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He slept around so you don’t have to

The bar at Aloft, a new hotel in the Seaport District, is a vibrant place to hang out.

By Globe Staff 

It’s hard to believe now, but before the see-and-be-seen W Boston opened eight years ago in the Theater District, locating a hotel lobby bar where you could lounge with a gimlet while rubbing knee caps with ladies in tight black dresses and their handsome paramours was as difficult to find as a watchable Adam Sandler movie.

Now, as the city’s hotel scene booms — there are nearly 2,000 hotel rooms under construction in Boston and Cambridge — the lobby scene has become one of the most important aspects of the lodging experience. As those entrances evolve, big changes are also taking place in the rooms upstairs.

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I can say this with authority because I spent a week dragging my suitcase into some of Boston’s new, and newly-renovated, hotels. The one thing these properties all have in common is that they’re fighting for your attention with big, bright personalities. From voice-activated rooms to carefully curated spirits in the minibar, hotels are eager to show patrons that they’re unique. We’ve entered an era where almost every hotel wants to be labeled boutique. They lend out bicycles and offer cucumber-infused water upon arrival. Neutral has become a dirty word. Hotel chains know that their discerning patrons watch a lot of HGTV, and these days everyone considers themselves a budding Joanna Gaines with a design opinion.

The other sweeping change is technology. When I conducted a similar survey of Boston’s hotels two years ago, some were still charging for Wi-Fi. Now the practice seems obsolete. Meanwhile, USB ports and extra outlets have become as essential as a comfortable pillow, and most of the hotels I sampled have smartly adapted.

Let’s head back down to the lobby. Once upon a time the lobby was just the chipper place where guests checked in, or sat and ate a continental breakfast of stale donuts. Now these spaces are the defining welcome mat of your stay. A decade after the W pioneered the concept, and the chain citizenM (which is arriving in Boston soon) refined it, communal gathering areas with fireplaces, games, DJs, or custom-made sofas abound. Some glow purple, others are zen, and some, like the Envoy in the Seaport, are just a scene.

Before the specifics, a quick word on my somewhat subjective survey. None of the hotels knew that a reporter was staying with them. I received no special treatment or discount rate. To make my reviews consistent, I tried to stay in the same room category at each location. I didn’t include the Envoy hotel in this list because I wrote about it shortly after it opened. Also, please note that the rates that I paid were in the winter and will likely rise as the weather gets warmer and more tourists descend upon the city.

Boston Park Plaza

The Boston Park Plaza Hotel's beautifully refurbished lobby.

THE PARK PLAZA

The lowdown: After a $100 million renovation, the once shoddy 90-year-old building is now a modern classic. The lobby is a bold showplace. There’s even a study/library with a fireplace for those who are uninterested in the lonely pursuit of working solo in their room. If you want to order a beverage in the library, hit the button on your table and a waiter will appear. I hit the button a few times and a waiter never appeared, but it’s cool in concept.

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The experience: My room was exceptionally small, but I nabbed a low, last-minute rate, so I wasn’t expecting the presidential suite. The rooms at the Park Plaza are retro-fitted with new furniture that, at least in the case of my room, felt a bit out of place. I slept great, but was awoken in the morning when maids in the hallway loudly complained that every room’s “Do Not Disturb” sign was still hanging at 8 a.m.

Coffee maker: Yes.

Breakfast included: No.

Room service: Yes.

On-site dining options: Off the Common, Strip by Strega.

Minibar: No minibar, but there’s a refrigerator in the room.

Gym: This is officially the best gym I’ve ever seen in a hotel. It’s 20,000 square feet of brand new equipment and a gorgeous locker room. It was a luxury David Barton Gym (slogan: “Look Better Naked”) before the company abruptly shuttered several locations in December. Now it’s a great place for guests to work out without the pressure of looking better naked.

Theft worthy toiletries?: They do the job, but the hotel-specific brand wasn’t worth stuffing in my suitcase.

Parking: Valet at $51 a day. Self-parking is $36.

Published nightly rate: Rooms start at $399 a night.

What I paid: $137

Worth the stay?: The location was ideal, and the lobby makeover was smartly done. The room was not perfect, however the gym was. This was a great bargain.

50 Park Plaza, Boston, www.bostonparkplaza.com

A guest room at the Hotel Commonwealth with Fenway Park as the view.

