In January, news of Hell’s Kitchen’s first gay boutique hotel started trickling onto the Internet, first as a collaboration with Spain’s gay-but-“hetero-friendly” Axel Hotels and then as a $20 million renovation of a former motel/Red Cross homeless shelter at 510 West 42nd Street. We now know that the (unfortunately named) Out NYC will be a moderately sized ‘mo complex with 123 rooms, plus a spa, gym, 24-hour restaurant, and gay club. The project is headed by a troupe of power gays, including real-estate investors Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass (business and life partners behind Parkview Developers) and club impresario John Blair.
Naturally, our first question was whether this whole thing was going to be an elaborate, maid-serviced bathhouse. “The answer is no,” says John Blair, who is tasked with planning and operating the hotel’s 10,000-square-foot, 650-capacity ground-floor dance club. “No one is going to risk this kind of investment unless it is a legit long-term business venture.” The rooms will run from an inexpensive $99 to $399 a night — par for the course in the neighborhood. “Axel is a very sophisticated, attractive, appealing, upscale experience at affordable prices,” a rep for the developers said. “That’s what they do in Barcelona, Berlin, and Buenos Aires, and that’s what they’re going to do here in the Big Apple.” (There’s some conflicting information about whether the project is officially an “Axel Hotel.” Although a story in On Top magazine reports that Axel’s “development director,” Renate Siebenhofer, has confirmed their involvement with this project, marketing manager Silvia Pérez said the following in an e-mail: “We would love to say that we have a new Axel Hotel in NYC but unfortunately we still are not able to confirm it.”)
The building’s existing façade spans about 133 feet on the south side of 42nd Street, which sounds like a tight squeeze, until you realize that the length of the building stretches through the whole block to 41st Street. Paul Dominguez, the architect and a vested partner, imagines the space as an “Urban Resort.” The structure was built in the early sixties as a Palm Springs–style motel, with a number of breezy courtyards in the center of the building for Dominguez to play with and for the guests, eventually, to play in.
“The ground floor is a huge, cavernous space that works well as a club,” said Dominguez. There will be one-foot-thick soundproofed wall between the “XL dance bar” and the rest of the building. Also on the ground floor is Kitchen, a 3,500-square-foot, 24-hour restaurant run by the operators of gay-friendly joints Eatery, Whym, and Vynl. On the second floor will be the spa (run by the Parisian transplant Nickel) and a conference room. The renovation calls for an additional two floors to be added to the three-story structure, with floors three through five dedicated exclusively for guest accommodations.
Within the hotel, Dominguez said, there are no real hallways. “Everything will wrap around three glassed-in courtyards, which means there’s always something to see — people in the pool or Jacuzzi in the spa at one, people eating in the restaurant at another, and people at the reception bar space at another.”
Will this element of voyeurism end up like the meatpacking district’s controversial Standard Hotel, where guests were encouraged to have sex on display to the High Line passersby? “The community element is very important,” says Dominguez, “and we actually set out to do the reverse of that idea of looking without being seen. We wanted to create an environment where guests can meet each other very easily.” To that end, there’s a large communal table at the restaurant, continuity between the different elements on the complex, and the curious concept of “heterofriendliness” (Axel’s existing slogan). “It’s almost like a little village,” says Dominguez. “There are all these activities you can do to meet other people.”
The next step will be to gain the approval of the full Community Board 4 on March 3, after which they tackle getting licenses from the State Liquor Authority and the support of the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs. The developers’ rep saw no problems going forward: “We already have the unanimous support of a committee dedicated to new projects in the neighborhood, as well as a lot of enthusiasm from community members, both gay and straight.” Now they just need a new name for the complex, as Out NYC just sounds, well, boring. The Prancing Pony? The Mommie Dear-Rest? Phyllis Nefler’s? The Blazing Saddle? Leave your suggestions in the comments.