Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A once-stylish boutique hotel with small, comfy rooms, but in a desolate part of town
In a city that's chockablock with hotels capitalizing on Boston's colonial past, the 112-room, Kimpton-owned Onyx Hotel distinguishes itself with its comparatively contemporary decor and playful amenities (in-room Nintendo and pet room service anyone?). Every Kimpton has a cultivated "story," and the Onyx's is "emerging art." Yet save for a few unremarkable modern paintings in the lobby by a local artist and a copy of ARTnews in guest rooms, the execution of that motif seems half-hearted.
The rooms themselves, with sleek dark wood headboards, rich red upholstery, and grey and black checkered carpeting, try more for a seductive, loungy aesthetic than a high art feeling. The color palette of oranges, reds, and beiges and the chenille throw blankets help make rooms warm and cozy, but the space can be tight. My 280-square-foot standard room featured two double beds and not a lot of extra room to maneuver. Certainly I wouldn't have been able to avail myself of the hotel's "Body. Mind. Spa." services, which include free yoga mats for practicing your downward dog.
Service is noticeably spotty -- the staff doesn't seem particularly interested in meeting, let alone anticipating, guests' needs. But nice touches like the daily free wine reception, an exhaustive list of pet-friendly amenities, and modern in-room electronics (like an iPod dock and flat-screen TV) mostly make up for inattentive employees.
For affordable, relatively stylish lodgings in a desolate area that's largely defined by its proximity to other neighborhoods (the North End and Beacon Hill) and convenience for Celtics and Bruins games, the Onyx trumps the comparably priced Bulfinch Hotel down the street. But the Hotel Marlowe, another Kimpton property across the Charles River in Cambridge, more successfully delivers on its theme of "discovery," and has bigger rooms to boot. For not much more per night, the boutique Hotel Commonwealth in Back Bay offers a better location, a livelier bar, bigger standard rooms, and significantly more polished service.
With an unpolished staff, services seem better on paper than in practice.
The Onyx has a modest menu of services -- 24-hour room service (but no dedicated concierge), in-room massages (but no spa) -- but the seemingly green staff sometimes has difficulty carrying out simple tasks. When I called the front desk to request soap, I was subjected to 15 seconds of giggling before someone said hello, and after a half-hour wait I had to call again to remind them. And when a couple returned to the lobby of this pet-friendly hotel from a walk in the rain with their dog, the front-desk receptionist seemed mystified by their request for a towel to wipe off the dog's paws.
The quasi-industrial West End, a neighborhood defined by its proximity to other neighborhoods
Awkwardly situated between the charming North End and old-school Beacon Hill, the Onyx is in the nondescript West End, an area that's best defined by its proximity to other neighborhoods. Once a lively immigrant community, the area was razed in the 1950s and is now a barren, largely industrial territory. TD Garden, home of the Bruins and Celtics, is two blocks north of the hotel, and Massachusetts General Hospital is a 15-minute walk. But Boston's main tourist draws are farther afield, and the surrounding streets are populated with little beyond sports bars and fast-food joints. However, Beacon Hill's lively Cambridge Street, with an array of eating and drinking options, lies three blocks south, and the North End, Boston's Little Italy, is equidistant.
Striped cream wallpaper, grey and black checkered carpeting, dark wood headboards, and red throw blankets and club chairs converge to give the small 280-square-foot standard rooms a cozy feel. But save for a conspicuously placed copy of ARTnews, the vibe is decidedly more 1940s pinup dressing room than "emerging art," the theme of the hotel.
Amenities are few at the Onyx. There's no pool, spa treatments are in-room only (and unimaginable given how small the standard rooms are). Both the tiny gym and business center are in the basement, contributing to the overall feel that these features are more afterthoughts than genuine perks.
Kid-tolerant but not remarkably kid-friendly
The Onyx's streamlined KimptonKids program provides children with a special gift (ranging from milk and cookies to backpacks stocked with cards, crayons, yo-yo's, and puppets) at check-in. The in-room Nintendo on demand will likely appeal to children (and adults) of a certain age, and a kids' menu offers up miniburgers, mac and cheese and other child-friendly fare. But that's the extent of it. There's no pool. The front desk provides a list of kid-focused activities, but it's up to you to make plans.
Pets of all shapes and sizes stay free of charge and get VIP treatment.
There's no charge for pets of any size -- the hotel merely asks that you notify them in advance about your plans to bring your furry friend.
I spotted some scuffs, smudges, and dust on the headboards and desk, and one stain on the carpet in my room. Plus, I found a troubling on the white sateen comforter on one of the beds. The Onyx pumps its signature Kimpton fragrance into public spaces, but the whiff I got in the hallway was unpleasantly chemical.
The restaurant, Ruby Room, while good for a cocktail and appetizer, is nothing special.
The hotel's restaurant, Ruby Room, serves a full dinner menu Monday through Saturday and a breakfast buffet every day, but the atmosphere is more of a bar/lounge that happens to have a food menu. You don't have to commit to a full meal at Ruby's. A cocktail and a few appetizers -- nibbles are half-price in the evening -- will suffice. Sample items include minicheeseburgers and fried calamari.
On a barren street in the desolate West End, the once-stylish Onyx Hotel is affordable and convenient if you're catching a Celtics or Bruins game at TD Garden or visiting nearby Mass General Hospital. But otherwise it's fairly removed from prime tourist attractions. And while the rooms are comfortable (if small), amenities are slim and the service could be more polished.