Friday, May 7, 2010

BEND, OR: Oxford Hotel

My wife and I happened upon the Oxford Hotel while visiting friends who live nearby. We were initially delighted to find this new upscale offering in Bend.

When we visited in early 2010, the hotel had only been open a few months. Opened in January of that year, the Oxford Hotel has all the benefits of being new, including lack of wear and tear on the physical plant or furnishings, and having most everything in working order.

Beautifully designed in Pacific Northwest contemporary -- lots of dark woods, deep earth tones -- the Oxford is also designed with sustainability in mind. Being the Pacific Northwest, one would expect no less. Floors are often cork, counter tops are made from concrete or recycled glass. Even the duvet cover is made from recycled plastic bottles, though they're so luxe you'd never know it were it not for the card next to the bed telling you about it.

Flat screen TVs offer satellite TV (being Bend, that's very helpful) plus two in-house channels that turn the TV into either a virtual fireplace or a virtual aquarium. The workspace boasts numerous inputs and outlets, providing plenty of places to charge that laptop, cell phones, MP3 players, and the other devices we carry today. There are also connections that allow one to display the output from a laptop on the TV.

The Oxford's in-room coffee is clearly the best I've ever experienced. Freshly-ground coffee, a hot pot, and French press are provided, along with detailed instructions for the uninitiated.

In-room dining is offered with food prepared by 10 Below, the restaurant in the hotel basement. Our dinner on our first night was a tartare flight of lomi-lomi salmon, spicy tuna, and steak tartare, accompanied by crispy nem rolls served with lettuce, mint, and dipping sauces. Incredible! Breakfast is also served at 10 Below, with items ranging from traditional breakfast fare to several more inventive offerings.

The restaurant had a decent, though not huge, wine list. Oregon Pinot Noirs top the list, with proffered Cabernets from California, and whites from California and New Zealand.

Most notably, wine prices are very reasonable. We enjoyed a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc we buy at retail from time to time. While between $ 15 - 17 at retail, 10 Below offered it at $24 a bottle -- far below the all-too-common 100% restaurant mark-up, which would have put the price in the low $30 range.

The hotel also offers a complimentary guest laundry; a gym with a sauna, steam room, and whirlpool; and in-room internet access. There's no business center, but a laptop is available for use in the lobby for those who don't travel with their own.

While the Oxford is lovely, an important test of any business is how they handle matters when things go wrong. Partly because it's a new property, there were some hiccups.

On our first morning, I turned the single-level shower control to full hot but the water never got warm. That was especially odd because the separate tub and the sink both had hot water while the shower did not. The concierge (there is no "front desk"; only concierge attendants) offered us access to the shower in a nearby room, and maintenance looked into the matter during the day. It turned out that the controller had been installed backwards, so "hot" was actually "cold" and vice versa. Problem solved, with some minor inconvenience.

Parking arrangements at the Oxford are unusual and were the source of a second hiccup. The hotel offers valet parking for $10 a night, but one can self-park in the garage next door for $5 a day. However, guests who self-park must pay at a box in the garage; the cost of parking is not added to your hotel folio. While parking arrangements were discussed upon check-in, the payment nuances didn't register with me and the result was a $32 parking ticket.

Housekeeping is also an area that needs work. Upon returning from our day visiting friends, we found that the bed had been made and fresh towels left but the waste and recycling bins had not been emptied, the coffee press and the bathroom sink had not been cleaned, and the dirty coffee cups and drinking glasses had not been replaced. A call to the night concierge brought a fresh press and coffee cups, along with an apology.

Considering that there were now three problem areas, in my judgment the hotel should have done more than simply proffer an apology.

The next morning, I brought these matters to the attention of the concierge who had checked us in and asked that the hotel provide us with breakfast in consideration for these inconveniences. To my surprise, the concierge became defensive and began contesting my recollection of what was said about the parking arrangements at check-in.

When I restated my request for the modest goodwill gesture, she said she'd "have to check with management." A higher-end property such as the Oxford ought to empower its front-of-house people to make such minor decisions.

Shortly thereafter, I spoke directly to a manager. He too apologized and offered to try to have the parking ticket adjusted but I declined, opting not to cede control of the ticket and risk the consequences of having a parking ticket unpaid. No other action was offered at that time.

After our departure, I sent a detailed account of our experience to the hotel's corporate offices and asked for a response. My email was forwarded to the hotel and I was contacted by both the assistant general manager and the manager I'd spoken to at the hotel. The manager again apologized, noting that he hadn't realized when we spoke that our issues included not only the parking mishap but the others as well.

He was very conciliatory, assured me that these things should not have happened, and offered to "take good care of us" the next time we visit the Oxford Hotel. However, that we after the fact. Buying us breakfast before we left (or giving us a bottle of wine to take with us) would have been a very simple and inexpensive goodwill gesture and would have gone a long way toward mending fences.

Had not the hotel responded so promptly and courteously, and had not the manager been so sincere in his effort to make amends, I might still be on the fence about a return visit to the Oxford. As it stands, I do plan to give the Oxford another try next time I return to Bend.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photos by Carl Dombek
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