and share almost in real time and have my people with me always 😀
    • Use the appropriate tactics when traveling alone.
      • Plan your time carefully.
      • I use my project management skills and start with the deadline and back up each step of the way along a time line – with contingency built in for the unexpected – to know my starting time.
      • I have also established a specific place for documents every time I travel and developed the habit of using it.
  7. Stop being scared to make a mistake
    • Doing something and getting it wrong is at least ten times more productive than doing nothing.  Every success has a trail of failures behind it, and every failure is leading towards success.  You end up regretting the things you did NOT do far more than the things you did.

 

Walking the High Line in NYC : Photo Study

Wallking the High Line Park in pics! The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long (22 blocks) abandoned elevated railway, that stretches from the Hudson Rail Yard at 34th Street down through the West Chelsea gallery neighborhood where it continues on to Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking district.

It has recently been developed into one of New York City’s more remarkable public parks. Opened to the public in June 2009, just a few years ago the High Line’s demolition seemed imminent.

The High Line ran from 35th Street down to St. John’s Park Terminal, which covered four riverfront blocks between Clarkson and Spring Streets. The structure was designed to go through the center of blocks, rather than over the avenue, to avoid creating the negative conditions associated with elevated subways. It connected directly to factories and warehouses, allowing trains to roll right inside the buildings. Milk, meat, produce, and raw and manufactured goods could come and go without causing any street-level traffic.

One night in Harlem : Soul food, music and some Anthony Hamilton …

I’ll raise my hand and say it.

For all the times I’ve been to NYC and then worked in NYC, I’ve only been to Harlem once! And that was for some good eats in Spanish Harlem at the recommendation of some random person on that D spoke to on the subway. I’ve always wanted to spend sometime in Harlem, but I think I had more resistance to the idea than going to see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Our goal today was food, Anthony Hamilton @ the Apollo Theatre and then maybe some late night jazz at the Lenox Lounge.

First thing was the accomodations … we ended up using a Cash and Points night courtesy of aLoft Harlem (full review coming later this weekend).

Then it was on to grab some food over at the Red Rooster. This was yet another Foursquare recommendation. Foursquare is really becoming my personal go to list for starting off exploring any American city … it hasn’t achieved critical mass where all the hipsters and poseurs have infected it … as yet.

As a tourist, one wouldn’t think about good food in Harlem, which is completely dumb. The restaurant is rather new but because of some good publicity and a famous chef, it is popular. The menu isn’t really affordable, however the food is very, very good and doesn’t skimp on taste in the slightest—which explains the crowds that you might run into.

As for the food … We had the market greens with cornbread and honey butter as a start, and it definitely was a winner.

Main courses of the Rooster burger and the Grilled Catfish with black eyed peas and collard greens were definite hits. If you’re in Harlem, Red Rooster should be on your list of places to eat at! Just don’t try going for dinner unless you’re prepared to wait around in hope of a missed reservation.

There is the dining table, for which you can put down your name, and then a parallel wait for bar and communal table, which can get confusing with the crowds, so make sure the hostess doesn’t neglect you.

After dinner, it was back to the hotel and then over to the Apollo Theatre. The theater is located at 253 W. 125th Street in Harlem in what is now one of the best-known black neighborhoods in New York City and probably the US.

The Apollo grew to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance before the second World war years. In 1934, it introduced its regular Amateur Night  shows and it continues to this day. Billing itself as a place “where stars are born and legends are made,” – and once you’re in the theatre .. the gravelly voiced intro lets you know this too.

As for going to a concert … this should be on any bucket list for a music lover. The venue is intimate and even with the sub par acoustics, you cannot help but feel the history in this place. Just an amazing music venue.

Anthony Hamilton himself was super gracious and put on a fantastic show! So coupled with front row seats and meeting him earlier in the day … he even “posed” on stage for a pic with D.

So after a phenomenal concert, then it was off for some midnight jazz at the Lenox Lounge! Yep … that’s how you run a full night in Harlem.

Then back past the Spirit of Harlem to the hotel … and you’ve run a full night of soul, food and jazz in Harlem!!!

