PART DIVINE INSPIRATION, PART MARRIOTT
SERVICE: 7 * DÉCOR: 5 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 3
A black-clad doorman with a wireless headset bounds up to our cab. "Name?" he asks. Crossing the lobby, we get the first-name treatment several times. At the front desk, the clerks have been alerted to our arrival, and they too know our name. But minutes later, when we rush down to the lobby to retrieve a piece of forgotten luggage, we're met with blank stares: "Oh, we were wondering whose that was!" How soon they forget. A minor disappointment to be sure, but there wouldn't have been anything to get let down about if they hadn't made such a big deal about their "anticipatory service" in the first place. And this, it turns out, is the Muse's biggest flaw. By trying too hard to be a cool boutique hotel, it risks losing sight of its most appealing qualities. The rooms are immense by New York hotel standards: Our double room was a whopping 314 square feet, not counting the sprawling bathroom. And the location is ideal for business travelers and tourists alike. But the creativity shtick is borderline embarrassing. Playing off the theater-district location, the public areas are decorated with pictures of George Balanchine and Leonard Bernstein and the room key displays the hotel motto: "Stay inspired." The centerpiece of the lobby -- a bewildering blend of cigar-bar paneling, classical marble flooring, and overstuffed dormitory furniture -- is a backlit, barrel-vaulted-ceiling mural of the nine Muses. There's no bar scene to speak of, though there is a bar, a windowless vest pocket of a room tucked behind District, the new David Rockwell-designed pretheater restaurant.
Guest profile: Broadway buffs. Publishing and entertainment execs (BMG is right next door) powerful enough to sign off on their own expense accounts.
The room: The rooms are a sleepy mix of muted colors, Berber carpets, and marble baths. Their feather beds and duvets make the case that a good night's sleep can be the ultimate luxury. Philosophy bath products (cardamom soap, sea loofah) are high-grade; other amenities include high-speed Internet access and twice-daily maid service.
Service: When we called the concierge for much-needed Advil, a little after midnight, the phone just rang, no message. Repeated attempts over the next 30 minutes yielded the same result. Faxes were never received. But guests returning from the theater can raid the "Midnight Pantry."
Insider info: Rooms in the 11 line and the 15 line are the brightest; avoid the noisier ones on lower floors facing 46th Street.
130 West 46th Street (877-692-6873; www.musehotel.com). 200 rooms, from $295 to $410; suites start at $490.
STILL STYLING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
SERVICE: 7 * DÉCOR: 7 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 7
As the granddaddy of boutique hotels (this was Ian Schrager's first venture back in 1984) the Morgan still draws its share of media machers and models. You won't find Royalton- or Hudson-esque mayhem, however; this hotel exudes a more serene vibe, with a candlelit lobby and almost-always-deserted common areas. But the crowd that'll make you wish you'd gone to the gym that morning is just through the door, at the hotel's ever-glam restaurant and bar Asia de Cuba. The basement-level Morgan Bar features a communal table, velveteen chairs, mirrors, and thirtysomething investment bankers, with the odd tourist. Upstairs on the fourth floor, the "living room" is a cozy sitting area that doubles as a conference center; you're invited to watch TV, check your e-mail, or curl up with an assortment of books and magazines.
Guest profile: Fashion editors and a few die-hard dot-commers; loyal Europeans who've been checking in since Reagan's heyday.
The room: While Andree Putman's whimsical designs are fun, and the Ultrasuede window seats and silk pillows are luxurious, everything is sized for a child or abnormally low to the ground -- a common fun-house trick to make the room look bigger. Still, Schrager's precision is impressive, with matchbooks centered in ashtrays and pencils always pointing "nonaggressively" away from the guest.
Service: Room service arrived promptly, though a soggy Caesar salad and a plate of tasteless vegetarian Havana noodles proves that the food from Asia de Cuba does not travel well. The concierge was informative and cheerful, offering to purchase theater tickets, make reservations at Tabla, or plan a SoHo exploration, but the cowardly front desk missed our wake-up call and then blamed it on a broken phone.
Insider info: Celebrity guests often request that the all-too-tempting mini-bar treats be removed from their room, though we suspect that they hold on to the L'Occitane candles and lotions.
237 Madison Avenue, at 35th Street (212-686-0300). 113 rooms, from $320 to $600; suites start at $350.
WRITING THE BOOK ON SERVICE
SERVICE: 9 * DÉCOR: 8 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 6
When Laura Bush comes to visit, we know where she's going to check in. It's only fitting that a hotel smack in the middle of 41st Street's Library Way would have a bookish bent, but this one takes the association to the extreme. Each of the Library's ten guest-room floors is organized and decorated in accordance with the Dewey decimal system. Guests can plug in their laptops in the second-floor Reading Room, where breakfast is served in the morning and wine and cheese at cocktail hour. Bibliophiles can carry their tomes to the fourteenth-floor Poetry Garden, a greenhouse outfitted in wicker with a wraparound terrace, or the adjoining Writer's Den, complete with fireplace and large-screen TV. Room service is from nearby Salute! restaurant until mid-February, when Bottega di Vino starts serving on the ground floor. A private business alcove is open 24-7. Passes are available to New York Sports on 41st Street and Third Avenue.
Guest profile: Eddie Bauer set who've left the children at home, plus fashion-industry types and publishing execs pounding on IBM Think Pads.
