I love hotels. That being said, I particularly love hotels that have fabulous stories coursing through their walls.
Take the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai, which was once a members-only sanctum for the city’s upper class called the Shanghai Club. At the time, the establishment claimed to possess the longest bar top in the world. When the Waldorf opened as a hotel in 2011, it paid tribute to the height of Shanghai high society when naming its delightfully dusky wood- and leather-clad bar.
I’ll never forget my first drink at the Long Bar. After spending ten days traveling through the Yunnan Province and the Three Gorges Dam, a glass of champagne, and the velvety crooning of a live lounge singer, were more than welcome.
When you feel like celebrating, there’s no place like a glamorous, iconic hotel that does it up right. And that goes double on that biggest night of celebrating — New Year’s Eve.
Here’s how some of my personal favorites ring in the new year:
The legendary Long Bar is hosting a New Year’s Eve Countdown Party to pay homage to Shanghai’s decadent ’20s, with signature cocktails and dancing to jazz and blues.
Laurent Le Deu, Director of Food and Beverage, has planned celebratory menus at the hotel’s restaurants like Pelham’s and the Grand Brasserie, and there will definitely be fish on the table. “For the Chinese, fish is a nice dish because the pronunciation of fish, yu, symbolizes surplus or abundance,” Le Deu says. And for dessert? “There must be ‘glue pudding,” Le Deu says. “This dumpling [represents] reunion of all family.”
Hotel Jerome, Aspen
This small Colorado town is big on glamour — and a fitting home to Hotel Jerome, which reopened just in time for ski season after months of preservation work and remodeling. Brand new and brimming with luxury, Hotel Jerome is the place to be on New Year’s Eve.
The hotel first opened in 1889 and still recalls Aspen’s silver-mining boomtown era. Now they’ve opened a signature restaurant, Prospect, which will welcome 2013 with a three-course dinner. New Year’s will also be booming in the new lobby, Living Room, with small plates and après-ski cocktails. To avoid major backlash, J-Bar, one of Aspen’s most iconic watering holes, was simply and lightly refreshed, retaining both its killer burger and its long list of celebrity fans.
Grand Hotel Europe, St. Petersburg
You can’t talk about St. Petersburg without mentioning the Grand Hotel Europe. The architectural landmark has hosted some of the biggest names in the world, like Tchaikovsky, who spent his honeymoon there. Attending an evening performance of the composer’s beloved ballet, “The Nutcracker,” at Mariinsky Theatre remains a popular activity on New Year’s Eve.
The hotel will be making a big to-do of the night, too. There will be vodka of course, but also copious amounts of traditional regional foods: blinis (thin pancakes) with caviar and homemade jams, pirozhkis (pies) stuffed with cabbage, meat, fish, or mushrooms, and thick soups. “Russian winters are known for heavy frosts, so you need heavy foods to warm you up besides vodka,” Larkin explained.
“We have a saying in Russia that the way you ring in the New Year is how you will spend the rest of the year,” Larkin said. “So if you spend New Year’s at the Grand Hotel Europe, you will spend the rest of the year in luxury and style!”
Brown’s Hotel, London
When I stayed at Brown’s Hotel in London’s posh Mayfair district, I loved their traditional afternoon tea service with heavy silver teapots and picture-perfect scones. For New Year’s, Brown’s gets especially glammed up. First, you cannot miss the still-up Christmas tree topped with sparkly high heels, designed by British shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood. But you can dress to impress for a Great Gatsby-themed dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, HIX Mayfair.
“This year, we are serving a sumptuous seven-course dinner in HIX with the accompaniment of a 1920s jazz band to complement the theme,” said Head Concierge Simon Thomas. “There will be dancing and our stylish Donovan Bar will be buzzing to the beats of DJ Blonde Ambition.”
Once you’ve enjoyed a nice sleep-in after a night of partying, take a stroll along the iconic Burlington Arcade, then visit nearby Fortnum & Mason, London’s oldest department store and one of my all-time favorite places to while away time.
New Year’s is hugely important in Japan, where celebrations last days. And the newly built Palace Hotel Tokyo is right in the center of the action. First, its location across the street from the Imperial Palace, makes it a prime place to catch a glimpse of the imperial family, who makes a rare appearance on the palace balcony on the first day of the year. Rarely seen throughout the year, tens of thousands of people show up to extend their well wishes to Emperor Akihito and his family. The hotel is also a short walk from where the Hakone Ekiden kicks off, an annual marathon relay race between rival universities that spans January 2-3.
Second, the hotel will be serving toshikoshi soba, a soba that’s to be eaten specifically on New Year’s Eve because it is believed that the length of the noodles will ensure longevity. They will also host a hatsugama, the first tea ceremony of the year, a dinner concert featuring koto (an instrument dating back to 8th-century Japan) music, and a special countdown cocktail party.
Hotel Arts Barcelona
One of my favorite New Year’s traditions hails from Spain, where 12 grapes are eaten one at a time at midnight to assure twelve lucky months ahead. If you go to the grocery store, you’ll find bowls, individually wrapped with 12 grapes each, specifically for New Year’s celebrations.
At the beachside Hotel Arts Barcelona, guests will have a chance to participate at the gala dinner at the two Michelin-starred restaurants located on its 41st floor, Grand Salon Gaudi and Enoteca. The Hotel Arts has a dedicated florist who executes excellent flower arrangements year-round, but the New Year’s display makes a particular splash with flowers and sparkles in every corner.
The hotel is located just up the street (and the beach) from Plaça de Catalunya, the “Times Square of Barcelona,” where people will gather with champagne and a dozen grapes for the final countdown, making it the perfect spot to spend the last moments of the year.
Happy New Year to all, wherever you are, and wherever you plan to ring in 2013!