It is the season of awards---the Oscars, Golden Globes, Grammys, and even the Super Bowl. As someone who travels over 100,000 miles a year (last year included 75 different hotels, 25 cities, and an untold number of restaurants), I am always asked "What is the best hotel, airline, car rental, etc.?" So with that in mind, I'm announcing the Lamar List---my 2011 best choices for the savvy business traveler.
1. Best Airline: Sadly, the best and worst US domestic airlines are merging. The airline I always try to fly, Continental, is now merging with the airline I always try to avoid, United. Check back next year. In the interim, there is a lot to like about Virgin America. On a recent trip from San Francisco to San Diego, first class (upgrade for a modest fee) was outfitted with massage seats (though a disco color of white) and an extensive entertainment selection.
2. Best Hotel for Business: The London Hotel in New York. Conveniently located in Midtown Manhattan, the rooms are spacious with a separate living area. The showers are awesome and the hotel has a hip vibe to it. The downfall is that you can't schedule meetings in the hotel after five because it turns into a bar scene. In London, the Haymarket Hotel is quiet with a good location, daily cookies, and is not overly stuffy.
3. Best Place for Dining Alone: Depends on the mood you are in, but one of my favorites in New York is Smith & Wollensky's Casual Grill (below the main restaurant). You can sit at the bar, have your meal and never meet a stranger. Patrick, the bartender, was named one of the best bartenders for 2010 by Esquire Magazine. If you find yourself in San Francisco, try Bix (located in an alley in downtown San Francisco), which is a New York style restaurant/bar that has "old school" bartenders who will always remember your name. Enjoy the soothing sounds of the jazz trio playing most nights. (Make sure you order the burger that is off the menu.)
4. Best Airport: Orange County, California, because it's one of the few places you can get your rental car in the airport parking garage.
5. Best Hotel Staff: By far, the Sax Hotel in Chicago, although it can be a little tricky pronouncing the name of the hotel when directing your cab driver. The staff and their concierge, Catherine, are second to none. Once I forgot to pack my coat in the dead of winter and Ed, the doorman, lent me his coat. As I was running from the hotel to my next meeting, other guests were yelling at me to valet their cars.
6. Best Plane Seat: If you can't get upgraded to first class, make sure you get the exit row aisle seat that reclines. This changes from plane to plane, so check out www.seatguru.com to help you make your seat selection.
7. Best Rental Car Company: Hertz because of ease of check-in. If you are a Gold member, you never have to stand in line, just go directly to your car, and it has the best GPS system of any of the rental car agencies.
8. Bars With the Best Drinks: Named one of the best bars in America by Esquire Magazine, the Violet Hour in Chicago is a short cab ride from downtown and an old style, speakeasy with no name on the door. Bartenders create some of the best handcrafted drinks you'll ever find; even the ice is specially made.
9. Best Shoe Shine: I've had shoe shines across the country, and no one beats Houston's Intercontinental Airport. They are the least expensive as well.
10. Best Celebrity Sightings: The first class car on the Acela Express train between Washington DC and New York abounds of celebrities, mostly media and politicians. Just last month, I saw Bob Woodward, Bill Cosby, Connie Chung, and Maury Povich. Note, if you are trying to take a picture, turn off the flash on your cell phone, especially if going through a tunnel.
11. Best Train Station: Union Station, Washington, DC. Beautiful architecture, a terrific location and an eclectic group of shops and restaurants. It's also clean and quiet enough in parts to have a business meeting.
12. Best People Watching: Gibson's Restaurant in Chicago. It is the ultimate people watching place. Where else can you find business executives from all over the country, movie stars, and a person down on their luck? Just every sort of walk of life all coming together. Stiff drinks with a vibe of conviviality and good times.
13. Best Time to Fly: Early in the morning before any delays. The best day of the week is Tuesday since most business people are on Monday morning flights. Try to make your return flight so that you are not at the airport on Friday night. Nothing good happens at any airport after 5pm on Friday.
14. Best Car Service: When I travel and cabs are not cost effective, I use Boston Coach, which does business throughout Eastern US. These professionals are always on time and courteous. For a Houston car service, there is none better than Imam, with Execu-Car. Over the years, he has become an extended family member.
15. Best Time to Reach Me on Cell Phone: Right around shoe shine time, coffee, or dining by myself (I'll welcome the company). The rest of the work week, I'm on a plane, with candidates or clients.