By David Armstrong
The central-city district near Sanlitun Road is arguably the hippest district in Beijing, and The Opposite House is unarguably the hippest hotel on that busy, buzzy shopping, drinking and clubbing street.
The Opposite House – opened in late 2008 by Swire Hotels, which operates Chapters Hotels in Britain and two stylish and successful hotels in Hong Kong, called The Upper House and EAST – has every design flourish and high-tech capability travelers would want in a modern, big-city hotel.
Combine that with a central location easily accessible by taxi and by the reliable, cheap, safe and modern Beijing Subway, and you have a truly engaging property.
The Opposite House – so-called, in honor of the guest houses situated across from main residences on the courtyards that historically honeycombed Beijing – catches your eye well before you enter. It is a cube-shaped, glassy, green and yellow structure, set well back from Sanlitun Road and fronted with large, artfully rough-hewn wooden doors.
Its lobby is an expansive wonder with tall windows, soaring ceiling and design by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. The hotel would not be so old-fashioned as to have a check-in desk.
Instead, iPad-toting staff – friendly, attentive and quietly efficient – come up to you and check you in while you take your ease on low-slung lobby furniture.
Guestrooms in the six-floor, 99-room boutique property are spacious, with liberal use of wood and fabrics. The rooms have big, comfortable beds and roomy showers and Japanese-style oak soaking tubs in the bathrooms. The effect is one of comfortable minimalism.
Hallways are on the dimly lit side, perhaps to recall club lighting, and are arrayed around an enormous central atrium draped with softly metallic mesh that falls most of the way to the ground floor.
This is a hotel that means to entertain, and does it well. Punk is the hotel’s late-night dancing haunt. Mesh is the trendy bar, good for people-watching and spotting Beijing’s beautiful night creatures. The lobby and dining spaces are brightened by imaginative sculptures, site-specific art installations and paintings by popular, accomplished Chinese artists.
The hotel boasts a sumptuous breakfast buffet, a good European restaurant in Sereno and a very good northern Asian contemporary eatery in Bei, helmed by young American chef Max Levy.
If all this makes The Opposite House sounds terminally trendy, reserved for fashion-forward leisure travelers and young scene-makers, well, that is not the case. The property is well-equipped with business-friendly amenities such as large guest-room desks and complimentary wired and wireless Internet access.
I, for one, do not fit the young, fashion-forward demographic, and I never felt anything less than welcome during my three-night stay in December 2010. In its short existence, The Opposite House has made a first-class impression. It ranks eighth among the 3,691 Beijing hotels rated on Trip Advisor.
If this 5-star hotel is a first-class operation inside, it also benefits from a 5-star location, right next door to Sanlitun Village. This is an already expansive and still-growing complex of shops and restaurants, a centerpiece of urban redevelopment over the past decade.
Sanlitun is, in turn, a subsection of Chaoyang, a leafy district of the Chinese capital that houses many foreign embassies, giving the area a cosmopolitan mix of foreign expats and travelers and globalized locals.
The Opposite House is on the west side of Sanlitun Road, once famous in Beijing as “Bar Street”. A few funky drinking establishments and music venues survive, for now, on the east side of the road. Just a few blocks walk farther east, on the edge of the Mao-era Agriculture Exhibition Center, sits the unprepossessing but lively CD Blues Cafe, a longtime haunt for lovers of live music.
Sanlitun Road proper has largely gone upmarket, acquiring a glossy feel and customers more likely to spend money in the hugely popular Apple Store and world’s-largest Adidas Store in Sanlitun Village than sip inexpensive Dragon Seal red wine in a blues club.
Personally, I like both the Apple Store and the CD Blues Cafe, so I felt very much at home in Sanlitun – and in its hippest hotel, The Opposite House.
Rooms at The Opposite House start at US$280 per night, though Web deals can lower the price. The hotel is located at Building 1, no. 11 Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 100027 China, 12 miles from Beijing Capital International Airport (IATA code PEK).
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others. He blogs at http://davidarmstrongontravel.blogspot.com.