Despite its extensively reported problems with crime and pollution, Mexico City remains a fascinating metropolis, with tree-lined avenues, verdant parks and numerous fine museums. The capital is at its most beautiful when the purple jacaranda blooms in early springtime.
I prefer to stay in Polanco, where gourmet restaurants, name-brand shops and high-end galleries combine to create an upscale, walkable neighborhood. Set in a seven-story 1950s residential building with a glass-and-brick exterior, the 35-room Las Alcobas hotel is located on the district’s main Avenida Presidente Masaryk. Ushered through a discreet entrance, we stepped into a stylish and refined lobby with a mirrored black-marble floor, modern Italian furnishings and artwork by local painter Roberto Cortázar. However, the focal point of the space was an extraordinary spiral rosewood staircase.
Having been checked in by friendly and smiling staff, we ascended to our Corner Suite. This was spacious, with a full-size living room featuring a double-sided fireplace; clean-lined furnishings; a subtle palette of gray, black and white; a glass writing desk; and a dining area with seating for six. The opulent marble bath contained a powerful rainfall shower with eight water outputs, rich wood cabinetry with a roomy marble countertop and dual vanities, and a jetted hydrotherapy tub (which could be run only by the personal butler during certain hours of the day). The artisanal soaps custom-made for the hotel by the local Manos que Curan skin care company were a nice touch. (Its flagship store, near the Palacio de Bellas Artes, is a great place to pick up gifts to take home.)
The bedroom was the smallest space in the suite but came equipped with a widescreen television, a comfortable bed with a white suede headboard and a soft leather chair and ottoman set. The sumptuousness of our accommodations offered a sense of escape from this huge, bustling city. A well-furnished wraparound terrace was appointed with a small lavender plot and four succulent planters, but the view of downtown, with its garish billboards and innumerable high-rises, was a reminder of the less gracious aspects of Mexico City.
Amenities at Las Alcobas include a small spa with a wide range of massage treatments employing natural oils from regional herbs, plus Via Corta coffee, chocolate and almond-and-walnut scrubs. A diminutive gym is also available. There is no swimming pool, but private yoga and Pilates classes can be arranged.
The property also offers two first-rate restaurants, both popular with local residents and guests alike. Anatol serves Italian-influenced seasonal cuisine and is subdued in design but more formal than Dulce Patria, the Mexican restaurant overseen by well-known chef Martha Ortiz. The latter has an exuberant color scheme, with scarlet velvet banquettes, ruby-red wine glasses, metallic gold walls and pink floors. The space, though borderline kitschy, tailors to a wide clientele because of its delicious, constantly changing menu. The spicy mole enchiladas with a requesón-and-squash-blossom filling and grilled plantains were delectable, as were the cornmeal-crusted salmon, and the turnover with corn, tuna and habanero sauce.
Las Alcobas is a sophisticated oasis with professional staff members who are unfailingly gracious and obliging. Children under age 7 are not permitted at the hotel, so it is ideal for couples in search of a haven of peace in the stylish Polanco district.
Las Alcobas 96
Convenient location; flawless service; excellent restaurants; custom-made soaps in bath.
Lack of buzzing hotel bar.
Good to Know
Las Alcobas has recently opened a second hotel under the same name in the Napa Valley.
Rates: Corner Room, $540; Las Alcobas Suite, $1,420
Address: Presidente Masaryk 390A
Telephone: (52) 55-3300-3900
Further research took us to Downtown Mexico, a boutique hotel located a short distance from the Zócalo, Catedral Metropolitana and Templo Mayor. This 17-room property occupies a restored palace, two floors of which are taken up with galleries, boutique shops and food outlets. The reception desk was in a cramped room past a row of scarf, jewelry and hat stores. As well as being hard to spot, it felt tightly packed, with three other couples checking in. The sluggish pace of the casually dressed employees was frustrating, as there was no place to sit. We were offered shots of Herradura tequila by one of the staff members as an apology for a 20-minute wait before eventually being escorted to a service elevator, as the antique steel-and-copper elevator was not functioning. (It was not fixed during our stay.)
The hotel’s modern industrial design primarily features concrete walls, cement tiles and brick accents. In the common areas, this décor felt atmospheric, balanced by original stone arches and ornate detailing, plus a central colonial courtyard with a green canopy of 100-year-old laurel trees. But our accommodations seemed cold and uninviting. Our Colonial King room had attractive clay-tiled floors and high ceilings but was sparsely decorated and dimly lit. The bath lacked a privacy door, and the shower was shielded by nothing more than poor-quality ringed shower curtains. A step led down to a bedroom containing a simple queen bed with one centered reading light and a single tan leather slouch chair. The lack of storage space, bedside tables and bottled water was disappointing. The room was stuffy and hot, and the air-conditioning was not functioning. We called down to the front desk to have them send somebody up to fix it. When no one arrived, we stopped at the reception on our way out to dinner and mentioned it again. We were brusquely told that the electrician would come when he could. Upon our return two hours later, the issue had still not been resolved. They eventually brought in four standing fans that were noisier than they were effective. With no other room available and an early flight the next day, we did our best to sleep.
With a young and trendy clientele, and service and amenities that are both subpar, Downtown Mexico is precisely the sort of contemporary boutique hotel that I heartily dislike.
Downtown Mexico 87
Rooftop swimming pool and bar; central courtyard restaurant.
Poorly trained staff; lack of storage space in our room; inadequate ventilation.
Good to Know
The retail shops on the first and second floors of the hotel are open late.
Rates: Colonial King, $350; Independence Suite, $430
Address: Isabel la Católica 30
Telephone: (52) 55-5130-6830