W UNION SQUARE
DAVID ROCKWELL’S BAMBOO,
TODD ENGLISH’S OLIVES
SERVICE: 8 * DÉCOR: 9 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 8
When you check in at the hotel’s front desk, known in W-land as the Front Lawn, it’s clear David Rockwell has created yet another “It” gathering space where no one wants to get off the velvet couches. While similar in feel to its sister locations (W at 541 Lexington Avenue, the W Tuscany and W Court at 120 and 130 East 39th Street), this outpost is the largest and the lushest. The 1911 building, which was once home to Guardian Life Insurance, is a mixture of landmarked features like the mosaic-covered elevator banks and a gilded-ceilinged ballroom, plus trademark W greenery: A block of twisted medusa bamboo climbs by the front entrance, and the “living room” lobby area is encased by topiary walls. Olives, Todd English’s much-heralded Mediterranean boîte from Boston, which unfortunately offers no priority for hotel guests, is tucked around the corner. Apple-martini abusers can head one flight down to Rande Gerber’s Underbar to score one of the intime curtained alcoves. A fitness room dubbed Sweat is open all night long (guests can also take classes at the midtown W’s Away Spa), as is the business center – referred to as Wired, of course.
Guest profile: Graying hipsters who are serious about their socializing and equally serious about getting their wake-up calls.
The room: In W-speak, accommodations are divided into Wonderful, Spectacular, and Mega. Our Wonderful room was large, well-equipped, and almost entirely for sale. (Everything from the bed to the ice bucket is priced to move in a convenient catalogue.) Overall, the gray-and-white décor was surprisingly sober compared with the whimsy of the lobby. But the fantastic view of the park and the Con Ed building on Irving Place made up for it, as did the Aveda products in the bathroom. High-speed data ports are in every room, and for $9.95 a day, guests can surf the Web TV sets.
Service: That the W is indeed a chain hotel is all too annoyingly in evidence. When we called the Union Square’s number for a reservation, we got someone at the W Court, were hung up on three times, and were quoted three different rates. Room service was well-meaning but managed to forget an entire dish and service set.
Inside info: Suites with fax machines come with guest business cards. Deep-pocketed travelers may want to reserve the Extreme Suite ($1,600-$1,800): a corner two-bedroom, three-bath apartment with Jacuzzi. South-facing quarters have the best views.
201 Park Avenue (212-253-9119; www.whotels.com). 270 rooms, from $299 to $550; suites start at $799.
THE TRIBECA GRAND
HOLLYWOOD ON THE HUDSON
SERVICE: 10 * DÉCOR: 8 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 9
Guests at the Tribeca Grand don’t need to venture very far to sample New York’s nightlife: The eight-month-old Church Lounge in the lobby has already become a choice watering hole for the local working class (the cashmere and pinstriped variety, that is: venture capitalists, designers, and entertainment executives). Coming-and-going guests always feel as if their hotel is the center of it all. Laid out beneath a dramatic eight-story atrium suffused with an orangy-red glow that gives even the paunchiest midwestern zhlub a kind of candlelit sex appeal, the lounge is the glowing hearth of the hotel. Downstairs, there’s a 98-seat theater where private screenings are held for the likes of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.
Guest profile: Business travelers, mostly entertainment-driven. Miramax players like Matt Damon, Penelope Cruz.
The room: The smallish rooms upstairs couldn’t be more different from the throbbing lobby lounge. Blending ergonomics with aesthetics, designer Calvin Tsao has created a soothing traveler’s nest, layered with muted hues of cream and blue. A hideaway fax machine and Web TV for checking e-mail don’t seem odd or obtrusive, and the stainless-steel sink and counter in the bathroom are both cool to look at and satisfyingly functional (there’s a miniature TV mounted in the wall so you can tune in from the toilet). The bathroom is loaded with Kiehl’s goodies. Each room has a Bose CD player-clock radio. And there’s a menu of CDs to choose from.
Service: Several of the concierges moonlight at fashionable clubs and restaurants and are quick to wield their connections; all have encyclopedic knowledge of city shopping, nightlife, and restaurants.
Insider info: Inspect your bill; we found mistakes at both Grands (which were quickly and easily rectified). Three room lines open into one another, so families can create their own suite.
