by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | June 01, 2017

The blood sport that has hotels competing with each other for customers grows ever more intense, as brands throw every ounce of muscle into the game in an all-out effort to distinguish themselves from the pack. In the process, they are pushing the boundary on design, incorporating elements like more communal places in lobbies, super-cool rooftop bars, myriad tech-savvy features, craft cocktails and even the provision of bicycles to help guests explore the surrounding communities.

These six properties, handpicked by M&C editors, get our vote for standout designs that make you want to check in and never leave.


INDUSTRIAL COOL
Hotel Emma, San Antonio

Move over Alamo, San Antonio's got a new attraction that's also memorable. Housed in the former Pearl Brewery that dates from the 1880s, the 146-room Hotel Emma masterfully blends the building's historical details with modern conveniences to create a distinctive industrial-chic aesthetic that's become a standout on the city's riverfront.

The hotel's architects incorporated as much of the brewery's original features -- like stonework and tiles, vaulted ceilings and exposed steel window frames -- to create an immediate sense of place. Brew tanks have been converted into a seating area; a bottle-capping machine has been transformed into a chandelier; and the hotel's hip Larder market, where locals come to indulge in gourmet Texas-made foods along with house-butchered meats and outrageous salads, is housed in the building's former cellar. (There's even a "culinary concierge" on duty.)

Welcome margaritas are served in the wood-paneled library, with its collection of volumes of local lore curated by San Antonio writer/historian Sherry Kafka Wagner. Need more convincing? Guest rooms have an Ice Box (aka a high-end minibar) loaded with seasonal local Texan treats and all the fixings for a craft-your-own margarita.


WHIMSICAL DIGS
MaMa Shelter, Los Angeles

A French-based boutique chain, Mama Shelter is owned by the Trigano family, which founded the Club Med resort brand in 1950 and opened this 70-room beauty in a vintage 1930s building in the middle of Hollywood in 2015.

Dining at L.A.'s Mama Shelter is
a deliciously casual experience.

The lobby features an oversize foosball table, comfy couches, a fireplace covered with sticky notes, and vending machines loaded with gum balls and granola. Look up at the chalk ceiling, dubbed the Sistine Chapel of Hollywood by locals: Its surface is inscribed and decorated with heartfelt toasts to mothers everywhere by local artists.

The guest rooms are playfully appointed with Darth Vader lamps, Bert and Ernie headboard reading lights, and subway tiles, with old Hollywood scripts and vintage surfing magazines on hand to curl up with.

The on-site restaurant's open-kitchen design features invitingly rustic wooden communal tables and a menu inspired by Mexicana-Mediterranean cooking. A trendy rooftop, complete with a bar and gym, is decked out with colorful lounge chairs and a screen projector with a strung-up sheet to facilitate impromptu movie nights.


SOUTHWESTERN STYLE
The Camby, Autograph Collection, Phoenix

Housed in the former Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix, this cool, contemporary newcomer, a member of Marriott's Autograph Collection, made its debut in December 2015.

In the minimalist lobby, guests can check in quickly via smart tablets that send a room key directly to their smartphone. For those still hankering for a human touch, traditional check-in remains available.

The lobby of the Camby in
Phoenix offers a soothing,
minimalist-style welcome.

The hotel's moniker is a nod to Camelback Mountain, just 23 miles to the east and visible from many of the 277 guest rooms, which have copper ceilings and are adorned with Southwestern rugs and throw pillows.

On-site are two super-sleek dining outlets -- the speakeasy-style Bees Knees cocktail bar, and Artizen, Crafted American Kitchen & Bar, presided over by chef Dushyant Singh, who was named the 2016 Best Upcoming Chef by the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame.  Don't skip a visit to the rooftop pool, complete with cabanas and ping-pong tables for entertainment.

Among the property's 20,000 square feet of meeting space are some neat design twists, such as the Back Office, a private venue with a boardroom table that doubles as a pool table, and a shuffleboard game that becomes a buffet table.