Published on June 18th, 2010 | by Mark Chesnut
The 7 Coolest 20th-Century Modern Hotels in Latin America
BY MARK CHESNUT
If you read my article “The 6 Best Hotels You’ll Never Stay In,” you may, like me, be experiencing the frustrating pangs of hearing about ultra-cool 20th-century accommodations that, no matter how had you try, you’ll never be able to sleep in.
Not to worry. Latin America is home to plenty of hotels fit for any fan of mid-century modern cool. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Grande Hotel de Ouro Preto
Brazil’s most famous architect of all time is more known for his museums and public works than for his hotels. But the Grande Hotel de Ouro Preto offers the chance to sleep within the walls of his modernist ideals. This seductively curving, two-story building sits on concrete columns, and its 35 rooms include suites with vistas of the city’s historic center.
Designed by architects Adolf Franz Heep and Jacques Pilon, what is now the Novotel Jaraguá opened in 1948, with part of the building serving as the home for O Estado de São Paulo, an important newspaper in South America’s largest city. Over the years, the hotel’s guests have included Sophia Loren, Tony Curtis, Federico Fellini, Fidel Castro, Robert Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth. In the 1990s, this modernist structure was repurposed as the Novotel Jaraguá, part of the French Accor Hotels family — featuring crisp décor and a mosaic from Brazilian modern artist Di Cavalcanti, as well as the Clóvis Graciano Space, which hosts art exhibitions. The 30-square-meter watch on the building’s façade is a local landmark.
$95 and up.
Opened by mobster Meyer Lanski in 1956, the Habana Riviera is a classic example of Havana’s past role as the Caribbean’s most sophisticated 20th-century getaway; something like a Cuban version of Las Vegas or Miami.
Like the well-maintained vintage cars that cruise in front of it, the 16-story Habana Riviera in a way has benefited from the island’s isolation from U.S.-influenced upgrades and development. Much of the original architectural, design and décor elements have been preserved, including a curious rounded structure that originally housed a casino and now provides meeting space.
Guest rooms — as well as the Mirador de la Habana restaurant — feature excellent views of the water and the Vedado neighborhood. The Copa Room Cabaret stages a Tropicana-style show and also serves as a dance club. The outdoor swimming pool still has its original three-level diving platform. Art lovers should take note of the pieces by Cuban sculptor Florencio Gelabert.
La Concha, a Renaissance Resort
When La Concha first opened in 1958, it was a showplace of tropical modern architecture, set in the heart of the toney Condado district. Local architects Osvaldo Toro and Miguel Ferrer, who had designed the Tel Aviv Hilton as well as Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court building, created a stylish confection of clean lines, accented by a gigantic seashell that was the work of architect Mario Salvatori.
Following years of being shuttered and a $220-million renovation, the property reopened in 2008 as La Concha, A Renaissance Resort, creating what hotel management justifiably calls a “retro urban showcase of cool and edgy, Latino-chic lifestyle.” Rooms are bright and modern, and the lobby bar so hip that it attracts plenty of well-dressed locals and visitors who aren’t even hotel guests. And the giant shell-shaped structure that houses the restaurant Perla is a landmark on Condado Beach.
Hotel Boca Chica
The best place to soak in 1950s-era glamour in Mexico’s original jet-set destination, the Boca Chica reopened in March 2010 following an extensive renovation and a healthy injection of style from Grupo Habita, Mexico’s leading trendy hotelier. Tucked into a corner of Caletilla Beach, Boca Chica features stylish touches, excellent cuisine and Sunset Suites that offer wonderful views of the bay from wide-open balconies. Check out my full review of the property, Relaxed Retro-Chic at Boca Chica, Acapulco.
According to one story, the piña colada was created by Ramon “Monchito” Marrero in 1954, after he spent months experimenting at the Caribe Hilton, one of the city’s first big luxury resorts (and still an excellent place to stay and enjoy a drink — actress Joan Crawford reportedly sampled her first piña colada here). Sitting on an ideal stretch of oceanfront near Fort San Gerónimo, the iconic, international modern Caribe Hilton — which in 1949 was the first Hilton to open outside the United States — has welcomed the rich and famous for decades, and offers an excellent pool and beach area that is both romantic and family friendly.
Launched in 1953, this iconic property sits like an open “V” on a prized hillside location in the Las Mercedes district. Continued renovations have kept the property high on the list of the city’s most prominent hotels, with a scenic pool and extensive options for dining and entertainment.
$239 and up.
And a couple more for good measure
The Hotel El Panamá, which was designed by Edward Durell Stone (the architect behind the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. and other 20th-century modernist masterpieces), opened as a Hilton in 1951. It’s lost some of its 1950s designer chic (as well as its Hilton affiliation), but the hotel still has large rooms, a beautiful swimming pool, and is well located in the district called El Cangrejo.
The Venetur del Lago was a shining example of InterContinental’s mid-century Latin American growth when it opened in 1953. Today, the 368-room lakeside hotel is run by Venetur, the Venezuelan government’s state tourism company, which in 2009 took over the Hilton Suites on Margarita Island.