2 Avenue of the Americas (212-519-6600; www.tribecagrand.com). 203 rooms, from $429 to $999; suites start at $749.
THE SOHO GRAND
IT’S ONLY ROCK-AND-ROLLERS, BUT WE LIKE IT
SERVICE: 10 * DÉCOR: 9 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 9
If you’re feeling lonely, the staff at Soho Grand will put a pet fish in your room to keep you company. And when you check out, they’ll happily bag your new friend to take home. Not that Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, or any of the other rock stars, record executives, and entertainment types who stay here need more friends; it’s just one of the many ways the Soho Grand showers its guests with affection. After ascending the suspended cast-iron staircase to the main floor, guests are met by the cheerful, faultlessly well-informed staff at the check-in desk. Mixing old New York Victorian grandeur with seventies artist-loft chic, William Sofield’s design flatters the guest’s good taste. In the lobby (which bleeds right into the bar), the clientele skews young but otherwise defies categorization: a Rasta with his socks pulled over his jeans, two fortyish women en route to Body & Soul, a huddle of laptop-tapping German suits. Barn jackets and running shoes are as common as Manolos and fur-trimmed tweed.
Guest profile: It’s Radiohead’s favorite hotel; Cypress Hill, Limp Bizkit, and the Taco Bell dog have also passed through.
The room: They run small but are chock-full of many of the same luxuries as its sister hotel, like Frette linens, Veuve Clicquot in the mini-bar, and Kiehl’s products. The Howard Greenberg Gallery photographs on the wall are for sale.
Service: In-room pet dining offered. (The Soho Grand may be the most pet-friendly hotel in New York, to the delight of many a miniature-dachshund-toting fashion editor.) There’s a 24-hour business center and the best hotel gym we’ve ever seen.
Insider info: Grand corner rooms like 1604 are sunniest; high floors on the northern side have sweeping views of the midtown skyline at night.
310 West Broadway (212-965-3000; www.sohogrand.com). 365 rooms, from $374 to $529; suites start at $1,299.
A NIGHTCLUB, WITH SOME BROOM CLOSETS UPSTAIRS
SERVICE: 2 * DÉCOR: 9 * HIPNESS FACTOR: 10
Checking into Ian Schrager’s latest is like getting a room above Studio 54, complete with a Sex and the City crowd and a gaggle of shag-haired bellhops imported from Carnaby Street. The check-in desk is nestled between Jeffrey Chodorow’s Hudson Cafeteria (reserve your table today, or forget it) and the cozy Library Bar, a double-height space where hipsters sip Merlot by the fire while perusing David LaChapelle’s coffee-table tomes. The Hudson Bar, with the swirling Francesco Clemente ceiling mural and glowing yellow dance floor, is the hub. But a tree-filled courtyard – think the Sky Bar at Schrager’s Mondrian in Los Angeles with heat lamps – provides a fourth drinking option in warmer weather. Private parties thrown by Anna Wintour, Jennifer Lopez, even Hillary Clinton, can make a stay feel like a trip through a 3-D “Page Six” item. Still, the conference rooms draw a steady stream of suits, who seem out of place powering through the lobby at 8 a.m., when it feels like the D.J. is still smoking his last cigarette. An Agua Spa is promised by the end of the year, as is a David Barton gym, which will have a pool and a bowling alley plus archery and basketball courts. Until then, for $20 a day, the Balance-bar set can make the trip to Prescriptive Fitness at 54th and Fifth.
Guest profile: A mix of mohawks, Burberry’s skirts, and English accents. Business folk are more of the Prada-man-purse variety.
The room: By encasing the vending machines in dark-wood closets, Philippe Starck makes shelling out $5 for Skittles seem glam. Each room’s mahogany-paneled rec-room vibe is like a Nest subscriber’s dream, despite obvious tricks (mirrors on every possible wall, bed below knee level) to hide the fact that most are smaller than an office cubicle. One eleven-by-nine-foot chamber has only a three-foot-wide bathroom, which means those with legs longer than a munchkin’s have to ride the toilet sidesaddle. (Ours didn’t have toilet paper; maybe they thought there wasn’t room.)
Service: Don’t bother calling downstairs for anything; after ten unrequited calls, we began to feel like we were harassing a date who was trying to ditch us. Luckily, there are some things you don’t need to call for – the mini-bar includes an “Intimacy kit” with two condoms. While the room-service menu makes a lot of promises, from Cubano sandwiches to banana splits, the kitchen can’t keep them. An entire main course was missing from our breakfast. The concierge, a Joan Jett impersonator, ticked off good native destinations, like Eatery and Brico, Fifth Avenue shopping, and Bergdorf’s. There’s a Zagat in the mini-bar, but you have to buy it to use it.
Insider info: The impressive $95 rate (this was supposed to be Schrager’s discount hotel, remember?) isn’t always available. As the reservationist explained: “It’s kind of like the airlines.” Request a room that doesn’t face the courtyard so you won’t be awakened by the roar from one of Jennifer Lopez’s all-night parties. The paint is drying on two penthouse “apartments” with Sub-Zero fridges, ivy-covered glass ceilings, and Hudson River views.
