The innovative hostel brand opens its biggest location yet, offering private rooms with terraces (and hammocks)
"Hostel" isn't the first word that comes to mind when you step into the freshly opened Generator Paris—from its sheer size alone (916 beds across eight floors) to the supremely Instagrammable communal spaces (where Tom Dixon lights are paired with flea market scores) that could give boutique hotels a run for their money. Most notably, Generator Paris not only offers shared rooms with stunning views of Sacré-Cœur that start at €25, but spacious private rooms with equally large terraces big enough to host a barbecue party (there's no grill, but you do get your own hammock). This is no dream, but an incredible windfall for the generation of savvy travelers wanting the best bang for their buck—who then can spend their money on actually experiencing the city.
While Generator hasn't become a household name in the United States just yet, across the pond it's captured the hearts of backpackers and business travelers alike with their sophisticated, design-forward properties from Barcelona to Copenhagen. Opened February 2015, Paris is Generator's biggest venue, bringing its current total to 9 (with Amsterdam and Rome locations to open later this year). Located strategically at Colonel Fabien square in the 10th arrondissement, Generator Paris is steps away from Canal St. Martin—the waterway of choice for young locals to picnic and play and home to many little bars and restaurants.
Patron Capitol Partners purchased the original Generator Hostels brand in 2007, when it had just two aging properties in London and Berlin. Generator's Chief Strategic Officer Josh Wyatt saw the potential in upgrading the hostel experience (which any traveler knows can be a gamble) and creating unique properties that could be dependably safe, stylish and affordable. "If you look at the way the economy's going with this 'instant' supply-demand—Uber, etc—it matches what the supply and demand is," Wyatt tells us on a tour of the Generator Paris property. "The supply and demand in a budget hotel I think is to say, 'Look, I want a nice room in a great location for a low price. And I'll use that $20, $30, $40, or $100 that I save to go have an amazing night out on the town, go to the museum or go see a show or rock concert.' I think that's what people want to spend their money on."
He continues, "When I'm in a three-star hotel room, there's probably 10 things I never literally touch when I'm in there: I don't touch the TV, I don't touch the desks because I sit on the bed or I want to go down and have a coffee, I don't really touch the closet. I don't unpack everything; I just have my suitcase on the floor. If I'm just crashing for a couple nights in New York or LA, I just keep my bag on the floor. I don't even touch the shampoo—usually I bring my own things. I think you can reduce or eliminate all those things, and that knocks $20 off the room rate—and your customer is happier, because they're getting a better deal and they're spending their money where they really want to spend it."
During our stay in the private terrace room (where we almost spent as much time in the hammock as we did in the bed), we never felt as if we were lacking anything. There's no need for a television, room phone, mini bar or bulky wardrobe closet or dressers (the funky Tolix Steel Design coat rack suffices); leaving you more room to walk around and feel like a human, instead of a caged gerbil. And sadly, in many cities like Paris, you can shell out hundreds more euros at a five star hotel and land yourself in that sort of constricted space. (The only aspect that reminds you how little you're paying for a Generator room is the low thread count on the sheets and pillowcases).
The shared rooms are similarly inspiring and comfortable; every dorm has its own bathroom and separate sinks. After a particularly harrowing hostel experience in Madrid where the rickety bunk beds left us forever scarred, we were relieved to see that Generator's bunk beds not only looked immovable, but each bed has its own USB port power station and lockers underneath as well. A peek into the eight-bed shared room surprised us with its large communal space—classic leather butterfly chairs, quirky wooden stools, garment rack for coats and more—and the sunlight pouring in through the windows (and a fantastic view). At Generator, all rooms also receive daily maid service.
As inviting as the rooms are, Generator puts extra effort into keeping you out of your room with engaging social spaces that have been thoughtfully designed, but aren't ever pretentious. Since the opening of Generator's Dublin location, Wyatt has worked with Anwar Mekhayech, Principal at Toronto-based DesignAgency; Mekhayech starts from scratch with every new property, and thus each develops its own unique character. "I thought about this time now, when Generator would have 12, hopefully 20, [properties]; if you're traveling from Generator to Generator to Generator—you don't want them to look all the same. How boring would that be?" says Mekhayech. "That's the problem with being a chain—chains kind of lose their soul a little bit. So with Generator, we were like, 'Let's build off the fact that each one is going to be unique, and maintain the soul.'"
Some of the elements you can spot are antiques Mekhayech purchased from marché aux puces (flea markets), such as the 1970s alien-like street lamps at the entrance or the Gothic chandelier with filament bulbs in the elevator lobby by the bar. The couches in the "Chill Out" communal space were custom made from Turkish Kilim rugs. "This was playing off the more ethnic, more multi-cultural side of Paris—especially in the 10th," says Mekhayech. "That was really the inspiration for this floor. Each area has its own little flavor."
Every part of the hostel, from top to toe, exceeds expectations. The quality of the hot food offerings, ranging from quiche with spinach and pine nuts to the foie gras burgers, is better than a lot of what the nearby cafés offer. The downstairs bar, Metro, used to be an underground parking lot (the concrete columns have remained untouched) that now serves expertly made cocktails from their fully-stocked back bar. The most exciting upcoming news for Generator Paris is the private rooftop bar opening later this summer, which boasts comfy lounge furniture, a fence of flowers and a far-extending view of Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre.
While Generator has its eye on expanding to the States, they've still got a few cultural hurdles to clear. America has yet to (psychologically) embrace the multi-occupancy concept the way that European and Asian countries do; the not-quite-a-hostel-but-still-budget Pod Hotels in NYC, for example, meets this market by offering very tiny private rooms. There's also the legal barriers: most of the city's hostels were inadvertently forced out of business as a result of a 2010 law targeting illegal hotels and short-term rentals, though there's been a recent push from the New York City Council to make youth hostels legal in order to entice young travelers to visit. For the States, Wyatt envisions a tailored Generator that will have a reduced percentage of multi-occupancy rooms and more private rooms.
The key to Generator's success is the way it challenges notions of what a hostel can be, and who a hostel caters to—beyond just adventurous backpackers and students. At the downstairs bar on a weeknight, we spotted young business men dressed in blazers alongside a few women visiting from South Korea, dancing to tunes spun by a DJ from London. Generator (and similarly minded upscale hostels) are becoming a competitive, reliable option for affordable travel—and we're excited to see how budget chains and business hotels respond. Book a room knowing that you're guaranteed a safe, social and comfortable time—and spend the difference on a memorable meal at local favorite Le Perchoir and (keeping to the theme of affordable luxury) indulge in Air France's Premium Economy on the return flight home to the real world.
A bed in a shared room at Generator Paris starts at €25 per person, private twin rooms start at €98 per room, and a private room with terrace can be yours from €128. Keep an eye out on Generator's social media feeds as they're constantly hosting creative events, such as collaborations with Kitsuné and even open bars.
Images by Nara Shin and Generator Paris