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Relax at the Ruby Room at the Onyx Hotel.
Relax at the Ruby Room at the Onyx Hotel. (Handout photo)

Stylish new kid on the block aiming for 'om'

Email|Print| Text size + By Joe Yonan
Globe Staff / August 29, 2004

"Namaste," the beautiful blond woman said, sitting cross-legged and demonstrating a pose called prayer position. "Namaste," I repeated.

We had just finished an almost hourlong yoga session, and I was ready for room service. Indeed, this was the first time I had practiced yoga in a hotel room, and the first in which my teacher was on television. The new Onyx Hotel near the FleetCenter was making downward-facing dog almost unavoidable.

Flip through the TV channels, and on one of them, teacher Natasha Rizopoulos -- one of those people who can put an ankle behind her head -- is explaining "namaste" (pronounced namm-astay).

"It's Sanskrit," she says, "and it translates loosely into 'The light within me salutes the light within you.' "

Open the nightstand drawer, and right next to the Gideon Bible sits "The Teaching of Buddha." Look on the writing desk, and a brochure titled "Om away from home" tells guests to call downstairs to get a complimentary yoga basket, complete with mat, straps, blocks, and an issue of Yoga Journal magazine.

Having recently discovered the sweaty ecstasy of power yoga but very insecure about the basic poses, I couldn't resist the chance to stock up on supplies, and brush up on technique.

The yoga focus perfectly suits the vibe at the Onyx, which is the second Kimpton Hotels property to open in the area after Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge. Like the Marlowe, the Onyx cultivates a hip, urban stylishness that is akin to the W chain, but with some extra playfulness (such as a leopard print to the bathrobes) thrown into the design. The Onyx also has heavily promoted its restaurant-lounge, the Ruby Room, which draws families and guests of all ages to continental breakfast in the morning then switches over to a sleek young cocktail-drinking crowd at night.

The Ruby Room, in fact, was the source of some of the highs and lows of a stay at the Onyx. After that yoga session, I did peruse the room service menu for Friday night dinner, and was drawn to the idea of asparagus spring rolls with a cilantro-mint dipping sauce. Would that be filling enough?

"Oh, it's substantial," said the voice on the other end of the line.

Perhaps he had me confused with a yoga waif, but four little finger-sized rolls were not substantial at all, and instead of the advertised dipping sauce, they came with a gloppy, thick-as-mayonnaise hollandaise sauce. The "seasonal" fruit platter consisted of mere melons and grapes, although the clerk who delivered it did bring me a nice cold glass of water.

"Otherwise, they'll charge you $4 for that thing," he said, pointing at the bottle of Fiji water sitting on the desk. It was too late: Blissed out from all those downward-facing dogs, I had opened it, not noticing the little label around the neck that explains the charge.

I slept like a baby in my comfortable room and awoke determined to avoid room service. Instead, I took advantage of the included breakfast downstairs, which was fine but a bit on the basic side: fresh bagels, muffins, hard-boiled eggs, strong illy coffee, juice, fruit, and run-of-the-mill boxed cereal choices.

The Ruby Room is at its peak for the nightly complimentary wine hour and then after dark, when all the lights go down except the giant red fixture over the bar and a cool chill-out soundtrack plays. After a ho-hum dinner at nearby Anthem, a friend and I returned to the Ruby Room for glasses of pinot grigio and lemon-flavored cocktails. While we watched the Olympics on a flat-panel TV, a dozen or so patrons milled about, and a few clubgoers came in to fetch friends for a night on the town.

The lack of a crowd made sense on a Saturday in the dead of summer, especially on a street with virtually no other night life. This striking 12-story building sits in what hotel press releases call "the new downtown." At the nexus of Beacon Hill, Downtown Crossing, the North End, and Charlestown, it offers easy accessibility to some of Boston's best restaurants and most popular tourist destinations. Portland Street itself, however, is whisper-quiet on nights and weekends. My sixth-floor room looked onto the office building across the street, where computer monitors, plants, and desk lamps awaited the return of workers on Monday morning.

Only several months old, the Onyx is still working out some bugs, which was evident from the frantic checkout experience on Sunday. When the bellman went down the line fielding requests, one customer said, "All set? We are so far from all set. We're waiting for our bags, we're waiting for our car, we're waiting to check out." When the car finally did arrive, he practically threw his keys at the two poor desk clerks who were valiantly trying to keep the situation under control.

My checkout had its own drama, when another staff member politely questioned me about the yoga basket I was carrying, saying it wasn't mine to keep.

After I showed him the "Om" brochure, and we together read the sentence, "Feel free to take this with you as a gift from us wherever your journey leads you," he borrowed the brochure and got on his cellphone to the hotel manager. A few minutes later, he returned with a sheepish grin and said, "No wonder we're all out of them. Enjoy."

Or, as my yoga teacher would say, "Namaste."

Joe Yonan can be reached at yonan@globe.com.

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