The 269-room building looms over the neighbourhood, certainly making an impression from afar. Approach the hotel and the texture of the modernist tromp l’oeil façade reveals itself, the contrasting white-and-black pattern giving the windows the appearance of depth. The monochrome gives way to warm wood in the hotel lobby, a triple-height space stacked with oak volumes – containing mezzanines, a DJ booth and the corridor to the lobby washrooms – and punctuated with the imposing columns of a cathedral. The motif of oak boxes is repeated in the hotel guest suites, where the material is used in the extra-large headboards.
The oversized columns in the lobby are illuminated by lamps custom-designed by local studio Lambert & Fils. The staff uniforms are designed by Canadian brand Frank and Oak. The natural, organic hotel toiletries are sourced from Oneka, founded by Canadian duo Philippe Choiniere and Stacey Lecuyer. Local film maker and musician Valerie Jodoin Keaton created a mural comprising a series of black-and-white photography featuring ‘Montreal urban life’. And amidst these multifarious cultural cues, technology is embedded into the hotel concept, with smart televisions in the rooms, room service delivered by a robot, and most significantly, what ACDF says is Canada’s first self-check-in service. In spite of the hotel’s impressive 9.1 score on Booking.com, there are a few reviewers complaining that the reception area is ‘too small’; that staff do not welcome guests; that the self-check-in system did not work; that their room keys were faulty. Is the technology too smart for the people, or is the new hotel (opened in March 2018) still experiencing teething problems? It’s my feeling that while some guests appreciate the modern efficiency of self-service check-in technology, others would prefer to be smiled at, assisted, and made welcome by a human receptionist. However modern or comfortable ACDF’s design is, local aesthetics are simply not enough to create a warm or hospitable environment – travellers want friendly interactions with local people, too.
But any hotel, bar or restaurant manager can tell you that customer service is paramount. When it comes to today’s hospitality design, context is king and innovation might be queen, but service is still the loyal and trusty steward that keeps the castle running.