W New York Downtown opens on Wall Street

Downtown New York has been slowly building up its reputation for years, but 2010 seems to be the year of openings. In June we showed you the exclusive images of the first hotel to be open in the Wall Street area with views of Ground Zero, and now more planned hotels are finally opening their doors to travelers in an effort to help rebuild the downtown New York area.

The W New York Downtown – the newest W Hotel in Starwood’s collection – finally opened the doors to the Downtown and The Residences at W New York, offering another hotel options for business travelers and leisure guests looking for a place to stay in the downtown Manhattan area. The hotel is located in New York City’s Financial District on the corner of Washington and Albany Streets.

The 58-floor, 217 guest room and 223 W-branded residences is placed perfectly to give guests city views of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Hudson River and Battery Park. The hotel will offer the Living Room Bar & Terrace on the fifth floor with floor-to-ceiling window views of New York City, featuring specialty cocktails from resident mixologist Charlotte Voisey and light bites provided by BLT Bar & Grill, the hotel’s signature restaurant. The second floor dining room features a larger menu of fresh salads, grilled meats, market-driven pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and the signature sides and desserts.

The W New York Downtown will offer the same guest amenities typical in W hotels – W signature feather-top mattresses, 350 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, goose down comforters and pillows, state-of-the-art in-room entertainment and a fully stocked Munchie Box (the W brand’s take on the hotel mini bar).

Mall of America gets luxury hotel on the Fed’s dime

Good news for mall junkies: Bloomington, Minnesota’s vaunted Mall of America will get a luxury hotel in the near future — thanks in part to federal stimulus funds.

Plans for the hotel have been in the works for several years, but had to be quashed two years ago due to lack of funding, says USA Today.

Now, Hennepin County officials have granted the Bloomington Port Authority the ability to issue $40.3 million in tax-free bonds to help fund the $130 million venture. The hotel is set to be 12 stories, and connected to the MOA via a skyway. And though it’s not yet clear who will manage the property, Starwood, Radisson and Marriott are all up for the gig.

The federal stimulus funds were made available to projects that were “significant and shovel ready” and located in economically depressed areas. Proponents of the hotel say it will bring much-needed jobs to the area, and will pay for itself in revenue. But critics argue that building a luxury property probably isn’t the best use of federal funds. What do you think, Gadling readers?

[photo by Flickr user cliff1066]

Starwood to open seven hotels in NYC this year

New York City is getting a few new addresses.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts announced its plans to open seven more hotels in New York City, upping the hotel’s portfolio by 50 percent in the Big Apple. Starwood currently operates 12 hotels in New York City across six of its nine brands, and expects to have 18 properties open in the city by year’s end, including the local debut of the Aloft and Element brands.

From Starwood:

“While nearly 80% of our future hotel pipeline is outside of the United States, we have more hotels in New York City than any city in the world and we will open more hotels right here in our backyard than anywhere else, which speaks to New York’s enduring stature as the most global gateway city in the world,” says Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen.

Coming soon: Aloft hotels in Harlem and Brooklyn and Starwood’s first Element hotel in Times Square.

In addition to the new brands, Starwood’s Sheraton hotels is making a splash in the big city. Of the seven hotels opening, Sheraton will debut two New York hotels including the Sheraton Brooklyn New York Hotel the Sheraton Tribeca New York Hotel. Starwood’s most popular brand, the W, continues to operate four hotels in NYC including its landmark W New York and W New York-Times Square.

Starwood’s scavenger hunt rewards players with free hotel nights

You know the game – you love the game – you win the game, especially if it means going home with free travel perks! Scavenger hunts have been used for team building exercises, corporate functions and the bachelorette-parties-gone-bad, but this time, the scavenger hunts takes on a new prize: free nights at a Starwood hotel.

That’s right – Starwood Hotels is hosting a social media scavenger hunt that awards winners with free weekend nights at any Starwood hotel around the world. The best part? There are hundreds of prizes to give away.

The SPG(R) “Passport to Free Weekends” contest kicks off May 12 and will award a total of 200 free nights to 100 winners over the course of 10 business days. The hotel will offer clues via its Facebook and Twitter accounts, and each clue will send followers to one of 920 Starwood hotels around the world. That’s right – you could wind up in Dallas, or your friends in Dubai might win the scavenger hunt.

The winning location will rotate each day and each day, a different Starwood brand will be the object of the scavenger’s affection (Starwood currently has nine brands including W Hotels, Westin, Aloft and Sheraton). When the participant determines the identity of the designated hotel, he or she will approach the front desk to claim their prize. The first 10 winners will get their “passport” photo taken, which will then be posted on SPG’s Facebook and Twitter pages for winners to enjoy fifteen minutes of fame.

