Tbilisi Hotel Roundup: Radisson Blu or Nothing

 

The hill lit up at night

The hill lit up at night

You’ll have to forgive me. I took photos of both the Radisson Blu and the Sheraton Metechi Palace, but the photos are on my good camera…the one I left in Paris. Words will have to paint the picture (and some shots of Tbilisi itself).

As I mentioned in my previous entry, darkness was quickly enveloping Georgia as I left the immediate airport area. As we turned out of TBS and onto George W. Bush Avenue, I had a good laugh at the large billboard for the Trump Group featuring The Donald and his ridiculous hair…I guess he is investing in Georgia, the country is really booming and development is ramping up.

The last embers of the day were fading as we rolled up to the Radisson. Although the Radisson is a tall tower, that looks a bit like an office building, my drive into town had taken me up some decaying streets that looked that much worse for wear in the darkness, and I was really starting to question if three days in Tbilisi was going to be a good bet.

Georgian Beer

Georgian Beer

Check-in was painless and I was quickly shown to my room. While you are paying Radisson level prices, the rooms were more Park Hyatt, or at least Grand Hyatt level in both design and amenities. I was very impressed and instantly regretted that I would be moving to the Sheraton the next day for the remainder of my time in Tbilisi.

After setting my bags down, I went up to the gym on the top floor (I think 18). It has floor to ceiling windows overlooking all of Tbilisi and features a fair assortment of machines and weights as well as probably the best views (at least from any building) of Tbilisi.

 

Shardeni St.

Shardeni St.

After a quick shower I went to the bar (also on the top floor) and had a drink. It was fairly empty, so I asked the bartender where she would go if she wasn’t working. She gave me a couple of options, but stressed that the best bet was probably to go to Shardeni Street and just bounce between the bars there. Based on my ingress to downtown Tbilisi from the airport, I had a grim picture in mind of what bar hopping in Tbilisi might look like.

Nevertheless, I took her advice, grabbed a cab out front and went to Shardeni. Once I got there I was blown away by how much nicer everything was than what I had expected. I chastised myself for being such a baby, and went walking down the road trying to find the most crowded bars. I posted up at an outdoor space and ran into some random Americans on vacation…strange place to run into some guys from Georgia.

After a few drinks I walked over the the club next door that the internet had told me was popular. As it was summer and many people go to Batumi or are otherwise out of town, the bouncer informed me that the club portion was closed, but there was still a rooftop terrace I could go to.

I had no other plans, so I figured why not. I took a table outside, had a few drinks and when a table of three Georgian girls were seated nearby, I went over, introduced myself and joined them. We ended up at a few other clubs (ones that were open and very packed) and it turned out to be a great night. I remember at one point, a group of guys all substantially taller than me walked in and I was faux-perturbed (I am 6’4” and used to being the tallest or one of the tallest people in the bar). Someone informed me they were the Georgian National Basketball team, and they had just lost badly to either Latvia or Lithuania, no one seemed to remember, or particularly care. I made it home before sunrise, and in the morning it was time to move to the Sheraton.

Radisson Blu Tbilisi Report Card

Pros: Great location, awesome rooms (especially for the price), nice gym, decent although low key bar.

Cons: They always try to force you into a hotel cab which is substantially more expensive than the normal metered cabs.

Report Card: While I might give the Marriott a go next time in Tbilisi since I haven’t seen what they have to offer, the Radisson is very likely the class of the city and is head and shoulders ahead of the Sheraton.

 

SHERATON

So, I awoke groggily the next AM, piled my stuff back into a suitcase and grabbed a cab over to the Sheraton. While the Radisson Blu is right in the city center, I came to learn that the Sheraton is actually a bit outside of town. Too far to really walk to anything.

I’m told Sheraton were the first hotel group into Georgia when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the design and interior of the hotel reflect this. After check-in, I moved my bags to a room which smelled vaguely of cured meats. To the Sheraton’s credit, the room had a balcony, they gave me some free beers as well as a plate of Georgian cheeses and access to their club floor for being Starwood Gold. Also, the hotel had an excellent gym (better and more equipment than the Radisson), but it was located in the basement.

With my stuff secure, I went back into town to meet a Georgian friend. She gave me the grand walking tour of Tbilisi. The central core is small and very walkable, a pleasant place to stroll around. She explained to me how much Tbilisi has changed in the last few years, and that 10-15 years ago, it was not a safe place and running water and electricity were not ordinary conveniences. It’s hard to even imagine.

Abandoned streetcar turned restaurant near Shardeni

Abandoned streetcar turned restaurant near Shardeni

After the cultural portion of our program ended, my friend took me to a Georgian restaurant for dinner. She ordered most of the menu so I could try all their specialties, and I have to say everything was delicious. I doubt much if any of it was “healthy,” but goddamn if it wasn’t tasty. If someone could open a proper Georgian restaurant in NYC (ideally near one of the college campuses) I think they would KILL it.

Another of M’s friends met us at dinner and we all adjourned back to the rooftop bar I had been at the previous evening.

The next morning, M and I were going to drive out to Gori to see the Stalin museum and the house he was born in, because I am fascinated by all things Soviet, and M had never been. Shortly before heading into town to meet her, I thought I would double check with the desk. They informed me the museum was not open. Good thing we checked before driving there.

I went into town by myself and took the cable car up to the top of the ridge overlooking the city. I despise cable cars, but I gutted it out. There is a huge statue there that resembles the Rodina Mat in Kiev. I got some snaps of it, looked around the ruins, then walked down a street that leads to the house of the richest man in Georgia (now their President). His house is known as the “Opposition Palace” because it is palatial in size and sits virtually eye to eye with the Presidential Palace on the other side of the river.

I was able to walk right up to the gates and no one stopped me. I decided it would be best not to press my luck, and I walked back to the cable car, then decided I’d prefer to take the steps down.

That night, I met M for dinner again. One of her friends from school joined us and decided it would be in our best interests to drink a bottle of vodka with the meal. I forget the brand, but he ordered a Ukrainian vodka that was very smooth and went down nicely. M barely drinks, so it was really the two of us vs. a bottle of vodka with some beers on the side for good measure…we won. As it was a Sunday, there wasn’t much going on, even though the next day was a big religious holiday in Georgia (they are very religious). We soldiered on as long as we could, then a bit after midnight decided discretion would be the better part of valor. We parted ways and I hopped a cab back to my Soviet relic, but promised that I would return next year to Tbilisi and join them in Batumi.

Sheraton Report Card

Pros: I stayed there for free with SPG points, great gym, the cheese plate they gave me was top notch

Cons: The hotel is dated and very dark, service basically nonexistent, club lounge a disaster, breakfast hugely overpriced, rooms small (and mine smelled like Salami).

Verdict: You guessed it, I will be booking the Radisson or the Marriott next time, no thanks Sheraton.

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