What a time to be alive in Boston! Or at least to be a tourist or business traveler in Boston.
Historians will look back on 2019 and see that the best hotel in Boston (according to one magazine) was a mere $150 a night. As they dig further back into the city’s annals, they’ll learn that Boston also had the number three city hotel in the United States (according to another magazine). Boston was also named one of the best places to visit for 2020 because of its new hotels, and likely because of the stellar public transportation system and beautiful year-round weather.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. As corporate types are prone to say: “There’s a lot to unpack here,” so let’s empty some boxes. It began earlier this year when Travel + Leisure magazine named the Row Hotel at Assembly Row the number three city hotel in the United States, and number 44 in the world. Not to be outdone, readers of Condé Nast Traveler delivered an upset to Boston’s luxury properties by naming the bargain Revolution Hotel the top hotel in the city.
Both were true shockers, particularly news of the Revolution. This is a hotel in a converted YWCA that features shared bathrooms. Yes, you read that correctly. Readers of a travel magazine that dispenses tips on where to find the most unique Hermès scarves in Lucerne thinks shared bathrooms are the bees knees.
I packed a suitcase and made reservations for both hotels. An investigation was in order. Was the Revolution really the best hotel in the city? Was the Row Hotel, which is located in a lifestyle center, a term that I loathe, the third best hotel in the country?
My check-in at the Revolution was smooth. The clerk at reception, I’ll call him Jazzy Jared Leto Circa 1992 because he had very blue eyes and was wearing a flannel shirt with true pizzazz, made the process quick and efficient. As per Boston Globe policy, the hotel did not know a writer from the Globe was there, and the paper accepted no freebies or favors.
The large lobby looked like a history lesson for millennials. Boston’s best and brightest were rendered in street-style murals throughout the expansive space. As the hotel’s website says, “the Revolution will be Instagrammed,” and it’s practically begging for likes at every turn. The lobby, plus the industrial look of the rooms — including some rooms with bunk beds — gave the place an air of a youth hostel with a trust fund.
Because of the target guest age (I’ll guess it’s around 27), the prices are comparatively low, allowing it to wage war against nearby Airbnb offerings. Most nights you can snag a 120-square-foot room for about $150 — give or take. If you don’t feel like sharing a bathroom, you’ll pay more. You can also stay at the Revolution Lofts, which are two doors down from the old YWCA, but it will cost you. The website says the lofts give the feeling of living in a South End brownstone, minus the mortgage.
The night I stayed at the Revolution it was near capacity and my room options were either a bunk bed cantilevered over a king bed with a shared bathroom, or one of the Revolution Lofts. I had been hoping for a regular room in the main hotel with a private bathroom. I had a decision to make: Would I wake up in the middle of the night and walk down a hall if nature called, and then stumble back to a claustrophobic room. Or would I pay $100 more for a loft that had its own bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchenette. Faster than you can say “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” I booked the loft. I felt as if I was entitled because I’m Gen X and no longer 27 years old.
I may not have been staying in a room with a shared bath, but I still needed to see the much-discussed facility. I went back to reception and told Jazzy Jared Leto Circa 1992 that I had forgotten my toothbrush and asked if the hotel provided them. Once I procured the toothbrush, I asked Jazzy Jared Leto Circa 1992 if I could use one of the shared guest bathrooms to brush my teeth because I was curious to see what they looked like. He brought me up to a guest floor to let me brush. I also asked him if I could see a guest room.
Allow me to describe the shared bath setup. There is a main room that looks like a locker room. It’s filled with towels. There are petite private rooms inside this faux locker room that include a toilet, sink, and shower, all tiled in basic white. You can lock the door behind you, and do your thing in privacy — or at least some level of privacy. This setup may not be everybody’s cup of Earl Grey, but honestly, it’s not as bad as it sounds. But the best hotel in the city shouldn’t be bothering with a shared bath.
I think this might be a good time to clarify the hotel’s ownership. When I first reported that the Revolution had been named the best hotel in the city, I included a paragraph that said the hotel was part of Provenance Hotels, which is owned by Gordon Sondland, the United States Ambassador to the European Union. Sondland is currently is best known for his testimony in the Trump impeachment hearings. But Sondland, who founded the hotel group, is no longer heading it. His name was replaced by his wife’s as chairman. Additionally, the Revolution is wholly owned by Mt. Vernon Company. Provenance provides management services for the Revolution (and is listed as one of the hotel group’s properties on its website).
Now for the assessment. The Revolution is not the best hotel in the city. I’ve stayed in much nicer places. However, it’s not the worst. It’s a hip place that is comfortable, well-maintained, cool, and a bit of a bargain as long as you’re OK with the aforementioned foibles. Stay here if you’re in town for a night or two and you’re going to be out in the neighborhood more than your room. If I had to give it a letter grade, I’d give it a B. The staff was wonderful, my loft room was comfortable, and I would recommend the place to a millennial, perhaps even a Gen Xer. But jeez Louise, I’m not sure how this wound up in the top spot.
The following night I headed to the Row Hotel at Assembly Row, Travel + Leisure’s number three hotel in the United States and number 44 in the world, and had a very different experience. This is a hotel for those seeking a more conventional stay, all the creature comforts (meaning no shared bathrooms), and perhaps a spot of bargain outlet shopping just outside the door.
At reception I was greeted warmly, and the desk clerk even ran after me when I missed the hallway where the guest elevators are located to make sure I could find my room. The grand lobby was bright and cheerful, decked out for the holidays and filled with folks attending company Christmas parties and conventions.
The hotel is part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, which means it’s fancier than a regular Marriott. This hotel has an indoor pool, a sun terrace, and a large fitness center. It’s a well-appointed, beautiful hotel. The decor feels rich and textured. I was a fan as soon as I arrived.
Imagine how a movie filmed in the 1970s that takes place in the 1920s would look, and you have a sense of how the hallways and guest rooms are decorated in this hotel. This is a Marriott that takes chances with a capital C, and those chances pay off. Smoky browns and weird steam punk elements were everywhere, and I loved it. I’ve yet to find a picture that captures the essence of it, so you’ll need to trust me on this one.
I’m able to yammer on about the decor because everything else about my experience was flawless, except for a lascivious guest who got handsy at the the bar. I sank into the bed and slept like a baby. There were USB outlets everywhere I needed them, the Wi-Fi was zippy, and the shower pressure was just the way I like it.
Does the Row Hotel deserve its title from Travel + Leisure? This is an absolute yes. If I gave it a grade, it would be an A. It had everything I needed, especially a bathroom in my room.
Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.