To participate in the contest and receive the clues, you must friend Starwood Preferred Guest on Facebook and follow @SPGInsider on Twitter. To learn more about contest terms and conditions, click here.

Escape the ordinary Dallas hotel at The Joule

Dallas is not a city known for boutique hotels, but that’s been changing thanks to properties like The Joule, a unique 129-room upscale hotel that first opened in 2008. Constructed in a former 1920’s Neo-Gothic bank building, this sophisticated retreat combines contemporary design with the unique architectural touches, world-class artwork by the likes of Andy Warhol and on-site fine dining and nightlife. Cookie cutter business hotel this is not. Earlier this month, Gadling stopped by The Joule to take a closer look at this intriguing boutique property. Want a peek at one of Dallas’ most unique hotels? Let’s take a look.

Check-in and The Lobby
The minute you step inside The Joule’s front door, the property’s slick design is on display. Luxurious wood-paneled walls hung with artwork by Andy Warhol and Richard Phillips frame an understated lobby of low-slung couches and chairs. A collection of artsy coffee-table books is scattered about for browsing. We felt as if we had entered the living room of a high-class penthouse – comfortable yet intriguing.

Anchoring the back of the two-story lobby are two massive rotating gears, a play on the hotel’s energy-focused theme (a joule is a unit of energy). The cogs are so huge in fact, they manage to hide the check-in desk. We wandered around for a few minutes before locating the desk and beginning our check-in. The hotel had our reservation on file and we were on our way to our room in no time.

Keep reading below to find out about The Joule’s one-of-a-kind pool and the in-room experience.

%Gallery-92690%The Rooms
In keeping with the unique decor of The Joule, guest rooms follow a similar high-end design motif. Our Deluxe Room’s interior was slick and modern, yet still inviting, set off by the same hardwood touches found in the lobby. Though the room was small, it managed to be well-organized. A stack of intriguing music and art books lined a table and custom Dallas-themed photography on the walls lent the room a personalized yet sophisticated air.

The toilet and shower are laid out in self-contained spaces on opposite sides of the room’s entrance. The “Rainforest” shower head was a joy to use and gets our thumbs up. The sink and vanity area (right) was also tiny but arranged to maximize space. All rooms come with Gilchrist & Soames toiletries and a small unit under the sink with additional amenities like tissues and cotton swabs.

The bed in our room was more than comfortable. With 300-thread count sheets, Down pillows/comforters and chrome reading lamps above each side that flip out, the sleeping area made for an excellent sleeping and late-night reading experience.

Other in-room amenities include a 42″ flatscreen television, an iPod docking station and Bose Wave Radio, and a full Martini station for cocktail fans.

As much as we liked the room’s sophistication and stylish elements, sometimes they can come at the expense of ease of use. When we tried to plug in our large-size Apple laptop charger at the outlets over the desk, it didn’t fit thanks to a curiously placed ledge. Many of the room’s other electrical outlets seemed to be hidden or occupied – a curious move considering the number of gadgets travelers carry these days.

Infinity Pool, Charlie Palmer and PM Nightclub

Not only does The Joule excel with unique in-room design, the property’s intriguing on-site amenities are also worth a visit. First is the hotel’s 39-foot Infinity Pool, one of the The Joule’s most stunning architectural features. Located on the 10th Floor, the pool juts several feet off the building’s edge, creating a dramatic visual effect. We were able to swim underwater up to its edge, gazing down at bewildered street-level pedestrians staring from up at us from below. A Fitness Center and range of Spa Suite services like in-room massage complement the offerings.

Just off The Joule’s lobby is Charlie Palmer at The Joule – a modern take on classic American cuisine that pairs nicely with the hotel’s upscale design interior. In addition to an artisanal and locally-sourced menu, Charlie Palmer features a lineup of signature cocktails and fully-stocked bottle shop at the in-house Next Vintage Wine Shop. Next Vintage is a particularly nice touch for wine-lovers and thrifty customers looking to pick up a convenient bottle for their night out. Just across the lobby from Charlie Palmer is PM Nightlife Lounge, an upscale high-design nightspot for those who want to continue the fun.

The Bottom Line
The Joule isn’t a hotel for everyone – those looking for a simple no-nonsense spot to rest their head should look elsewhere. But for the discerning hotel customer, The Joule’s attention to detail, understated design and top-notch amenities can’t be beat. High-concept boutique hotels can easily be over the top and silly, but The Joule managed to win us over with its combination of understated luxury and cutting edge style. Give it a try the next time you’re in Dallas and you’re in the mood for something different.