Nestled in the heart of Beijing's bustling diplomatic and commercial district, where the design edict may well have been "make it functional and hang the aesthetics", the newly opened W Beijing Hotel Chang'an (the first W of a slated seven set to open in China within five years) rises like a mirrored Phoenix emerging from the ashes of bland. Initially, its curious position on the major thoroughfare feels like a mistake – until you take a walk and realise it neighbours some of China's most celebrated cultural treasures.
Slick design with a focus on fashion and music, a stay at W Hotel Beijing is what you might call a sensory-rich experience. The bar by the entrance features an LED-lit catwalk for guests to pony-trot their way to the suspended golden globe DJ book hanging from the ceiling, while artworks – many of them from the famed 798 Art District – can be found on every wall. Music is considered the soundtrack to the W brand ("If you can't hear music, there's something wrong" the marketing manager tells me) and clearly there is nothing wrong at the Beijing property – it pumps 24 hours a day in every space, from the stunning indoor pool area (heated to a balmy 28 degrees) and gym, to the 349 guest rooms (don't worry, you can turn it off) and X25 rooftop bar. Even a trip in the lift is inclined to make you feel like it's Mardi Gras and how you feel about this, I suspect, relates directly to your age.
Once you get into the large signature W bed, it's difficult to find a reason to leave.
As I check in there's talk another guest has lobbed a TV, Guns n' Roses-style, and upon entering the 60 square metre room room, it immediately becomes clear why; the room makes you feel like a rock star on tour. A large, round bath is positioned almost squarely in the centre of the muted caramel room while a large, illuminated screen above the bed bathes the room with a soft red, blue or green light (your choice). Next to the bed is a remote-controlled spinning chaise, a workstation with free internet, 48" LED TV and Bluetooth sound system, as well as a creative mini-bar which stocks (among other things) fishnet stockings and glittered Venetian face masks. A dividing curtain can be used to separate the bathroom area which includes a large shower (complete with full-length mirror), walk-in robe and Bliss toiletries.
Once you get into the large signature W bed, it's difficult to find a reason to leave. A command centre of sorts is located by the bedhead and controls entertainment and curtains as well as a multitude of lighting options (reading, relaxation, comfort, night, bright and master). While the moulded foam bath pillow is welcome, the best feature must surely be the automatic curtains which slide open to reveal the bustling city below every time you enter the room.
Dining at Yen, the on-site restaurant can be daunting – the menu is 18 pages long, and the signature dish of Imperial Golden Duck (literally, a whole duck painted gold and presented on a red tray) needs to be ordered two days in advance. Happily, many of the other dishes such as the wasabi prawns are just as good, and the all-day dining at their casual diner, The Kitchen Table, is competent and inventive. For those looking to dine away from the hotel, a trip to Lost Heaven, a high-end Yunnanese restaurant located in Qianmen 23, is a highlight.
Beijing traffic is a mystery with no rhyme or reason as to when it will go into gridlock so be sure to add 30 minutes to every journey you're thinking of making. Happily, W Hotel is only a 10 (or 40 minute) cab ride away from the fabled Forbidden City as well as Tiananmen Square, five minutes to Silk Road with its popular Silk Market, and another 10 in the opposite direction to Sanlitun, considered Beijing's premier shopping, dining and drinking district. The south end of the strip is dedicated to high street offerings, while the north end is all about luxury labels. Our top tip? Have the W concierge write your destination and return address on a back of a card so you can show the taxi drivers.
The perfect place for young urbanites and business travellers in particular, the W Hotel Beijing Chang'an offers attentive service in a high-design setting located in the right part of town, but it's not without teething problems. Many staffers lack a basic grasp of English, which means you spend a lot of time playing charades. That said, the decor, setting and their genius W Insider service (similar to having a local friend who can give you all the hot tips on where to go and what to do) make up for the inconvenience.
The signature W bed, you won't want to leave it.
Language barrier can be frustrating.
Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.com) flies four times a day from Sydney with return airfares starting from $926 (including taxes and surcharges). The hotel is 34 kilometres from Capital Airport Beijing; the taxi fare is $20-$25.
Rooms start from $307 a night; 2 Jianguomennan Avenue, Beijing. See starwoodhotels.com/whotels.
The writer was a guest of W Hotel Beijing Chang'an