The city is crawling with new hotels, with more opening by the month. Since 2008, nearly 14,000 hotel rooms have been added to the 68,000 that already existed—a result of the boom years, when hotel occupancy averaged 85 percent and the average daily room rate climbed by 53 percent. Remarkably, by the end of the year another 4,000 rooms will be added through dozens of new hotels that were too far along to stop construction when the recession hit. Many of them are independent—or “boutique” or “unique” or “lifestyle” hotels. Indeed, New York City is now the “world capital of unusual boutique hotels,” says Bjorn Hanson, professor of hospitality and tourism at New York University, partly because the city is filled with quirky buildings in non-hotel neighborhoods that were attractively priced and ripe for development.
When I moved to Great Jones Street seven years ago, there was not a single hotel in the neighborhood. Today, especially during the hot summer months, the boozy clarion call—whoo-hooo!—of drunken revelers emanates from nearly a dozen hotel-nightlife complexes. From the roof of the building I have just recently vacated (partly because of this stampede), I could see Lafayette House on 4th Street where the artist Dash Snow died of a drug overdose; the crazy late-night parties taking place in the penthouse of the too-tall Cooper Square Hotel; the Bowery Hotel’s sprawling faux-old-world second-floor party space where J.Lo threw Marc Anthony a 40th-birthday bash; the three new hotels on once-sleepy Crosby Street; the Thompson Lower East Side, the Rivington, and the troubled Nolitan (which got caught building too many floors). I could also see into the entire length of the 8,500-square-foot penthouse apartment at 40 Bond that belongs to the man who gets the credit or the blame for bringing this pox upon Manhattan: Ian Schrager.
When Schrager started the boutique-hotel revolution with Morgans, Royalton, and Paramount in the late eighties—after getting out of jail for tax evasion—he was essentially trying to figure out a way to stay in the nightlife business without opening a nightclub. The Royalton and Paramount in particular, with their dark hallways, sleek-comic Philippe Starck revelations, and catwalklike lobbies, managed to almost re-create the exquisite mix of fame and art, money and drugs, sex and ambition that were the hallmarks of Schrager’s Studio 54. The Schrager effect was, of course, huge: Design-y, nightlife-y, high-concept-y hotels sprouted up in cities all over the world. The W brand, based on the Schrager model, launched in New York in 1998 and then metastasized—there are now 25 of them. Schrager himself opened hotels in Miami, London, San Francisco—each one more slick and fanciful than the next. In fact, if you were to try to pinpoint the exact moment when the boutique hotel evolved into something more decadent, you’d have to look no further than Schrager’s over-the-top Delano in Miami, with its thumping lobby and poolside fashion show.
It is so easy to spot Michael Achenbaum in the crowded Starbucks on the corner of 29th and Park. For one, he is carrying two hard hats. For another, he looks just as I had pictured: tall and tan with perfectly manicured stubble. Though he is 37 and once worked in finance, he could strike you as a D.J. perhaps or a modeling agent. I am meeting him to tour the nearly finished Gansevoort Park Avenue hotel across the street, his latest Shangri La–in–the–city that will open later this summer.
Achenbaum spreads out the architectural renderings as he explains his grand plans for what begins to sound an awful lot like a disco—turned inside out. Like the Gansevoort in the meatpacking district, this hotel will have an elaborate rooftop pool complex, part of a three-level nightclub with a sound system designed by the engineer who did Pacha in New York and Space in Miami. “Every speaker, every subwoofer is pointed back into the space,” he says. “I have nothing that’s pointed outwards, like, intentionally. I’m very conscientious.” There will be a nine-foot-high glass wall around much of the pool area that he hopes will contain the nightly bust-up. There will be step-out balconies and wraparound terraces off nearly every public space so guests can “grab a smoke, which is a huge thing in the city,” says Achenbaum. Inside a VIP area called the Blue Room, there will be three massive Deborah Anderson photographs of a semi-naked girl. “When Steven Meisel doesn’t get the job,” says Achenbaum, “Deborah does. She shot the cover of Playboy.” In one of the photographs, the Gansevoort Girl is kissing herself in a double exposure.
I ask Achenbaum what he thinks about the new hotels opening all across 29th Street, the latest groovy-baby hotel corridor to spring seemingly out of nowhere. “Have you seen the Ace Hotel? It’s very hipster. I mean, it’s fine. It’s not my demographic. We’re trying for a balance between people who are a little bit more mature and people who are young and excited.”