Mama Shelter, Paris
An affordable creative refuge that consistently offers the convenience of home
Frequent business travelers know far too well how difficult it can be to remain as efficient on the road as back at the office. An intermittent WiFi connection or an aggressive housekeeping regime can keep you from sending files on time or remaining focused on a conference call. These annoyances only feel more magnified with the lure of a new city lurking just beyond the hotel walls. In Paris' burgeoning 20th arrondissement, Mama Shelter offers refuge from such disturbances in Philippe Starck-designed hotel rooms that start at €79 a night.
We've stayed at Mama Shelter several times since it was built back in 2009 and enjoy the free WiFi that works effortlessly throughout the 172-room hotel and spacious restaurant (without having to log in each time you reconnect), as well as the hotel's friendly, laid-back atmosphere and convenient amenities. Check-in is easy; there's always plenty of staff ready to greet you, which is probably because they're not busy escorting you to your room. Once checked in, they simply show you to the elevator and then you're on your own; eschewing the awkward moment when the bellhop explains how the TV works for being able to use the bathroom upon walking in the door.
The TV at Mama Shelter is actually a 27" iMac that serves as somewhat of a personal concierge. Using a small remote control you can set a wake-up call (which is the computer emitting a loud alarm), watch a free movie, scroll through a map of the neighborhood, read the restaurant menu, sync your phone with Airplay, buy items from the gift shop or even use the camera to take a photo or video and confidentially email it to yourself. You can also borrow a full keyboard and use the computer to crank out work from the comfort of your bed.
Back on the lobby floor are the bar, pizzeria and restaurant below a chalkboard ceiling, which is covered in engaging phrases and illustrations. The pizzas would please a New Yorker, and the espresso arrives with an edible Poilâne spoon. The pace of the service is typically French, but visitors can relax when the waitress passes by singing along with the music. That and the full band setup along the wall make the dining area feel like an extension of the indie-rock club across the street—La Flèche d'Or.
Along with La Flèche d'Or (which shares the same owner as Mama Shelter), another major point of interest in the bustling, working-class neighborhood is the renowned Père Lachaise garden cemetery (the largest in Paris) where visitors can pay tribute to Chopin, Auguste Comte, Edith Piaf, Isadora Duncan, Jim Morrison, Pissarro and others, including Oscar Wilde's lipstick-covered glass barrier. On the way to the nearest metro is the not-to-be-missed chocolate and coffee beans shop Caracoli de Oro, run by cacao specialist Gilles Coolen. He has an eye-opening assortment of beans and bars, which you can enjoy there or have vacuum-sealed to take home. You can do the same with the biodynamic wine at Agnès Baracco's wine shop and bar, Au Nouveau Nez. Pick up a bottle or stay put and enjoy a tipple with some wine and cheese.
The 20th may seem a little far out for those who want to be near major monuments, but Paris is a walkable city and Mama Shelter provides an ideal home base as an affordable, dependable hotel in an area with plenty to uncover.
Mama Shelter is located at 109 Rue de Bagnolet, 75020 Paris, France. To reserve a room at their Paris location, or their hotels around France and in Istanbul, see their website.
Photos by Karen Day, see more in the slideshow