The Block Hotel, 4143 Cedar, South Lake Tahoe, CA (Hotel Review)

(Updated 12/10/2009: Apparently The Block Hotel in Lake Tahoe has closed. Good riddance to bad rubbish!)

The Block’s billboard, and website indicate that it’s “Anything but square.” To my friends and I, it’s a poseur hotel, run by poseurs with slick marketeering which represents the pinnacle of squaredom. Here’s why:

When we arrived, we were excited – a lot of anticipation for a cool, modern place to stay, without a bunch of stodgy country-clubbers, or velour-wearing wankstas. The problems began almost immediately. The desk clerk was eager to mow her cheese-steak sandwich; having just returned from a large meal ourselves, we made it known. She told us in a condescending voice that “Chevy’s” Fresh-Mex restaurant “is a chain,” and rolled her eyes. Like, so what? The last time I checked, the Block Hotel is a chain, too – with two locations, and a third in the works.

The Block was “out” of the free beer that is advertised on all the websites. How this is possible at 3pm (the first moment one can check in) is beyond me. There are countless liquor stores in Lake Tahoe where more beer can easily be procured. And we were informed that the free beer was “one beer” per person, upon check-in. Although technically not a misrepresentation, that’s hardly the sort of perk that should be advertised. If your policy is to hand out one free beer upon arrival, then do it and let word of mouth be your advocate. But one free beer is not “some free beer,” it’s a free beer. And that’s lame. A six-pack in each room would’ve been amenable, and would’ve cost about $2 more. The 24-hour rooftop spa-tub closed at midnight. And it didn’t open at midnight, thus, not 24-hours.

But we took the keys, and went to the rooms. The deluxe fireplace room smelled like piss. Literally, like a frat-house basement on a Sunday morning — and having lived in a frat house I feel qualified to make this judgment. The fireplace appeared to work, but did not emit heat.

The MFM suite, when I walked into the bathroom, the drain-plug was laying in the middle of the floor with about 2 feet of tangled, black, soap-scum-crusted hair stuck to it. It was colder in the MFM suite: I could see my breath. The pilot light was on, but the heater did not appear to be working. A few minutes later, a worker opened the door, and looked perplexed, “You guys are staying here? Tonight?” he asked. “Does the bathroom work?”

We hadn’t got that far, and it’s a good thing. Apparently the pipes in the shower had been disconnected, and the toilet wasn’t working. This worker and an accomplice were in and out for perhaps an hour. We fumbled with the televisions, but nothing was coming in, on account of the weather – which is the only forgivable grievance I’ve got. Someone went down to ask about the heat. I never heard what happened. There was no iPod hook-up to the 500w surround system in the MFM suite, as advertised. About this time, I was called back to the “Deluxe” room for a round-table. The natives were, to say the least, restless. And so was I, having put a lot of time into evaluating lodging options and planning the bulk of the trip.

I wanted to give the Block the benefit of the doubt, give them the opportunity to make this right. But I had 5 people who wanted to leave, post haste. So I went downstairs and bit the bullet, said “Look, this isn’t working and we’ve been here for an hour and no heat and no tv and no thus-and-such…” The clerk was agreeable to our situation, so we went upstairs to repack our belongings. As I was coming down the stairs, I was met by the same clerk who told me that she had gotten in trouble from her manager, and cited the 72-hour cancellation policy. She seemed to understand our plight, but was hamstrung by the policy.

A few of us went inside to hash it out. The 72-hour policy came up, “We can’t just let you leave without paying, policy etc.” To which I said something like, “Look, we didn’t balk on this trip. It’s not like we’re ‘canceling’ because we just decided not to show up. The only reason we’re ‘canceling’ is because we actually did show up. That’s bad!” She said that other people had inquired about the availability of the room(s) for the weekend, and because of our reservations, she had to turn them down. What’s telling about this revelation is that they would’ve had no qualms about putting other guests into the same conditions.

I proceeded with a detailed list of all the problems we’d experienced in less than 2 hours. I said I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, but it was too late. Because of the grossly inadequate lodging with which we’d been presented, I looked like a scumbag to 5 of my friends who count on me to organize an enjoyable vacation. I said, “You’re making me look like an asshole in front of my friends.” I was told that they couldn’t refund my money just because I didn’t like the rooms. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, but more like: these rooms are unfit for human habitation.

I said, specifically about the MFM suite, “You shouldn’t have even put us in this room!” That’s unacceptable from a hospitality point of view. After a little tête-à-tête with the manger, I was finally asked if they could put us in a different room – which should’ve been the first thing they offered, and which I would’ve accepted only conditionally upon examination and conference with my entourage.

I said, “The MFM and the deluxe fireplace room are advertised as two of the best rooms you’ve got. If this is the ‘best’ you have, there’s nothing you can possibly offer us that can make this better.” Technically, I didn’t want a “cancellation,” what I wanted was a “refund” for crappy accommodations.

I am not a confrontational person. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I leave good tips, generally, unless the service is terrible. I do not call and complain, or write letters to complain. But this is an exception – there was not a single aspect of that hotel which was even remotely tolerable, for $200 per room, per night.

In the end, we were snookered by the clever marketing gimmicks. I’m not going to lie – the Block’s website is wicked cool. It makes the joint look like nirvana. We got about 95% of our money back (they did ding us for one room, for one night, in lieu of the full cancellation policy), and booked a room at the Mont Bleu Resort & Casino (formerly Caesar’s Lake Tahoe) for about the same price.

The Block Hotel will hereinafter be referred to as “The Square,” or “The Cock”.

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