PARK HYATT SHANGHAI
100 Century Ave., Pudong, Shanghai; 86 (21) 6888-1234; http://shanghai.park.hyatt.com.
Rooms and rates: 174 guest rooms from $380; 32 suites from $1,412.
With its buzzing street stalls and lively shops, Shanghai still feels like the financial muscle car of Asia. The Shanghai Park Hyatt occupies the top of the 101-storey Shanghai World Financial Center in Pudong, a sprawling district of sinewy new skyscrapers.
Location In the Lujiazui financial district of Pudong, across the Huangpu River from the Bund. With speeding traffic on its boulevards, this is not an area for strolling. The Bund and the French Concession are 15 minutes away by taxi.
Ambience A refuge from Shanghai's gruelling pace. Cocooned on the 79th to 93rd floors, guests peer down at the city through a mystical filter - when it isn't obliterated by a blanket of clouds.
Clientele Hirsute Chinese entrepreneurs sip tea and cocktails in the glass-walled lobby alongside deal-makers from the West. On a long elevator ride, I found gawking at my fashionable companions had its rewards: When I felt compelled to explain why I was staring at an elegantly dressed gentleman, he bestowed a grateful smile and the name of his tailor.
Design To create a hotel in tune with this futuristic quarter, designer Tony Chi hunted down cutting-edge technologies, fabricated products he couldn't find, such as a peach wood veneer wall covering that looks hard but has the startling softness of leather, and employed ancient materials including bamboo and volcanic stone.
Every detail contributes to a sense of silence and space, luxuries in Shanghai. Hallways twist every few metres to enhance a sense of privacy, and the earth-toned palette meets arches inspired by traditional Chinese architecture. Still, this massive structure focuses on the scale of its users. The spa's pool, for example, is set precisely at eye level, allowing its infinity edge to merge with the Huangpu River outside.
Service The hotel's service approach is as innovative as its design. No bill is presented with room service, to preserve the mood of dining at home, and the staff of 20 butlers is entirely female. Housekeepers posted in hallways 24 hours a day greet each guest on check-in to help unpack, press clothes or brew a cup of tea. With close to 750 employees tending to 174 rooms and suites, everything will be taken care of. Rooms In the 600-square-foot rooms, there's little to intrude on the arresting vistas of neon and barge traffic on the Huangpu River. The art is by emerging Chinese talent, and the technology is intuitive: Lights and blinds are controlled from the nightstand, the Internet connection is seamless and even guests without degrees from MIT can turn on the TV.
Food and drink The restaurant - a series of extravagantly outfitted show kitchens - occupies the 91st floor, with a duck-roasting oven for Chinese chefs, four wood-fired kilns for Western cooks and a meat locker where guests can choose their cuts of beef. Two bars nod to the Asian and Western faces of 1930s Shanghai. The most refreshing aspect of the hotel's food service, however, may be the pricing of its room-service breakfast: For $37, it's all-you-can eat from a long menu that includes Australian yogurt with forest honey, house-smoked salmon and Shanghai shrimp and pork wonton soup.
Amenities Beyond the usual five-star perks such as free Wi-Fi, dual-line cordless phones, DVD players and in-room coffee and tea station, there's a spa style bathroom with heated floors and an all-enveloping rain shower. More pampering awaits at the spa, where services address every sense. including taste (with teas such as fresh ginger and lemon grass from Zhejiang).
Things to Do There's groundbreaking art and fashion at Tian Zi Fang, a cluster of traditional Shi Ku Men-style row houses and an old candy factory. More than 100 eateries and boutiques line these interlocking lanes, offering artisan-made wares that range from curve-clinging 1930s-style sheaths to T-shirts slinging audacious epithets against the Cultural Revolution.
Take a Chinese-speaking companion to hunt down the two-year-old Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center ( http://www.shanghaipropagandaart.com) in the basement of a French Concession apartment complex. English captions illuminate these posters with phrases like "Laboring People of World Unite to Send Imperialism Into Tomb."
A toilet lid that lifts of its own accord may be more service than is needed.
There are less expensive places to stay in Shanghai, but few so boldly fuse ancient Chinese forms with technology.
The author was a guest of the hotel.
Special to The Globe and Mail