Hotels with Personality - Umbral Curio
You should enter your hotel, and know where you are
Many times, I have booked business travel where I visit three of four cities during the same trip. Airport, taxi, hotel, taxi, restaurant, meeting, hotel, dinner, taxi, airport, new hotel. I enter the lobby of many hotels, and my brain starts to wonder....."this hotel could be anywhere in the world...I can be in Sevilla, Mendoza, Santiago, Rome or Detroit". Because of brand standards, many hotel lobbies, rooms, décor, and even smells, are exactly the same all over the world. I believe this is a missed opportunity for hotels to stand out and create a better experience for their guests.
To our fortune, in addition to independent and boutique hotels, several chains are starting to allow each property to develop its own personality, with the hope of making our experience memorable. The same is true for independent or boutique hotels that want to embrace the community where they are located at.
During a recent trip to Mexico City (by the way, one of my favorite cities in the world), I discovered a Hilton property whose model should inspire other brands: The Umbral Curio Collection by Hilton.
When in Mexico City I enjoy staying at different neighborhoods, from the high-end Polanco to the modern Santa Fe and the hipster areas of Roma and Condesa. But one of my favorite areas in Mexico City is downtown, also known as the Centro Historico (historic downtown). There are many housing options in the Centro Historico, but recently I discovered the Umbral Curio.
This hotel is located a few blocks from the central plaza known as the Zocalo, (where you find the Presidential Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral), inside an historic office space building which has been turned into this really cool and hip hotel. The once office space through time had lost its luster until architect Javier Sanchez lead a team to convert the building into a hotel. This 59 room hotel under the Hilton flag, has the name of Umbral, which means dawn. The team of designers and architects did an outstanding job playing around with the light in this building (thus the name Umbral).
THE CHECK-IN PROCESS
My Uber driver left me in front of the hotel and in no time, a staff member greeted me. I noticed engraved on the wall the directory of the 1924 office building. The front desk staff member followed the basic rule of good hospitality service: "she looked me in the eyes, smiled, and welcomed me". After a fast check-in, I was informed that I would be upgraded to a Suite (insert here internal happy dance...). Even though I had only my carry-on from the airport, I welcomed the offer by the bellboy to take me to my room. Most of the time I don't need the help of a bellboy, but I take them on their offer since I know the tip provided to them is important, and it also a good way to build rapport with the staff. My bellboy had a great attitude and became a tour guide of the property, not only pointing important areas of the hotel (like where it the bar) but sharing details of the building and its history. It was a joyful 5 minute tour from the lobby to my room.
I entered my suite and was excited to see the attention to detail. First of all, I noticed the concept of Umbral (dawn) was nicely executed in the suite that had two rooms. The lobby area was dark, and a separate room with the bed and bathroom was bright. The bellboy asked me if I was interested in more vinyl's, and did not understood his question until I found record player in the room. The answer was YES, and soon I was listening to some music by Queen. The main area had a sofa, television, my record player, and an area with refreshments. I was curious about the drink and snack offering at the minibar, and again, to my surprise found local products, and a couple of Mezcal options.
RESTAURANT AND BAR
On the top floor of the hotel there is a terrace that has been remodeled to serve as a restaurant and a bar. I had traveled all day and was tired to venture out of town, so I decided to stay on property and check out the restaurant. Sometimes I am not to excited about restaurants at hotels, but there are many exceptions, when good chefs are on property and are given some flexibility on their cooking, so no scrambled eggs with bacon and toast for breakfast.... This was the case of the restaurant at the Umbral.
I wanted something fresh and light, so decided to start with a tuna ceviche. The dish was beautifully presented and the tuna ceviche had also mango, cucumber and aguachile. For my main course I ordered vegetable tacos with cauliflower on a beet tortilla. An IPA beer from Cerveceria de Colima, was the perfect companion. I was happy, and ready to go to sleep.
AROUND THE NEIGHBORHOOD
The Centro Historico is the prefect place to walk around and enjoy the food and culture of Mexico City. Here are some of my favorite spots. Some of the restaurants I suggest might not represent be the top cuisine in Mexico City, but the location or vibe are worth the visit.
Samborns Azulejos - This chain of retail stores/restaurants in Mexico might not be known for its food, but this location in Mexico City is really impressive. Built in 1662 by Don Antonio Urrutia de Vergara, the building is covered by hand-painted tiles. This place can pass as a museum since one of Mexico's most renowned artists Jose Clemente Orozco painted a beautiful mural in the central patio. Go there for breakfast, ask for a table on the central patio, and order chilaquiles verdes topped with two fried eggs.
Samborns Condes de Xala - Similar to the Azulejos location, don't judge this place for its food, but for its location. The former house of Manuel Rodriguez Saenz de Pedroso, Count of Xala was built in 1764. Go there for dinner and order some molletes.
Lunch or Dinner
Casino Espanol - Spanish food in Mexico City? Absolutely. Mexico is home of a large diaspora from Spain which arrived during the Civil War.
Cafe de Tacuba - Simple, good, Mexican food. Love the character of this place.
Azul Historico - One of the restaurants of chef/author Ricardo Munoz Zurita. Make sure you try any dish with mole. One of my favorites: a bunelo stuffed with duck and then smothered in his house made mole.
Taqueria Los Cocuyos - Mexico's taco options vary all over the country. Carne asada, pastor, barbacoa, cabeza... But in Mexico City you have to try this taqueria and explore the wonderful flavors from central Mexico.
El Moro - After walking all over downtown and need a sweet snack, stop by El Moro and have some churros and hot chocolate.
Nieves 100% Artesanales - That is correct, natural artisanal ice-cream.
HOTELS WITH PERSONALITY
Umbral Curio by Hilton - Mexico City
Hacienda del Sol - Tucson, Arizona
Hotel McCoy - Tucson, Arizona
Villa Margherita - Mira, Italy
If you have stayed at another cool hotel, or want to share recommendations about Mexico City, please share your thoughts, ideas, recipes, or comments from this or other stories by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org