Once upon a time, Rotterdam was the world’s busiest port. Since, it has been overtaken by Singapore first, then Shanghai. It still remains the most significant port in Europe. Historically, it plays a central role in human migration.
In the 1700s, 1.5 million passengers held their one-way tickets, while boarding ships to a new life in America. As I write this, I well up with feelings, because I’ve made a similar one-way journey many years ago. Even though when my time came, I did not leave from Rotterdam on a ship, and I knew I could always come back. I feel parallels not in how I arrived in Canada, but rather because of the resolve I had to start a new life. The fact that I had no family or friends in Canada, and I was committed to making it work. I was full of hope, expectations, and ambition. Moving to a new country at 17 years old is an experience I will never forget, and impossible to repeat. Never before in my life did I feel as terrified, and never since has anything felt as permanent. Since then, being an expat has become second nature to me and if you told me I was moving to Japan next month, I’d probably just get excited and start packing. The first time is always the most difficult, and when I got to do it all over again and move to London, everything felt considerably easier.
Why bring up all this history? There is one particular building in Rotterdam that is filled with stories of hope, tragedy, and victory. It’s where the future of entire families was changed forever, and where some of what I’ve just described came together over the course of years. I’m talking about the former head offices of the Holland-America line, now known as the iconic Hotel New York.
The historic value of the building, and all the stories that have migrated through its doors alone, are worth the visit. Better still, so many original architectural features have been maintained and the building is full of artefacts and pictures remembering its past.
The moment you walk through the front door, take a look to the right. On the wall you’ll see the names of people who believed in Hotel New York before it was ever opened, and pre-paid for a reservation before a single bed ever came through the doors. It feels like a tribute to those people who believed in a better life and blindly trusted their futures to uncertainty. A new generation believed in preserving all that history and what better way to honour it than to give shelter to Rotterdam’s visitors?
The lobby sets the tone, and you instantly feel transported to another time. It almost seems feasible that you are not checking into a room, but rather checking your bags for your voyage to the new world. Yet, while the building features and decor feel historic and appropriate, it does not feel dated.
Sleeping at the office
Hotel New York is an experience you, ideally, should share with someone. I’m glad I took Annemarie with me. I thought we knew a lot already about the history of the building, and what to expect, but there were surprises around every corner. Sharing those ‘look at this!’ moments with someone was really half the fun. However, don’t let this discourage you from traveling alone and spending some quality time with yourself.
If you do something, do it right. I strongly believe in that concept, and there is no more fabulous place to sleep in Hotel New York than their director’s suites. There are only a few of these rooms available, and they completely change your perception of what “sleeping at the office” looks like. These suites are the former director’s offices for the Holland Amerika Line.
The hotel has maintained many of the original features of the offices; the wood panelling, the fire place (it works!), and several pieces of art. The art deco lamps mix with modern furnishings and stately rugs. It is a shame if you have to leave the hotel to visit your actual office. It is an inspiring place to work – to say the least. And the space is perfectly set up for it. Sit at the desk and you can both see the TV and the fireplace right in front of you. For someone who likes to work with some noise in the background, the possibility of seeing the news from the corner of my eye while I type away is just perfect.
Rock & Roll
Work hard and play even harder. As soon as you walk in, your eye is drawn to the massive soaker tub, strategically placed in front of the windows overlooking the Maas river. The bed, large and inviting, is just steps away from the tub. Both are behind you while you are sitting at your desk, and that might be for the best because they might prove too tempting if you are trying to get work done. At the foot end of the bed we found bathrobes and fluffy socks. The extra touches are some of the reasons Hotel New York fits in our roundup of hot hotels. There were so many of these extra touches we might need to make a list, but the socks are one of the nicest perks. They are yours to wear and keep, and on a cold winter night I am sure many travels have enjoyed them while walking around their suite.
The room is made for royalty, or a rockstar… or really anyone who wants to know what it might be like to live like one. Quite literally: we stayed in the “Anouk room”, the exact room where Dutch singer/songwriter Anouk stayed for a month to write one of her albums. After which, the album was aptly named ‘Hotel New York’, and the suite itself was named after her. It also just happens that I was a big fan of her music as a teenager (more or less when she was breaking out as a hit recording artist). I still appreciate some of her songs to this day, so while I am not easily starstruck, it was undeniably cool to sleep in the same room she not only slept in, but used to write an entire album.
Anyone who stays in hotels regularly expects some basic products. The standard in this room is elevated with additional items even the most discerning hotel guest would not expect to find: deodorant, tooth brushes, and bubble bath are staples – just to name a few.
