World's Strangest Hotel Mini-Bar Items
“When I travel, I want my creature comforts,” says Diane Ackerman, a private art dealer and collector who spends much of the year hopscotching around the world to attend art fairs, see clients, and make studio visits. “I like to treat myself, especially on short trips.” And one of the first things Ackerman checks in any hotel is its mini-bar.
“I’m not impressed if they have lots of crackers and junk,” says Ackerman. She even has her own mini-bar fantasy: a small fridge stocked with water, great red wine, unsalted almonds, and anything to combat jet lag–related eye bags. “I’d love to find a cucumber, so I could cut slices and put them on my eyes before I go to sleep.”
Luckily for Ackerman—and many travelers—hotels are maxing out on mini-bars to satisfy blue-chip guests...and, of course, entice them to return. “What a hotel stocks in the room can really show its personality,” says Juliet Kinsman, the editor in chief of boutique-hotel bible Mr. & Mrs. Smith. And, she says, the thrill of a hotel mini-bar can’t be underestimated—especially one that goes beyond conventional snacks and drinks. So while cucumbers might not be available yet, unusual items are increasingly showing up in mini-bars around the world.
For example, at the W Retreat & Spa in the Maldives, mini-bars include designer Heidi Klein bikinis. The Mondrian in Los Angeles curiously stocks an Alice in Wonderland hand mirror, designed by Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz. And sometimes, the items are nothing short of elemental: in China, at the Banyan Tree Ringha—which sits 10,000 feet-plus above sea level—cans of oxygen are perhaps the hotel’s best high-altitude treat.
“Consumers are well aware how every second they’re charged for something in a hotel—premiums on a phone call, for example—and the mini-bar is a chance to make you feel there are lots of treats and surprises,” says Kinsman. “For the value of a couple of dollars, you have much bigger value in word of mouth.”
But along with artisanal clothes or colas, Kinsman has her own mini-bar must-have that she seeks out whenever she checks in: Resolve, a vitamin cocktail. “I’m always a sucker for hangover kits,” she laughs.
Alice in Wonderland Hand Mirror
Details: Designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz reimagined L.A.’s iconic Mondrian hotel for the new century, tripping out the interior in a kitschy-cool tribute to Lewis Carroll and life through the looking glass. Mini-bars in the 230 rooms didn’t escape his makeover either: that’s where you can snap up a Noriega-Ortiz–designed souvenir, fittingly an Alice in Wonderland hand mirror ($25) that’s sold only at the hotel. The trippy-looking glass (in shatterproof acrylic) is the first in a series of unique in-room goodies that Morgans Hotel Group, owner of the Hudson and Delano hotels (among others), is planning to roll out for each of its properties.
Heidi Klein Bikini
Details: Produced in W’s signature purple, the halter-top bikini with silver hammered-chrome detail ($275) is designed by luxury beachwear label Heidi Klein, run by design duo Heidi Gosman and Penny Klein; the London label is a favorite of the hordes of Brits who frequent the resort. The suit is a limited issue sold only on-site, but don’t worry: if the size in your room isn’t skimpy enough, an on-call staffer designated the “Bikini Butler” will bring the perfect fit.
“Detoxifying” Room Spray
Details: Mini-bars at this 60-room bolt-hole, Boston’s original boutique hotel, hide an offbeat, all-natural sleep-enhancer: the City Life Detoxer from Sprayology ($24). The homeopathic, FDA-approved oral spray is said to flush away all the urban toxins. Its key ingredient?St. Mary’s thistle, which allegedly eases breathing difficulties, coughing, and sluggishness, so you can crash for eight hours, Ambien-free. Sadly, there’s no word on whether it freshens your breath too.
Alexander Wang–Designed Condoms
Details: Trust playboy hotelier Jason Pomeranc to come up with a tweak on the now-standard mini-bar condom kit. His entire Thompson chainlet, including this 100-room L.A. newbie, now offers designer condoms with subdued black-and-white packaging, masterminded by downtown darling Alexander Wang ($5.99 for three assorted). Proceeds benefit Planned Parenthood. And if you can’t make it to the hotel, you can buy Wang’s designs at www.properattirecondoms.com.
“Things by Tina Thor” Handmade Jewelry
Details: This 145-room East Village hotel (opened in December 2008) is the brainchild of German hotelier and Claridge’s vet Klaus Ortlieb—an obsessive style junkie who feels that the mini-bar should also be a shop for original souvenirs (he personally oversaw and curated the jewel box–like mini-bars). Ortlieb tasked downtown jeweler Tina Thor, for example, to create unique pieces ($95) for sale at his hotel (he’s also tapped makeup artist Loraine Abeles and lotion-peddler Red Flower). The mini-bars will be refreshed, like a concept store, with new items seasonally.
Voodoo Love Dolls
Details: Though it’s a sprawling corporation, Omni has tweaked its mini-bars so that each hotel can customize the so-called Sensation Bars in its rooms to better reflect the local culture (indie music CDs in Austin, for example). Nowhere is it more cheekily in evidence than at the 97-room New Orleans site, where for $10 you can make your own Love Voodoo Kit: inside the box is a stuffed doll, a box of pins for skewering, and a voodoo love-life manual. The hair and nails of any inamorato, unfortunately, you’ll have to supply yourself.
Pink Duct Tape
Details: The 250-room Custom Hotel was originally conceived of by Welton Beckett, the mod architect behind the witty Capitol Records building. Hotelier Avi Brosh continues the quirkiness inside, offering an off-kilter mini-bar that goes well beyond beers and colas in each of the rooms: there are balsa-wood airplane toys ($7) and striped calf socks from American Apparel ($13). But the canniest addition to this in-room Aladdin’s Cave is undoubtedly the bubblegum-pink duct tape ($3), ideal to mend a torn suitcase—though it has plenty of other potential uses too.
Details: The 123-room Sand Hill, just outside San Jose, gives several nods to northern Cali’s outdoorsy lifestyle; the hotel has design touches intended to blur the boundaries between indoors and outdoors, menus featuring only ingredients from local sustainable farms, and even botanical sodas in the mini-bars. Compared with the hours-long process of commercial brands, the retro Fentimans Curiosity Cola ($6) is brewed botanically using a century-old recipe, where the proprietary herb blend (it does include energy-boosting catuaba and guarana extracts) steeps for a week to infuse the flavor.
Details: The mini-bars at this 32-berth Tibetan hotel—as high up (almost 10,500 feet above sea level) as it is high-end (a two-bedroom lodge is $1,000 per night)—have a secret altitude-beating treat stashed inside: special bright blue canisters of oxygen. Simply attach the mouthpiece supplied to the nozzle and spray bursts of pure O2 like lung-boosting breath-freshener. Each contains almost 10 liters of pure oxygen, which offsets the thinner air in the mountains, whether you’re lounging in the grounds or taking one of the hikes through the scenery with a Sherpa guide (each of whom carries extra tanks just in case).
Details: This soaring, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill–designed tower thoughtfully includes kitchens in all its 339 rooms, and each features a Sub-Zero fridge that doubles as a mini-bar (albeit one with a poetically named “Water Library”). Donald, the famous teetotaling developer-cum-hotelier, ditched bottles of his own brand vodka in favor of four hard-to-find waters: Welsh Tau, Australian Tasmanian Rain, 420 from the South Island of New Zealand (all $10/bottle), and the Paris Hilton–ready Bling H20. Sure, Bling H2O is virgin spring water, but the real lure is its Swarovski crystal–studded bottle—which ups the price tag to a champagne-matching $25.