Water Everywhere

San Juan hotel revels in sophistication with a twist

By: David Swanson

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico The glass-enclosed curtain of water plunging down the elevator wall was my first clue. The second was the old-fashioned dispenser with jelly beans in glowing shades of blue. (If only I’d had a nickel).

By the time I’d found Wet, the rooftop bar at The Water Club, a year-old designer hotel, it was easy to see how Puerto Rico’s capital is changing.

“We hold our Sunday afternoon champagne parties here, with lots of blow-up animals in the pool and a DJ,” said David Kurland, the hotel’s partner and managing director.

If you thought this vibrant city of 1.5 million was best known for its Bacardi rum factory, 500 years of Spanish-influenced history and comely beaches, you’re not wrong.

But, Kurland explained, “What’s finally happening is this next generation of entrepreneurs is developing restaurants, nightclubs and other venues to go after a more sophisticated traveler that doesn’t want to be trapped in a hotel.”

Not to say he doesn’t want them in his hotel.

Water is everywhere in the 84-room hotel, a revamping of the old Colonial San Juan. White walls in common areas are lit by indigo neon and a surf soundtrack fills the air.

“We want the hotel to be elegant and sexy, with an element of surprise and shock,” Kurland said. “Well, not too much shock.”

Design that clamors for attention can be tricky. At the restaurant Tangerine, the lighting is balmy and golden; the Pacific Rim cuisine is flavorful. But the all-white décor is marred by a too-cute orange chair at each table and plastic tangerines on the entrance shelves. Fortunately, such overstatements are the exception.

The Water Club succeeds with its good-looking room concept. Interiors have a whitewashed look, with blond faux-wood floors and king-size beds angled toward the water views. I liked the swivel TV/CD stand and the “desires” board, a glass pad and pen for guests’ requests. But bathrooms won’t be renovated until summer and rooms don’t have a real closet, just a recess in the wall with a hanger.

The trim staff of young Sanjuaneros seems to have been hired as much for looks as talent and they all rush around with walkie-talkies as if they are coordinating a presidential visit.

On Friday and Saturday nights they might as well be. A line of cars prompted in part by visits from the likes of Giorgio Armani and Marc Anthony clogs dead-end Tartak Street as the city’s trendsetters arrive for drinks.

Water Club doubles start at $199 high season, $169 summer months. The Big Bang Package, $398 for two nights’ accommodations for two, includes cocktails, desserts and water pistols filled with spirits on your pillows.

888-265-6699, 787-728-3666; www.water clubsanjuan.com.