I hope you're sitting down. I hope you're not holding anything breakable because you're in for a surprise. Despite my reputation for being rude about Dutch hotels and restaurants, take a look at the rating I've given. At last - it's not a mistake - this is a 'nice' review about a Dutch hotel. Well, mostly nice. If you want to pretend I've turned soft overnight, skip what I have to say about the herring sandwiches.
We recently held a meeting and invited around thirty colleagues from across Europe to come and join us in Amsterdam for two days. The company's head office doesn't have a room that can handle that many people and it's not in a particularly nice area of the city. We looked for a hotel with meeting rooms so we could keep the accommodation and the meeting all in one location. After many weeks of getting quotes from various different hotels, the boss's secretary finally took the decision to go for the WestCord Art Hotel in the north west of the city.
I thought I knew most of the hotel chains by now but WestCord was a new name for me. A little research revealed that it's a Dutch family-owned company and my expectations dipped. I have a very low opinion of Dutch hotel chains but I tried to keep an open mind about this one. I've previously stayed across the road from the WestCord Fashion Hotel in Amsterdam and I recalled that when I looked out of the windows of my horrible Bastion hotel room (Bastion - another Dutch chain but one to be avoided) I looked with envy at the Fashion Hotel. I was optimistic that the Art Hotel might not be awful but realistic enough to not expect too much.
If you track down Art Hotel on the WestCord website, it's quite confusing. They list that there are two hotels - an Art Hotel which is 3-star rated and has 130 rooms and another with the same name with 4-star rating and just 60 rooms. It was only on our final morning at the hotel that a colleague solved the mystery. Both Art Hotels are in the same place, separated by a glass corridor which links them. We were sleeping and eating on the 3-star side and having our meeting in the 4-star part.
The hotel (or hotels, if you prefer) is located on Spaarndammerdijk in the Westerpark area in the North West of Amsterdam. This is not an area I've visited before but it's easily accessible from the city centre. Buses 22 and 48 run from the Central Station (look for bus stop F) and take around 10-15 minutes. Take care that only the 48 actually stops right outside so you'll need to ask the driver to tell you where to leave the bus if you're going on the 22. For the 48, you get off at the bus stop called Hempoint. If you go by car, there's a secure basement car park but one of my colleagues scared herself half-silly trying to get into it on a snowy morning. The Dutch are generally not good at dealing with steep slopes due to the absence of hills on which to practice hill starts.
~Check in and First Impressions~
I arrived by taxi with one of my colleagues at about nine in the evening. We could have taken the bus but we'd both already had a long day with flights and trains and taxis and working out the bus was just one step too far. From memory we paid around Euro20 which is ridiculous for quite a short journey but typical of Amsterdam taxis.
The reception area is rather striking for having some shockingly awful but very colourful large canvases hanging on the walls. That's OK, it's an 'Art' hotel, not a 'good Art' hotel. The check in desk was just inside the entrance and two receptionists came to check us in at the same time. They were friendly, keen to answer any questions and to explain where breakfast would be and where our meeting rooms could be found. They then explained that the room key was needed not only to get into the rooms, but also to get into the lift and into the corridors on our floor. This did seem slightly like a security over-kill and I wondered why it was necessary to get your key out three times over to get into your room.
Arriving on the 7th floor, I went through one security door and my colleague the other, only to discover when we stepped through them that the corridor linked the two behind so we really hadn't needed to use both doors. For a self-professed 'Art' hotel, I was surprised that there were no pictures in the corridors.
~Room with a view - of swimming pools and trains~
My room was on the back of the hotel, overlooking two outdoor swimming pools which I later learned are public pools but are free for hotel guests to use although the first week of February is not going to be a busy time. I also over-looked a lot of trains but there was no noticeable noise so I assumed they were just parked up there.
The room was a bit on the small size compared to the Novotel where I normally stay in Amsterdam. However, this is a more central location and space is at a premium in the city and I can't recall too many central Amsterdam hotels I've stayed in (and I've stayed in many) which could really be called 'spacious'. The Art Hotel room might have seemed a little larger if they hadn't been trying to squeeze quite so much furniture into the space. My first impressions were quite mixed. My first positive thought was "Hooray, there's a bath and not just a shower", though this was quickly balanced out with "Wow, where did they get that ugly industrial sink unit from?" So let's start with the bathroom.
The bathroom was small but not oppressively so. On a cold day, there's nothing I like more than warming up in a hot bath so I was pleased to have a bath with a shower over it. The sink unit was made of metal and whilst that might have been intended to look funky, it just reminded me of industrial sinks in factories and in low-maintenance public toilets (the type where the entire place looks like it could just be hozed down with disinfectant. The mirror over the sink was pleasant but not particularly well lit. I'm not a make up user so that's not an issue for me but would be for many. There was a hairdryer mounted on the wall and the usual shampoo/shower gel/body lotion bottles were lined up on the sink surround.
The bathroom is tucked to the side as you enter the room, leaving a corridor between the door and the main room. Closest to the door was a bag stand, then a sort of wardrobe unit with a hanging rail, a tea and coffee tray and a few shelves. Other colleagues said they had things from their minibars, but if there was one in my room, I didn't spot it. The presence of the wardrobe between the bag stand and the main room meant that the area was really dark. Whilst I appreciate a bag stand, I do rather expect to be able to see into the contents of my bag and that just wasn't possible. I couldn't even leave the bathroom door open with the light on to brighten things up as it would have been impossible to move. My bag found itself moved onto the bed.
