After a summer of COVID, and sensing the pandemic would continue to rage on, my friend Julian and I felt the desire to get out of Chicago before being cooped up for the winter. Given that we’re both in the unfortunate state of unemployment, we found ourselves fairly flexible on the scheduling front, so we decided to save some money and book a road trip out of town for a few week days. After thinking through some options, we landed on Grand Rapids for its proximity to fall color hiking, outdoor food and drink scene, and - then - lower rates of COVID infection. After looking at a few options, we landed on the AC Hotel, a brand I quite enjoy, due to its upscale feel and affordable price.
The AC Hotel brand is a relatively new Marriott concept on the shores of the US. With its roots across the Atlantic in Europe, the hotels offer an upscale refined vibe to the select service sphere - hotels that offer reduced amenities and smaller footprints. One of the moments I enjoy most about the brand is it’s activated lobbies: the bar really becomes a social centerpiece where people gather. The design and furnishings of the hotel are another key selling feature for me. In my mind, AC’s are more of a compact full-service hotel rather than select for this reason.
The Grand Rapids property fits the mold of what I’ve come to expect, but this time packaged in a restored industrial brick building that had an awful 1980’s facade covering its charm. The hotel is quite cool from the street and leaves a good impression. It’s location didn’t hurt either - located right downtown, it was a scenic walk or a quick car ride to anywhere we’d wanted to go, and just steps away from one of my favorite coffee shops: Madcap.
As part of our booking process, Julian and I knew we wanted to keep costs low, so we explored hotels where I had a Free Night Certificate available. In this case, I had an outstanding certificate from when I’d had the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card, which I’d closed when I opened my American Express Platinum Card. By booking directly with the hotel, and using a free night certificate, our total for two nights came to $173.65 - not too shabby. This netted me 522 Ultimate Rewards Points by booking with my Chase Sapphire Reserve and 1,685 Base + 421 Elite + 250 Extra Bonvoy Points with my Gold Status.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
After an easy drive in from Chicago, but one in which we’d forgotten about the time change, we were glad to pull up to the generous loading area in front of the hotel to get our vacation started! Upon entering, both of us were immediately struck by the moody elegance of the entry space, especially the show stopping front desk, but then we hit a hiccup… The front desk agent was a bit odd, and didn’t seem to want to be there. Dressed in a yellow t-shirt, she was quite robotic and not very talkative. She didn’t ask any questions, thank me for my loyalty, or mention any information about the hotel. She was also unable to answer most of our questions and seemed to just want us to move on. Luckily, when we returned down a few moments later, a super friendly suited agent was at the desk, and Julian spent a great deal of time getting answers to his questions and inquiring about upgrades while I waited in the lounge.
The lounge, which is what AC calls the Lobby, was truly well done. Dressed in dark tones, with moody lighting, and a wide range of textures and rich colors, the space felt very elevated. With mid century modern furniture, a nice nod to Grand Rapids’ history, and music pumping through, it was a space you wanted to hang out in - which we did as I’ll explain later. It was also divided into zones: a nice library like space that doubled as a business center, a cozy nook with sofas and a fireplace, and the main attraction: the bar! A stunning lit centerpiece truly grounded the space and the variety of furnishings meant there was a comfy space for anyone and any activity.
With our free night certificate, we were limited to being able to book a base level room: a City View King. Despite the check in agent not being too talkative or acknowledging my status, she did right by us and upgraded us to a King Room with a Sofa Bed, considered above a standard City View. Upon entering the room, however, we were immediately feeling that it was small and dark with only a punched window opening and no view. As an architect, I enjoyed the exposed column in our room, but acknowledge it made the space feel smaller, and may feel odd to some.
At the entry of the room was a millwork piece that housed a minifridge, microwave, safe and other amenities. Entering into the main space, was a dark wall that had a continuous bench that pulled double duty as a luggage rack and later raised to become a bench - it also had nice downlighting triggered by a switch at the bed and a large Smart TV above. The TV was enabled for guests to log in, but I’ll be honest, Hyatt’s brand standard Chromecast beats this any day in my book. On the opposite side was the sofa bed in the room, while we didn’t pull out, I can tell you that the sofa itself was odd. It felt more like a cheap futon with pillows as back cushions - a bit disappointing. The opposite is true of the actual mattress though, it was truly fantastic and I loved the array of linens - a textured throw and high quality sheets with a mix of firm and plush pillows made for a fantastic sleep. We did notice a small stain on the comforter, but upon further inspection, it seemed it had been cleaned and just not washed out. Convenient switches, outlets and a reading light were located on each side of the bed as well.
Back off of the entry, and through a sliding frosted glass door, was a very sizable bathroom. The highlight was certainly the sleek walk in shower with an overhead rainfall fixture, and I absolutely LOVE that the control was placed at the entry so that it could be turned on without climbing in. It sounds odd, but I also appreciate the attention that went towards selecting a modern toilet design and in splurging for such a large vanity in the space - we ended up covering the whole thing with toiletries. We both loved the Korres amenities, and wished we could’ve taken them home, but the large format bottles were securely fastened to the wall.
Amenities & Features
Given this is a select service property, the amenities are about what you’d expect, frankly equal to a Hampton Inn, but of a higher design and finish. There’s a nice fitness center in the base level of the hotel and a few creative meeting spaces, some in the public areas. A coffee maker is also available in each room, but it is plagued by one of my biggest pet peeves: there was no outlet to plug it in, so it ended up sitting on our floor.
Food & Beverage
On this front, the hotel really has two outlets: the AC Kitchen, which serves paid breakfast to guests and the AC Bar which slings cocktails and a menu of tapas. A Grab and Go is also available, and while we were impressed by how locally focused it was, the prices were at least double street value, so we hit up a local party store instead! While coming back after our second run to the store, we had a purely fun interaction with the night desk agent who recommended the very store we went to!
During our time here, the hotel featured a La Ventanita Pop-Up in the AC Bar, with a unique menu of items. While neither of us are keen on indoor dining, we heard about Happy Hour and initially planned to bring drinks upstairs, but upon closer inspection of the space, we realized we were virtually alone, so we had a drink in the lounge: a welcome one for me, how I’ve missed a lobby bar! Our tastes are quite similar, so we both had the Skeleton Key: a cocktail with Bourbon, St. Germaine, ginger beer, lemon and bitters. It was good and worth it for the price, we wish we hadn’t double parked out front and could’ve stayed for another! Also on offer is the signature Gin & Tonic - Marriott even commissioned an AC Hotel specific glass to elevate it’s aromas.
As we’ve seen time and time again, branded hotels are truly taking extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of their guests. The AC Hotel was no exception: plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizing stations and social distancing markers were everywhere. Two extra mitigations that I appreciated were the room cleanliness seals and the hand sanitizing wipes placed in each room. I was a little surprised by the operation of indoor dining, but given the low occupancy when we had our drink, it was a nice treat after months of avoidance.
I like AC Hotels, and this property was no different, but it really was the public spaces that shined. While the bed was amazing, the rest of the room was odd and a bit disappointing knowing it was an upgraded room. The check-in experience was also less than stellar, but the other staff we interacted with more than made up for it. First impressions do matter though. I’d definitely stay at this hotel again, but with so many other options popping up in the area, I don’t think it was good enough to be bound from trying another if the price were right elsewhere!
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