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Inn We Go
City Inn (Bristol)
Member Name: plipplop
City Inn (Bristol)
Advantages: Good food, excellent facilities, excellent location
Disadvantages: Prices can get very high
Hotel chains are a very good example of this. The budget hotel market has literally exploded over the last decade, but as seasoned travellers have started to grow weary of faceless, lacklustre motels, a demand has arisen for accommodation that combines some of the luxury of a traditional hotel, with a more realistic price tag. One of the better examples of this is the City Inn chain, currently available in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Westminster and Glasgow (with others due soon).
Image-wise, City Inn is quite clearly aiming for the trendies. Contemporary décor and furnishing, city centre locations and fashionable restaurants and cafes are the order of the day, in a bid to attract the young business people who have large amounts of corporate budget to exhaust on a weekly basis. Within Bristol, the choice of hotels has improved massively over the last few years, with the old favourites like Jury's and Marriott literally struggling to compete. The Bristol City Inn is superbly located, in that it is close to both the M32 (the main road into Bristol), Temple Meads railway station and the new Cabot Circus shopping centre. Close to the Temple Gate office development, the Bristol City Inn sits squarely on the main road, with its own car park and a quiet little park and church to the rear. (Warning: their own car park is £7.50 a day, the little one is £3 for 2 hours.)
There are two room types. A City room (available as twin or double) is the norm, but you can pay a little extra for a City Club room, which will have floor to ceiling glass windows and a good aspect of the park at the back. The rooms aren't enormous (the Club rooms are bigger) but they are very comfortable, and well fitted with modern, stylish furniture. I have to give credit to the beds, which are easily the most comfortable in which I have ever slept and I like the trendy white bedding, which is always utterly spotless. The rooms are quite light, especially given the floor to ceiling windows, but still rather cramped. In most rooms, for instance, there is a small table in the middle of the floor, which could easily have been dispensed with and would have allowed more room to move. The wardrobes are small in comparison to other hotels, but still plenty big enough for most travellers.
All of the rooms have their own telephones (check the rates before you dial!) and a small desk on which you can use your laptop. They now also have an Apple iMac system in every room, complete with free Internet access, television channels, music and films. Wireless internet is free throughout the hotel and is generally reliable and fast. All the rooms are air-conditioned. Some have a minibar and most have a basket of little treats to tempt you, such as chocolate, crisps and nuts. These rooms are clearly designed for business travellers, who are quite likely to spend a bit of time in their rooms, and want more than the absolute basics. It's a smart move, encouraging guests to stay in and possibly tempt themselves with room service. These touches really appeal to me - within a short while, you can turn a sterile hotel room into a fairly cosy little place for the evening.
Conceptually, some people might not be too keen on the City Inn, in that the bathrooms only contain showers. I think this is a shrewd move on the part of the hotel as it means that the bathroom suites occupy less floor space, are less dangerous (from slips and spills) and use less water. The downside of this of course is that if you fancy a soak in the bath, then you'll be out of luck. The showers are proper power showers though, and the water is always hot - but you do still need to be careful. Each of the showers has two control knobs - one turns the shower on, and one increases the temperature. Sadly, with my eyes partly full of water, I once got the two mixed up and REALLY scalded my back.
The bathrooms are incredibly small. There was barely enough room to step out of the shower and you couldn't have the bathroom door open and turn around in the room at the same time. The light was artificial and very intense, which is a real problem first thing in the morning when you're half-asleep. Fortunately, you do get plenty of towels, and if you're forgetful, they lay on some free toiletries as well. Fixtures and fittings are mainly plain white, but very solid and very clean.
All the hotels have award-winning restaurants called City Inn Cafes and host a variety of different seasonal, gourmet dishes - with prices to reflect it. The menu changes frequently but struggles to pull in guests. City Inn Cafes are as pretentious as they are unpopular, and very few of the guests actually seem to dine downstairs. The menus have improved over the years reflecting on the need to balance good food with a variety of tastes and the dishes are now generally a little less exotic, although still very expensive. The full menu is available via room service, and some recommendations for this would be the City Café beer-battered fish and chips (£13.95 but delicious) or the haddock fish cakes with pickled spring vegetables (£9.95). Breakfast is £12.95 a head, but there's a good continental selection for £8.95. The breakfast is good quality and not so steep if you select one of the inclusive bed and breakfast rates. The bar gets very busy and sometimes you can have a bit of a wait. Drinks are expensive (£9.10 for double vodka and tomato juice) but the atmosphere is very pleasant.
Service in the hotel is normally good. The receptionists are efficient, although it's tiresome to get stuck behind someone who is getting the full introductory script. Room service is generally efficient, although suffers terribly on the odd occasion that the restaurant gets busy.
Rooms start from £99 per night in the week, with rates from £65 at weekends. There are nearly always leisure deals, such as two nights for one or a VIP stay with added extras (champagne and canapés, for example), which give a weekend break a sense of occasion. The best rates are guaranteed on the chain's web site. Sadly, the hotel is over-run at weekends with stag and hen parties, which takes away some of the classy appeal. For Bristol, however, this remains the premium hotel of choice and has aged well, learning some lessons along the way.
Summary: A comfortable and stylish contemporary hotel
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