On approach to the former Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong, planes had to slalom through a forest of skyscrapers to find the runway. More than any other metropolis on earth, Hong Kong is a vertical city. Towers, seemingly within a hair’s breadth of each other, sprout towards the skies like toddlers standing on tippy toes hoping to be a centimeter taller than their brethren. This verticality applies not just to the output of the city’s architectural ambitions, but how Hong Kongers live their lives, always escaping the street level, where the city’s modernity gives way to an underbelly of urban chaos.
Perched 43 floors aboveground, the appropriately named Upper House, and particularly its (rather unfortunately named) Café Gray Deluxe, has been a locus of the social lives of modern Hong Kong’s expat community and glitterati since it opened in 2009.
Style & Surrounds
The design? Getting to Upper House requires a stroll through a ground-level foyer, up a (rather un-residential) escalator, and a long corridor that leads you to the elevators that silently whisk you up to the reception area, rather more akin to a stylish living room, on the 48th floor.
However, you might never see the reception area, as check-in procedures will be in your room, which regardless of category (there are only four, the smallest of which is 730 square feet) will be a serene lair of blond woods, smooth limestone, plush carpets and jaw-dropping views. While some might feel that the design, cutting-edge ten years ago, is beginning to feel a bit dated, the craftmanship and quality of materials, the grand proportions, the opulent bathrooms, and endlessly changing views out the windows, means the design should stand the test of time. What is beyond dispute though is that the rooms are supremely comfortable and considerably larger than the average Hong Kong apartment.
The scene? Café Gray Deluxe, the hotel’s only restaurant, has been a hotspot as much among locals as hotel guests since the day it opened. Headed by chef Gray Kunz, it is a near replica of his eponymous, now-defunct New York restaurant, right down to its 48-hour braised short-rib dish. The beautiful and stylish Yvonne Cheung, who helms F&B at the hotel, draws the city’s well-heeled wine lovers with her encyclopedic knowledge of libations, both grand and obscure, as well as a cadre of her equally stylish and beautiful friends.
The dress code? If you must leave your room, and shed the supremely comfortable bathrobe and slippers, wear your cocktail evening best to the restaurant.
The surrounds? The Upper House is located on the 43rd–48th floors of a tower that houses three other less-illustrious hotels and is built on top of Pacific Place mall. Luckily, there are more enticing attractions than the mall in its environs, with both the Hong Kong Park and the Peak Tram a short walk away.
Day beyond the hotel? The hotel’s biggest asset isn’t its view or opulent rooms, but rather its legendary guest-relations team, led by German expat Sabrina Klick. She is a veritable encyclopedia of everything Hong Kong has to offer, including three-star Michelin restaurants, the best beef brisket noodle shop (at Kau Kee), in-the-know personal shoppers, and where to see the best street art.
Which celebrity or character from fiction would set up camp here? Had the Upper House existed when Roger Moore filmed The Man with the Golden Gun in Hong Kong in 1974, he undoubtedly would have stayed in the Penthouse, a sprawling 1,960-square-foot residence.
The room type? Whether staying in the smallest category Studio 70 (denoting its size in square meters), or the Upper Suites, each room has deep pile-wool carpets lying on top of wide-plank oak floors, giving each room a residential quality. Clearly when Swire Group, the owner of the hotel as well as Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific, built the hotel, the instruction to architect André Fu was to raise the bar on what was then viewed as the ne plus ultra of luxury. There is not an inch of sheetrock in sight, as walls are covered either in silk wallpaper or blond wood. Furniture, while clearly designed for consistency and sturdiness rather than character, is nevertheless supremely comfortable.
Bolthole, palatial or something in-between? While the hotel only has four room categories, each are large enough to make you feel like a Bonfire of the Vanities “Master of the Universe.”
Room with view? All the rooms offer mesmerizing scenes of Hong Kong’s frenetic urban life—be it glimpses of your neighbors in the towers that frame the hills behind the hotel, or the sight of junks, tankers, ferries and pleasure boats battling for precious navigational space in the harbor.
Tub, towels, and toiletries? Oh, those tubs. Soaking in an enormous stone-clad tub overlooking the cityscape unfolding below you is a must. The hotel kindly reminds you to be aware that your neighbors might see you in all your glory if the bathroom lights are on. But really, isn’t the purpose of that helpful sign just a dare? The toiletries from Ren are perfectly fine, and they do have a helpful little amenity bag that could come in handy if you’re forced to fly home in the back of the bus.
If you could, what would you steal? One of the arrival amenities in the room was a heavenly scented candle. It now has pride of place on my mantel at home, and stands as a pleasant olfactory reminder from the hotel to book my next trip to Hong Kong. (I hope they meant for me to take it home!)
The turndown touches? Astute housekeeping noticed perpetually smudged eyeglasses, and kindly placed a microfiber cleaning cloth and spray bottle next to them on the bedside table.
Room for improvement? The street-level arrival lobby could benefit from some more layering and residential touches.
Lobby, Bar & Amenities
How was the restaurant? The aforementioned braised-beef short ribs are reason enough to eat at the restaurant. But the stunning vistas, both outside of the city’s skyline and harbor, and inside of Hong Kong’s social elite hobnobbing from table to table, makes every evening feel like the party has simply moved on from the old Café Gray in New York to its new highrise perch.
The bar? While the bar is located in the restaurant itself, it is often occupied by diners who couldn’t otherwise land a coveted table. Assuming you can squeeze your way in, the bartenders have a strong repertoire of local cocktail specials as well as a fantastic selection of scotches, and Yvonne Cheung’s legendary wine list.
Room service? While Hong Kong is a city that offers an endless variety of dining options, there is something quite decadent about starting your day having the table in your room set with crisp linens, domed cloches, astonishing views, and a strong coffee.
The breakfast? The restaurant has become a bit of a “power breakfast” destination, with the food options tending more towards Western dining choices than Chinese specialties.
Salon, spa and treatments: There is no spa, but the hotel can arrange in-room treatments. The Friday to Sunday morning yoga and conditioning classes on the sixth-floor lawn are led by local and visiting yogis.
Be warned about: Other than the Pacific Place mall, the area around the hotel is not particularly pedestrian-friendly. You are a short walk from Hong Kong park, but will need a taxi to get to Sheung Wan, Wan Chai, or Causeway Bay.
—Marc Blazer is the co-founder of PRIOR.