Just because you live a half-hour from midtown Manhattan doesn’t mean you shouldn’t indulge in an overnight stay every once in a while; especially now, when, according to a recent New York Magazine article, “hotels have become a cultural force in the city again.” The New York Times recently jumped on the bandwagon with a roundup of six new boutique hotels (three of which are on this list), and a slew of new or renovated hotels are scheduled to open as this goes to press. Not everyone wishes to camp out in a den of debauchery or a high-concept hipster hangout, however, and so I’ve rounded up a diverse selection of brand-new or upgraded establishments; even a few where you’d be happy to stash the grandparents.
20 E 76th St
Best for: Elegant Boomers, Visiting Grandparents
The grand entrance to the penthouse suite at The Surrey
Be forewarned: as you are ushered into the renovated Surrey Hotel, you’ll be hit by a blast of old-fashioned friendliness and warmth the likes of which are rare these days—disorienting for those who might expect a pretentious or standoffish reception at one of the most luxurious hotels on the Upper East Side. Everyone you encounter, from the doorman to the general manager, carries a sense of ownership and pride, and, yes, there is much to be proud of.
Ranked No. 7 out of 428 New York City hotels by TripAdvisor, a nearly $60 million renovation of this 1926 Beaux Arts building has cast it in the aesthetic of a gentler era combined with elements of whimsy. With a lobby enhanced by a stunning floor mosaic in varying shades of gray and white, glass and chrome tables, and tufted chairs, it’s Cole Porter’s Roaring ’20s—until you spy the wall-sized black-and-white tapestry of Kate Moss by Chuck Close. Next to it, a silver-tinged armoire festooned with a graffiti-scrawled poem (written by a staff member’s grandmother) holds jewelry.
The ’20s chic, contemporary graffiti mash-up continues in Bar Pleiades, a dark speakeasy whose décor is inspired by a Coco Chanel compact. Guest salons (the smallest, a very ample 350 square feet) featuring DUXIANA beds, Sferra Linens, and Pratesi robes are done up in Art Deco mirrors, silvers, creams, and fox-fur grays. On the west side of the building, you can gaze from a long window seat (covered with a cushion stitched with phrases like, “Through these windows lies the soul of the city across Madison and down 5th Ave.”) onto Central Park then order up the perfect cocktail created by your own personal bartender who will arrive with a bar cart and use the full fifths of rum, whiskey, gin, and vodka already set on your mirrored sideboard. If the weather is nice, take the elevator to the “guest-only” roof-deck bar with views so singularly Manhattan, it makes even jaded New Yorkers feel as if they are in a movie.
Rooms and suites: from $629 – $10,000
Andaz Wall Street
75 Wall St
Best for: Personal-Service Junkies
The posh, comfortable, and unconventional Andaz Wall Street lobby
Yes, there is life after dark in the Financial District. Just ask anyone who has stayed at the idiosyncratic and posh masterpiece of service that is the Andaz Wall Street. Walk through the door of this retooled JPMorgan building, and you’ll be fawned over by Adam or Stephanie or one of several dressed-in-Theory “hosts” who, in any other hotel, would be behind a reception desk waiting for you to come to them.
Here, Adam, laptop in hand, sits beside you on a woven copper-hued settee in the David Rockwell-designed lobby (outfitted with professional Tom Chandley baking ovens, generating warm goodies round-the-clock), offers you water, coffee, or wine (all complimentary), and checks you in. Then he hands you his card with his private number imploring you to call or text if you “need anything.” The personal touch does not end there. Adam accompanies you to your high-tech, spacious (345+ square feet), soundproof, loft-like room and points out the Voss water, Terra chips, and other goodies. Peer out the seven-foot windows onto the canyons of commerce or turn inward and enjoy your 42-inch, flat-screen TV. You can have a party under the rain-showerhead in the black marbled bathroom, or, if you’re so inclined, sink into a warm tub separated from the bedroom by a wall of glass. Downstairs, the open kitchen at the hit farm-to-table restaurant, Wall & Water, fizzes with energy, as does the hopping Bar Seven Five, where both rectangular tables for 10 have their own “mixologist” and stocked bar. Be sure to try the 75 Smash—a blend of maple syrup, lemon juice, muddled mint, and Apple Jack Brandy.
Rooms: $275-750 per night for rooms; $1,000-$2,500 for suites.
The Standard Hotel
848 Washington St at 13th St
Best for: Partiers, Hedonists
A bathroom with a view at The Standard
If you are a celebrity or just like to watch them, reserve a room at the beautiful-people hotel that abuts New York’s hit elevated linear park, the High Line. You may have heard stories about hotel guests providing NC-17 “performances” for High Line crowds, but friendly Standard staff accept these naughty antics as “part of the fun.”
