Chris Barnett on Business Travel
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Bunking Down (Literally) in Vienna
May 26, 2016 -- Can a hotel on Vienna's famed Ringstrasse court business travelers even though some rooms feature bunk beds and most other guest accommodations don't have desks, tables or chairs?

Florian Weitzer, scion of a noted Austrian hotel family and chief of a small, eponymous chain of boutique-style hotels, certainly thinks so.

His latest venture, the 188-room Hotel Grand Ferdinand, features all those quirks and plenty of other individual flourishes. And he's positioning the Grand Ferdinand against Vienna's top-tier properties, including the world-famous Hotel Sacher, the two-year-old and much-buzzed-about Park Hyatt, a Ritz-Carlton and the Hotels Bristol and Imperial, both members of Starwood's Luxury Collection.

The uber-contemporary property offers two dormitory rooms that sleep four or eight guests thanks to their bunk beds. The hotel's former manager Ricardo Buttke stiffened when I suggested that the dorms mean the Grand Ferdinand has a hostel inside a hotel.

"The concept is from the Orient Express, not a hostel," he insisted.

I visited the Schlafraum (that's German for "dormitory") and have to admit it's hardly a hostel. Imagine a train compartment paneled in gleaming mahogany and brass, fitted with crisp bed linens and outfitted with two water closets, three sinks, two showers and private lockers. The co-ed dorms can be booked by a family or solo travelers. The rate: 30 euros a night and the bunks are available through Airbnb.

The entire Hotel Grand Ferdinand is quirky that way. Many guestrooms don't have closets. Instead, two pegs extend from the wall for coat hangers. Push-button light switches are retro versions of something out of an Art Deco era fantasy. Only the 36 business suites (priced at US$260 a night) have worktables and chairs for people who are reluctant to work on a bed. But a front desk clerk assured me that if you need a place to sit down and work, furniture will be sent up at no charge.

Standard rooms, with a king bed and a curved sofa, go for US$200 nightly. Deluxe rooms at the Grand Ferdinand can command US$340 a night. By comparison, Vienna's aforementioned venerable luxury hotels start at around $340 a night. The Park Hyatt is quoting US$570 tomorrow evening for a king-bedded standard room.

"We're looking for business travelers" and convention business, said Buttke. And there is fast, free and reliable WiFi throughout the property. On the other hand, many rooms have open bathrooms in the middle of the room although toilets have their own doors.

The Grand Ferdinand is housed in a building cloaked in mystery. It's said that the BVT, Austria's intelligence agency, was sequestered in the office building before Weitzer bought and renovated it. A sleek, full-grown chestnut steed, painstakingly preserved by a taxidermist, is the first thing you see after passing through the brass revolving door. (Austria is home to the Lipizzaners, Europe's oldest troupe of performing thoroughbreds, and horses are a national symbol of prominence and power.)

The lobby is tiny, dominated by massive banana palms, and offers several chairs and an antique iron circular staircase leading to the second floor. Guests are discouraged from climbing it, however.

Weitzer, who couldn't be reached for comment, has nevertheless written an interesting playbook with the property.

There's a gym at no charge, but no business center. However, if you E-mail a document down to the check-in area, it's immediately printed out and dispatched back to your room.

Breakfast is US$35, but includes a mix-your-own Bloody Mary station. (Tip: Arrange for breakfast when you book your room and the price drops to US$23.) The meal is served in a rooftop dining room with a panoramic view of the city. The eighth-floor Grand Etage also features Vienna's only outdoor infinity pool.

The Grand Ferdinand also provides an extremely thoughtful touch for guests, especially for Americans who crave the printed word. In its three restaurants, the hotel stacks a nice array of daily and weekly periodicals at no charge. English-language offerings include the Financial Times, the International New York Times and USA Today.

Other nice frills: a warm, chatty E-mail confirmation sprinkled with welcoming phrases such as "the beautiful life" and "pure pleasure." Guests are also invited to take a spin in the house Jaguar owned by the grandfather of Austrian Formula One racing champ Niki Lauda. Or you can rent it for US$240 for the entire day.

The six-month-old hotel is still attracting curiosity seekers. Architect Philipp Himmelreich, from Heilbronn in northern Germany, checked in "because I like the design and I wanted to experience how it worked. I'm impressed with the quality of everything and all the little details. Plus, it's very close to the civic center."

But another German guest, who did not want to divulge his name or employer, was suspicious of the Grand Ferdinand's heritage.

"You know that Vienna used to be full of spies and this hotel was once the country's headquarters for spychasers," he explained. "I'm told there are microphones still in the walls."

This column is Copyright 2016 by Chris Barnett. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Chris Barnett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.