Rio Amazonas 73, Mexico City
Aiming to please the design-savvy traveler, the Hotel Carlota makes a nod at the past while celebrating the future, in a central location near the Paseo de la Reforma.
The simple mirror-clad facade gives nothing away—you might even walk past the low-key lobby entrance before finding your way inside the Hotel Carlota. But it's all part of a carefully designed place that feels as much like theater as hotel. The build-up of visual interest culminates in an impressive open-air lobby/atrium complete with glass-walled lap pool, overlooked by various levels of bar, restaurant and private room balconies, with neighboring high-rises filling in the background.
Named after the ill-fated Empress of Mexico (memorably portrayed by Bette Davis in the 1939 movie 'Juarez'), who reigned briefly in the mid-19th century, the hotel is anything but historical. The work of Mexican architect Javier Sanchez and designer Ignacio Cadena, it is a celebration of contemporary Mexican design, a setting for a non-stop party.
Carlota's central location is ideal for exploring Mexico City in any direction. The neighborhood, Colonia Cuauhtémoc, is a mix of quiet residential streets and Mexican government offices, and the U.S. Embassy is just around the corner. It's a half block from Paseo de la Reforma, the city's main east–west boulevard (which was designed by Carlota's husband Maximilian as homage to the Champs Elysses in Paris). In the past few years, the area has been on an upswing--like much of central Mexico City. There's a good choice of restaurants within walking distance, especially on the nearby street Rio Lerma, or across Reforma in the Zona Rosa. Just down the block, the Casa Venustiano Carranza Museo, a wonderfully preserved home of a former Mexican president, will appeal to the hotel's design-conscious clientele, as will the quirkly Edificio Eureka (Rio Lerma 46), one of the remaining examples of Art Deco architecture in this area.
An old, abandoned building—the Hotel Jardín Amazonas—provides a skeleton for the new Carlota, but bits of skin and bone have been left as reminders of the building's history. In the entry hall one can see the faded letters of the hand-painted Amazonas sign; crumbling elements of the original structure have been left as a contrast to the slicker new elements of glass and blonde wood. Hints of decay and destruction—bits of charred wood, visible patches of cracks in old concrete walls—heighten the sense of design innovation throughout the hotel.
After the somber industrial feel of the high-ceilinged entryway, you step into the main lobby and the visual party begins. A gold Louis XIVth clock ticking on the check-in desk, a grey Louise Nevelson-like sculpture, and the aqua wall of a see-through lap pool all vie for attention. Around this central open space on several levels are the bar and restaurant, and a store selling trendy design objects for the home. At the far end of the patio is a cozy library, decorated in comfortably upholstered chairs, antique tables, a huge globe, and portraits of Carlota and Maximilian. This sudden introduction of traditional decor offers a delightful contrast to the prevailing modern flair of the rest of the hotel.
A newly installed freight elevator provides access to the rooms upstairs, most of which are entered from open-air hallways facing the central atrium—and here lies the problem. The restaurant/bar has become a popular venue for wedding parties and corporate events, so this central gathering place can become noisy. Late night-party goers and early-to-bed guests may have conflicting ideas of how to spend the night. In addition, the only light and ventilation in most rooms come from windows opening to the atrium. Only a few of the less expensive rooms face the street, which is quieter.
Each of the hotel's 36 rooms is slightly different, but share common elements such as polished concrete floors, blonde wood furniture and closets, and all-white tile bathrooms; some have private balconies overlooking the pool. Works by contemporary Mexican artists emphasize the design concept: slick, minimal, and cool, with a touch of industrial chic.
The less expensive rooms are unlikely to qualify as anyone's idea of luxurious due to their spareness. Seating is a bit formal, but beds are comfortable, towels are thick, and robes and slippers are offered. Malin+Goetz brand bath products are provided. A selection of books and magazines in each room is clearly aimed at the architect/designer crowd. Traditional Mexican sweets are on offer in a glass vitrine. And there's an open invitation for guests to bring their pets. The only inhospitable note was the lack of free drinking water—guests are invited to pay 80 pesos for a glass bottle.
The chef at the hotel's restaurant is Joaquín Cardoso, who previously worked at Mexico City's acclaimed Pujol. His fusion of traditional and contemporary Mexican cooking has turned the Carlota into a hot dining destination for locals. His chilaquiles—Mexican “comfort food' breakfast”—are expertly prepared here.
The closest competition for trendy designer lodging in Mexico City is the Hotel Downtown in the Centro Histórico, with which it shares a similar hip, old-meets-new design aesthetic. Both also share what some might call the defect of function following form: comfort and luxury seem less important than creating stunning environments. Both hotels succeed in the visual department, but if you're looking for the ultimate in comfort and luxury, seek elsewhere.
Web Address: www.hotelcarlota.com (Spanish only)
Total Number of Rooms: 36
Published rates: US $200 to $320 plus taxes
Review and photos by Jim Johnston.