Visitors to Chao may recognise Chao, which opened in September 2016, as the hotel is now occupying what was formerly the Beijing City Hotel that was built back in the 1990s. The new name is the Mandarin pronunciation of the Chinese character “巢”, which means nest, echoing its goal to create a venue where people who like art, socialising and a “quality lifestyle” can gather.
In fact, when I first saw this name, the word that came to my mind was another Chinese character “潮” with exactly the same pronunciation, meaning fashion, trend or popularity, which I think also fairly represents the essence of the hotel.
Where is it?
Chao is in Sanlitun, a popular destination for shopping, dining and entertainment in Beijing’s Chaoyang district. Major landmarks like Sanlitun Soho, the shopping centre Taikoo Li Sanlitun and Workers’ Stadium are all within walking distance. Sanlitun is also among Beijing’s most vibrant nightlife hubs with a number of bars and clubs, and is arguably one of the most international neighbourhoods in the city with many foreign embassies and representative offices of international organisations nearby.
Traffic willing, getting to the hotel from Beijing Capital International Airport is about a 30-minute drive, and the hotel is less than five minutes’ drive from the city’s central business district. It’s also accessible by Beijing Subway via Tuanjiehu Station on Line 10.
What’s it like?
Chao differs from most traditional hotels in a number of ways. My first impression of the property when I entered the lobby was one of a gallery or museum rather than a hotel.
The first thing that grabbed my attention was the long staircase, named Stone Steps, on the left-hand side of the lobby. It was designed as a social gathering place where people can meet friends, read books, take photos and so on. The ceiling is decorated with colourful wool felts. It’s already quite popular in the local community, especially among young people who enjoy taking photos that they can share on social media.
Veering away from the more traditional grand decorations and long reception desks so often found in hotels, Chao has more of a vintage industrial style. There are only two small yet tall wooden tables placed at the right-hand corner of the lobby that are used for reception, and each of them is decorated with a vintage green lamp.
Turn your gaze down towards the wooden floor tiles and you’ll see that they have been collected from the old doors of buildings in Beijing’s ancient hutongs, a type of narrow street or alley commonly found in northern Chinese cities. The doornails on some of the floor tiles add a particularly historical atmosphere.
Chao has 180 guestrooms that are divided into five categories, with sizes ranging from 40 to 80 sqm. This time, I was staying at a Chao Signature 60 room outfitted with a king-sized bed. This 60-sqm room is large, and there’s a sizeable empty space in the centre of the room that’s covered with a round carpet.
However, I would say it’s a pity that the window in my room did not offer an especially nice view – some offer great views of Taikoo Li Sanlitun, while mine was just of some older commercial buildings.
Right in front of the window, there’s a large lounger and a small work desk, with a TV mounted on the wall above the desk. This layout seems a bit odd to me, because if you want to watch TV, you’ll need to move to the sofa rather than being able to lie on the bed.
The bathtub is placed next to the king-sized bed behind a screen with towels and basic bath amenities including a bath bomb, soap and a loofah. Alternatively, you can use the shower in the bathroom, which faces the door to the room.
In front of the bathtub was a long bar table and a wall-mounted case with books mainly about art, film, fashion and cuisine that you can read during your stay. The mini bar was fully stocked with free soft drinks, as well as two cans of beer (a Heineken and a Yanjing), and there were three jars filled with complimentary snacks including sweets, chocolates and small biscuits. Basic coffee- and tea-making facilities were provided as well.
What I liked most about the room were the creative slogans printed on the packages of some in-room amenities. For example, “There is no angry way to say bubbles” was printed on the cubic package of the bath bomb, while “Always remember it’s better to arrive late than ugly” was the slogan for the comb.
In-room dining services are also provided. I arrived at the hotel at around 1:30pm, and started to feel hungry soon after, having not eaten anything after breakfast. The in-room dining menu can be found at the side rack of the bar table and offers a choice of set meals featuring Chinese and western cuisine. I ordered the Beijing Dalu Noodles set with pickled cucumber, jasmine tofu skin, Cantonese BBQ Pork and an opera cake. The meal was delivered hot within the promised 30 minutes. It tasted quite good in general, though the cake was a bit too sweet for my liking.
In each room, there’s also an illustrated guide to hotel and room facilities, as well as a monthly event calendar for guests’ reference, so that they can consult the timetable if they are interested in participating in the events and workshops held at the hotel.
Food and beverage
Living Room on Level 1 offers à la carte dining between 11:30am and 10pm from Sunday to Thursday, and from 11:30am to 11pm on Friday and Saturday. All the dishes are served in small portions for sharing. In addition, there’s a stage where live music performances are held from 8 to 10pm. On Sunday, you can have a special brunch set while enjoying live jazz.
The Club Bar is just situated next to the Living Room, open between 11am and 12am from Sunday to Thursday, and from 11am to 1am on Friday and Saturday. You can choose to sit either at the bar counter or in the small booths, which are separated from each other with gauze curtains, adding some privacy with the dim lighting. A “Social Night” is held every Thursday evening, where VIP guests are invited for drinks and social gatherings.
