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Checking Out the Inn Crowd

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THE MERCER
EUROPEAN STYLE WITH EUROPEAN ATTITUDE
SERVICE: 8 * DÉCOR: 10 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 10

Leo takes a suite when he's in town. Benicio Del Toro was a recent guest. Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots named his kid Noah Mercer since he was conceived on the premises. From the moment the Isaac Mizrahi-clad valet pulls open the front door, it's as if you've been invited to an A-list cocktail party: Andre Balazs (Chateau Marmont, Sunset Beach) cultivates a star-studded reservation list. Having the aptly named Mercer Kitchen, helmed by Jean-George Vongerichten, as your in-house restaurant doesn't hurt, either. The minimalist décor by Christian Liaigre (Paris's Hotel Montalembert) includes a mini-newsstand packed with shelter mags and European glossies. On a typical evening, a coterie of Catherine Deneuve look-alikes are installed in the lobby comparing the contents of their Louis Vuitton shopping bags. In the morning, Continental businessmen sip espressos by the floor-to-ceiling bookcase and pore over the International Herald Tribune. Star-Tacs, limos, and laptops are offered, as is a complimentary day pass to Crunch.

Guest profile: Frenchmen in head-to-toe Hermès, Brit rockers, and American actors who insist they really don't want to be seen.

The room: After walking down the dimly lit hallways, we were thrilled to use an actual key -- a virtual hotel relic -- to open our room's metal door. A clever magnet on the outside signals to maid service either yes, please or, if flipped over, another time. The beige- and dark-wood chamber is compact (at $420, it was the cheapest they had), but everything -- from the dreamy French doors, which seem cinematic even with only a city view, down to the linen comforters and down pillows -- felt luxurious. The gray-and-white marble bath is filled with artful details: a deep, square sink; showerheads that attack from all sides. Some come with oversize, two-person tubs. A handy "Details Box" with Q-tips, two condoms, and three mints is set out next to a collection of Face Stockholm products.

Service: After ordering a video from the massive movie collection, we waited almost an hour to receive it. Even though in-room literature insists the hotel provides secretarial services, when we asked about sending an e-mail, we were told, "Sorry, we are not a business hotel." Curiously, our dinner reservation made through the front desk was somehow erased.

Insider info: Request a high floor if you want to see any of the skyline.

99 Prince Street (212-966-6060). 75 rooms, from $375 to $540; suites start at $1,100; the penthouse goes for $2,250.

THE DYLAN
MODERN LOVE IN MIDTOWN
SERVICE: 7 * DÉCOR: 8 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 5

You're unlikely to bump into Ben Affleck in the gym, but if you're looking for a midtown boutique hotel that delivers obsessive attention to detail and an edgy modern design, look no farther. The Beaux-Arts exterior hardly screams boutique hotel, but the former Chemist Club has been transformed inside by Calle Ocho designer Jeffrey Beers. (With a few fortuitous exceptions: The grand central staircase has been restored down to the original polished brass rails.) The boxy modern lobby sports dark walnut floors and buffed titanium walls that glow, the elevators are all sexy curves and mirrors, and the hallways are muted and womblike. Virot, the ground-floor restaurant run by Didiet Virot, a Jean-Georges protégé, is set to open this month. Its dramatic mezzanine bar provides voyeur's-eye views of the dining room and its monumental nineteenth-century fireplace. Throughout, the building's history is invoked -- beakerlike drinking glasses, petri-dish ashtrays -- but never pushed. The one-of-a-kind Alchemy Suite -- a medieval chamber with gothic floor-to-ceiling stone columns and a stained-glass window -- should appeal to students of Meister Eckhart and Marquis de Sade alike.

Guest profile: Slow-moving tourists who dutifully inhaled the entire Continental spread laid out in the breakfast room. Virot's opening will undoubtedly pump up the volume.

The room: A full-length mirror propped at a kitty-corner angle creates a playful funhouse effect. A wall-mounted upholstered headboard and cantilevered nightstands are a design junkie's delight. The bath is stocked with Essential Oil bath products.

Service: Out-of-work concierges should forward their résumés to the Dylan. Upon checking out, we asked the desk clerk for some sightseeing ideas. He directed us to Bloomingdale's at "59th and Park." To our horror, the complimentary newspaper was USA Today. Room service wasn't fully up and running yet, but other requests -- toothpaste, more towels -- were promptly met.