356 West 58th Street (212-554-6000; www.hudsonhotel.com) 1,000 rooms, from $95 to $350; suites start at $225.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Envisioned as “the townhouse of a private collector,” the Chambers hotel on West 56th Street, which is set to open by March 1, is crammed with more than 500 works of art. The hallways on each of the fourteen floors have their own full-scale installations commissioned from luminaries like painter James Siena and film director John Waters. During a hard-hat tour, we were surprised to find that what appeared to be signs of ongoing construction (distressed plaster walls, visible plywood seams on the ceiling, dangling sprinkler pipes) were actually design elements, intended to conjure up an artist’s loft – and bolster the hotel’s built-in premise that the new downtown is uptown. If this hotel strikes out, it won’t be for lack of star players: It’s being financed by the owners of the Mercer, the designer is David Rockwell, and Town, the lobby restaurant, will be run by Geoffrey Zakarian, formerly chef at Patroon and 44.
Expected guest profile: Out-of-town shoppers who don’t like to be further than spitting distance from the Fendi flagship; art aficionados.
The room: The desk is a sheet of glass laid atop two leather-bound sawhorses. Windows are almost floor-to-ceiling. Light fixtures are industrial brushed aluminum. Glassed-in showers in every room: Some have a hand-tiled soaking tub fit for a Roman emperor – or several starving artists. Bumble and Bumble bath products.
Service: Selling a downtown vibe at Four Seasons prices means going the distance on luxury extras. Guest phones have a direct-dial line to an Henri Bendel personal shopper who can bring merch to the room for private perusals.
Insider info: The twelfth-floor duplex suite’s terrace offers a stunning river-to-river skyline. In the doubles category, corner rooms have the best views.
15 West 56th Street (212-974-5656; www.chambers-ahotel.com). 77 rooms, from $375 to $1,500; suites start at $800.
Transforming an old garage into a functioning stack of bedrooms has taken longer than anyone imagined. By February 1, however, guests will be able to rest their heads on the hotel’s crisp Frette sheets. Architect Stephen Jacobs (the Library; Hotel Giraffe – we’re noticing a pattern here) has fashioned a front courtyard filled with white birches. As guests enter the lobby, they’ll be greeted by a staff turned out in navy uniforms by eighties godfather Nino Cerutti. The reception area will be on the second floor, adjacent to a lounge and bar with an asymmetrical marble fireplace. This is the first hotel interior by Thomas O’Brien of the famed design firm Aero Studios. Thom, the new restaurant from Jean Marc Houmard and Michael Callahan of Indochine and Bond Street, will serve – surprise! – Asian-American fare. The duplex penthouse loft with a four-poster king bed and two private garden decks is the hotel’s crown jewel.
Expected guest profile: West Coasters, Virgin Atlantic frequent fliers, deep-pocketed Wall Streeters.
The rooms: Each room is assigned one of three earth tones (inspired by a mosaic unearthed in Pompeii, no less), from a brown to a khaki to a rich burgundy. The platform bed with a full-wall leather headboard is the focal point. Desks are passed over in favor of wood tables with skinny chrome legs. All have the so-called Thompson Chair, based on an English Deco chaise O’Brien found in London three years ago. Expansive marble bathrooms will be equipped with Philosophy products.
Insider info: A few rooms from the fifth to the ninth floors are available before the official opening date.
60 Thompson Street (212-431-0400; www.60Thompson.com). 100 rooms, from $370 to $625; penthouse price available upon request.
THE BRYANT PARK
Towering above Bryant Park, the landmarked American Radiator Building immortalized by Georgia O’Keeffe will be reborn this month as a boutique hotel that will no doubt poach some regulars from the St. Regis and the Four Seasons. The spare modern furnishings were custom-designed by the hotel’s architect, David Chipperfield. The lobby bar, which looks out onto the park, dominates the ground floor, and the front desk is tucked off to the side. If it seems like an afterthought, it’s because guests are escorted directly to their rooms and checked in while they unpack. (Celebrities take note!) Next to the hotel’s gym are two spa “suites” for post-workout rubdowns, scrubs, and soaks. The requisite high-wattage restaurant, Ilo, will be run by star chef Rick Laakkonen. The 70-seat private theater will be rented out for movie premieres. And guests can knock back some single malts at the cellar bar.
Expected guest profile: Media moguls, creative directors, and fashion titans. Don’t bother trying to get a room during the tent shows.
The room: If the fresh flowers, Tibetan rugs, and cashmere blankets fail to impress, the fact that a 24-hour butler who mans a full pantry on each floor should. Need a drink? A hot bath? Foie gras sandwich? Just ring for Jeeves. Travertine marble baths with separate tubs and showers are stocked with Molton Brown bath gels.
Insider info: A few west-facing rooms have prime views of the Empire State Building.
40 West 40th Street (212-869-0100; www.bryantparkhotel.com). 77 rooms, from $575 to $975; suites start at $6,000.