We are sitting at the only quiet place on the Woodlands Waterway. It's my birthday, and my fiancé and I are having a late dinner at Current, the farm-to-table restaurant inside the new Westin Woodlands, which opened in May. It's the most beautiful empty dining room I've ever been in: modern, open and architecturally inviting.
The Waterway itself, or at least the vast public areas that surround it, is jammed with people on this balmy Friday night. There are groups of teens walking around, families with little ones running around on the small lawn area, groups of women laughing loudly over bottles of wine on the many restaurant patios and couples strolling to or from date nights. Only Current sits empty, and it doesn't seem quite fair. Sure, it's expensive and on the fancier side, but so is the Morton's Steakhouse a block away, which has drivers queueing in front its valet, plus Current is participating in Houston Restaurant Weeks, so the bill shouldn't be the issue.
Neither is the food—the steak came out with a char that impressed my grilling-obsessed fiancé, and I can't be mad at any place that serves me a plate of ripe figs, goat cheese, honey and speck. Since it was a celebratory meal, we also splurged on the bacon ice cream sundae, made with almond-flavored ice cream, toffee bits and glazed bacon. It may sound like a weird bacon gimmick offering but it was basically nirvana on a plate. As we lingered over the melted remnants, I gazed out my window at the impressive fountains just 20 feet away, lit up in ever-changing colors and dancing just for me.
So what's the disconnect? It might be the Westin's vibe. The waterway, like the rest of The Woodlands, is posh but laid-back. It is the Tommy Bahamas of places, now anchored by a hotel designed with modern style and culture in mind. That's not to say it has the kind of wow-factor design of, say, Kimpton's Hotel Van Zandt in Austin.
But if you look, the artful details are everywhere. In the lobby, it's the oversized bubble chandeliers, dozens of them, that set an impression throughout the space. Make it to the elevator bank and there's a row of geodes inset in their own display cases. The elevators themselves are outfitted with contemporary abstract paintings (read: bold splashes of color without any deeper meaning) that wrap over a corner. Even the standard ugly hotel carpet has been upgraded to an abstract pattern in pleasing pastel tones.
Although I had a few gripes (the bed was quite hard and the rainfall shower lacked pressure), what I liked most about my stay was that I woke up and could not exactly place where I was. Everything is clean and new, verging on artificial, so I could have been escaping, to, well, anywhere. We were offered a comically late check-out (3 p.m.!) so after escaping to Levure Bakery for breakfast, we spent the remainder of our morning in and around the second-floor pool.
If pool is a priority, you're better off at The Woodlands Resort, which has huge grounds, slides and more children running around than I want to see in a year. The Westin's version is a decent size, given that it's not in-ground, and designed more for lounging than actual swimming—the ledge that's six-inches deep and holds several lounge chairs is the beck spot on the deck, if you can get it. My fiancé kept returning to our pool chairs, bored by piddling around in shallow waters, drawn back only when the ladies in the neighboring chairs kept going on about the benefits of granite countertops, and he needed to stick his head under the water to escape.
So maybe it does feel a little bit like The Woodlands, after all.
The Westin at The Woodlands, rooms from $152. 2 Waterway Square Place, 281-419-4300, starwoodhotels.com.