Enter a bright yellow revolving door and follow the black runway to the marble reception desks, where svelte and chiseled model types check you in. The elevator serves as ersatz cinema; as the doors close, the lights dim to accentuate the latest artistic video installation (and no, it’s not an advertisement for buffet breakfast downstairs). Rooms are as simple as the clientele is flamboyant, with a Scandinavian-beachy vibe: plump, white duvets and slatted teak headboards that arc up onto the ceiling. You can see your bedmate through the bathroom’s glass wall, so don’t plan on bringing kids old enough to be embarrassed. Though the rooms are on the small side, they are bright and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows and off-white Berber carpeting so pristine the hotel does not permit red wine in the rooms. Not to worry, though. Head downstairs to hotspot Standard Grill, where you can order all the red wine you’d like while standing on a floor made entirely out of old pennies.
Rooms: $266-$1,800 per night, includes free Wi-Fi
26th St between 6th and 7th Aves
Best for: Girlfriends, Moms and Daughters, Project Runway Devotees
Colorful, stylish threads and a cutting-room table greet guests at Fashion 26
Three buildings were knocked down to create space for the gleaming 23-story Fashion 26 Hotel. One block from the Fashion Institute of Technology, the area is much improved since Mick Jagger famously mispronounced “schmatta” in his commentary on the rag trade, “Shattered.” Though still a bit “in tatters,” this section of town is benefiting from newcomers such as this boutique hotel, which offers bit of style and luxury amid the Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonalds, and other fast-food joints.
At check-in, munch on a complimentary Baked by Melissa cupcake while appreciating a Devorah Sperber recreation of Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, created out of 1,632 spools of thread, behind the cutting-room table reception desk. Here, luggage carts are actually clothing racks, mannequins dressed in seasonal outfits line the lobby windows, and staff is gussied up in custom-designed black Australian Merino wool suits. A tubular lighting fixture casts a subtle rotation of groovy hues on the pinstripe lobby seating below. Pinstripe carpeting repeats in the sizable earth-toned rooms, which feature high-end amenities, including large flat-screen TVs, silky-smooth sheets, and plump duvets. Bathrooms sport narrow (tub-dimensioned) showers and are neatly designed with mosaic walls and travertine floors. Views are quintessential Chelsea and Midtown—rooftop water towers up close and personal.
Rooms: $299-$449 per night
342 W 40th St between 8th and 9th Aves,
next to the Port Authority
Best for: Budget Luxury Seekers, Couples
Frette linens right across from the Port Authority? Now that’s a surprise. Based on the grid of Manhattan and floras of Central Park, Distrikt Hotel has brought marble bathrooms; crisp, urban décor; iPod docks; free Wi-Fi; and a fitting motif to this formerly sleazy part of town.
Built slim and tall (32 floors and only five rooms on most floors), every group of three levels corresponds to a neighborhood of New York City, represented by a back-lit collage of site-specific photos that engage you as you step off the elevator—starting with the Financial “distrikt” on the first three floors and ending with Harlem on the highest three. Offering handsome appointments—gray and brown stained wood furniture, “espresso” leather headboards, subtle “grid” wallpaper and Frette linens, gray marble baths, ecru toiletries, complimentary shoeshine, and a New York brownie at arrival—Distrikt is a studied, chic departure from the pedestrian franchise budget hotels next door. Empire coffee is available 24/7, a “Flyte-Touch” panel provides updated flight times on a touch screen, and the use of several Mac computers is complimentary for guests in a funky lobby that also features a massive walnut carving of the New York street grid, and an ivy “Living Wall.” Some wine and coffee and most food is local at in-house Collage Bistro, where the overflow of guests from the compact reception area congregate. No need to come by bus; park next door and you get the special overnight rate of $24.
Rooms: $199-$459 per night
One W 58th St
Best for: Nostalgic Romantics
The classic elegance of the lobby at The Plaza
The Beatles loved to stay here. Truman Capote held The Party of the Century (his Black and White Ball) here. It’s where P. Diddy threw his extravagant $3 million 40th birthday party and where Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas got married. Many movies were filmed here and at least one plot line—that of Bride Wars—revolved solely around this establishment. To top it off, the famous children’s book character, Eloise, introduced many generations of girls to this hotel. So after a three-year, $450 million, lobby-to-rooftop gut renovation, how would The Plaza stack up to its own legend?
There has been some whining about the 181 condominiums carved out of former guest rooms. And a basement “mall,” while upscale, has lent a certain air of commercialism to the Plaza. But the remaining 282 guest rooms—gilded and fussed over with crystal chandeliers, claw-foot tubs, and Louis XV reproductions—are as grand as ever, while The Palm Court and Champagne Bar have been restored to the satisfaction of many Plaza disciples. The Oak Room is still ornate and weighty as a church, with its vaulted ceilings and original streetscape murals. Not too surprising is the success of one basement-shop standout: Eloise at The Plaza, a pink emporium of all things Eloise, where birthday tea parties on child-sized tables and chairs and mini vanity tables and three-way mirrors are training the next generation to dream of their own weddings at The Plaza.
