Destination: New York
Gramercy Park Hotel
In the 1970s, Ian Schrager and his late partner, Steve Rubell, revolutionized nightlife with their spectacular disco, Studio 54. A decade later, fresh out of prison for tax evasion, the two shattered all preconceived notions of what a stylish lodging should be with the launch of Morgans, their Andrée Putman–designed boutique inn. The 185-room Gramercy Park is another act of Schrager iconoclasm. He’s thrown out the winning, hyperdesigned hotel formula he devised with Philippe Starck and, in collaboration with über-artist Julian Schnabel, invented a whole new lodging experience, one that’s highly personal and idiosyncratic. He calls it “high bohemian baroque.” The inspiration? Schnabel’s own quirky baronial digs, and the hotel’s own bohemian past. At one time, the writers S.J. Perelman, Edmund Wilson and his wife, Mary McCarthy, all lived here, as did former bootlegger–turned–movie mogul and financier Joseph P. Kennedy and his brood.
Typical of a Schrager hotel, the decor is still completely calculated, but this time far warmer and inviting. Imagine a double-height living room–lobby with luxurious red velvet curtains, with a timber ceiling and columns, lit by a grand Venetian glass chandelier and outfitted with an enormous Italian limestone fireplace, worn leather armchairs and bronze cocktail tables cast with faux tassels and studs. The black-and-white Moroccan-tile floor is partially covered by a luxurious hand-woven carpet—half Aubusson, half Schnabel gestural painting. The rough plastered walls of the lobby and the adjoining Rose and Jade bars are embellished by an ever-revolving collection of important contemporary artworks by such artists as Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, and Schnabel himself.
The individual guest rooms are painted in a distinctive palette of rich hues. Each guest room is unique and lushly sexy, decorated with custom-designed furniture by Schnabel and Dutch designer Maarten Bass, as well as one-of-a-kind pieces gathered from bazaars across the globe. Leave it to Schrager to provide the supersophisticated hotelier touches: mahogany drinking cabinets outfitted with cut-crystal goblets and full-size liquor bottles; honor cupboards stocked with distinctive New York treats from Gourmet Garage, Dean & DeLuca, and Balducci’s; and everywhere candles emanating the hotel’s own scent, concocted by the chic Nolita perfumery Le Labo.
For those who don’t want to leave their rooms, there’s twenty-four-hour room service. For fitness-conscious guests, there’s a fully equipped gym with video-training pods. There’s also a multiservice spa. When the weather is pleasant, guests can take their meals and entertain on the rooftop, which was conceived by garden-designer extraordinaire Madison Cox as a verdant salon-style sanctuary. For those who want a taste of old New York privilege, request a key to Gramercy Park, a private patch of manicured green. Rooms from $595.
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Update October 2011: My recent weekend visit to the Gramercy Park hotel confirmed it as one of New York City’s uncontested hotspots. The beautiful hotel fuses old-world glamour and cutting-edge cool—not an easy mixture to achieve. A Botero nude and edgy Warhol painting adorn the public spaces, while a large, wood-burning fireplace and classic furniture in the lobby also add a traditional and cozy element.
I stayed in a Loft room on the 14th floor, which impressed with sleek furniture and touches of color, like the soft throw placed across the pristine 400-thread-count sheets. The best rooms offer views the park (ask for the Park View Loft and the Park One bedroom suite). Most of the lower category rooms have views of either the interior courtyard or Lexington Avenue and even though they are a bit dark, they still feel spacious because of the high ceilings.
Don’t miss the Rose Bar, one of the most elite Manhattan spots in to get into (you have automatic access as a guest of the hotel). In the style of an old cigar parlor, it serves delicious signature cocktails like the mixed berry Bellini. If you are not on the list at Rose bar, you can enjoy the same cocktails at the adjacent Jade Bar, which is open to the public. Whether or not you are staying at the hotel, both in-house restaurants are a big draw. On the ground level is Danny Meyer’s venture Maialino, referred to as a neighborhood Roman trattoria. As with all of Meyer’s ventures, this is another top place for classic Italian cuisine and a chic ambiance. The rooftop Gramercy Terrace, which serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and after-hours cocktails has a smaller but equally delicious menu. Sitting in a gentle breeze, I enjoyed dinner in this casually elegant setting, which takes you away from the bustle of city. The scallop ceviche, the sliders and the pressed BTC (bacon, tomato and cheddar) sandwich were all hits.
Just in time for the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, Robert De Niro opened the Greenwich Hotel. Well situated near downtown’s hot spots, the 88-room property provides a new home base for visitors who want big hotel amenities such as a gym and spa on a smaller scale. Thoughtful details—mirrors made with silvered glass from the Flatiron building and antique wood floors—give the interiors an established look, and the pretty interior courtyard, inspired by the Place de Vosges, feels classically Parisian in the best sense. But perhaps my favorite touch is the subterranean, romantically-lit pool. Ten Japanese craftsmen reconstructed a historic farmhouse transported from Kyoto as the structure under which the pool and lounge area sit; I can’t imagine a better place to retreat after a hectic day in the city.
