Hamburg – The drive in to Hamburg from the airport in the early fall is a beauty to be reckoned with: voluptuous trees with their changing colours line the roads, and, when it’s sunny, the Inner Alster lake glistens. Despite it being a major port city, it still carries a sort of non-metropolitan charm that’s enviable for big-city visitors. A turn onto the Nikolaifleet canal, just past the red brick warehouses of the Speicherstadt and in the heart of the city’s old town takes you to an unassuming, yet sleek façade: the Sir Nikolai hotel.
Sir Nikolai is the second chapter of the Sir Hotels’ story in Germany: when it opened in the summer of 2017, it followed Sir Savigny in Berlin. The boutique hotel collection was founded in 2013, in Amsterdam, with the opening of Sir Albert on Albert Cuypstraat. Sir Savigny was the second outpost, and the third, a second Amsterdam location in the A’Dam tower. In Ibiza, Sir Joan opened in accordance with Sir Nikolai, and next year, the group will set roots in Barcelona. Even as each hotel grows and the colllection expands, utmost priority is given to establishing a unique individuality, entirely location-based. The celebrated hotelier Liran Wizman, who founded Europe Hotels Private Collection, selects a different designer for every hotel – in Hamburg, Colin Finnegan, founder and owner of Amsterdam-based FG Stijl, took that role.
When Finnegan began the project, the revitalization of the harbour neighbourhood was beginning to gain traction already, but the jewel of Hamburg – the Elbphilharmonie – had not opened yet. When designing Sir Nikolai, Finnegan’s mission was to connect the city with the harbour through the location. Honouring the history of each city is an essential aspect of each Sir hotel, which bleeds over into the hyper-local touches implemented into the guest experience and the overall narrative of the brand. Even still, the design does not rely on claustrophobic formality or recreate old-world grandeur to establish itself – the interpretations are decidedly up-to-date.
In the Sir boutique rooms, a cluster of eccentric framed prints and photographs adorn the walls. A Marshall speaker sits on the bedside table and the vanity lights up as you sit down – the cutout in the desk offers a mini-library of classic novels in German. Rich tones, like mustard yellow and deep turquoise, give one an insight into the aesthetic preferences of this elusive Sir Nikolai. And with the impossibly fluffy beds – which are exclusive to Sir Hotels – it’s a wonder that anyone ever makes it outside at all. But when they do, the group offers Sir Explore tours which stray far away from tourism walk-arounds of the past. The team recruits beloved locals to show their city as it should be – in Hamburg, you can do everything from an immersive art walk with a local artist to a gourmet schnitzel class with an Austrian chef.
For Finnegan, this is a well-oiled orchestration on the behalf of Sir Nikolai himself – with comfort, connection and warmth trumping all else.
So, who is Sir Nikolai, and what is his place in a city like Hamburg?
COLIN FINNEGAN: If you look at Hamburg, it is certainly a city of great contrasts: you have the harbour area, and then you have the very wealthy area, which, of course, came from the harbour and the barons. We wanted to create a fictional story centred on a harbour baron – one whose home was still in that court of the city.
The key thing about Sir Nikolai is that he is a really fun character – named after the Nikolaifleet – and with him, it’s always a good time. Because the warehouses used to be old trading houses, you very often had the great trading families who had offices downstairs and lived upstairs. That’s why it’s such a big house – it used to be his great-great-grandfather’s. He’s really into the Orient – that’s why there’s a Japanese [and South American fusion] restaurant [Izakaya] with great food. That’s where the goods would have come through, so it would have been logical to have a restaurant there.
In the rooms, Sir Nikolai is ever-present – unfortunately, you just missed him this time, but you’re sure you’ll catch him next time. You’re happy though, because his home is your home and the staff is there to tend to all your needs. That’s critical when we travel – we want to be welcomed into people’s open arms.
But you don’t want to be hugged too tightly.
Exactly! At Sir Nikolai, you have the luxury of someone’s private, local space, without having too much private time. This idea of intimacy is really a sign of our times – everybody wants to have more contact with each other, but still, in a limited way.