Lodging Review: "Shanghai Hotel"
Before leaving Xi’an, my colleague informed me of the hotel the Shanghai team booked for me. I checked up the hotel, “Shanghai Hotel,” not really believing that in such a large city as Shanghai that there would actually be a hotel with the name of just “Shanghai Hotel.” But really, its name was just “Shanghai Hotel.”
After reading middling reviews on TripAdvisor, mainly speaking of rude service, lackluster breakfast, and basic rooms, my heart kind of sank. Bracing myself for the worst, the hotel was certainly a big step down from the Grand Hyatt Xian, but it had its own charms.
Since my stay, I’ve read that this hotel was originally built in 1982, and it was the first modern hotel in Shanghai designed, built, and managed by Chinese people since the Opening and Reform of mainland China in 1978. I was kind of glad to learn of the historic nature of this hotel. It also explains why the name is simply “Shanghai Hotel,” because it could lay claim to that name, being the first modern hotel of the city.
Another link to history was a more personal one. On all of the hotel stationery and service items, both the names Shanghai Hotel and Jing An Hotel were printed. Turns out, Jing An is kind of a sister hotel located behind Shanghai Hotel, and the two are connected by a pleasant garden path. Jing An Hotel was the first hotel I stayed at with my family in Shanghai, when we first visited mainland China in 1990. Back then, Shanghai and all of China was a very different place! Not only that, directly behind both hotels was the former Hilton Shanghai (now Kunlun Shanghai), where I stayed twice in the 2000s. Seems like I always stay within the same city block in Shanghai!
The hotel says that it was completely renovated in 2015, but it still maintains characteristics of a traditional Chinese hotel, like a lobby with a few different stores selling traditional craftwork.
There was a bit of a wait to check in, but the staff were efficient and business-like if not particularly warm. While waiting to be checked in, I noticed an interesting interaction. A guest asked the bellhop if he could borrow an umbrella, because it was raining. The guest did disclose that he had just checked out. The bellhop replied, once you’re checked out, we can’t lend you an umbrella anymore. That policy seemed a bit mean-spirited to me!
When I went up to my floor, the housekeeper of the floor saw that I was searching for a room number. She asked me which room I had, and she pointed me in the right direction. I liked how she proactively saw that I could use help finding my room, and she would always be very warm and welcoming throughout my stay. She’s probably one of the reasons why I left the hotel with a positive impression in the end!
The room was… well, this really reminded me of any of dozens of rooms I’d stayed at in China in the past. Lots of wood furniture (some were quite worn, like a side table with lots of water rings), and a bed that was extra extra extra firm.
Bathroom was a typical hotel bathroom.
View from the hotel to the Jing’an neighborhood was nice. The location was probably the best asset of the hotel. The neighborhood was lively, with lots of eateries and shops just out the door, and open at all hours. This was a contrast to the Grand Hyatt in Xi’an, which was located in a new business district far from the city core.
Breakfast wasn’t really a highlight. First of all, it’s served in this cavernous, windowless space.
The way the food serving line was designed contributed to the rather impersonal feel of the place.
The first morning, I went towards the end of breakfast hours, where the food seemed to be already picked over. On top of that, another guest was sneezing all over the place (not the fault of the hotel, of course). I didn’t have much appetite, so I just had some soy milk, meat bun, tofu shreds, and congee with preserved egg and pork. All seemed quite industrial: the bun, for example, had a very small, dense ball of meat inside, and the congee’s pork wasn’t the usual lean pork shreds, but ground pork in clumps.
There was also a station where they made eggs, noodle soup, and wonton soup. There were signs overhead like in a fast food restaurant, with pictures of the dishes. It said the wonton soup was 特别推薦, specially recommended.
The dishes weren’t exactly made-to-order, because the first morning, the bowls of noodle soup were already just sitting on the counter. And noodles sitting in soup for who knows how long isn’t the most appealing idea.
But the second morning, I went a bit earlier when there were more diners, and I ordered a bowl of wonton soup just as the cook plunged the wire basket in the boiling water. So this day it was as fresh as could be. It wasn’t bad - more noodle than filling. THere were bowls of toppings, so I added some shredded egg, preserved vegetables, and dried shrimp.
I also took some vegetables that looked freshly prepared, and very pungent pickles. To drink, I had soy milk, and both coffee and tea.
My final two mornings, I skipped breakfast in the hotel to try some of the eateries outside.
In the end, Shanghai Hotel wasn’t the best hotel I’ve stayed in, but neither was it as bad as the reviews made it seem. It was a very standard, I would say 3-star experience (though it’s officially a 4-star hotel). A very friendly housekeeper brightened my stay, and the location is ideal, not only as a base for exploring Shanghai, but also because its immediate vicinity has a ton of eateries and bakeries available for the hungry traveler at all hours.