In the midst of an economic Downturn, New York city`s ever-buoyant tourism sector marches on, with 34 new hotels this year and more on the way. Which means it might just be the best time to visit-if you know where to stay.
Author Mike Guy Photography Joshua Paul
ONCE UPON A TIME, DELUXE HOTELS IN NEW YORK CITY—and much of the world—followed the lead of two lodging lions. There was the Waldorf-Astoria, with its burnished brass, polished marble and presidential pedigree, and then there was The Plaza, that storied Beaux-Arts cornerstone overlooking Central Park, made famous by, among other luminaries, a six-year-old named Eloise. For much of the 20th century, every other luxury hotel in the city aspired to be like these two. Even the regal Pierre (which recently guest-starred in season three of Mad Men), stood in their shadows. But the Plaza closed down in 2005 and reopened under new ownership, with about a third its rooms converted into condominiums. (Interested? They’ve sold for as much as $50 million.) And the Waldorf, well, it’s still got that same burnished-brass-and-polished-marble look—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Meanwhile, New York is on a hotel building spree, and where once there were just a handful of elite choices, now there are literally dozens. According to Lodging Econometrics, a company that analyzes hotel trends worldwide, in 2008 and 2009, 59 hotels opened their doors, nearly half of them in the “luxury” category. Which means visitors to the city have more high-end options than ever before, and the competition for bookings is heating up. So in a service to the traveling public, I’ve packed an overnight bag, watered the spider plants in my outer-borough basement apartment and embarked on a luxury hotel marathon, a forced march, if you will, from one swank accommodation to the next. Along with the Crosby Street Hotel, I’ve resolved to check out the Bowery, the Ace, the Jane, the Standard New York, the Thompson LES, the Smyth Tribeca, the Greenwich, the Mark, the MAve, the Vu, the NU and others—all buzzed-about spots and nearly all less than 18 months old.
After carefully stocking up on tip money, I enter the sleek Thompson LES. The second-floor lobby bar and outdoor lounge have a serious nightclub vibe. slender cocktail waitresses weave silently among the guests, and thumping dance music is set on infinite repeat. In the room upstairs I find raw concrete ceilings, shiny black floors, semigloss black walls—even some of the mirrors are black. Two giant TVs offer a combined 1,500 square inches of high-def viewing pleasure. I munch on the Dean & DeLuca chocolates and pocket a bottlette of Hou Hou Shu sparkling sake for later.
Such amenities are one way the new hotels are competing for visitor loyalty. They’re also lowering rates precipitously and offering free nights and other deals, hoping to entice guests and maintain high occupancy numbers. As I enjoy a hot shower in the LES beneath a showerhead the size of a large pizza, I feel pleasantly enticed.
I pack my bags and slink west to the Bowery, offering the bottlette of sparkling sake to one particularly appreciative soul. This street is famous for its seedy underbelly, though you’d never know it today to look at the fashionable bars and well-regarded restaurants lining its blocks. Just above Houston, I encounter two very tall new hotels—the Bowery Hotel and the Cooper Square. Passing through the heavy doors of the Bowery is like stepping into another era, with a wall of old-school wooden cubbyholes behind the reception desk to hold messages and heavy brass keys. The velvet-draped lobby is lined with ornate mirrors and peacock feathers. (The Cooper Square aims for a brighter, more modern feel.) My room at the Bowery, a corner king, is a model of simplicity, with lead-paned floor-to-ceiling windows. As I get comfortable on the bed and wrap myself in a cozy wool throw, it occurs to me how much the definition of luxury has changed. It’s no longer about gold leaf—hasn’t been for years—nor is it about a “scene.” We want economy of design, intelligence and warmth. The Bowery has all that. Indeed, it’s hard for me to leave in the morning—until I remember that I’m spending tonight at the Greenwich Hotel, a stunning new grandee co-owned by Robert DeNiro.
First, about that shower at the LES. It was amazing, but not the best that I’ll try. For that, I’m torn between those in the Greenwich and the Standard New York. At these hotels, the rainfall showerheads are supplemented by handheld nozzles, which, when utilized simultaneously, help a bather achieve “double wash”—no small thing. Another bathroom ensemble I appreciate is at the Ace Hotel, a swinging new space that is the fourth iteration of a hip Seattle mini-franchise. Here, the “double wash” shower is a prelude to a long, decadent soak in a separate claw-foot tub: the trifecta.
While we’re in the bathroom, a word on toiletries: I’m a simple man when it comes to grooming products, but having sampled my fair share of concoctions blended especially for these hotels, I may be ready to step up my game. The Greenwich’s are made by McBride Beauty, a private-label concern based in Brooklyn, and come in large white tubes. The Crosby offers bottles of Miller Harris, and the Bowery uses faux-medicinal bottles of C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries. At the Smyth Tribeca, I fill my shaving kit with an old standby, Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint soap, and at the Ace, I load up on Rudy’s Barber Shop shampoo and conditioner.
