Mama Shelter’s budget boutique brand offers personality, a provocative and playful style, and a focus on warm hospitality and cool spaces.
I’d like to think that I am canine-like in my loyalty but I have never felt the need to apply it to my travels. I know, I know, there are perks and points and personalization, as well as good old fashioned reliability, but when it comes to travel it just seems that loyalty and reliability are the opposite of discovery—the very reason we travel. There are so many hotels to try—big chains, small boutiques, no frills, all frills, posh pads, basic beds—and so many ways to be surprised at check-in. Does it live up to its profile pic? Is it an okay hotel that gives you a great location or a great hotel that gives you okay location?
I recently stayed at one of Europe’s trendiest urban hotel chains and found a brand that is all about great hotel and great location, with plenty of surprises and discoveries along the way. By check out, I was wearing a Mama Shelter sweatshirt and down on one knee declaring my commitment to the world. I was also planning my vacations around their expansion plans because where they put a hotel is where I want to be. Let me introduce you.
We Met in Prague
Opened in late summer 2018, Mama Shelter Prague is set in Prague’s Holešovice district in Praha 7, an up-and-coming neighborhood just north of the city center, known for its artists galleries and studios, Prague’s National Gallery (a block away), and the city’s biggest park (just a few minutes’ walk). The choice of neighborhood—off the beaten tourist path but just a short tram ride to this beautiful city’s top attractions—is everything here, and key to the brand’s identity. Mama Shelter hotels are intentionally away from tourist sightseeing areas, so your experience has an authentically local feel. In this case, day-to-day Prague where ordinary Czechs live and hang out in cool bars and cafés and shop in quirky boutiques. And when you want to put your tourist hat on, there’s a tram stop right outside the hotel (and a ticket machine in the lobby) to take you into the city.
Not Paint-By-Numbers Cool
Call me jaded but it seems like so many hotels are just following a formula for “cool,” exposing ductwork, decorating bathrooms in subway tile and black paint, placing token record players and vintage bikes in the lobby, and forcing their staff to wear man buns (okay, I don’t have any actual proof yet that man buns are required but I’m planning a big undercover operation so stand by for more on this). Mama Shelter debuted an original and quirky aesthetic with the Philippe Starck-designed Mama Paris ten years ago, and where other “design hotels” are dated within six months, seven hotels later the brand’s Prague outpost continued to be fresh, witty, and interesting in a way that stops you at every turn. From the Lego-brick tassels dangling from oversized lamp shades along the bar, to the fun cartoon masks decorating bedside lamps, the eclectic and offbeat furniture and objets d’art, and the wild art on walls, rugs, and ceilings, too, Mama’s aesthetic feels curated, confident, and uncontrived, like it’s not even trying to be cool. Which I wish I’d known in high school is what actually makes you cool.
Mom Knows Best
Designy and edgy is fine for your Instagram feed but a hotel needs to deliver more than a pretty picture on vacation. Mama Prague definitely delivers on the Instagram front (just try getting out of the elevator without taking a selfie with that wallpaper), but it also delivers on affordability, comfort, service, great food, and lots of contemporary, fun gathering spaces where you’ll actually want to linger. The lobby, bar, and restaurant spaces on the ground floor are designed to be a flexible and free-flowing shared living area, shifting throughout the day from meeting and working spaces to coffee shop, bar, restaurant, and even club. The long bar spills out onto a terrace filled with an assortment of cozy couches and tented nooks, while the sleek lobby has a variety of spaces that encourage mingling, interaction, and play, from the oversized foosball tables and arcade games to the selection of art books and the eclectic mix of seating. The one thing Mama doesn’t deliver is room service, but you’ll want to eat downstairs anyway. This is not the kind of hotel where you’ll want to hide out in your room, even if there are free movies, free Wi-Fi, fun masks, and free porn (note: this is deactivated if you check in with kids). Mom wants you to come downstairs and make friends over breakfast at the large communal tables.
INSIDER TIPThe Mama Prague menu features wood-fired pizzas, family dishes, and traditional café fare but also Czech pastries and local beer. Try the homemade goulash and speck dumplings
Mama Really Loves You
Personality is central to the brand’s DNA and the messaging is simple, loud, and clear: Mama Loves You. Yes, you. “Come to Mama” and “Mama Loves You” beckon the sweatshirts, hats, toys, and notebooks in the lobby. “Mama Loves You” declares the personalized, handwritten note on the full-length mirror in your bedroom. “Mama Loves You From Head To Toe,” “Mama Wants to Cream You Up,” and “Mama Only Wants What’s Best for You” says the organic body wash and moisturizer in your bathroom. “Stay warm, I love you” is the implied message when the attentive waitress considerately brings you a blanket while you are enjoying a late evening cocktail on the terrace. I was half expecting the cheery receptionist to insist that I take a bucket of love on the way out the door, such was the genuine care taken in giving local recommendations for shoe-shopping and bar-hopping. The brand messaging is effusive and ego-boosting but not at all superficial because the warmth and hospitality are genuine. Before you know it, your heart is won and you are responding “love you, too, Mama!”
Hospitality is very much in the Trigano blood. The Mama Shelter chain is run by Serge Trigano and his sons Jérémie and Benjamin. Serge earned his hospitality badges in Club Med which was co-founded by his father Gilbert Trigano in the 1950s, and the boys have grown up in the family business, too. Aside: can someone please make a reality TV show about the Triganos? They’re the-Kennedys-meet-the-Hiltons but with French accents, no bedazzled pooches, and a smart-chic circle of good looking friends. They have good hair (that matters to me when committing to a hotel), Benjamin runs a hybrid store/art gallery in West Hollywood, and the grandkids rock linen suits which is kind of kid-goals, no? I say all this in a healthy, not-obsessed kind of way. Together the family have carved out a unique niche in the design-centered boutique hotel boom and have created a chain of funky, budget boutique hotels in up-and-coming neighborhoods in eight cities—five in France (including recently opened Toulouse), one in Los Angeles, one in Rio de Janeiro, and, most recently, Prague and Belgrade.
Future Mama-Daughter Vacations
There are three new Mama properties opening this year: Lille, the Shoreditch neighborhood in London, and Paris West, so if you’re wondering where the cool people (and also me) should hang in those cities, Mama’s got you. I still need to catch up with Mama Belgrade which is set at the far northern end of Belgrade’s most celebrated pedestrian thoroughfare—close to cafés, food trucks, and shops as well as the sprawling fortress park, Kalemegdan. Apparently, this rooftop bar has become an instant local hotspot and knowing that the brand interprets the spirit of each city with a keen eye for detail, I am eager to see how Mama sees Belgrade. And then see it for myself.
At the end of the day/flight, all you need is love … plus good vibes, great food, innovative technology, and always cool locations positioning you to discover the true heart of a city. With nine current offerings and Mama’s nine new properties in the works including, Roma, Santiago, Dubai, and Sao Paulo, this might just be a ball-and-hotel-chain that I want to travel happily ever after with.