THE HOTEL COMMONWEALTH*

The lowdown: The Commonwealth has anchored the Fenway neighborhood for years, but in late 2015 the hotel, like much of the Fenway, got fancy. The hotel underwent a $50 million makeover and added a new wing with 96 additional rooms. The new wing has a big Fenway Park focus, including rooms that overlook the park. Technically those rooms overlook the Massachusetts Turnpike, but after that you see Fenway. The lobby isn’t necessarily a spot for hanging out at length, but it’s so beautiful and comfortable that I loitered there with my laptop. If you want a bar or restaurant, head next door to Eastern Standard.

The experience: Before I go any further, I have to confess that I was completely smitten with the Hotel Commonwealth. My spacious room in the new wing faced Fenway (well, the Pike), and the design gave a subtle nod to the 1960s (or maybe it was the early 1970s) with mod lighting, cool wall art, a sofa that resembled a Chanel jacket, a sleek bathroom, and a lot of houndstooth upholstery. Despite the proximity to the highway, I slept like a baby jacked up on Vicks and lemon gin. This is exactly what a hotel room should look and feel like in 2017.

Coffee maker: Yes.

Breakfast included: No.

Room service: Yes.

On-site dining options: Eastern Standard Kitchen and Drinks, Island Creek Oyster Bar, the Hawthorne

Minibar: No minibar, but there’s a refrigerator in the room.

Gym: Very small, with treadmills and free weights.

Theft-worthy toiletries?: Yes. These are from the Brooklyn brand Apotheke and what I didn’t use came home with me.

Parking: Valet at $53 per night.

Published nightly rate: Rooms start at $229 a night. You can also stay in suites starting at $399 a night, or themed suites at $599 a night.

What I paid: $272

Worth the stay?: A resounding yes. The Commonwealth is my new favorite Boston hotel

500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, www.hotelcommonwealth.com.

A sleek guest room at the Boxer Boston.

THE BOXER BOSTON

The lowdown: Many of you in-the-know types are arching your eyebrows, giving me a healthy dose of side eye, and saying, “The Boxer is not new.” You are absolutely correct my friends, but I had no idea it existed until I started researching this story. It opened in 2013. It’s also in a 1904 Flatiron building that I didn’t know was here. But this boutique hotel is worth including because it’s in a neighborhood (near the emerging Market District) that is up-and-coming and the property is unique and charming.

The experience: The hotel is best described as “industrial hipster.” Cool blue rooms are outfitted with open metal-framed closets and desks. There was a picture of a woman riding a bike randomly painted on the wall. It feels a bit like living in a West Elm catalog, but I mean that in a loving way. While the room looked modern, the bathroom was a classic beauty with a memorable shower and a unique layout. I was tempted to reserve one of the rooms with bunk beds, simply to stay in a room with bunk beds. There wasn’t much 0f a lobby scene, but I suspect that has more to do with its remote location than the lobby bar or the restaurant, which serves classic American fare.

Coffee maker: Yes.

Breakfast included: Yes, with some promotional packages.

Room service: Yes.

On-site dining options: Finch restaurant.

Minibar: Yes. Items include everything from jelly beans and Toblerone to Grey Goose and Bombay Sapphire.

Gym: Small with the necessities.

Theft-worthy toiletries?: The brand is L’Occitane en Provence. But good luck stealing them. They’re in dispensers bolted to the wall.

Parking: Valet at $47 a day.

Published nightly rate: Rooms start at $179 a night.

What I paid: $108

Worth the stay?: If you have a taste for eclectic design and you’re hunting for a quiet location, it’s a winner.

107 Merrimac St., Boston, www.theboxerboston.com.

The Godfrey brings city chic to Downtown Crossing.

THE GODFREY*

The lowdown: The latest step in the evolution of Downtown Crossing is this very natty boutique hotel, which Travel + Leisure has already crowned one of the coolest new hotels in the country. Two historic buildings were fused to make the 242-room hotel. It’s a combination of Boston preppy with midcentury city chic. The small lobby bar is beautiful, the restaurant is dazzling and sexy, and the property is home to a very active George Howell artisanal coffee shop. Complimentary bicycles are available.

The experience: I was fortunate enough to stay here on a Friday night, when the lobby was bustling and the bar crowd was a fun combination of pensioners, boomers, and college students. The Peruvian-Asian restaurant is so popular that it was almost completely booked. My room was small, but had a good view of Washington Street. The dominant feature was a massive television, but there were other entertainment options, such as a Bose Bluetooth speaker, and a Rubik’s Cube (no joke). I loved the subtle, design-forward bathroom, and the Frette linens made for a comfortable night.

