Skip to content

Anthony Bourdain Reveals the 12 Swankiest Boutique Hotels in America

Lodgings that offer plenty of luxury and a lot more character than your basic Westin.

There's nothing quite like arriving dirty and fatigued after a long time on the road—sleeping in hard beds between scratchy chain-hotel linens, enduring weak, unreliable plumbing—and then finally allowing yourself to succumb to the warm embrace of a world-class establishment. That first hot, high-pressure shower bakes the pain out of jet-lagged muscle tissue. You slide gratefully into soft, maximum-thread-count sheets and pull a thick duvet over your head knowing that anything you need is a button-push away. And when you wake up, you don't have to rush to the window in hopes of discerning an identifiable landmark to tell you which city you're in—you know where you are. The perfectly maintained Victorian plumbing tells you you're back in London, inside the three adjacent townhouses that make up Hazlitt's. The 1940s-vintage kitchenette heaped with empty Champagne bottles and half-eaten orders of orecchiette, the overflowing ashtrays, and the punk band who've apparently fallen asleep on your floor tell you you're at the Chateau Marmont in L.A.

I travel a lot and stay in a lot of hotels. And my favorite hotels in the world fall into two categories: the grand, fabulous "luxury" hotels, where a man can't help but feel like a prince; and the quirky, wonderful boutique hotels with no-other-place-like-it qualities. It's easy to book a fine time in a world-class luxury hotel. More challenging and even more rewarding is finding a quirky gem to steal away to when the mood arises.

The problem is that "boutique hotel" has lost its meaning, as corporations—like Starwood, with its W hotel chain—have gotten into a business that is about being singular. It takes more than U2 piped into the lobby and a staff dressed like Agent Smith from The Matrix to make a place special.

To me, L'Hôtel is a real boutique. A brass ram's head hangs over a narrow doorway on a charming side street in Paris' Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. At the tiny bar, photos of Johnny Depp and Sean Penn confirm that you are definitely not at the Marriott. Each of the intimate rooms around a graceful oval stairwell has its own character. The room to stay in is #16, the notorious "Oscar Wilde Suite," where the libertine had the good taste to die. But perhaps the most naughty feature of a hotel that seems designed to meet the desires of one's mistress is the small thermal bath and "relaxation area" tucked away in the cavern-like cellar. Guests can reserve it for their personal use—without fear of interruption.

Travel used to be about going to new places and experiencing something of the local culture. At some hotels, it still is. At the Chateau Marmont, the service is what you'd expect from Los Angeles: dodgy but diligently tolerant of the unusual needs of the hotel's wildly eclectic clientele. Feel free to call room service and order up a case of fine wine and an assortment of power tools for the Hells Angels who'll be joining you in your suite later. Sadly, the Chateau and L'Hôtel are rapidly becoming the exceptions in an ever-chaining world. So maybe what true sybaritic travelers need is a new definition—a "unique" hotel or a "bespoke" hotel—for a special setting where the staff seem to actually care about you, where they look after your every need and never flinch, no matter how "unique" or "bespoke" those needs might be.

To that end, the editors of Best Life scoured the country for properties that remain true to the idea of boutique. Here are our selections for the Best Boutique Hotels for Grown-Ups. (Prices listed are the base price per night.) But if a luxury hotel is more your style, have no fear, we have a list of The 10 Most Jaw-Dropping Luxury Hotels in the World.

MAISON 140 in Los Angeles

Brad Korzen and Kelly Wearstler, whose credits include the Avalon, Viceroy, and Chamberlain hotels, scoured European antique markets to create a pocket of 1920s Paris a few blocks from Rodeo Drive. The hotel's romantic, candlelit Bar Noir features a mix of red French slipper chairs, Asian antiques, and Lucite stools.

XV Beacon in Boston

The Beacon occupies the site of 18th-century business tycoon Edward Bromfield's Beacon Hill mansion. This Beaux Arts building is now a posh 60-room hotel that cleverly juxtaposes original details and decadent amenities, such as gas fireplaces, stocked bars, and entertainment systems.

The Mercer in New York City

The hotel that set the boutique gold standard owes its success to hotelier André Balazs; interior designer Christian Liaigre; and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose Mercer Kitchen offers tasty items like aged sirloin with gingered shiitake mushrooms. High ceilings and huge windows lend a loft feel to each of the 75 rooms. The first-floor lobby (for guests only) is homey, with a floor-to-ceiling library. But unlike your living room, this space has 24-hour food and drink service. Another reason to book your reservation at The Mercer? New York is one of The 20 Cities to Visit Before You Die.

