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Sneak peek: Aloft's first NYC hotel will open in Harlem

By Kate Appleton
updated September 29, 2021
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Courtesy Aloft

Finally New York is getting its own Aloft hotel. You know, that chic, affordable brand from the folks behind W. Not only it is the fastest hotel roll out in history, with more than 40 properties opened in two years, but Aloft also gotten attention for its modern design sensibility and cutting-edge technology.

Nearly a century has passed since Harlem got a new hotel, which makes this opening especially noteworthy. Aloft Harlem has high hopes to fill a need for visitors while also winning over residents. The hotel held a casting call over the summer at the Apollo Theater to recruit employees with personality. And earlier this week I stopped by for a media preview—catered by nearby soul-food institution Sylvia's and held in the slick lobby bar and lounge.

Aloft Harlem will be easily recognizable to fans of the brand. The 124 rooms, with either a king or two queen platform beds, have striped pillows and window shades, cork headboards, nine-foot ceilings, 42" flatscreen TVs, free Wi-Fi, numerous outlets, and Bliss Spa products. Bathrooms are equipped with refillable dispensers instead of throwaway plastic bottles, and a mini-fridge replaces the traditional mini-bar.

The ability to choose your own room when checking in at lobby kiosks has also set Aloft hotels apart. Lately, the brand has been working to streamline the arrival process further. Guests can choose to participate in a pilot program—already underway at the Aloft Lexington and available next in Harlem—for keyless check-in. Here's how it works. You join the free Starwood Preferred Guest program and receive a special card with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. On the day of arrival, you get a text message with your room number, and then you can head straight to your room and unlock the door using your Starwood card.

When Brian McGuinness, the SVP of Specialty Select Brands, took me up to see a room at Aloft Harlem, he demonstrated the RFID technology by opening the door with his card. No need to wait in line or keep track of disposable hotel keycards.

Room rates start at $239 for December, and McGuinness told me they will then drop to around the $175 to $200 range (Aloft rooms generally average $125 a night). From now through March 31, 2011, guests who book a stay at Aloft Harlem will earn double Starwood Preferred Guest points and a $20 voucher redeemable at the hotel's bar or grab-and-go pantry.

The hotel is part of a 12-story, mixed-use building with condos and retail at 2296 Frederick Douglass Blvd. It's just south of bustling 125th St., where you can catch many subway and bus lines. The Apollo and the Studio Museum are within a few minutes' walk. Our profile of Harlem Hotspots includes Ethiopian restaurant Zoma, just down the boulevard.

While the phrase "up-and-coming" hasn't been tossed around as much to describe Harlem since the recession hit, Aloft is clearly betting on a neighborhood renaissance. Chef Marcus Samuelsson is also embracing Harlem; his soon-to-open Red Rooster at 310 Lenox Ave., near 125th St., has been getting at least as much buzz as Aloft. In addition to serving his unique spin on American comfort food, the 3,400-sq.-ft. space will include a grocery store and a basement level for live music and cooking demos.

Samuelsson now lives in the area, and in a video clip for Black Atlas, he stops in to chat with locals including the chief curator of the Studio Museum and the owner of 67 Orange Street, one of a few sophisticated cocktail and wine bars along Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

Check out Samuelsson's video after the jump—it makes a nice introduction to the look and feel of Harlem.

RELATED Looking to stay elsewhere in the New York area? Aloft Brooklyn is slated to open in January 2011. And find out why Jersey City can be an appealing option.

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San Francisco: Sweet treats to try before you die

Local magazine 7X7 just released a list of San Francisco's 50 top sweet treats. In a food-obsessed city like this, it's a wonder the list is only at 50! Unlike other "try before you die" lists, one consisting only of dessert makes for an affordable, actionable pleasure. I'm sure your visit won't allow you to taste all 50 sugary confections (unless you're a real glutton), so let me point you toward my personal favorites that made the list: the spiced chocolate donuts from Dynamo Donut ($2-$3), the lemon cream tart at Tartine ($6.25), and, for a worthy splurge, the Italian-meringue frosted chocolate cake at Miette that serves six to eight people ($26). The list is a great new addition to 7x7s annual round-up of 100 dishes to try before you die, which is pasted like a to-do list on the fridges and bulletin boards of many locals. MORE ON SAN FRANCISCO 12 Things You Didn't Know About San Francisco 5 Best November Values 4 Indie Bookstores Worth a Visit

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London: 5 surprising essentials to see before you die