Some of the hotels try hard to reinvent the luxury hotel experience—so hard that they overshoot the mark. At one, I board an elevator and discover two flustered, luggage-laden out-of-towners trying desperately to get to their room on the eighth floor. “This elevator seems to have a mind of its own,” the man says. “You have to insert your keycard first,” I explain. “Gosh, we’ve been in here for fifteen minutes!” says his wife.
I can relate. The previous night I fiddled helplessly to wrestle not only with the elevator but with two separate widescreen TVs that seemed to have minds of their own. And some of those light fixtures would take a Ph.D. in particle physics to operate. Of course, this is a prime example of what my father would call a “Cadillac problem.” Sometimes luxury ain’t easy.
And sometimes it doesn’t appear very luxurious at all. When I enter the splendidly strange lobby of the Jane Hotel, a bellhop wearing a pillbox hat and matching red and black uniform greets me. He takes my tiny suitcase and guides me to the reception desk, where today’s weather is written in chalk on a small piece of slate. The rooms at the Jane have been designed to look like the interiors of old ship cabins (some have bunk beds, and some floors have shared bathrooms), and the owners keep the prices low (around $100). It’s a theme hotel, but there’s nothing cheesy about it. It’s a similar story at the Ace, where my “Loft Suite” comes complete with a turntable, record collection, and a Martin acoustic guitar (perfectly tuned). At first I bridle at the rock & roll theme—if I wanted that, I’d have stayed at the Hard Rock—but then I start playing “Wish You Were Here” on the guitar, and pretty soon I’m glad I’m there.
Two weeks into my hotel marathon, I’ve collected 32 bespoke click pens, a spectrum of monogrammed colored pencils, reams of flashy stationery, enough lavender and sandalwood lotion to stay moisturized through a polar winter, and enough expertise with remote controls to join the Geek Squad. I’ve learned how to get the most value out of room service (order tea, which always comes with a selection of cookies and biscuits), and I’ve become accustomed to being called Mr. Guy. I’ve learned the easiest way to the hardest restaurant reservation is through a concierge, and that bellhops aren’t always charmed by a willingness to carry your own bag. Finally, I learned that keycards are quickly becoming a thing of the past, replaced by an array of fancy gizmos (electrofobs?) you sort of wave at a lock like you’re playing a Theremin.
Eventually, my journey nearly complete, I find myself on that window sill of the Crosby Street Hotel at dawn, sipping rich coffee from a porcelain cup and trying not to think about slinking back to my lonely basement apartment. The streets far below are silent. Amazingly, there are another 45 hotels opening in New York City in the coming year. I have no idea how the economy will treat them, but I can’t wait to try them out.
Hemispheres executive editor MIKE GUY has enough high-end shower gel to last a lifetime.
Enter the Crosby’s lobby at your peril; you may never want to leave. This is superior lodging in every way. Upstairs, each room is painstakingly crafted, done up in appealing colors and textures that combine an almost regal superiority with an exquisite sense of comfort. Even the details are enchanting—the extra-wide window sills piled with cushions, Samuel Heath cups, heated towel racks and dressmaker’s mannequins in each room, which might come in handy, as hotel owner and designer Kit Kemp suggests, “for pinning on a brooch.” Good thinking!
Friendly examples of a long-lost species (seemingly lifted straight from the set of Barton Fink), these bellhops, below, wear red and gold pillbox hats— complete with chinstrap— and a welcoming smile to match.
This may be DeNiro’s hotel, but the placid subterranean pool, below—warmly lit by authentic Japanese lanterns, with a 250-year- old bamboo ceiling overhead—will soften any tough guy. The ginger and coconut scrub in the Shibui Spa seals the deal.
In 1912, this space sheltered survivors of the Titanic. Today, with its vast Persian rugs, chandeliers and warm tones, it evokes that Gilded Age splendor, only without the pesky icebergs. At right, the Jane’s ballroom
THE SMYTH TRIBECA
No matter the actual day, one elevator sports a floor mat that says “Thursday,” while the other says “Tuesday.” Evidently, the designer wanted it that way. O-kay…
THE LOBBY BAR, THE BOWERY HOTEL
Friendly bartenders? Check. Crisply made martini? Check. Sandstone fireplace, zinc-topped bar, above, and velvet settees? Check. Can I run a tab?
CROSBY STREET HOTEL
Every room has its own sampling of excellent original works, below, but don’t miss the striking steel head by Jaume Plensa in the lobby or the paintings by English photorealist Peter Rocklin.
The lilliputian, two-inch metal tube of Marvis Classic Strong Mint toothpaste looks a little like superglue, but its taste is strictly mint. Refreshing! (Why don’t all hotels support dental hygiene?)
THE STANDARD NEW YORK
If you don’t think a view of Jersey can blow your mind, you haven’t seen it from the 16th floor of the Standard at sunset, through your toes, while soaking in a bath.
Think once you get into the 2,000-thread-count territory, the difference between sheets is indiscernible?
Not quite. The otherworldly linens at the newly reopened Mark, by top Italian weaver Quagliotti, will tempt you to ditch those pj’s altogether.
Find the right seat in the cozy Cafe Gitane satellite just off the Jane’s lobby, and you can watch the colorful collection of guests check out as the sun rises onto the buildings across the Hudson. The morning Journal just seems superfluous.