W Guangzhou hotel unlocks another side of the city
Guangzhou's W hotel is a hip addition to a city in a state of transition, writes Gabrielle Jaffe
Less than a decade ago the area was little more than a communal farm. But today, Zhujiang New Town is Guangzhou's towering central business district, with skyscrapers soaring higher than 400 metres and futuristic structures such as Zaha Hadid's Guangzhou Opera House.
It's a bold statement of the city's determination to become something more than a gateway to China's factories, and its desire to re-position itself as a creative hub.
So it's perhaps not surprising that W Hotels, a chain that prides itself on being design-led, would choose this as the place to open its first hotel in the mainland. The new W Guangzhou hotel avoids looking like a wallflower in the architectural beauty parade, thanks to its asymmetrical black glass exterior, designed by Rocco Yim, the Hong Kong architect who also created the nearby Guangdong Museum.
Parts of the exterior are sheathed in light-coloured glass so you can see into them more easily from the outside. Fei Lounge, the hotel's multistorey nightclub, is one such area. When you arrive at the hotel at night, you notice the pulsating lights emanating from the club.
Modern art is everywhere in the public spaces. At the entrance, LED lights are placed behind a 19-metre high waterfall, and a video installation of glittery moving lips loops on a screen inside the lifts.
This hotel is anything but bland, though the consciously hip decor and the dark, noisy, club-like lobby is likely to turn off more traditional guests. Woobar is clearly a place to people watch and be seen - the bar itself is sunken so that the bartenders don't obstruct the guests' views of each other.
Despite the buzzing atmosphere downstairs, the W's 317 rooms are peaceful. The basic rooms come in three different designs: one is a modern take on a Japanese style tatami room, and another has overtones of a set from TV's Mad Men, all beige interiors and a hidden liquor cabinet. The third has a contemporary chandelier and is inspired by a jewellery box.
All the rooms feature the usual five-star amenities, as well as touches that show that this is hotel with a sense of humour. We found spare toilet paper inside a cloth bag labelled "back-up plan".
Guests can unwind in the spa or take a dip in the pool, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows which let in plenty of natural light. There's also a "living" wall covered with plants.
In-house eating options include a Japanese restaurant with a sake bar, sushi and teppanyaki barbecue counter, a modern Cantonese restaurant with a menu designed in consultation with celebrity chef Jereme Leung, and The Kitchen Table, an all-day international buffet.
One of the best things about the W Guangzhou is what it can do for you outside the hotel. Its "Insider" service goes one up on the traditional concierge idea, and helps you get into the hottest places in the city.
During our stay, "Insider" Amanda takes us to T.I.T., a former factory complex now bursting with boutiques. At T.I.T., Amanda sets up meetings for us with Ricostru, a Chinese label that featured at Milan Fashion Week, and the Guangzhou-based British team behind R-Me, a shoe brand that sells to Selfridges and Harvey Nichols in London.
This is definitely a hotel for those who want to see Guangzhou at its most vibrant.