Hotel Teatro in Denver

With spectacular views of the Rockies, a prime downtown location, and in-room touches like cavernous marble tubs, it's not surprising that this is where celebrities like Bono and Kate Hudson stay in the Mile High City. Built in 1911 as the Denver Tramway Building, the hotel houses two of the city's top restaurants, Prima and Restaurant Kevin Taylor

Hotel Lucia in Portland, Oregon

The lobby is full of buttery-soft dark leather couches and 680 original prints by Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer David Hume Kennerly, on display exclusively at the hotel. Rooms feature king-size mattresses with pillow tops, and phones with "get it now!" buttons that provide access to a VIP concierge service.

The Alise in Chicago

This charming hotel is located in a National Historic Landmark building in The Loop District, in the heart of Chicago. This hotel also offers a complimentary borrow-a-bike service, a great way to get around town as you tackle your sightseeing. Other ammenities include free wi-fi, the Atwood restaurant and bar, and some of the best comfortable and well-kept bed linens you can find anywhere. Sadly, there's no way their bikes could be as nice as these Seventeen Insanely Cool Luxury Bicycles.

The Glenn Hotel in Atlanta

The new buzz in the Old South is a downtown business hotel with a vibe that's more après hours than antebellum. Rooms are furnished with plasma TVs, Aeron desk chairs, and Wi-Fi. Upstairs is Atlanta's only rooftop bar, which has sprawling views of the downtown skyline.

Hotel Derek in Houston

With wingback chairs, goose-down duvets, and cowhide throw rugs, the Derek is a mix of European and Texan styles. Business lofts feature work alcoves with oversize desks, flat-screen desktop computers, printers, and FedEx supplies. For client dinners, there's Bistro Moderne, the hotel's carnivore-friendly restaurant that serves up foie gras and Texas hanger steaks.

Hotel Andra in Seattle

This hotel's Scandinavian-inspired design is a blond-wood refuge from a notoriously gray city. Located in the trendy Belltown neighborhood teeming with galleries, restaurants, and boutiques, rooms here are fitted with Tivoli radios, alpaca-fur headboards, and goose-down duvets. The hotel's restaurant, Lola, specializes in Northwest Mediterranean fusion, with dishes like wild king salmon kebab.

The Jefferson in Washington, D.C.

This iconic D.C. institution opened in 1923 as a luxury apartment building before being converted to a hotel in 1955. Here, you'll find a fount of Jeffersonian memorabilia, including original documents signed by the man himself. The Jefferson caters to the power brokers and elite travelers of the world; walk into the building, and you'll be reminded of a time when Washington traded more in sense than in dollars. Further adding to the air of intellectualism? There's a dedicated book room, chock-full of leather-bound volumes on Jefferson's favorite subjects. Plus, the hotel is also home to The Quill, one of The 20 Greatest Hotel Bars in America Right Now.

The Inn At Irving Place in New York City

Smack in the middle of the bustling city exists a sleepy oasis overlooking Gramercy Park. The 12 cozy rooms in this 1834 brownstone feature marble fireplaces and Edith Wharton–era antiques, complemented by modern amenities such as high-speed Internet and access to the neighborhood New York Sports Club. Traveling to New York is also a great excuse to visit The Virgin Atlantic JFK Clubhouse, one of The 15 Most Luxurious Airport Lounges in the World.

Clift in San Francisco

Philippe Starck channeled Alfred Hitchcock to design this Union Square fun house. A quick spin through the first floor–from the massive oversize French chair in the lobby to the soaring hallways filled with glass-and-metal furniture–just might give you a case of vertigo. The avant-garde design is also a dead giveaway that this is the work of Ian Schrager, the godfather of boutique hoteliers. The ground-floor surrealism is completely abandoned upstairs, where tranquil rooms are finished in soft ivories, grays, and a touch of lavender silk. Rooms start at $195; The Clift. Now, for more great places to visit, check out these Ten Secret Places Where the Ultra-Wealthy Are Traveling This Summer.

For more amazing advice for living smarter, looking better, feeling younger, and playing harder, follow us on Facebook now!

Filed Under