Jennifer Gampell
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September 18, 2005

Check In, Check Out
The Scarlet in Singapore


THE BASICS Idiosyncratic restoration projects are all the rage in Singapore. The Scarlet, for instance, was a row of Chinese merchants' houses dating from the 1860's and a 1920's Art Deco building before its $35 million conversion into a voguish 84-room boutique hotel. At the entrance, a tall amiable doorman in scarlet-collared black livery escorts visitors under the Venetian crystal chandelier to the low-ceilinged lobby and bar area. Gilt mirrors, high-backed velvet chairs and bronze Erté-esque statuettes establish the Scarlet's Moulin Rouge-bordello-meets-Deco-chic mood. One-word names for the bar (Bold), restaurants (Breeze, Desire) and five suites (Splendour, Passion, Opulent, Lavish and Swank) also play on the come-hither theme.

THE ROOMS Furnished in elegant dark woods that set off the matching pastel walls, silk curtains and bed cushions, the rooms form a muted counterpoint to the boudoir reds and blacks of the lobby area. Transforming an ascending row of two-story buildings into a single interconnected hotel makes for long narrow corridors and weirdly shaped - and sized - rooms. Depending on their orientation (toward street or hill), most first-floor rooms have either no windows or else tiny ones near the ceiling. My third-floor "deluxe" room was kitted out with a comfy queen-sized bed, large freestanding wardrobe, entertainment-and-bar cabinet and tiny desk alcove, but I had hardly any space to navigate around them. At 390 to 450 square feet, the 26 executive and 14 premium rooms (the most popular categories) are significantly bigger than the standard and deluxe rooms.

THE BATHROOM The tiny, pale beige triangular space in my standard room offered barely enough room to negotiate around the sink, toilet and shower. Perhaps the large quantity of boxed and bottled amenities is supposed to make up for the lack of space. The executive and premium rooms, however, have room for tubs as well as showers.

THE LOCATION Erskine Road, one block long, leads off South Bridge Road on the eastern perimeter of Chinatown and slopes gently up Ann Siang Hill. This enclave of restored shop buildings has evolved into a quiet neighborhood of chi-chi bars, boutiques, bistros and design companies.

AMENITIES Piping different types of music through the corridors is a hip touch, but the CD collection is very limited. Rooms have free Internet access. Flaunt, as the gym is called, just about accommodates three exercise machines. There are two restaurants: Breeze, on the rooftop, specializes in seafood platters and grill items, and gives diners a view of Chinatown and distant skyscrapers; at the sleek and minimal Desire, at street level, the menu is filled with double-entendres like "Skinny Dipping" (cream of pumpkin soup), and "Between the Sheets" (salmon Wellington on a bed of asparagus). I can't say whether all the dishes live up to their gimmicky titles, but "Size D" (roasted duck breast on a mound of spinach and ruculla salad with Oporto sauce) definitely did.

ROOM SERVICE Forget it unless you're in one of the bigger rooms and don't want bagels for breakfast (they were out of stock at 9 a.m.). "Where shall I put the tray, madam?" asked the waiter who arrived 20 minutes late bearing five slices of dry toast and a minuscule jar of jam for about $10, at 1.64 Singapore dollars to the United States dollar. He had a point, since my tiny laptop occupied most of the desk and the only other available flat surface was the bed.

THE BOTTOM LINE The Scarlet, 33 Erskine Road,, (65) 6511 3333, is an intimate romantic getaway or a place for hip young travelers in the creative arts to see and be seen. But right-brained business types who demand functionality will be happier elsewhere. Even without the 27 to 40 percent online discounts, the rates of $122 to $232, are very reasonable for a five-star property in Singapore.

Copyright 2005 New York Times/Jennifer Gampell