Jonathan Schofield admires this hugely impressive addition to Manchester's hotels
This is a smart and hugely impressive addition to the burgeoning Manchester hotel scene.
The £30m Dakota Hotel is set to open this weekend on Ducie Street, with 137 bedrooms and 'the largest suite in Manchester'. Its interior, matches up to its website’s self-tagging as ‘sophisticated’ to the point of pedantry. Put simply, the Dakota is as sharp as a pin and as moody as a Jack Vettriano.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
How does the building present itself to the street? The architects are KPP from West Yorkshire and they have delivered an austere building externally that has the air of a modernist hotel from, say, the 1920s. The view from Jutland Street gives an impression that wouldn't look out of place in Budapest or Berlin ninety years ago. Well, almost.
Bedrooms look set to provide impetus on a romantic stop-over, but will work equally well for the jaded business guest
That external severity presumably acts as a startling counterpoint to the glamour of the interior. Game of Thrones fans have been complaining that many of the episodes are too dark. I suspect some guests might have similar complaints about the Dakota. Many more people, once their eyes have grown accustomed, will enjoy the air of mystery, and downright sexiness of the public spaces. The lighting, in particular, has been carried through to superb and dramatic effect: it makes darkness visible.
The bar area is exceptionally good-looking and will become a destination venue, as well as a pre-journey and post-journey rendezvous for travellers through nearby Piccadilly Station. There’s a Champagne Room available for private hire.
It's the details that often catch the eye in the Dakota. For instance, there's a jukebox affair that houses a large array of cigars. Whisky, champagne and cigars are a signature in the Dakota Hotels. The Manchester hotel even has its own cigar garden on the south west side of the hotel, which is a first. I’ll take the whisky thanks, you can keep the cigars and champagne.
The Dakota Grill is equally good looking, with lots of brooding booths waiting to cosset the punters, along with handsome private dining areas. Not for me the black and white pictures of Hollywood actors from the mid-twentieth century, they remind me of the Restaurant Bar and Grill on John Dalton Street back in the nineties. Old hat in other words, and just about the only cheesy element in the building.
Speaking of cheese, the food maintains standards. A beef dish, on the press visit, was beautiful to look at and excellent in flavour. Dakota might have to be canny with the pricing though, as this will be a restaurant out on a bit of a limb at present, away from the traditional dining areas of the city.
There’s a fine terrace and mini-garden adjacent to the restaurant, overlooking the junction of the Rochdale and Ashton Canals and across to the sturdy stone of Carver’s Warehouse from 1806. You get some very interesting human activity on the benches by the canal in this area of town. Maybe the proximity of the hotel might deter some of the less savoury interaction, or maybe the hotel can charge extra for ringside bedrooms.
There are more gardens in the upper areas, as part of the 'garden suites'. The bedrooms, both larger and smaller, look set to provide impetus on a romantic stop-over, but will work equally well for the jaded business guest. The bathrooms are crackers, with the finish much higher than is usual in new-build hotels. As the blurb says: ‘All bedrooms come complete with an ensuite bathroom, featuring a rainfall shower and bespoke toiletries. In-room features also include a smart TV with full Sky package, complimentary high-speed Wifi and air conditioning.’
The Grand Deluxe Suite, apparently biggest in the city, offers ‘indoor and outdoor space; with a dedicated lounge, dining area, opulent bedrooms, walk-in wardrobe, modern fireplace, en-suite bathrooms with steam showers and a sunken bath (plus) a private 8th floor external terrace’.
Guests with long memories might be reminded in the Dakota Hotel of the original décor of the first hotels in the Malmaison chain before it was sold to a multi-national. This should come as no surprise as Dakota Hotels share the same designer, Amanda Rosa, and the same owner, Ken McCullough. The latter sold the Malmaison chain, went off to Spain with his riches, got bored and came back, opening an improved version of the Malmaison with admirable chutzpah just round the corner from his first ever Malmaison in Glasgow. Cheeky, but amusing.
There’s a rather tortuous reason for the group name, involving the American plane, the Douglas DC3, which the RAF called the Dakota. This plane apparently ‘transformed the face of air travel by making stylish travel and impeccable service available to all’. Did it really? The name whiffs of marketing flim-flam, but, I sincerely hope the place takes off, it has real substance to it. Dakota Manchester is an asset to the city, managing to be flashy yet also tasteful.
The hotel also speaks of the accelerating pace of change in central Manchester and Salford. There are 10,000 beds presently, and as tourism increases and businesses move in, we will need far more in every category of accommodation from budget to luxury. This is the luxury end with bedrooms starting at well over £150.
The area around Dakota is getting lively, with major operators moving in such as Bistrotheque. Meanwhile the God-awful eighties’ retail units on Great Ancoats Street have finally been demolished. Shortly, and happily, Ancoats, New Islington, the Northern Quarter and this area of the city, presently branded East Village, will be more coherently linked. The arrival of Dakota is a big step forward in achieving this and in expanding the charmed circle of the city centre.