If you continue to walk till the end of the Club Bar and turn right, you’ll find the Cellar with a specially assembled collection of wine.
Breakfast is served in the Drawing Room on Level 2 from 7 to 11am. There are three types of breakfast menus to choose from: Eastern, Western and healthy. Each set of breakfast is served with a tray of nine assorted cold dishes. You can choose your tray, side dish and main dish from different menus as well. Besides the cooked-to-order set breakfast, milk, juices, fruits and honey are offered in the form of a buffet.
Meanwhile, Drawing Room also serves English afternoon breakfast from 2 to 6pm.
Event and meeting facilities
Chao features a 3,000-sqm art centre that spans two floors from Level 1 to Level B1, including several interconnected exhibition spaces. The Plaza on Level 1 is like a small exhibition hall, though there were no exhibitions being held during our visit.
All the exhibitions spaces on Level B1 were converted from the parking lot of the former hotel. The Bridge Space here is connected with the Plaza via a staircase and got its name from the indoor bridge overlooking the space below that visitors can walk across to access other venues. It has also previously been used for different kinds of installation art exhibitions, performances and corporate events.
Beside this you can find the Arcade Space and the Triangle Space. The Arcade Space is actually a long passage, while the Triangle Space is a triangular gallery which showcases artworks from artists participating in the hotel’s artist residency programme (leading artists from around the world are invited to visit the hotel and create their own artworks here as a means of collaboration).
The Amphitheatre on the same floor provides a venue for mini concerts, presentations and panel discussions. One side of the wall is equipped with full-length mirrors, so sometimes yoga and dancing classes are also held here.
Then the Glasshouse on Level 2 has a triangular roof structure and looks like a church inside. It has become a popular venue for weddings or special brand events.
The 10-metre-high pillarless Ballroom on the same level is a multi-purpose venue that covers an area of over 600 sqm. There is a small outdoor terrace as well, but it was under construction when I visited.
The 85-sqm Boardroom is on Level 3 as is the Poolside Terrace, which has a small swimming pool designed for poolside parties along with a rooftop garden. The adjoining Penthouse Suite can be used as a supplementary private room and event space at the same time.
Beside the Poolside Terrace, you’ll find the Chef’s Club, an open kitchen for cooking classes, supper club, pop-up restaurants and brand events. There’s a small room equipped with a long table that can be used to host tastings or private dining events.
Next to the Drawing Room on Level 2 is the 24-hour Library with two large shelves fully stocked with books and periodicals for in-house guests to read for free. There are also English newspapers placed on the long table, including China Daily, Financial Times and South China Morning Post, though the latter two were the previous day’s editions.
The 24-hour Gymnasium is located on Level 3.
Besides the basic leisure facilities, Chao also hosts a variety of exhibitions, performances, workshops and courses in different venues of the hotel from time to time.
A printmaking workshop is held once a month in the Printmaking Studio on Level B1. The studio is outfitted with all the tools and equipment needed for printmaking. Small groups of participants are led by in-house artists to create their printmaking works, and they are welcome to take their framed artworks home with them. Reservations need to be made in advance, and each workshop can have no more than 10 people. The fee for in-house guests is RMB500 (US$74.53), while that for the public is RMB900 (US$134.16).
I had the chance to participate in this workshop and created my first ever printmaking artpiece. The workshop lasted around nearly six hours, and I spent a long time outlining my selected image and then crafting it on a copper plate. All the professional tutors were nice and patient, and were willing to answer my questions and helped me improve the details of the portrait I was making. It was indeed a novel and interesting experience, and one I would recommend if you can spare the time.
The Cinema Club next to the Printmaking Studio is a private cinema that can accommodate around 35 people. There are private screening sessions held every week. It’s equipped with a lounge and full-service dining facilities.
Before staying at Chao, I’d never imagine that a hotel would own such a large area of exhibition and event spaces along with such a plethora of art equipment, the likes of which you’d more typically find at a professional art school.
What’s more, Chao proves its artistic identity not only by merely displaying artworks in the hotel, but also by engaging its in-house guests and the public to participate in a variety of cultural activities. In this way, it also provides more leisure options for business travellers who don’t feel like going out to crowded attractions over the weekend and just want to find something interesting in the neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, its location in the vibrant Sanlitun district and CBD areas add its appeal to business travellers who plan work in the day and enjoy the local nightlife in the neighbourhood.
- Best for… Good location and the artistic atmosphere at every corner of the hotel
- Don’t miss… Participating in the curated artistic and cultural activities
- Price Internet daily rates for a Chao Signature 60 room during mid-April start from RMB2480 (US$370) with complimentary daily breakfast for up to two guests. Room rate is subject to a 15 per cent surcharge.
- Contact No.4 Workers’ Stadium East Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China; +86 010-58715588; ilovechao.com