Visitors to London already know about its highlights. On your past trips, you probably soared to the top of the London Eye, gawked at the Queen's jewels at the Tower of London, and contemplated the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin marbles, and Van Gogh's sunflowers at the National Gallery. But what about the attractions haven't you heard of? You know, the ones that are affordable and truly worth seeing? After months of reflection, I'm tossing out my five picks. • Listen to a heavenly choir London's contributions to music and religious faith have been enormous over the centuries. Breathe it all in during a service at Westminster Cathedral. Even atheists will bliss out at the world-class choir, which sings during mass. Daily. For times, see westminstercathedral.org.uk. • Visit a haunted mansion For a city that's all about capital-H History, this is a spot where you can walk right into it: Dennis Severs' House is a little bit history, a little bit gallery, and a little bit kitschy. Somehow, it all works. Interiors are decorated in authentic eighteenth- and nineteenth-century furnishings. You are escorted through the rooms in silence by candlelight, listening and feeling for the presence of ghosts. dennissevershouse.co.uk, admission fee from £8, or $13. • See the classic art collection of a British eccentric London may be the art capital of the world, and the favorite museum of many Londoners is Sir John Soane's Museum. One of the founders of the British Museum, Soane collected many eccentric treasures, which are on display in his former home, including the sarcophagus of Egyptian king Seti I. The architecture and decoration varies wildly in this group of buildings, with one room crammed with Roman marble and miniatures while another is decorated like a Gothic monk's parlor. Located in Holborn (between the city's political and financial districts), the museum can be spun through in about an hour. free, soane.org. • Laugh into your beer at a comedy show London is the world capital of stand-up. Pick up a copy of Time Out London and catch one of the shows—which happen every night of the week in every part of downtown. Prices range from free to dirt cheap. With luck, you may see the world's next Ricky Gervais before he becomes a household name. timeout.com/london/comedy. • Roam the historical center's back streets after dark Many Americans are so afraid of getting lost that they never stray from the familiarity of central London's busy sidewalks. But the true charm of the British capital lies in its side streets and medieval pathways, which buzz with entrepreneurs and bristle with centuries-old architecture. After the sun goes down, the side streets look cinematic. So, be bold! Wander around the courtyards of the Inns of Court, the one-way streets in the district surrounding St. Paul's Cathedral, and the pedestrianized passageways off of Regent Street—such as Beak Street. For inspiration, pick up a guidebook with maps of self-guided walking. Still nervous? Then walk with in a small group with one of guides at the award-winning London Walks. walks.com, from £8, or $13. What is *your* pick for a lesser-known attraction that all visitors to London should see before they die? Please share your recommendation, below. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL London's top fish and chip shops How staying near Paddington can make your trip better London hotels: Want that towel? You have to pay $2.40

Inspiration

London: How staying near Paddington can make your trip better

In west central London, it's smart to stay in the quiet area near Paddington Station, which provides speedy access to the city's iconic destinations. Once gritty zones where the final drug deal in Trainspotting was filmed, the neighborhoods of Paddington and Bayswater have softened their edges to become a haven for value-priced hotels. Hotels here—unlike those downtown—are quiet and roomy, and most are inside white and black Victorian town houses that have been refurbished. Couples and families make up most of the guests in the local hotels—not business people with expense accounts or backpackers who make lots of noise late at night. Here's what to expect, plus four Budget Travel-recommended hotels: The location Lying on the north side of Hyde Park, it's a short walk from here to the famous clothing shops on Oxford Street. On weekends, it's easy to visit the famous Portobello Road market from here. Hop on the Tube (or subway) at Lancaster Gate station and go two stops to Notting Hill Gate station. Great access to transit Heathrow is the airport most Americans fly into, and the Heathrow Express rail service takes you nonstop to Paddington. Drop off your bags at your hotel a few blocks from the station, and then get on with your first day of exploring the city quickly—without paying for any pricey black cabs. Decent pubs In London, the pubs with the best ale and lager are usually owned by local breweries. Fullers is one London microbrewery with pubs around town, including two in this district: The Swan and Victoria. Cool kids' shop Be sure to buy a Paddington Bear, the famous character from the children's book series. Look for the kiosk on the eastern side of the station, close to the entrance to the train platforms under the station's cavernous roof (and just outside of the shopping concourse shrouded in glass), It costs £10, or about $16. You may also want to check out the statue nearby of Paddington. It's cute, and quite the contrast to the statues of generals seen elsewhere. Mediocre restaurants (sigh) Truth be told, this is not a food-centric part of town. Best to grab a breakfast to go at a small shop in or by Paddington Station, such as Marks & Spencer Simply Food, and set on about your day exploring the city. BUDGET TRAVEL'S RECOMMENDED HOTELS IN THIS AREA: Caring Hotel This newly refurbished Victorian town house is next to Hyde Park. From $108. The Gresham Hotel This Georgian town house is a great choice for families, given its unusually spacious top-floor rooms. From $108. The Caesar A modern 140-room retreat in west-central London with touches of antiquity. From $141. Darlington Hyde Park This traditional hotel near Kensington Gardens is known for its crisp, formal service. From $141.

Inspiration

Rome: What to eat in winter

The chilly breeze that signals winter arrived earlier than expected this year, but Romans are more than happy to welcome the season's hearty vegetables. Pumpkins have been piling up at markets like Campo de' Fiori, and the aroma of roasted chestnuts now fills the air. Early winter also brings a rare type of chicory called puntarelle, found primarily in the central region of Lazio and the northern Italian region of Veneto. Puntarelle are prepared by peeling off the green leaves to expose the juicy upper stem. The stems are then soaked in cold water for about a half hour, during which they naturally curl. They don't look like anything more than fancy lettuce, but puntarelle pack a lot of distinctive flavor when paired with the traditional mix of anchovies, garlic, salt, vinegar and oil. Puntarelle will be in season until around March, depending, naturally, on the weather. Staff at La Campana restaurant say that this winter's menu will feature insalata di puntarelle for €7 ($9.72), plus porcini mushrooms and artichokes from surrounding areas of Rome for dishes such as tagliatelle ai funghi porcini for €12 ($16.67), roasted funghi porcini for €18 ($25), and carciofi alla giudia for €6 ($8.34). Truffles or tartufi are a national delight. They are sniffed out by dogs under cool soil and classified as a type of fungi even though they look like hard stones. They hail most famously from the northern region of Piedmont. Truffles can be preserved, but taste best in wintertime, when you'll often find them in creamy sauces. White truffles are more expensive and harder to find than black truffles. Salumeria Roscioli is a Roman gem of a restaurant that serves a memorable tagliatelle al tartufo bianco. The price is about €25 ($34.74), but it's definitely worth the splurge. Head past the upscale deli area to the seating in the back, where the trappings make for a nice romantic dinner. Since seating is limited, my advice is to book in advance. MORE FOOD COVERAGE IN ROME 5 quintessential Roman trattorias Roman snacks for any craving Where to eat when you need a pasta break