The room: Arriving at 1100.006, the Love room on the Philosophy floor, we were at once relieved (and yet curiously disappointed) to find that its walls are not awash in red and there's no vibrating heart-shaped bed. The only evidence of the randy theme is in a framed shot of Greta Garbo lip-locking John Gilbert (the New Media room has a photo of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates -- not kissing) and, of course, the books, which include 16 Ways to Love Your Lover and Your Wife Is Not Your Momma. The palette is so-called sage and banana, with an Asian touch in the form of a Japanese shadow-box window in the bathroom, a jade bonsai on the desk, and a Tibetan pattern on the bedspread. Except for west-facing rooms that get a sliver of the real public library's literary lions, most have a view of late-night desk jockeys and cleaning crews.
Service: When we called for a videotape of North by Northwest, there was a knock on the door as soon as we put the phone down. The concierge was well-versed in city activities and even offered to book a helicopter ride -- hokey, but appealing all the same. For dinner he showed nonpartisan aplomb by recommending the Morgan's Asia de Cuba as well as SoHo's Quilty's and the Carnegie Deli for a pastrami sandwich.
Insider info: Requests for a particular themed room, though not guaranteed, are usually granted. (Neil Armstrong stayed in the Astronomy quarters.) The Love room is the only one in the place with a terrace, yet the Erotic Literature room gets the most traffic. Pocketing books is not technically permitted, but it turns out they replace them with shipments from the Strand each week, so don't let it bother you.
299 Madison Avenue, at 41st Street (212-983-4500; www.libraryhotel.com). 60 rooms, from $265 to $375; suites start at $375.
THE ROGER WILLIAMS
MODERNIST MECCA ON MAD. AVE.
SERVICE: 9 * DÉCOR: 8 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 4
Before we could even throw our coats on the wood-framed club chair, the front desk called to ask if we needed a wake-up call. Such pampering made holing up in the somewhat nightlife-free zone of Madison Square Park worthwhile. Three years ago, the Boutique Hotel Group snapped up a down-at-the-heels residential hotel and enlisted the skills of famed architect Rafael Viñoly to perform a makeover. The glass-walled, double-height lobby is now a shrine to Modernism. An overhanging balcony houses a breakfast room with international magazines and newspapers. Guests have use of the modest business center as well as the hotel's own fitness facilities or, for $10, the neighborhood New York Sports Club.
Guest profile: White-blonde Brits and Scandinavians who all must have read the same guidebook. I-bankers from Park Avenue South and fashion girls in Jimmy Choo heels who like the quick commute to garment-district showrooms.
The rooms: Scandinavian austerity seems to be the theme. The blond wood furniture was custom-designed by Viñoly. Thoughtful flourishes like a porthole mirror and the wooden grate that covers the bottom of the shower make what could be a simple hotel feel superior. The rosemary-mint Aveda shampoo is a keeper. Toothbrushes, Q-tips, and razors are available free of charge (why isn't that always the case?). The walls could use a little more insulation, however. Hearing the guest next door watch three hours of Titanic was enough to warrant a room change.
Service: Room service is available from Mad 28 across the street Monday to Saturday, but the lack of an in-house bar or restaurant is a significant sore point. The hotel's fringe location makes the concierge all the more important, and this one came through. Every room has a thick service directory, and the front desk was ready with suggestions for all corners of Manhattan, from Nobu in TriBeCa to Lower Fifth's Mesa Grill to the Upper East's Mezzaluna.
Insider info: Fourteen residents from the hotel's former incarnation still call it home. A few rooms on the tenth and fourteenth floors, as well as the penthouse suite, have wraparound terraces.
131 Madison Avenue (212-448-7000; www.rogerwilliamshotel.com) 187 rooms, from $265 to $580; suites start at $405.
TIMES SQUARE IN LIVING COLOR
SERVICE: 8 * DÉCOR: 7 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 6
While some may argue that an overdose of primary colors gives this hotel a Playskoolesque décor, no one can deny that excellent service, moderate-size rooms, and a central location are well worth $229 a night. From the moment you step into the lobby's glass elevator, there's a feeling of constant movement and enough energy to light up one of the Jumbotron billboards outside in Times Square. The rooms are fully loaded with Web TVs, fax machines, and electronic do-not-disturb signs that toggle between green and red with the flick of a switch; mini-TVs are stationed outside each elevator to minimize boredom while you wait for your ride. A well-equipped fitness center on the fourth floor offered shiny new machines clustered under a giant flat-screen TV. Coco Pazzo Teatro, the hotel's new restaurant, opens this month.
Guest profile: Theater-bound suburbanites mingle with budget-minded business travelers wheeling their overhead luggage.
The room: Designed by Adam Tihany, the rooms are drenched in either red, blue, or yellow. We stayed in a "yellow room," which meant a lemon-yellow comforter and matching headboard, yellow postcards, yellow jellybeans, honey-lemon soother tea, and a small vial of Yellow scent. A nice feature is that music is playing (and lights are switched on) when you enter your room.
Service: Requests were met immediately and without fuss, and, at checkout, the front-desk clerk asked if she could store our luggage for the day. The official concierge was unavailable at 8 p.m. and at 8 a.m., but the front-desk clerk managed to score us a hard-to-come-by 9:30 reservation at Babbo for the next night.
Insider info: Call ahead and request that your favorite tunes be playing when you check into your room.
224 West 49th Street (212-246-5252; www.thetimeny.com). 193 rooms, from $229 to $699; suites start at $299.