Travel and Leisure

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Travel and Leisure
L
L K
THE
NEW
KID
ON
Just off the beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico,
the stunningly modern hotel El Blok
makes its debut. PETER J. FRANK reports.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ANNIE SCHLECHTER
The roof terrace at
El Blok, in Vieques,
Puerto Rico.
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Clockwise from left: The
main staircase at El Blok;
the hotel’s façade; Caracas
Beach, nearby; co-owner
Simon Baeyertz (left) and
chef José Enrique at the
hotel restaurant; Enrique’s
fish-and-coconut soup.
Opposite: A guest room
balcony at the hotel.
n Vieques, the names and phone
numbers of all the island’s taxi
drivers are posted on a sign outside
the airport, which is an indication both
of its size and its degree of formality.
No need for Uber here. Vieques, just
off the eastern tip of Puerto Rico—and
accessible by a puddle jumper from
San Juan—has a sleepy, eccentric,
instantly likable charm: Tulum without
the yoga, Harbour Island without the
WASP’s. “Vieques is like a really good
indie rock band,” says Simon Baeyertz,
a former music industry exec who
moved here four years ago and, with
co-owner Rob Feldmann, opened the
hotel El Blok in August. “Maybe it’ll
get discovered, maybe it won’t. But
it will never be a big pop star. It’s the
White Stripes, not Taylor Swift.”
The New Zealand–born Baeyertz,
like so many expat dreamers before
him, escaped to the Caribbean only to
find himself importing a piece of
civilization. El Blok is like a tropical
Brutalist alien that crash-landed, quite
happily, amid the brightly painted
houses of Esperanza, a ramshackle
beach village on the island’s southern
shore. All curving concrete and
perforated façades, the hotel is designed
to encourage relaxed socializing. The
entire second floor is a single open-air
space that flows from reception to bar
to restaurant. The four-story building,
with 22 rooms in all, surrounds an
oval atrium; the roof has a small
infinity pool and views of the sea and
Vieques’s mountainous interior.
Floors are colorful concrete tile in a
tessellated pattern; walls are handplastered, with patches deliberately
left rough. The result is a tactile,
wabi-sabi effect that invites you to go
barefoot. Little about the place relates
to the design vernacular of the islands,
and your first reaction might be a
double-take, but the hotel’s charm and
cool factor—reflections of Baeyertz’s
laid-back attitude (what can possibly
faze a guy who used to work with
Marilyn Manson?)—will win you over.
El Blok is easily the most stylish new
hotel in the Caribbean.
And that’s not even counting the
food. Chef José Enrique, whose
namesake restaurant in San Juan has
become that city’s swirling hub of
food and nightlife, is in charge of El
Blok’s open kitchen. Here he makes
sun-kissed versions of his innovative
Puerto Rican dishes: seafood soup
with coconut, scotch bonnet chiles,
and lime; pompano steamed in giant
plantain leaves. His signature cocktail
is made with Puerto Rican rum,
freshly squeezed star-fruit juice,
and ginger. It’s as pristine as one of
Vieques’s white-sand beaches, and no
more sophisticated than it has to be. +
elblok.com. $$
Peter J. Frank is T+L’s director of
editorial product development.
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