Living way out in the suburbs can, for some, be an obstacle to traveling into downtown Houston to attend theater or any of the many entertainment and sports venues the city has to offer. It might be the long drive into town, or the hassle of finding a parking spot that keeps some of us close to home. For me, it is all about the long drive back after a very late night. Not any more. Our recent stay at the Alden Hotel changed my mind forever. The Alden is a sparkling jewel located downtown on the corner of Prairie and San Jacinto offering guests a unique and intimate experience. I learned the word “Alden” comes from Old English meaning “old friend.” And that is exactly who my husband and I felt we stayed with one recent Saturday night. The sleek contemporary design is the first thing we noticed about the Alden.
The hotel has a “New York meets Houston” kind of fun and flair. Hung above the hotel lobby desk are several long, shaded, light fixtures shaped like the San Jacinto Monument. But it’s the 40-foot light installation entitled “Invitation,” that is impossible to miss. Created by Broadway/architectural lighting designer, David Lander, the wall-sized work of art takes up the back wall of the lobby. Like a giant window, colors ever so slowly morph and pulse across the surface in cool, cascading blues to rich lavenders, deep vibrant reds and every color in between.
We chose the Alden Hotel for their special getaway deals. Their “So Delicious” Package included luxury hotel accommodations and valet parking, as well as a sumptuous three-course dinner and breakfast for two in their nationally acclaimed ‘17’ restaurant. Prices for this package range from $299 to $395, depending on room type. The hotel itself features 97 guest rooms, including nine suites, with luxurious touches such as brown leather padded headboards, 27-inch flat screen televisions, and Russian Labrador granite bathrooms that sparkle. But it was all the little room touches we noticed that made our stay especially wonderful. My husband, who travels extensively for work, was the first to point out the fluffy down pillows, blackout shades on the windows, and the desk with Internet access. He hates to work on his laptop on the bed.
Being a history buff, I loved the historic building. The 10-story structure, which houses the hotel, restaurant ‘17’ and lounge ‘a+’ has quite a history. In 1924, it was known as the Sam Houston Hotel. In fact, the old hotel name and the words “Rooms from $2.00 or $2.50 with Bath” still appear painted on the brick outside the hotel. After renovation, the Sam Houston Hotel became the Alden Hotel when its doors opened in September, 2005. The hotel is the first Alden Hotel, with plans to open the concept in other parts of the United States. Before our dinner reservation at ‘17,’ we dropped by the stylish ‘a+’ lounge for an adult beverage. Their signature cocktails include the Sugar Baby and the Strawberry Blond. The latter is made with strawberry vodka and strawberry puree, with a strawberry heart floating in it. All cocktails are $12. Did I mention the Alden Hotel offers a lovely pre-theater menu? For guests coming in for a night at the theater, or other entertainment venue, a three-course dinner is served from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and the cost is just $35 per person.
After dinner, a complimentary town car is available to drop off and pick up guests at the theater, or anywhere downtown. Our dining experience in the critically acclaimed ‘17’ was a culinary delight around every corner. Executive chef Ryan Pera believes the recipe for the perfect dining experience includes “high quality and fresh ingredients equal great food.” We were not disappointed. Our waitress Diana took excellent care of us as we relaxed in our white, wingback chairs under the crystal pendant chandelier that ran horizontally down the width of the restaurant. I started my three-course meal with the autumn salad, which consisted of local greens, shaved fennel and dried cranberries lightly coated in a savory dressing. It was delicious down to the last bite. My husband, whose tastes are more exotic, went for the sweetbreads and lentils. The dish was topped with a perfectly fried quail egg. “I’ve just died and gone to heaven,” sighed Rick after cleaning his plate. He didn’t even offer to share. Of course, neither did I. My entrée consisted of a slight crispy on-the-outside, melt-on-your-palate-inside, mesquite salmon with green apples, calvados, and tiny baby turnips. I ate slowly, savoring each morsel. Rick had the 16-ounce Cowboy Ribeye. I know he had other items on his plate, but I was far too busy enjoying mine to notice. His plate was clean way before mine.
Both our hearts skipped a beat when Rebecca Masson, ‘17’s’ incredible pastry chef, showed up at our table with dessert. I ordered the old-fashioned chocolate cake, which was generous in size with a hearty texture and decadent taste. The small scoop of homemade malted milk ice cream on the side was a tasty touch. My husband inhaled his carrot cake, which held a slab of cheesecake ice cream between the layers. His comment to Masson says it all. “Would you marry me?” Rick announced when Masson came to check on how we were doing. She just smiled. Needless to say, we can’t wait to visit our “old friends” at the Alden Hotel. The Alden Hotel is located in downtown Houston, at 1117 Prairie Street, just steps away from the Theatre District, downtown night life, Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and the Metro Light Rail. Weekend rates for guest rooms range from $155 to $300. The hotel offers several affordable packages available on the weekends.
For more information on rooms, restaurant menus and packages call 832-200-8800, or visit www.aldenhotels.com