Shortly known as The South Beach Hotel, the newly rebranded JW Marriott Singapore South Beach has maintained some of the original unique and funky elements while bringing a sense of international homogeneity from the luxury brand.
Swanky architecture and interiors courtesy of Norman Foster and Philippe Starck bring the best of sleek and refined lines to Singapore’s buzzing South Beach enclave, a mix of shops, bars, restaurants and office space that is built around four 1930 Art Deco Army heritage buildings that housed the Beach Road Camp and the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) Club. The buildings gave birth to the Singapore Armed Forces and were the first to be listed to be conserved.
Marriott took over from the developer as the operator of the property and officially re-opened in March 2017 with new accents, particularly in the dining and the common spaces. The rooms have remained largely the same, including the 10th female floor which features pampering elements like a face steamer and soft, pink, bunny-ear slippers. The property is filled with over 30 art pieces and installations valued at millions of dollars.
Arrival and check-in at the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach
One cannot help but be hypnotised by the hotels’ main entrance made of a 7m floor to ceiling interactive video wall by South Korean artist Lee Lee Nam that merges and blends colours and textures in a continuous motion.
Around the bright and loud video are dark wood rustic oak tables with Starck’s signature chairs, floor to ceiling library shelves filled with artifacts and a tall ladder to reach them. The reception is plain with a row of desks flanked by staff in dark grey outfits ready to check you in. By the time you have walked the few meters from the office-like building’s entrance to the reception you are in a world apart, far from Singapore’s traditional luxury hotels and into a world of design. Next to the check-in desks there are tables with shiny silver stools, an LED candle installation floating in the air and comfortable leather armchairs to read or relax. Artworks fill the common areas and I spotted a recognizable rounded piece of sculpture by Spanish artist Botero.
The reception’s interior is dark and takes you to a place in the Swiss Alps on a winter day thanks to the blackened windows, the lack of direct sunlight trickling through the ground floor between the two towers in the South Beach development and the strong AC.
We arrived well past the 3pm check in time but had to wait until almost 5pm for the Executive room in the women’s floor to be ready so we headed to the Executive Lounge where first, afternoon tea, then evening snacks, were being served. In the lift, we were seduced by Carnovsky’s graffiti.
The rooms are bright, white and a tad schizophrenic with contrasting elements both minimalistic and loud. They are as large as they are spacious and come in a perfectly orchestrated color palette of greys, neon yellow and white. Even the bath salts match the pantone.
The bed is comfortable and huge, two people can sleep all night without brushing bodies. The flooring combines a chaotic carpet pattern with grey marble. Starck’s eponymous designs are present and obvious. His swinging silver metallic chair serves as desk chair and the silver trays and neon yellow irregular mirrors add another dose of craziness.
Clever design elements are thoughtful and useful to the frequent traveler. For once, one of my pet peeves has been addressed and there are USB charging slots and plugs by the bedside.
On our departure we noticed there was a closet right by the door that was hidden by the same wall paper and which is used by housekeeping to drop off or take items without having to enter the room. Nifty, if only we had known in advance. A room tour, so unnecessary in so many luxury hotels would have been handy at the JW Marriott South Beach as the intelligent design hides a few gems.
The Women Floor has a few added elements that make it the perfect girl’s or pampering stay. There is a Panasonic Facial Steamer useful as a primer before make-up to plump up the skin after all of Singapore’s harsh AC. The slippers are very soft and hug your feet, they are decorated by a small pink pair of bunny ears. The linen and bathrobe have a discreet pale pink finishing. There are manicure and pedicure sets which are perfect for that extra “me time” after a long bath in the free standing, luscious and enormous white bathtub. There is a set of three warmers that the staff can heat up for you and you can place on your neck, eyes and back. The hair dryer is accompanied by a hair straightener and the bathroom amenities are personalised with a floral scent.
The bathroom is sleek and brightly lit with a very large walk-in shower, a huge standing bathtub and an intelligent, Japanese-style toilet which opens as soon as you walk anywhere near it.
There is a minibar fridge discreetly placed and plenty of mirrors everywhere. Each room has distinct artwork.
There are plans for 9 dining outlets to be opened at the hotel’s two towers and heritage buildings. The initial phase included Beach Road Kitchen, where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served buffet style with various live stations like a real wood oven pizza, a Chinese noodle bar, or a waffle and pancake stall. The buffet spread, as well as the quality, is remarkable at all services and prices are equally attractive with dinner served for SGD78++ including fresh lobster and oysters. The second restaurant open is Akira Back, a Japanese restaurant with Korean influences by the renowned chef of the same name who has outlets in several other destinations like the JW Marriott in Mumbai.
