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Winnipeg’s hotel scene got an injection of Quebecois chic earlier this year when Alt Hotel opened its doors.
Groupe Germain Hospitalité is a Canadian-owned, family-run chain that created the luxury Le Germain brand and its hip, affordable sister, the Alt. The Quebec City-based company is moving west with this new Winnipeg Alt and another coming to Calgary in 2017.
What’s special about the Alt is its unmoving price point – in Winnipeg, every night is $149, no high- or low-season rates (no matter how well the Jets are doing). By offering “essentials only” (a fitness centre, grab ’n’ go breakfast foods, free WiFi) and using energy-efficient measures (from geothermal heating to refillable shampoo bottles), Alt hotels keep their boutique sleeps reasonably priced. But there’s no scrimping on style. Rooms are modern and sleek, and the Winnipeg location features a mesmerizing tribute to the city in the lobby with more than 2,600 postcard-size photos.
It’s on Donald Street, steps from the MTS Centre, where the Jets play, and less than a 10-minute walk to legendary Portage and Main. Winnipeggers call this the SHED (Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District); walkers will find it an easy stroll to the historic Exchange district for restaurants and shopping. Even the Da Vinci Code-symbol-filled legislative building is only a 15-minute walk southwest toward the Assiniboine River.
This is where the Alt brand really shines. Step into the lobby and you can’t take your eyes off a permanent exhibit of photography by local Bryan Scott (his blog WinnipegLoveHate.com is subtitled “daily photos from the most beautiful, most repulsive city in the world”). He’s been posting since 2008, and the Germain family worked with him to create this eye-popping piece.
Before you even check in, you’ll want to enjoy the lobby: Sit on the dowel stool, lean back into the ribbon bucket chair or put your feet up in the lazy rocker. In the rooms, the art again stands out (this time, index-card canvases by Cliff Eyland); there’s an amazing, bendable Italian-designed armchair and natural light floods through an almost-three-metre-high rectangular window. Queen beds are comfortable but not overly lush and there are plenty of plugs (including USB) to recharge. An iPod clock dock awaits, as does a Keurig machine for a quick complimentary coffee.
If I could change one thing
If I wanted the sun to wake me up, I’d go camping – sometimes you just don’t want all that natural light coming through those enormous windows. While the wooden-slat blinds look great, they let in too much light in the morning.
If you’re a Jets fan, the best part about this hotel is the location – a two-minute walk from the MTS Centre. But the service here is what you’ll really remember. For a “no frills” hotel, the staff treat you like a five-star client. It’s been a while since I’ve been so taken with hotel employees. I guess they don’t call this “friendly Manitoba” for nothing.
Eat in or eat out?
Part of the hotel’s “essentials only” strategy is to cut the restaurant. But in the lobby you’ll find a terrific variety of breakfast necessities – yogurt, fresh whole fruit, espresso, juices and so on. For dinner, the Merchant Bar and Kitchen is connected to the Alt lobby. It’s a second eatery from local restaurateur Bobby Mottola, who made a name for himself at Pizza Gusto. Here he offers a blend of Asian and Latin dishes in light, small plates with an odd twist on the churro for dessert.
Room with a view
Winnipeg’s downtown is not dense, so with those big windows and rooms that begin on the ninth and run up to the 19th floor, the city views are pretty good. But if you really want to feel at home in the ’Peg, ask for a room looking out over Portage Avenue and the MTS Centre. Go Jets!
Alt Hotel Winnipeg, 310 Donald St., althotels.com, 160 rooms from $149.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.