‘YL’EL, qaleghqa’mo,’ said the Klingon barman, his oversized brow and conch-like ears glowing under neon-streaked lights. I looked around the faux futuristic bar filled with bored Borgs and grinning Trekkies clutching pints of dyed green Romulan beer. Unfazed, I ordered a James Tea Kirk, a fishbowl of strong blue booze smoking with dry ice. Did it feel like the year 2369 and was I in the space station Deep Space Nine? Not really. It was still 2001 and the Las Vegas Hilton’s Star Trek Experience wasn’t quite transporting me into another galaxy.
I’m not a huge fan of themed hotels. At best they achieve their goal of standing out from the crowd; at worst they’re as awkward as dinner at Fawlty Towers. The hip Gregory Hotel in Manhattan recently jumped on the bandwagon with its Stranger Things hotel package. It includes themed snacks like Eggo waffles (preferred by one of the show’s protagonists), a ouija board bedspread — sweet dreams! — and unlimited Netflix. Over in Bangkok, meanwhile, the new prison-themed Sook Station hostel issues guests with a prison number and striped PJs on arrival. The ‘cells’ have authentic metal doors, bunk beds and a dimly lit communal bathroom. Oh, and a mugshot is taken on arrival as a lovely memento.
I’ve woken to the screech of (real) monkeys in the jungle-themed Azteca Hotel at Chessington World Of Adventures. The animal-print wallpaper, jungle white noise and Indiana Jones vibe somehow worked in Surrey. OK, it wasn’t quite the Amazon Basin, but waking up to the call of the wild gave it a sniff of authenticity. I’ve also spent a night in Vader’s Quarters, a Star Wars-themed room in Hotel Pelirocco in Brighton. The room was cramped, the seagulls were noisy and the bed was so hard it was like a Jedi challenge. Was I again transported to a galaxy far, far away? No, but I did consider a cab to the chiropractors.
There are two kinds of themed hotels, though. There are the Star Treks of Vegas and there are the Watergate Hotels of Washington DC. Two months ago, the stylish 336-room hotel, where the Watergate scandal was coordinated, relaunched suite 214 with an edgy redesign by Lyn Paolo, the costume designer from the American political thriller Scandal. Guests can mastermind their own political scandal with its in-room binoculars, a typewriter and a twin-reel tape recorder.
The rest of the hotel nods subtly to its scandalous past; room keys which read ‘No need to break in’, old Nixon speeches instead of hold music on the phone and pencils emblazoned with ‘I stole this from the Watergate Hotel’.
Another outpost that will sit in this niche bracket — shall we say ‘resistance-chic’? — is the 209-room Eaton Workshop, which will open in the US capital next spring from the world’s first politically motivated hotel group. It is pitched as an anti-Trump hotel and sits, incidentally, a few blocks from the Trump Hotel. Here you’ll find countercultural art installations and minibars with activist toolkits nestled among the gin miniatures. How much fun it will be to stay in, I don’t know. Maybe we should call a Klingon?