Insider Info: Request one of the "executive kings" (especially Rooms 409, 509, and 609); the soaring ceilings will make you feel like you've paid for a suite.

52 East 41st Street (212-338-0500; www.dylanhotel.com). 107 rooms, from $335 to $490; suites start at $495.

THE SHOREHAM
SWING-ERA SWANK SURVIVES
SERVICE: 6 * DÉCOR: 7 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 5

The Shoreham blends into the surrounding buildings, and unless you look up you'll never see its enormous sign. But keeping a low profile is a Shoreham tradition. Built in 1927, the hotel was a longtime hideout for the girlfriends of actors like Eroll Flynn (who put up more than one at a time) and other tabloid regulars of the thirties and forties. Inside, the steel-and-marble lobby, with its low ceilings and pounding music, belies the understated exterior. Fluorescent lights line the walls of the bar, changing colors in aurora borealis-like waves and shedding an attractive light on the Thomas Pink shirts packed at the bar during after-work hours. The wait staff is aggressively downtown -- think body piercings and Halloween highlights. Their musical tastes lean toward Mirwais (of Madonna's Music album), adding to the too-funky-for-midtown appeal. In the morning, the bar transforms into an airy breakfast room with tasty offerings like croissant French toast and Gruyère-and-ham omelettes. There's a modest business center, and passes to Bally's gym are available.

Guest profile: Corporate execs -- more Today's Man than Paul Stewart -- as well as post-university Europeans touring the states on their parents' Euro.

The room: Walking into a room at the Shoreham is like entering your own little (and we do mean little) refuge. Ultrasuede walls and ceilings diffuse street and hallway noise. Soft lighting and fluffy white bedding work like a warm cup of chamomile tea. The herbal soothing continues with aromatherapeutic products by Aveda.

Service: Young concierges, dressed all in black and armed with maps, phone books, and guides, drew up a custom walking tour of Lower Manhattan. A requested toothbrush never appeared.

Insider info: Ask for one of the 92 newer rooms, which were added in 1999; rooms and suites that don't face 55th Street are quietest.

33 West 55th Street (212-247-6700; www.shorehamhotel.com). 176 rooms, from $275 to $375; suites start at $425.

HOTEL GIRAFFE
A TOUCH OF EUROPE ON PARK AVENUE SOUTH
SERVICE: 7 * DÉCOR: 6 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 5

Park Avenue South's rebirth as a restaurant row and premiere address wouldn't be complete without some high-priced beds to sleep in. Modeled on European hotels from the twenties and thirties, the Giraffe is outfitted with Juliet balconies and a lobby that doubles as a convivial breakfast space. The grand piano is played nightly -- fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your taste. One 30-year-old London ad exec who camped out for two weeks describes the ground floor as "Egyptian with a touch of Italy and a sprinkle of Morocco," and praises the staff's pampering. "But most of the time they don't overhandle you. It's more like a home." A home, that is, with a rooftop garden complete with waterfall and view of the World Trade Center. While there's no formal business facility, type-A personalities can ask the staff to send faxes or e-mails for them, or, if equipped with laptops, use the high-speed Internet access in their rooms. Guests can create their own party scene by booking the penthouse with 26-foot ceilings and wraparound terrace ($2,500 per night) or opt for a table at chef Marc Murphy's neon-red Chinoiserie restaurant downstairs. Free day passes to Duomo, the private gym overlooking Madison Park, mean you might have to share your body ball with Puffy and Carmen Electra.

Guest profile: Corporate worker bees, families with Britney-loving teens in tow, plus Europeans on expense accounts.

The room: The roomy olive-and-burgundy quarters have a kind of cigar bar-meets-Pottery Barn feel, plush but practical. Granite bathrooms are fully stocked with Nutura products. Remote-control window shades are fun to play with, but if you've scored a room with sweeping Park Avenue views, from Grand Central to Union Square, you won't want to cover them up.

Service: Lacks city savvy. When we asked for a trendy eatery, they came back with the theme restaurant Jekyll & Hyde. For shopping, we were directed to the Manhattan Mall.

Insider info: Forgo the in-room Continental breakfast in favor of the lobby version with a larger menu and a chance to fiddle with the $15,000 custom self-serve espresso machine.

365 Park Avenue South, at 26th Street (212-685-7700; www.hotelgiraffe.com). 73 rooms, from $325 to $475; suites start at $475.


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