fb-pixel Skip to main content
SLEEPING AROUND

Our stealth reviews of Boston’s new and newly-renovated hotels finds some hits — and a miss

The Newbury and the Langham battle for luxury supremacy; the Omni Seaport thinks big; and the Colonnade misses its chance to get groovy.

The lobby of the Langham Boston was decked out with disco Christmas trees.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

As Tom Jones crooned “It’s Not Unusual,” over the sound system, I dropped my robe and thought to myself “Well Tom, this actually is unusual.”

I was preparing to enter the heated outdoor pool at the new Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport on a very brisk December morning. So brisk that I sprinted into the pool, and then jumped into the adjacent hot tub shortly thereafter. I soaked until my fingers got pruny, mostly because I didn’t want to face the chill of getting out.

The outdoor, year-round, rooftop pool (which is technically on the fifth floor) of the Omni Seaport is one of the amenities that has arrived in the city courtesy of new, and newly-renovated, hotels. Despite a year with COVID-19-induced low occupancy rates, Boston saw some of its biggest and most anticipated hotel openings in 2021. I went into stealth mode to review four of them: The Newbury Boston, Langham Boston, the Colonnade Hotel, and the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport.

Before we begin, here’s the usual disclaimer: The hotels did not know a writer from the Globe was checked in, and we paid the going rate for the night. Rates at hotels vary wildly from season-to-season, and even night-to-night, so check carefully before making your reservation. Normally my reviews include a look at the gym, but given the pandemic, I decided to forgo hotel gyms.

Advertisement



The Newbury vs. the Langham Boston: Who can lay claim to the most luxurious renovation?

In previous hotel reviews, I’ve never pitted one property directly against another, but I couldn’t resist putting The Newbury and the Langham Boston in the ring and letting them duke it out for sumptuous supremacy. Both buildings were constructed in the 1920s, and both reopened this spring after down-to-the-studs, multimillion dollar renovations. It seemed like a fair fight. Let the polite sparring begin!

Advertisement



The lobby of the Newbury Boston hotel in the Back Bay.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

The Newbury began life as the iconic Ritz in 1927, transitioned to the Taj, and then, after a long pandemic delay, reopened as the Newbury in the spring of 2021. Was it worth the wait? The short answer is yes, with a capital “y.” The public spaces in the hotel, designed by acclaimed architect Jeffrey Beers, are rendered in dreamy jewel tones. The look of the Street Bar, the beloved pub in the hotel, could be used in a text book on how to design a bar to look both expensive and unpretentious. The lobby, while unfortunately still small, gleams. The caramelized sugar on top of this crème brûlée of a hotel is Contessa, an Italian restaurant with food almost as good as the incredible, sweeping views and beautiful interior design.

Contessa restaurant at the Newbury.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

The Newbury was knocking it out of the park (or, more accurately, the adjacent Public Garden). Then I checked into my room and I was crestfallen. There was nothing wrong with the room, except it was, well, boring with a capital “b.” After walking through the stunning, colorful public spaces, I was suddenly swimming in an ocean of beige. Everything was top notch and comfortable. The linens were from Frette, the bath products were made specifically for the hotel, as was the furniture in my room. There was also a Nespresso Vertuo espresso maker. It was expensive and oozing class, but also very milquetoast. Some may say that the lack of pizzazz was a visual palate cleanser, or intended to soothe and relax. I thought it came off as average, considering the price tag ($649 for the room, plus $153 in taxes and fees). I was in a midrange room, called the Park View King.

Advertisement



A guest room at the Newbury Boston hotel.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

There was also nothing anchoring the room to the city. Still, the service was top notch, the bathroom was beautiful, and the location is probably the best in the city.

Facing off against the Newbury is the newly renovated Langham Boston. Once the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the 1922 bank-turned-hotel has been in need of a face lift for quite some time, and after a $200 million makeover, it’s finally worthy of the Langham name.

Grana restaurant at the Langham Boston.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

Going head-to-head against the Newbury, the Langham has one big disadvantage, and that’s location. There’s nothing wrong with Post Office Square and its proximity to Downtown Crossing, but it’s not Newbury Street. The Langham has a lobby bar called the Fed, which is a touch more playful, but less romantic than the Street Bar at the Newbury. Like the Newbury, the Langham has an Italian restaurant. Instead of city views, Grana has a soaring ceiling and no windows, but it’s bright and elegant. The restaurant is currently only serving breakfast and lunch. Because of its Financial District location, the Fed bar has the potential to be a hit with the after-work crowd, but getting diners to Grana might be a challenge because the area clears out after 7 on weeknights.

