Why you should care
This isn’t just a place to stay — it’s a once-in-a-lifetime aesthetic experience.
I’ve traveled a lot in my 44 years and spent great nights in all sorts of places on all sorts of budgets, from corporate expense accounts to my own post-grad-school dime. I’m hardly a believer in the idea that fancy — or pricey — necessarily makes for a better experience. But that said, the only hotel I find myself talking about five years after I stayed there happens to be both very expensive and totally worth it.
The hotel takes up the top 11 floors of a skyscraper, topping out with a sky lounge on the 49th floor.
The hotel is in Hong Kong, and I bet you’re thinking I’m going to mention one of the five-star giants — The Peninsula with its fleet of Rolls-Royce limos or the Mandarin Oriental with its three-story spa. But the place that blew me away is The Upper House in the Admiralty District, just east of downtown Hong Kong. The hotel takes up the top 11 floors of a skyscraper, topping out with a sky lounge on the 49th floor. All the rooms feature jaw-dropping views of Hong Kong and its harbor. The interiors are even better.
They commissioned Andre Fu, one of Hong Kong’s top young designers, to come up with a vision for the whole place, making it an high-style oasis of peace above one of the world’s most crowded cities. Crisp angles, subtle tones of beige and ivory, wood in all the right places and — everywhere — stunning artwork. The Upper House features more than 350 original pieces throughout its public spaces and in the hotel rooms. The largest of these — Japanese sculptor Hiroshiwata Sawada’s 40-meter “Rise” — works its way up the soaring atrium wall.
As much as the great views and great design won me over, the hotel’s service really makes it one for the ages. Each room comes stocked with delicious drinks and snacks — the staff actually called my assistant to find out my favorite foods so they could have them ready for me. This isn’t entirely surprising. The hotel is part of the Swire Group, a privately owned English company with roots in Asia stretching back to the late 1800s. Among its many holdings, Swire owns Cathay Pacific Airways, which also has a reputation for amazing service.
Still, I thought the hotel’s concierge went above and beyond when he found me what I most wanted: a game of Hong Kong pickup basketball.
The hotel’s concierge went above and beyond when he found me what I most wanted: a game of Hong Kong pickup basketball.
That’s right, pickup basketball. You’ll find me on the court most Saturday mornings, and I’ve played it everywhere from Iceland to Zimbabwe. It’s often the thing I end up enjoying the most about a trip. Nothing beats it for meeting new people and getting to know a place.
The Hong Kong streetball was particularly great. It was a midnight game outdoors, so on a warm and muggy night there I was with 20 other players who varied in skill and talent. For those who care, I was more Jeremy Lin than LeBron James — spirited and creative, as opposed to dominating and the best.
In the perpetual March Madness bracket that is my brain, there are things that are simply best in category, and then there are a few that transcend category to go head-to-head with all comers. For me, the Upper House isn’t just my favorite hotel, it’s one of my favorite things, right up there with Season 2 of Homeland, triple-overtime hoops, and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. As we say in basketball, swish — nothing but net.