Dinner at Hotel New York
From top to bottom this place is very more-ish. Once inside, you don’t want to leave. Being the practical people we are, it only seemed logical to go into Rotterdam for an hour or two and come back ‘home’ for dinner. We’re sat down at our table and after no more than a minute of staring at the menu I got really excited; they have tuna sashimi as an appetizer. Only my favourite thing in the world! At this point I found out Annemarie has never had tuna sashimi. or any sashimi or sushi. Ever. Not being the type to ever force someone to eat something I ask is she is alright with me ordering some for myself. Not only is she (of course) completely cool, she actually wants to try some. I admit, I was surprised. It must be the venue, inspiring our adventurous side… Once we get our plates and she takes a bite, I find myself sharing my appetizer with her. It’s that good!
The menu has a variety of delicious sounding items, but especially sea food lovers will rejoice when seeing the variety of options. We went a different route, and as a main we feast on steak that rivals some of the best I’ve had. We wash it all down with red wine. Not too much, because we needed to try the cocktails downstairs, in the basement.
It’s like being back in New York on one of my business trips. The basement is lit just enough to see your partner’s good traits, and shine that mysterious lustre on them the way only a fabulous cocktail bar can. The basement serves more than just cocktails (lunch, fine dining, you name it), but by the time we trotted down the stairs we were fully satiated with dinner, so cocktails only for desert!
Ordering what’s on the menu has become a thing of the past since I’ve discovered you can just say what you like, and have a cocktail custom made to your own taste. Expecting nothing different here, I launched into a monologue about how I like my glass filled. Only to see the poor waiter get more and more bewildered and actually look frightened by the time I am done. Turns out, it was his first day on the job and for his sake it would have been the kind thing to do to actually order what’s on the menu. I might have made it sound like I launch into a very complicated request, but it is actually not nearly as complicated as some people’s Starbucks orders. Super sweet cocktails have never been my thing because I don’t enjoy sugary drinks, so I just ask for something gin based with lemon, and little to no sugar or syrups. They really delivered because soon after, we sipped on something that tastes a lot like heaven. Forget lemonade, when life gives you lemons… grab a bottle of gin and make a cocktail!
Hotel New York’s Special Touches
We’ve come to expect coffee in the room, and free wifi, when we visit a hotel. What inspired me to write this series of articles is to chronicle and feature places to stay that offer that extra touch. Hotel New York more than ticks all the boxes. Their suites offer:
- Chocolates & a Nespresso coffee maker with enough for a fresh morning brew
- More bath products than you’d expect, as well as tooth brushes and deodorant
- Fluffy, non-slip socks for you to use and keep. They are not like airline socks, but high quality and I expect my pair will keep reminding me to go back for another night at Hotel New York soon!
- A fireplace
- Binoculars for you to peer out the windows over the river, who knows what you might spot in your future!
- Bathrobes, a rare luxury these days in most hotels
- Double rainfall shower – making this the perfect romantic getaway experience as well as an iconic and inspiring place to work during a business trip (or perhaps combine both?)
- A great desk, with all the plugs you need to stay productive
- Massive soaker tub, large and inviting enough for two people, or to indulge in alone
- A lot of history, and a book with a summary of it to take home with you. I don’t tend to like souvenirs, but this one is a keeper
- A selection of magazines, for when you need a relaxing reading break
Why this hotel is great when you are visiting for business…
There are a number of generic hotel chains that are more expensive than Hotel New York. They are also a lot less remarkable, and certainly less peaceful. Hotel New York is set at the end of a pier (Kop van Zuid), overlooking the water. Traffic won’t be bothering you. Drunken tourists are also unlikely to venture out in that direction, yet it is a very short walk away from the metro (Wilhelminaplein) and takes you to the main downtown shopping/business areas within 1-3 stops.
…& why you’ll want to stay for a holiday!
If the large soaker tub, the double rain fall shower and the massive sofa with a fireplace hasn’t convinced you yet this is the perfect place for relaxation and romance… then perhaps the world-class food and excellent location will.
Any major city in the world has countless hotels to choose from, and typically you’ll expect to pay far more for a good hotel in cities like London and New York than you might in Rotterdam. The directors suites at Hotel New York are priced like some closet sized rooms in other major cities, and worth the investment. The comfort of the rooms, and the hotel in general, make for the perfect home base on your holiday. The area is incredibly quiet, but so well located that you can go anywhere in just a few minutes. A relaxing stroll by the water is steps away, and a number of interesting restaurants are around the corner. If you are driving, you can easily park in the underground parking (at a discount) next door and venture out into the city or the country side very easily.
More impressions from Hotel New York