The W Hotel in Amsterdam features a lounge with a VIP booth. // © 2015 W Hotels Worldwide
Feature image (above): W Amsterdam’s Duchess restaurant offers tastings and afternoon tea. // © 2015 W Hotels Worldwide
When it comes to Amsterdam, canals rule. In fact, both locals and the nearly 6 million annual tourists have been so focused on the city’s 160 iconic, romantic waterways that they’ve seemed to disregard the pleasures of rooftops and skyline views. In October, that changed with the opening of the 238-room W Amsterdam hotel, which is crowned by a 360-degree rooftop bar and lounge and Amsterdam’s first outdoor rooftop pool.
Located just behind Dam Square, Amsterdam’s bustling Times Square equivalent, the W is actually split between two landmarked 1900s buildings, dubbed the Exchange and Bank (172 rooms in the former and 66 in the latter). Once home to Amsterdam’s telephone exchange and the KAS bank, respectively, the pair has been inventively reconfigured by architecture firms Office Winhov and Baranowitz + Kronenberg, which drew inspiration from the buildings’ histories and Amsterdam’s aesthetics — funneling them into cutting-edge, five-star modern luxury style. For clients interested in fashion, design, art, clubbing, music and celebrity and VIP spotting, W is truly the place.
The Exchange’s sixth floor is chief among the team’s innovations. A glass-enclosed, 360-degree box constructed atop the once-barren roof is home to the W’s check-in reception, rooftop bar, Mr. Porter restaurant and outdoor terraces that snake around the entire perimeter with a view of the Royal Palace’s dome.
There are different looks, themes and decor within each W Lounge section, from a riff on Dam Square to cozy fireplaces for cocktail sipping. (Try the I W Amsterdam, a tasty blend of lemon juice, honey, raspberries, egg white and Bols Genever, the quintessential Dutch spirit.) Admittedly, the much-ballyhooed pool is merely a shallow, 72-foot-long sliver barely wide enough for an adult’s frame, but views from anywhere on the roof are splendid.
My room’s view was also fantastic, facing the Palace’s western façade, along with nonstop bike and pedestrian traffic. Electronically controlled blackout blinds ensure total privacy and darkness when desired.
As with the rest of the hotel, there’s clever design, both sublime and bold, throughout guestrooms. There are curvy showers shaped like old telephone booths, with graffiti etched into the glass; bedtime stories woven into the bed throws; and copper pipes that serve as overhead light fixtures. This piping runs through the entire Exchange building, representing connectivity.
“The stories told through these elements shouldn’t be obvious, because then it feels like a theme park,” said Anthony Ingham, global brand leader for W Hotels. “All should be revealed slowly and let guests tell stories about the hotel to others.”
Meanwhile, each guestroom’s door, including a handful of ultra-glitzy and spacious Wow Suites, is marked with a unique, playful address plate resembling those found in the rural Netherlands.
Alon Baranowitz and Irene Kronenberg of architecture firm Baranowitz + Kronenberg enlisted young Dutch artists to create the design elements and artwork found throughout the W, including the ground floor’s illuminated, W-shaped podium. Fabricated with layers of 3-D printed clear polyurethane by Dirk Vander Kooij, this is where W’s “Whatever/Whenever” staff, the brand’s signature concierge, is stationed. If guests are really feeling Dutch, bicycle rentals are available.
Come evening, I strolled across the street to the Bank building for dinner at its majestic restaurant, The Duchess, which is so eye-popping and cinematic it could easily be used as a James Bond film location (but please, no shoot-outs). There’s plenty of marble, a skylight roof and a wall of framed photos that are actually digital monitors that change content every few months.
Offering “traditional London hospitality meets Viennese grandeur” with Mediterranean and French culinary influence, The Duchess is a stunning affair, and my tasting included foie gras and fig jam-filled donut holes, marinated beet salad with salted whipped cream, a delicate dover sole meuniere and an ice cream theatrically produced tableside with liquid nitrogen. Afternoon tea (or champagne) service in The Duchess’ Tea Room is an equally opulent affair with trays that feature a yuzu soup shooter, shrimp and leek quiche and apricot and jasmine macarons.
At present, The Duchess is the Bank’s sole functioning space. Spring 2016 will see the opening of the Bank’s guestrooms, a full-service spa with seven treatment rooms in former vaults, a nightclub, a multimedia gallery, an indoor pool and the X Bank, a 7,500-square foot exhibition gallery and creative incubator space dedicated to fashion, design and art from both local up-and-coming talent and established names.
Over an excellent breakfast at Mr. Porter the morning of my departure, I took in my final sight of Amsterdam’s rooftops and noticed a flock of pigeons streaking across the sunrise sky. Canals are so overrated.