Have perfect ‘no-frills’ holiday in Negombo
“No frills” seem to be the buzz words to watch for when looking for a hotel that is affordable, but is also comfortable to stay in. However, when you check online for comments by travellers about hotels they have stayed at because they are cheap, you’ll find remarks such as “room too noisy beside a main road.” To which the manager replies that the room “is cheap because it is beside a main road and likely to be noisy.”
Affordable hotels by my definition are those that aren’t necessarily cheap, but don’t dent the holiday budget and are enjoyable too – the absence of frills resulting in the lack of little extras one doesn’t care about anyway. This “no frills” policy works well in the concept introduced by Jetwing Hotels. Under Hiran Cooray’s inspired leadership, this group, which began in Negombo, has expanded to include its own pioneering luxury hotels like The Lighthouse as well as managing colonial properties, such as St Andrews and the boutique hill country bungalow, Warwick Gardens in the hill country, and many small, intimate beachside villas, and even a houseboat.
The “J” concept is a timely one,presumably conceived as a result of Mr. Cooray’s experience of hotels worldwide and what their guests want. If guests don’t want a minibar in the bedroom, hate queuing for buffet meals, and eschew room service, why provide it? Costs,
the Jetwing concept seems to have discovered, can be reduced by efficiency and by cutting out wastage.
I learned this from the first J Hotel in Sri Lanka, opened last year in Negombo. Negombo has never had a gentrified atmosphere and, while sleepy in the day time, seems to zing in the evening with bars and restaurants packed with young-at-heart holidaymakers having a good time. The perfect place for a no frills hotel then?
Yes, if the J Hotel is anything to judge by. The first problem is to find it, as it is tucked down a narrow side road, with a shrine at its entrance,leading to the beach. The hotel lobby is beside the road rather than at the end of it and a stranger can walk in feeling bewildered at no gate or reception desk. But the lad who greeted me on arrival cheerfully pointed out that reception is part of the bar (what a saving on counters!) which itself is alongside the restaurant open to the garden and beach.
The property has been created specifically to match its no frills image and has been painted in bright colours (green, yellow, orange, red) with utilitarian, wooden furniture and refreshingly without the dull grey brushed concrete so loved by boutique hotel designers. In other words, it exudes a vibe of fun, not exclusivity.
Yet with only 35 rooms (16 with sea view and huge balconies; 18 without sea view and one simple but spacious suite) the “J” is pretty exclusive. A charming feature is that whichever young lad greets guests, he is likely to be met later tending bar, cleaning the rooms or serving at table. Team members at this J Hotel tackle everything, under the guidance of veteran Jetwing hotelier, now Hotel J Leader, Alex Edirasinghe.
There is a lift to all floors, with rooms on three floors grouped around a rectangular atrium that extends from the ground floor lobby to the large roof top terrace used as an evening bar and snack hangout. Each room door is painted a vivid colour with large room numbers so you don’t find yourself trying to get in the wrong room in dim light.
The rooms have a slight industrial feel to them – bare floors, simple furniture, plastic chairs on the balcony, white paint highlighted with crazy art – with huge, comfortable beds and a properly equipped bathroom (but don’t expect toiletries or a tea-maker.) There is AC, a ceiling fan and flat screen TV hooked to the wall. Room service is do-it-yourself; phone to the bar and order and then go downstairs to collect the order yourself. Why not?
The restaurant, like the rest of the hotel, is colourful, clean and with an almost Caribbean ambience of jolly holiday. There are no buffets; every meal is individually prepared on demand. Prices are remarkably low. A platter of 10 large scrumptious batter fried prawns with rice that I had as part of the set menu lunch was only Rs. 675; the huge salad Niçoise with chunks of tuna was Rs. 450. The most expensive item on the a la carte menu is pizza at Rs 700. The menu, in a sensible manner that I haven’t encountered before in a hotel here, is in English, Sinhala and Tamil.
The service by each member of the team (there are usually 32 employees) was cheerful and obliging if a little rough in etiquette (knife and fork laid out wrongly, side plate adrift) and the glassware was polycarbonate, even for wine.
This is the rare kind of hotel where one quickly makes friends, with guests coming from all over the world for a couple of nights, or even staying a month.Room rates (at around US$100 for a double) vary according to the season, with discounts bringing the rate to about Rs 8,500 for Sri Lankan residents.
Hotel J, 331/1, Lewis Place, Negombo; 031 2232999; www.hotelj.lk