The bed was two singles pushed together, each with a single duvet. That's not unusual although I found it a little chilly and would have preferred a larger duvet. I could have tugged the extra duvet off the unused bed if it wasn't held down by the suitcase that I'd moved from the bag stand. There were two noticeable and surprising things about the bed. Firstly was the astonishing fact that the bed was actually quite firm and comfortable - not to be expected in a Dutch hotel since national belief is that soft beds are good for your back. Secondly was the enormous canvas on the wall with a painting of the hotel's emblem who we named "SuperCow" and his friend, 'not quite so super cow'. SuperCow sits on the grass bank in front of the hotel and we debated which superpowers a SuperCow might have. Most of my colleagues came up with things relating to making ice-cream and yoghurt. Anyway, it's good to reflect that it doesn't really matter what a hotel sticks on the walls as you're going to have your eyes closed when you're sleeping.
Other things in the room included adequately sized bed side tables (no complaint there), and a small desk and chair. There was enough space on the desk despite the flat screen television being placed on it. I only found the one electrical socket by the desk which was enough for what I needed but would probably frustrate anyone with lots of stuff to charge up. In the corner of the room were two small armchairs and a small square table. I'd have preferred they chucked out all three items and replaced them with a single comfy chair as there really wasn't room for so much furniture. The carpet was probably worth of note, being a wide striped affair that seemed to be making some kind of statement though I've no idea what it was trying to say. If anyone thinks stripes make a room look bigger, then they should be aware that sticking too much furniture in the room has the opposite effect.
The lighting in the room was poor despite there being at least four different lamps spread around the room. When I checked out and they asked if everything was OK, I did pass on my comment that the lighting needed to be brighter and the receptionist said they've heard that many times. I can look the other way to strange cow paintings, striped carpets and even the ugly sink unit so long as the room has a good bed and free, easy to access wi-fi. The Art Hotel scored on both points.
~Eating and Drinking~
I ate two breakfasts and two lunches at the hotel and also had drinks in the bar. Service in the bar was very swift and our bums were barely on the seats before the waiter was hovering to take orders. The bar is a bit of a 'dark wood moody atmosphere' place with an unexplained centrepiece of a large motorbike plonked in the middle of the room. No explanation was offered and I chose not to ask nor to think too much about it.
The breakfast room was light and airy and looked out over the gardens. The food was a pretty standard 3-star mix of bakery items, cereals, fruit and cold cuts and hot dishes. The coffee came from a machine but was of pretty good quality. I was a little frustrated by the location of some of the crockery and cutlery - for example there are no plates near the hot food or the cold cuts and there are no spoons near the fruit salad. I'm not a morning person and I don't enjoy having to forage for my breakfast. I had fruit salad followed by a soft boiled egg which really was still soft (not an easy trick to pull off in a restaurant) and a pile of mushrooms which were so tasty that I went back for more.
For a fishitarian like me who's also going through the agonies of Weight Watchers the lunches were pretty dire. If you look up 'vegetarian' in a Dutch dictionary, it says CHEESE and that's as far as the Dutch chef's imagination can stretch. Even vegetable soup will routinely be made with meat stock which is really annoying. It's not like it's hard to use a vegetable stock cube. The hot food on offer was also meaty - quiches wouldn't be quiches if you didn't stick a bit of meat in them, apparently. On both days I had to skip the soup and go with tuna pasta salad on the first day and vegetable cous cous on the second day. On the second day I had a bread roll with herring in it - I had to take the herring out, it just turned my stomach to see, touch and smell it. Now of course it's good to offer 'local' food on a buffet but with a large international group, it's probably wise to remind the kitchen that very few people who haven't grown up with raw herring are going to love the chance to try that out.
The meeting room we had was quite pleasant with plenty of natural light and a superb pod coffee system. The downside was that acoustically it wasn't great due to being two rooms put together by removing a partition down the middle. This meant the shape was long and narrow and those at the back could hardly hear anyone at the front of the room. We also had horrible problems with the temperature which rarely crept above shivery on the first day. On day two they brought in some portable heaters which made life more bearable but there were still cold drafts in the room. All the audiovisual equipment went well and we were kept well supplied with food and drinks throughout. The breakout rooms were set up in rooms originally designed as the bedrooms for the four-star side of the hotel and were quite pleasant. One small grumble would be that there are no toilets anywhere near the meeting room so you have to go down two flights of stairs to the basement or down one set and along a corridor to find the loos by reception.
~Art is in the eye of the beholder~
I love art, especially modern art. I didn't, however, love the ugly canvases on display in the Art Hotel. My guess would be that what you see will depend on when you go and who's being featured but I wouldn't give houseroom to any of the paintings on display. I was mildly amused by the photographic exhibit on the ground floor which involved lots of cows and religious imagery. I can't swear I understood them, but they made me smile.
My invoice shows I paid Euro105 per night but I would suggest you don't pay too much attention to that as we may well have arranged for the room hire and lunches to be included. I'm not sure. A quick check on the comparison site Trivago suggests you can get rooms for less than £60 a night. If you can get a good price and you don't mind being less central, I would say this is well worth considering. It's a much quieter area to be than the city centre and you can reach the centre quickly by bus. A one day pass for the public transport is Euro7.50 so if you build that into your costings, it may well be a better option than a higher priced more central hotel.
I'm not a big fan of Dutch hotels but compared to its peers, the Art Hotel offers a decent quality room, free easy-access wifi, a fairly priced bar and a lot of (in my opinion) rather poor art to look at. The staff by local standards were excellent - which means I didn't get mad at any of them and none of them were rude or surly. Quite the opposite would be true. We had no hiccups on the administration of our meeting - everything was where it should be, when it should be, and the service was so understated that we barely noticed the staff at all. The Art Hotel gets a pretty enthusiastic thumbs up from me.