The Shanghai High Life

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The bottle opener The Park Hyatt looms over Shanghai

The Park Hyatt Shanghai is so tall that by the time your shirts have been sent from your room to the ground-level laundry and back, they've traveled a distance of nearly a kilometer. In fact, sheer altitude dominates almost every facet of this 492-m property. Dinners in the world's tallest restaurant, and drinks in the world's highest pub, are filled with breathless gawking at the cityscape below. A pair of huge 150-ton dampers — weights that absorb the motion of a swaying building — eliminate sloshing in the world's loftiest pool. The world's fastest elevators must ascend at the rate of 10 meters a second in order to make journey times tolerable. Such is life at the world's tallest hotel — or the tallest for now, at any rate.

"The height is, of course, an attraction, but there will always be taller hotels," concedes general manager Christophe Sadones, who has a bird's-eye view of the previous record holder, the Grand Hyatt, in the upper reaches of the Jin Mao Tower, right next door. (The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, when it opens next year, will be the new claimant for the title.) "And at the end of the day," he says, "you have to remember that this is still a hotel, and the key to success is the same as at any hotel." That means ensuring that every item a guest could conceivably request, from toothpaste to ketchup to adaptors, can be readily accessed by housekeeping staff. "You have to think of this as a vertical city," Sadones explains. "Once you come up to the top, you don't go down again. Everything must be precise."

Things didn't always go like clockwork, though. The Shanghai World Financial Center, the 101-story building that houses the hotel, launched in 1997 and promptly stalled in the Asian financial crisis. A series of restarts and halts followed. Shanghai officials also fretted over the design, which called for a large circular hole to be cut through the top of the building to relieve the force of strong winds. The feature would too much resemble the rising sun of the Japanese flag, they argued. Architect David Malott concocted a trapezoidal cutout instead, giving the building a striking resemblance to a bottle opener. But "it's dramatic in its own way," he says. And how. Today, that crowning trapezoid is home to (what else?) the world's tallest observation deck. You can drop to a crawl on a glass floor that reveals the frenetic metropolis of 19 million people far below.

Thankfully, all is serenity inside the Park Hyatt's 174 rooms. Each features the very latest in high-tech gadgetry and appointments, as well as spacious, Japanese-style bathrooms with rain showers and heated floors. There's also a big sitting area, which is just as well. Chances are you'll be spending a lot of time there, mutely relishing views that are truly out of this world — and hopefully not waiting for your shirts to make the long haul back from the laundry.