Spirit of Harlem: Glass Mosaic is now completed and available for viewing at the North Fork Bank at 280 West 125 Street in New York, NY. A commissioned work designed by Brooklyn native and world class artist Louis Delsarte, and fabricated in Munich, Germany by Gabriel and Franz Meyer

Monday Morning Consultant – Westin Calgary review

Calgary is quiet town relative to Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto … in that order. However with all the money that this town is awash in … there seems to be a startling lack of high end hotels in Calgary. So far I’ve stayed at two Starwood properties here …  Sheraton Cavalier and the Westin Calgary

Once again, my loyalty has been driven by a triple points promotion that Starwood has going on till Dec 18th, 2011. With the rates that the hotels charge, this basically translates to about 8000 points a week – which is almost a free night in a Category 5 hotel. This is definitely not a bad deal right now.

The check in process was painless and they recognized my “Plat” status immediately and upgraded me to the Business Tower – this hotel doesn’t have an Executive lounge … which is a peeve of mines for a hotel that charges a higher end rate. The Westins are also running a “Green Choice” promotion.

This translates into an extra 1500 points for a 4 night stay, which is a handy bonus, since I never actually want the housekeepers to come into my room unless they’re dropping off fresh towels. The one thing I always notice at Westins, would be the signature “green tea” scent that have in the ventilation system. This would definitely be one of those exceptions … this is a business oriented hotel from the outset – everything is clinical and precise but not over friendly.

  • Room

I’ve stayed at this hotel for the past 4 weeks and I’ve been in both a regular room and corner Jr. Suite and neither has completely impressed me at all. The regular room (room 1619) is your typical hotel room, but not really a standard Westin room. (Note the improperly made bed – this is another peeve of mine – I expect when checking into a room, that the bed has been properly made by the chamber staff)

As for the Jr. Suite – this was more in line with the Westin expectations. (Room 1511)

The bathroom is was stocked with traditional Westin White Tea amenities … but having a TV in the bathroom mirror was a definite Japanese typ surprise. Double toiletries in the bathroom; shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, shower gel, mouthwash, shoe shine cloth, and shower cap.

Another source for improvement would be the lack of control of the shower – the water in 5 rooms has not been hot enough. Additionally, I have not been able to reduce the temperature in any room appreciably – I like sleeping at 17C, yet for some reason, I have not gotten a room to drop below 21 or 22 C (71 F). I’ve read that the reason given was they turn off the AC after summer – which is complete rubbish. You want to save energy by claiming “green benefits?” … well when I want to sleep, I couldn’t give two shits about “green benefits”, when my work suffers from a lack of proper sleep.

  • Club Lounge

Can’t write much about this, since there is no club lounge … yet another check mark against this hotel.

  • Other services
High Speed Wired/Wireless Internet Access NO FREE WIRELESS IN THE HOTEL LOBBY – this is just piss poor. Upload and download speeds were consistent with my expectations. Free for Platinum members – didn’t actually inquire to the cost.
Concierge
We didn’t use them but there is a concierge on staff located in the lobby, to your left as your enter.
Parking/Valet Fairly reasonable for a downtown location
$20 Self Parking
– $28 For Valet Parking
Dining Restaurants are onsite and I’ve been eating at the Keg, so that I don’t have to use my per diem directly, and instead I charge it to the hotel room.
Pool The pool is in the business tower in the top floor.
Gym Poor fitness facilities compared to better Westins. In fact, they’re renovating the gym facilities over a couple weeks and still the new gym will be poor in comparison to other Westins … see the Westin Chicago North for a great Westin gym.
Business Center Hotel has one and offers typical services in there. Can’t offer much advice, since I always have my own laptop
  • Overall thoughts

This is a good business class hotel and but personally rates a weak 6 for me, which isn’t the expectation that I have for the Westin.

Staff attitude, conduct and support Professional, courteous and very helpful – which is the standard expectation, nothing above and beyond for me
Hotel Cleanliness Met with the Westin expectations.
Location Definitely a good location. This hotel is very centrally located and has access to the Financial hub as well as the energy buildings around. The central core in Calgary is small, so you can get anywhere from here.
Would I return? Without a promotion, I would be tempted to go over to the Hyatt Calgary – they have a better gym, restaurant and service
Family friendly?
This is a business hotel. During the week, you will rarely see any families at this hotel. In fact, over 5+ weeks, I have not seen a single child at this hotel. I’ve seen high class Russian prostitutes but no children.
Good for business travellers?
Definitely a good business hotel and is geared to those travellers but not really those with higher end expectations from the Westin.
Value for price paid?
Hotels in Calgary are expensive. You can find lower tier hotels at a more reasonable price but the location and the amenities are good value comparative to other business hotels in downtown Calgary. However, I would not personally spend my money to stay here