Do Not Disturb

michael IN THE LOO


September 29, 2005 -- Maybe I'm paranoid, but it seems to me that everywhere you turn there is a logo item: shirts, shoes, watches, those horrible baseball caps, you name it. Now the craze has reached the deepest depths of hotels: the china, the glasses, the flatwear, the clock radios, the bathroom amenities, the beds and even the sheets.

Wherever you look in a hotel these days, something is branded. This is especially true in the bathroom: Bulgari, L'Occitane, Aveda, Penhaligon, Neutrogena, you name it. It is never-ending. But there is one bathroom item that never has a logo. In fact, it's never even named, let alone mentioned in any promotional material for the hotel.

What is it? Toilet paper. Now I don't know about you, but, to me, toilet paper is on a level with soap in importance as a bathroom amenity.

Every school kid believes that Thomas Crapper invented the flushing toilet--it's not true, but this kind of mid-19th century urban legend is hard to debunk--but who invented loo paper? What did they use before toilet paper? Leafs? Newspapers?

This past year has taken me to many parts of the world and I have really had only one truly unremarkable stay. But I have used some truly unremarkable toilet paper, some so bad that I prefer not to eulogize on their failings. I remember when traveling to Russia and China in the 1960s and 1970s one packed one's own loo paper and soap. Perhaps I should revive that practice.

Of course, it's hard to pinpoint the brands of this bad loo paper. Why? Not only don't hotels have logos on their toilet paper, but the rolls never have their original wrapper intact. Even the spare rolls hidden in the closet have been shorn of their wrappers and brand identification. (And have you noticed that the roll you are intended to use is always brand new? Did the previous guest steal the old roll? Use it all up? If they didn't, what happened to the old roll? Is there a hotel storeroom for partially used rolls of toilet paper?)

So even though it's impossible to pinpoint hotel loo paper by brand, this column is proud to announce the world's first award for hotel toilet paper. Let's call it the 2005 Thomas Crapper Award for meticulous serving of hotel toilet paper. (You can all thank me later.)

What follows is my critique of the best and worst toilet paper that has graced my bum over the past year. (And my apologies to Robert Parker if these reviews tend to take on the character of wine critiques…)

Four Seasons Hotels I've stayed in the New York, Santa Barbara and Chicago branches in recent months and the Four Seasons loo paper is top-drawer. It's soft, but with strong body. It's expansive in feel, fully matured. It has a slight tendency to tear unevenly, but it's certainly of grand parentage with a long finish. Have no hesitation to use Four Seasons paper immediately.

The Landmark, London The Landmark's toilet paper is perfectly packed, full to the feel. There's no chance of it falling apart. It's got good color, too. It's strong and absorbent, but perhaps lacking weight and it tends to finish short.

The Adlon, Berlin One would expect a perfect serving of paper from this near-perfect hotel, but, alas, it's not so. The Adlon's loo paper is a huge disappointment. It doesn't even have good color. It's a decrepit, bland paper that will foster consumer ill-will. It's typically German paper, in fact.

The Beverly Hills Hotel In keeping with the hotel's famous color scheme, I expected pink toilet paper--or at least a rosé. Instead, the hotel offers a delightful, vanilla-shaded paper sans bouquet that has the resilience of the hotel itself. Uncharacterized by either fragrance or bouquet, it is quintessentially Beverly Hills. A definite keeper.

The San Ysidro Ranch, Montecito Anticipated joy that was not to be at this otherwise superb resort. The paper was beautifully packaged, bound in a green ribbon. But it falls apart on use and is over-absorbent. That's probably caused by its delicacy. It has a slight aroma of aloe. The hotel says its paper will improve over time as resort renovations bring a new supplier. 'Til then, however, don't get excited.

St.Regis, Rome The Italians haven't often gotten much right in hotelkeeping, but here we were surprised. The St. Regis in Rome offers a soft, supple, pleasant paper. But you'll be let down by an undistinguished finish and stubborn tear factor. Not a bad paper, but, like the Italian government, it could improve.

Las Ventanas, Los Cabos The paper here is a complete surprise: Wonderfully usable, with a deep, satisfying strength. A balance of delicacy and a strong, soft, smooth finish. Highly recommended. Like a prize tequila, you only need to use it sparingly.

The Holiday Inn Judging by the toilet paper at a Holiday Inn in Sweetwater, Texas, the chain's offering is totally uninspired. A paper in serious decline like the rest of this hotel group. It's beyond all realms of uniqueness and has no redeeming qualities. A finish similar to sandpaper. Mass production at its worst. Bring your own.

So where does the 2005 Thomas Crapper Award go? I would give it to Four Seasons. But the last time I named them as having the best of something, they sent me 500 shower caps as a thank you. The mind boggles at what might happen this time.

I wrote a column about hotel sheets last year and cited Frette as my favorite bed linen. Unfortunately, Frette has now ceased supplying hotels. That pretty much leaves Pratesi as the only super-fine hotel brand.

This column originally appeared at

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