Coffee maker: Yes.

Room service: Yes.

On-site dining options: Ruka restaurant, George Howell Coffee.

Breakfast included: No.

Minibar: Yes, but limited. Items include wine, soda, and snacks.

Gym: Small and effective.

Theft worthy toiletries?: Indeed. They’re from the London-based company Heeley and the soap smelled delicious.

Parking: Valet at $52 a day.

Published nightly rate: Rooms start at $269 a night.

What I paid: $140

Worth the stay?: A resounding yes. The location is fantastic, the room was charming, and I’m excited to go back and try the restaurant. This is a place where I want to spend more time.

505 Washington St., Boston, www.godfreyhotelboston.com.

The lobby at the Element Boston Seaport is a bright, inviting communal space.

ELEMENT BOSTON SEAPORT

The lowdown: Starwood opened two side-by-side hotels in the Seaport District last year. Element is designed for business types who are looking for extended stays. Its neighbor, Aloft, is intended for the cool kids. Between you and me, I accidentally made a reservation for Element when I intended to stay at Aloft. But let’s look at the suitcase as half full. I had an opportunity to see the differences between these lodging siblings, and they’re substantial. When I checked into Element, the desk clerk confirmed that I was staying in the grown-up hotel. It’s so grown-up that there’s a wine and cheese mixer four nights a week.

The experience: If I were a professional attending a convention or meetings, I would be thrilled to stay at the Element. My room had a full kitchen, a small dining area, and a sofa. I decided to take advantage of it and made dinner in the room. I’m fairly certain it’s the first time I cooked a full meal in a hotel room. The lobby consisted of large communal tables in a bright space. People hung out with their laptops and drank their free mixer wine. There was even a heated saline pool where I could envision myself relaxing after a long day in a convention center.

Coffee maker: Yes, plus every other appliance, pot, pan, and piece of flatware you need.

Breakfast included: Yes, and it’s surprisingly healthy.

Room service: No. Don’t be lazy. You have a kitchen, cook yourself something.

On-site dining options: Grab and go store.

Minibar: No.

Gym: Yes, and it’s well-equipped. There’s also an indoor pool and complimentary bikes.

Theft-worthy toiletries?: Not really. It’s the made-for-hotel line Pharmacopia.

Parking: Self parking for $25 a day.

Published nightly rate: Rooms start at $209 a night.

What I paid: $230.

Worth the stay?: If I were in Boston for more than a few days, I would happily choose this as an alternative to a small room and eating out every night.

391-395 D St., Boston, www.elementbostonseaport.com.

A room at the Aloft offers views all around.

ALOFT BOSTON SEAPORT

The lowdown: This Starwood hotel is Element’s kid brother. He’s mean, lean, and ready to make the scene. Hit the lobby bar, W XYZ, at just the right time, and the place is rollicking. There’s live music on Thursday nights. Guests can converse with friends over cocktails and bar food. You can play pool under George Nelson bubble lamps or linger at the indoor/outdoor fireplace. The hotel is also dog-friendly and provides dog beds, food, toys, and treats. You can even do your own laundry here.

The experience: Aloft screams “Millennial traveler!” in every direction. It’s as if the W (also owned by Starwood) was rebooted for younger, more casual travelers. My bed pillows and shades were playfully adorned with over-sized pixels. But I confess that I spent more time hanging out in the lobby than in my room. Although there is action on the main level, my room was quiet. Ten rooms in the hotel can be operated by voice command. Sadly my room wasn’t one of them.

Coffee maker: Yes.

Breakfast included: No.

Room service: No.

On-site dining options: Bar restaurant, grab and go store.

Minibar: No minibar, but there’s a refrigerator in the room.

Gym: A good size gym and an indoor swimming pool.

Theft-worthy toiletries: Yes, kind of. Aloft supplies Bliss soap and shampoo, but it’s in dispensers, so use as much as you possibly can when you’re in the room.

Parking: $25 a day for self-parking.

Published nightly rate: Rooms start at $199 a night.

What I paid: $149.

Worth the stay? If I were 10 years younger and breezing through Boston I would definitely park my carry-on here. This place is millennial catnip.

401-403 D St., Boston, www.aloftbostonseaport.com.


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