Media Bar is a gastropub that aims to be the place to meet for a football game, to watch world news unfold or simply enjoy a bit of time with friends. Tonic Bar offers a large selection of the said drink in various flavors sourced from East Imperial which can be combined with one of the gins in the long list. Other spirits are also available.
An additional cocktail bar is housed in the Court Martial building and named after it. The bar staff pours perfect drinks and cocktails in a cozy environment.
Work is underway to open four more outlets in the Non-Commissioned Officers Club which will now be open to the public.
For guests staying at the rooms with Executive lounge access extra dining options open up graciously. Breakfast is served at the lounge if guests wish to do so, although the spread at Beach Road Kitchen is well worth the trip. From 2,30pm on there are snack and drinks available and the choice, quality and range of food and drinks is impressive. From 2,30 to 5pm tea is served. Accompanying the drinks there are warm scones and clotted cream, finger sandwiches, cakes and juices. From 5,30 to 7,30pm the food extravaganza starts with an unlimited supply of cold cuts and antipasti including smoked salmon and marinated vegetables, breads, meats and cheeses, cakes and sweets, juices, spirits, beers, champagne and wines on unlimited supply and self-service mode. The bar staff will whip up the JW Marriott version of a Singapore Sling. From 7,30pm on, the food is stored away but the drinks are available until 9,30pm. The value provided at the lounge is well worth the extra money just because of the drinks, which are very pricey in Singapore. The lounge space is as designer friendly as the rest of the hotel. Art pieces blending old and new as well as neon glass walls create a sense of place. The views over the heritage building give it a warm feeling despite its large size. Children are not allowed from 5,30pm onwards.
The hotel’s location in a high rise mixed building means that the grounds are limited to the building itself. This has not constrained the possibilities for all the regular amenities and facilities expected in a luxury hotel to be offered but be sure to check out both the two towers as well as the heritage buildings to not miss any of the great elements.
The pool on the 18th level provides some of the most incredible views over the city including sunsets to die for. However, as it is located between two floors, there is no sunlight so it is not the place to come for a suntan but rather to avoid the sunlight and enjoy breathtaking views. Its rectangular and long shape is perfect for morning laps and there are several sofas around the gardens to relax and read a book. Floor 18 also has a well equipped gym with the latest equipment including a boxing corner and several weights. As one half of a fitness couple, I found the gym to be a great place to exercise even if you are used to top notch gyms. The same floor also has a table tennis and a foosball table with Philippe Starck’s signature silver metal design and great views to match.
Once it opens, the spa will have several single and couple rooms and will sure be a great way to end the day. It is located on the second floor of the office tower, where the lounge and Beach Road Kitchen are too.
Besides the main feature, the hotel also has a dining hall destined to house some of the most whimsical weddings in Singapore thanks to the beautiful Forest of Lights installation with over 11,500 lights floating from the ceiling.
The JW Marriott Singapore South Beach has a do-it-yourself hipster approach to service levels which gave me the feeling that I was at a start-up with a culture of acting like an owner and doing things yourself. This mentality was a bit unexpected for the cache and the price of a well established long-term luxury hotel from the JW Marriott brand, but did fit in well with the swanky, modern design-ey look of the property. After the initial re-arrangement of expectations I welcomed this younger mindset which was a better more suitable take on the traditional, and possibly stale, approach to over the top service where the butler insists on carrying your bag despite you insist in taking it yourself.
Perhaps the main drawback was the lack of information on the room, as some of the amenities and elements were not obvious, and on the facilities available, which we had to discover as if we were on a treasure hunt. But that just added to the fun and thankfully, Google is always there to help find a way to make a facial steamer work or read about a hotel’s design and aesthetics. And perhaps it was indeed the hotel’s attempt at keeping some mystery, like a Grande Dame hiding its most prized treasures.
JW Marriott Singapore South Beach review – The verdict
I very much enjoyed our stay at the hotel and found the female rooms to be the perfect couple and girl’s getaway. The hotel’s design and aesthetics were exquisite and fun, giving it a designer look that contrasts with Singapore’s long standing traditional take on hospitality. When the additional F&B outlets and the spa open up this will be one of the best hotels in town and offer the best value for money luxury city rooms for those with lounge access. Whether you come to Singapore on business, with your partner or as a young family, the hotel caters well to everyone’s needs. And even if you are not, Beach Road Kitchen is worth a visit, if only for the oyster and seafood buffet and their amazing desserts.
Once in a Lifetime Journey was a guest of JW Marriott. As always, all opinions are our own.