Advertisement



A room at the Langham Boston hotel.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

Back to the battle: The Newbury may have the location and the buzzy restaurant, but the Langham’s big advantage is the rooms. I chose a comparable room category (called a Premier Room) at the Langham, checked in, and I was wowed. The room was lively, full of patterns and textures with art that hinted at the city and the building’s banking history. Furniture details harkened back to retro suitcases and steamer trunks. It had all the comfort of the Newbury, but with a lower price (I paid $460 for the room with an additional $108 in taxes and fees). The adjective I would use to describe the Newbury is “classy”; the phrase I would apply to the Langham is “upscale fun.”

The Street Bar at the Newbury Boston hotel.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

The two hotels are evenly matched and score off-the-charts high, from the turndown service to the Nespresso machines, to the linens and bathrooms. Both receive a gold star, but I’m going to declare the Langham Boston the winner in this round for its pluck, vivacity, lobby bar, cheeky point of view, extremely attentive service and, most of all, the guest rooms.

Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport

The outdoor pool at the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

When I previously wrote about the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport, a friend said “It sounds like a cruise ship on land.” There are some similarities to a ship on land. First, the hotel is massive. With 1,054 rooms, it’s the largest hotel built in Boston since 1984. There are seven food and beverage options and if a guest is at the Omni for a convention, a direct tunnel can take them to the Convention Center. Bottom line: If a guest was staying here they would never need to leave the hotel. There’s also that pool, which is only open to guests.

Advertisement



The Omni is striving to be a convention hotel that doesn’t feel like a convention hotel, and it succeeds. On a recent Friday night, the sports bar, called the Sporting Club, was buzzing with a mix of guests and South Boston neighbors. The Crescendo Bar in the lobby was pulling in a more subdued collection of patrons. It felt like a good place for a clandestine meeting and a sophisticated cocktail.

The hotel has two towers, one had more traditional rooms, called Patron Rooms, the other had a category called Artist Rooms, which were filled with exposed concrete and wooden floors. The Artist Rooms are what my parents would refer to as “funky.” It’s an appealing option for conventioneers. I opted for a traditional Patron Room, and was immediately a fan. I loved the wood accents and the clever use of space. The carpet looked a bit like the beach at low tide, but thankfully didn’t smell like it. There was (modern) wood paneling in the bathroom, which gave the space a warm feel as opposed to most marble hotel bathrooms.

A guest room at the new Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

I heard some hallway noise from my room (I think there was an office Christmas party happening somewhere in the massive hotel that night), but like all the hotels I stayed in during this round of reviews, it was mostly quiet, and I slept well.

The Sporting Club at Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

At $189 a night, plus taxes and fees of $44.50, The Omni was a good value, particularly for those looking for a hotel in the Seaport neighborhood. The most off-putting thing I could find was a program that offered a donation to charity if a guest opted out of housekeeping. The Omni would donate a meal per day to Feeding America for those forgoing service. My immediate thought was, “What about the staff who will miss out on tips? I’d rather make a donation to them.”

The lobby of the Colonnade Hotel BostonChristopher Muther/Globe Staff

The Colonnade Hotel

Late last month the Globe ran a story about the Colonnade Hotel’s 50th anniversary, and how the hotel had embraced its Brutalist 1960s-designed past with a big renovation. As a fan of retro and midcentury design, I was aching to check in and see what had been done. Sadly, I set my vintage expectations a bit too high. Some of the stodgier elements of the lobby had been stripped back, but I saw nothing nodding to decades past, save for some exposed concrete and a few tchotchkes sprinkled here and there. I wouldn’t expect the hotel to turn into a retro-themed playground, like the TWA Hotel in New York, but I hoping for a renovation along the lines of the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. Five years ago the Watergate reopened with a modern, playful take on the 1970s. Instead of embracing a bit of retro fun, the Colonnade was simply a nice city hotel, and there’s certainly no shame in that.

A room at the Colonnade Hotel in Back Bay.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

What I did find odd, however, was my room. It was large enough and comfortable, but it looked like a hodgepodge renovation. Some of the furniture was new and some had been there for a while. The walls were stark white and mostly bare. There was a chair randomly placed at an awkward angle at the window. Why was it there? Was there a Jimmy Stewart “Rear Window” situation happening outside? I was so confused.

That’s nitpicking. The hotel checked all the important boxes: It was clean, comfortable, there was a Keurig coffee brewer and brisk Wi-Fi, plus it’s in a prime location (across from the Prudential Center) in the Back Bay. At $206 a night, plus $50 in taxes and fees, it didn’t feel unreasonable given the amount of space in my room. The Colonnade has a rooftop pool open during the summer and a new restaurant called Lucie in the lobby. But in my mind the space will always be Brasserie Jo. Hopefully the next time the Colonnade renovates, they’ll also be feeling nostalgic and go full retro throughout the hotel.


Christopher Muther can be reached at christopher.muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.