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L’Escape puts food and drink experience first : While other hotels go minimal, Shinsegae aims to be extravagant

Aug 01,2018
Above: Internationally-known bartender trio Simone Carporale, left, Monica Berg, center, and Alex Kratena pose in front of the Marque d’Amour bar at the L’Escape Hotel, where they will present their service to local and international customers. Right: At top is the hotel’s Western-style restaurant L’Amant Secret developed in collaboration with The Modern in New York, and at bottom is Chinese restaurant Palais de Chine made in collaboration with Hong Kong’s Mott 32. [L’ESCAPE HOTEL]
Above lefts: Local talent contributed to make Shinsegae Chosun Hotel’s first independent brand hotel: Hell Cafe in Ichon-dong, central Seoul, top, and bakery Maison M’O in Seorae Village, southern Seoul, above, now also serve their drinks and treats inside the new hotel.
A staycation at a luxury city hotel brings to mind a few essential things: lounging by the pool sipping a drink, a feast-like breakfast at a buffet in the morning, and sending the kids off to a child care center inside the hotel for a quiet, relaxing afternoon.

But none of these things, commonly thought of as ways to attract locals to spend weekends and vacations at hotels, can be found at the new L’Escape Hotel by Shinsegae Chosun Hotel, the group’s first independent hotel brand after decades with global chain Starwood Hotels and Resorts brand Westin to run its Westin Chosun Hotel in Seoul and Busan. Two weeks ago, the company unveiled what it calls a boutique hotel, with designs and features that have rarely been seen in Seoul before. The hotel is located right across the street from the Shinsegae Department Store’s main branch in central Seoul.

Contrary to the recent trend in luxury hotels focusing their efforts on catering to families with young children, the new hotel has positioned itself as a playground for adults. The rooms are outfitted with French-style designs, including heavy drapes and velvet furniture at a time when many hotels are pursing simpler designs. While other hotels in the city are cutting down on the number of restaurants and bars they offer, L’Escape has made food and beverage a key part of its identity.

“What hotel visitors want to experience has become varied, but there have not been many different styles of hotels that could satiate their needs,” said Kim Bum-soo, the general manager of L’Escape Hotel, adding that the ‘boutique’ concept is uncommon in Korea but widely enjoyed internationally.

“We are making something new for locals and something more comfortable for international travelers, by providing things that are inspired by what’s Korean and what’s international.”

In the same vein, the hotel did not hesitate to bring both local and international talent to run the restaurants, bakeries and bars located inside. To run its Western-style and Chinese restaurants, it partnered with The Modern from New York to make L’Amant Secret and Mott 32 from Hong Kong to make Palais de Chine. Both are already known among local wine aficionados and industry experts for its affordable wine prices compared to other restaurants in Seoul.

The Modern team will collaborate with the hotel’s staff to do a pop-up event every three months, and the menu served at the pop-up will be served until the team from New York returns to Seoul for more. L’Amant Secret will also be used to host gala dinners and collaborations between other local and international chefs, although detailed names of the participating restaurants are yet to be unveiled.

Korean bakery Maison M’O in Seorae Village, southern Seoul and Hell Cafe located in Ichon-dong, central Seoul, are bringing touches of the modern food scene in Seoul with a series of desserts and drinks. The hotel said it wanted to be known as the place to get the best coffee in Seoul, because the first thing people want when waking up in a hotel is delicious coffee and a simple pastry.

The velvet sofas and red walls also keep the overall ambience of the hotel very secretive and sensual. The area outside of the hotel’s bar is filled with red and pink flower decorations alongside fruits scattered on tables covered with velvety cloth, making one want to reach out and take some, which the hotel staff said intended and allowed.

The bar, with its dark-glass ceiling that reflects what’s below, has large peacock-shaped pillar decorations where some drinks are served in specially-made cocktail glasses made to look like lilies and a pair of hands.

The drinking gets very sensual as visitors will feel like they are drinking their cocktail from someone’s hands. The concept comes from bartender trio of Simone Carporale, Monica Berg and Alex Kratena, internationally-known bartenders who will take turns traveling to Seoul each month to keep the hotel bar fun.

The bartenders will get fresh ingredients from the garden on the building’s roof to mix some local flavors in internationally-known cocktails.

The trio encourages those inside the bar to mingle with one another. The seats are put together at different angles to make it easier for drinkers to make eye contact with one another.

“You become kings and queens here,” said Simone Carporale, explaining how making one feel different from their normal self attracts people’s attention. “If actual kings and queens come to visit, we will treat them like normal people. That’s how you do service [by providing] what each and every customer wants.”

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]