The guests at the Greenwich could be compared to those at Soho’s Mercer Hotel, with an initial influx coming from the entertainment and fashion worlds—no surprise given its owner. But it is equally appealing to families, thanks to its spacious rooms and proximity to the neighborhood’s family-friendly eateries and parks. Another plus is its location in the heart of Tribeca, where hip restaurants and bars abound but loud street noise does not. All travelers will appreciate the thoughtful extras, such as complimentary mini-bars, free wireless and in-room check-in. Another big plus guests will enjoy is their automatic insider status. Only those staying in the hotel will have access to the comfortable library, courtyard, spa, pool and gym. To have dinner in the garden or take a dip underground, regular New Yorkers need an invite from a guest or a reservation of their own. Guests also have priority for reservations at the hotel’s popular restaurant, Locanda Verde.
Room To Get: Not all rooms have king beds, so be sure to specify if that’s important. Connecting rooms are available for families. For a real treat, splurge on one of the two duplex suites, where a 30-foot wall of windows looks out on the city and wood-burning fireplace makes even the chilliest night feel cozy.
Regular rates begin at $625.
The Bowery Hotel
When the Bowery Hotel opened in February 2007, Schrager fanatics were quick to point out that its dark, brooding lobby complete with Gilded Age antiques, a fireplace and velvet, tassled furniture was eerily similar to the Gramercy Park Hotel’s own salon-like entranceway. But while both properties have been cited as examples of the current High Bohemia design craze, the Bowery’s vibe is a little less dramatic (no Warhols and Damien Hirsts here), a little bit cozier, a little bit brainier—as evinced in the shelves of leather-bound classics and the old-fashioned newspaper rack—and ultimately, a little bit more laid-back. This is after all Bowery Street—aka NYC’s “Skid Row”—an area formerly associated with drug dealers, low-income housing units, and punk rock angst rather than stylish, boutique hotels. Still scenesters have already been hitting this Sean MacpHerson and Eric Goode brainchild in droves, in no doubt due to the duo’s genius marketing policies. The swank second-floor space is set aside for only the poshest of private parties and much like the pair’s earlier venture at the West Village’s Waverly Inn, the hotel’s Italian restaurant and bar, Gemma, takes no reservations unless you are a hotel guest. The rooms are simultaneously elegant and industrial-sleek: long, flowing curtains cover floor-to-ceiling windows and dark mahogany furniture offsets exposed piping and white brick walls. While all have C.O. Bigelow bath products and fantastic Manhattan views (there are, after all, very few tall office buildings down here to obstruct them), only the seven private terrace suites contain the hotel’s famous outdoor showers, which allow you to literally soak up the view.
The Cooper Square Hotel
Like the kid who turned up to the dorm party in a dinner jacket, the Cooper Square Hotel seems to have got the dress code wrong among its low-rise, low-key East Village neighbors. Standing out like a twenty-one-story glass thumb, the Carlos Zapata-designed hotel has 145 rooms (all with at least one glass wall), two bars, a library and Govind Armstrong restaurant. From the enormous wood and glass door entrance, there is no formal lobby so check-in is done in the library over a complimentary glass of wine or champagne. The hotel favors a ‘home away from home’ approach to service and the interiors reflect this, with hard slate flooring softened by antique rugs and B&B Italia furniture. There are also over 6,000 hardcover books throughout the hotel, which were bought from local charity Housing Works. The all-glass walls make it seem as if the library merges into the lovely hidden garden. NYC veteran chef Scott Conant oversees the low-lit Faustina restaurant, showcasing his modern Italian cooking with a menu of formaggi & affettati, insalate and pasta & risotto. The upstairs bar features St.-Tropez-style oversize sofas, and is buzzing until the 8 p.m. curfew sends everyone downstairs to the main bar. Popular with a young and fashionable set, the hotel bar makes for packed sidewalks out front as the cool kids huddle for cigarettes.
The modern but cozy rooms are on the small side but avoid any clutter with sleek furniture and fantastic hotel-art-free walls. The much-talked about beds are incredibly comfortable thanks to the custom-designed pillow top mattresses, and in a bid to make amends with the surrounding community, you will also find custom toiletries, jewelry, T-shirts and make-up for sale from local artists and purveyors—even the pretzels come from the nearby pretzel cart.
Rooms to Get/Avoid: Go for rooms four and seven on a high floor. The corner rooms have unrivalled views of the Empire State Building (seven) or the whole East side of Manhattan (four). Be warned that the ‘courtyard’ view rooms really look directly on to the back of the next building, blocking out much of the light that is the hotel’s great asset.
The Standard New York
Straddling the High Line Railway track, André Balazs new transformer-like Standard Hotel in New York’s Meatpacking District seems to float above the Hudson River. In true Balazs style, the property is designed from the inside out. It starts with beautiful furnishings, wood-ceiling paneling and muted lighting—all without an over-the-top feeling—and finishes with a wide skyline view in every room. Of the 337 guestrooms, the smallest, at 180-square-feet, feels commodious thanks to large sweeping windows and see-thru bathrooms with walk-in showers. If showering in an exposed shower is not your thing, make sure to request one without.
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