Always room for one more

The recently opened Mamilla Hotel is the latest addition to Jerusalem's growing constellation of luxury hotels.

mamilla hotel 248 88 (photo credit: )
mamilla hotel 248 88
(photo credit: )
It's not yet entirely completed; it's been open only since mid-June, and so far it's the only hotel in Jerusalem that is part of both a shopping-mall complex and an upscale residential complex, although the nearby Jerusalem Plaza includes private residences with the hotel, some of which are rented out when not occupied by their owners. Promoted as a luxury boutique hotel, the Mamilla hotel, located above the Alrov Mamilla Mall that leads directly to the Jaffa Gate in the Old City, is already exciting interest from abroad, and in the first week of August it was fully occupied, mainly by guests from overseas. Jerusalem is now considered a venue for romance, and there are lots of inquiries from young couples, especially from Japan, says the hotel's general manager Eli Maor. Jerusalem is marketed as the cradle of the three great monotheistic faiths; a city of history, archeology and culture. Romance was a new concept. So was the décor of the hotel. The hotel's minimalist yet luxurious ambience, the starkness of its color schemes in which black is a dominant feature, the integration of old Jerusalem stone with the clean lines of contemporary architecture, and the suites in which the bathroom and the bedroom are separated only by a transparent glass wall (which at the press of a button can become opaque) are enough to impress most well-traveled guests. It was designed by world-acclaimed interior designer Pierro Lissoni, whose creative genius and obsessive attention to detail made all this possible. But what is really impressive is the view from the hotel's rooftop restaurant and bar, which overlook east and west Jerusalem and the Judean Desert. It is arguably one of the most panoramic and diverse views from inner Jerusalem. Of course, not everything appeals to everyone. Some friends from Australia who are frequent world travelers had stayed at the hotel a month earlier and found it too sparse for their taste, but they raved about the food. The minimalism is carefully contrived in that closets are level with the walls, and in many cases are in a separate alcove removed from the bedroom, where the only furniture is the huge bed, a chair and a flat-screen TV that is also a computer screen. There are also smaller flat screens in the bathroom mirrors so guests can continue watching TV while having a bath. In the public areas, the huge breakfast room converts into a ballroom at night. But what catches the eye is a large round table surrounded by 12 chairs. Each chair is designed by a different world-renowned furniture designer. The 12 chairs represent the 12 tribes of Israel. The room doors are fitted with electronic and regular keyholes for Shabbat observers, with special controls for automatic electricity so that religious Jews will not inadvertently violate Shabbat by generating light when they open the door. The hotel is largely powered by solar energy. All the guest rooms are non-smoking, but there are three sections in the hotel where smoking is permitted. Guests who make reservations well ahead of time are contacted by the concierge by e-mail two weeks before they are due to arrive and given information about what to see and do in Jerusalem during their stay. They are also asked their dining preferences, what newspapers they want to read and any special requests they might have. If they need to be picked up at the airport, the hotel will arrange that, too. When it is finished with a target date at the end of September, the Mamilla Hotel will include all the usual luxury hotel facilities such as a choice of restaurants, bars and coffee shops; conference rooms with state-of-the-art equipment, banquet facilities, fitness club, synagogue, library, business club and amphitheater. It will also have its own shopping center in addition to the stores in the mall. Among the former will be Israel's first GAP store. Cleanliness and aesthetics are very important to developer Alfred Akirov and to his son George, who is in charge of the family's hotel interests. Other than sections where work is being completed, all the rooftop areas of the mall are spotless, and in the mall itself cleaners are constantly at work from early morning till late at night. MAMILLA HAS undergone an amazing transformation over the last decade, developing from a slum neighborhood into an upscale island of luxury. One of the neighborhoods constructed in the late 19th century outside of the walls of the Old City, Mamilla was originally a mixed commercial and residential center populated by Jews and Arabs. The Mamilla Hotel is adjacent to the larger David Citadel Hotel, which was designed by internationally renowned Israeli architect Moshe Safdie and is likewise architecturally impressive. Directly across from the David Citadel, the Waldorf Astoria is under construction by the Reichman family of Canada, on the site of the old Palace Hotel, which was once the super luxury hotel of Jerusalem. It will be interesting to see whether Alon Ben-Gurion, who was the longtime general manager of the Waldorf Astoria in New York and is now the general manager of the Rye Town Hilton New York - and is the grandson of Israel's founding prime minister - will be brought back to Israel to manage the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem. Waldorf Astoria hotels around the world are managed by Hilton, which owns the brand name. The long defunct President Hotel, which was the first hotel in Jerusalem with a swimming pool, was purchased several years ago by Africa Israel, which intended to build a residential complex on the site, but as yet nothing has been done. The dilapidated building is still standing, and with the Jerusalem Development Authority's penchant for additional hotels in the city, construction could be delayed for many years; or Africa Israel might decide to opt for a hotel. Meanwhile, another Africa Israel residential project on Rehov Harav Kook cannot go ahead as planned due to objections raised by the Israel Museum, which controls the adjacent Anna Ticho House. Here, too, Africa Israel may have to compromise and build a hotel. Jerusalem already has a number of ghost-town luxury residential projects, with more under construction. A hotel might be a better prospect for the city that is seeking to have more tourists and is offering ever-increasing leisure time options in the heart of town.