Rooms: $575-$30,000 per night
New Yorker Hotel
481 8th Ave at 34th St
Best for: Boxing, Basketball, and Hockey Fans Who Appreciate Stunning City Views
The iconic and recently redesigned Hotel New Yorker at night
If you’ve celebrated a bit too much after a Knicks win at Madison Square Garden or wandered the exhibition booths at the Javits Center to the point of exhaustion, you could do much worse than seek shelter for the night at the nearby New Yorker Hotel. After a $65-$70 million overhaul, this 912-guest-room, former favorite of conventioneers and tour groups is back to being a contender in the above-standard category, with new luxury bedding, flat-screen TV’s, free Wi-Fi, and a sophisticated earth-tone palette.
Stained red carpeting throughout the lobby was removed to reveal a buffed marble floor, which, though an improvement, gives the large space the feel of a bus station. But the new massive Art Deco chandelier and stamped-gold ceiling sets the tone for the rest of the improvements; in the adjoining steel-and-neon Tick Tock Diner, you expect to bump into Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Unless you book a spacious “Double/Double suite” (two rooms, two beds, pull-out couch in the sitting room), rooms are small, but 20 here (which have to be reserved for $40) have what newer, more glamorous city hotels do not: balconies. Book any suite, and it comes with breakfast in the Sky Lounge, a windowed space on the 38th floor with unparalleled panoramic views. On a nice day or night, you can take your coffee and continental breakfast outside to appreciate the roof of Madison Square Garden below, and longer views of the Hudson River and New York Harbor.
Rooms: $119-$500 per night
303 Lexington Ave at 37th St (212) 689-5200
Best for: Families with Pets
The intimate “living room” lobby at the Affinia Shelburne in Murray Hill
According to Affinia execs, the “biggest hotel trend of the decade” is customization, so, brainstorming with the best minds in hospitality, they came up with “My Affinia.” You want an Ibanez guitar, golf putter, yoga mat, or city-walking-guide-loaded iPod waiting in your room when you arrive? Do you require water and food bowls for your can’t-stand-to-leave-him-behind Fido? Just e-mail or submit their web form ahead with your request and say no more.
After a $25 million basement-to-roof renovation, the formerly sagging lobby is now a series of funky chocolate-brown and orange intimate “living room,” featuring murals, in red silhouette, of “people connecting.” Guests get preferential access to the Rare View Rooftop Lounge, which throngs on Wednesday and Thursday nights (alas, not until April) and offers magical East River and New York skyline views. New deluxe suites have a “galley alcove” with a refrigerator and convection oven, perfect for pooped-out kids who just want to eat in and play Wii. The pleasing green and orange guest rooms are elevated from lackluster to cool with whimsical accoutrements like hand-embroidered figurative bolster pillows and whimsical cat- or dog-shaped cushions (depending on your preference). Upgraded bathrooms are clad in travertine and granite.
Rooms: $250-$900 per night
851 6th Ave at 30th St
Best for: Gen X, Boomers Seeking the Newest Thing
Breakfast with a view of Sixth Avenue at the Eventi Hotel in Chelsea
Some hotels fit a niche in a neighborhood; others define it. If you want to discover what the buzz is about in the first luxury hotel ever to come to “North Chelsea,” book a night or two at the Eventi. It’s new, from the ground up—the first 23 floors are hotel rooms and the top 54 are rental apartments.
Eventi is eclectic with a slant toward the artsy oddball; it’s tough to know what to scan first as you enter the lobby from what seems like Wholesale Handbag Row. A cute water and kibbles bowl sits on the cave-red marble floor (indicating a pet-friendly property); an oil portrait of a seductive woman peers out from heavy burgundy drapes behind the reception desk; a large museum-quality photograph of Central Park suspends from the ceiling; and intricately hand-carved wood panels allow light in through abutting windows—all in keeping with the “story of the hotel, which is called LIVE—Elements of Curiosity,” says General Manager Thomas Mathes. Zen-like rooms with sharply angled seating, toned in earthy browns from clay to caramel to black coffee are outfitted with the best Frette and feathers money can buy; beds, in Mathes’s words, are like “clouded envelopes.” Colorful tubes of Etro toiletries, each with an etching of a woman on sconce-like glass, punch up gray-veined white marble bathrooms. Rooms on the east side of the building look out onto Sixth Avenue and are perfect vantage points for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—book them now for November.
Rooms: $300-$750 per night.
Malerie Yolen-Cohen is a feature travel writer for Westchester Magazine, Newsday and other publications. She loves to inform readers of the most interesting, charming, luxurious hotels, inns and B&B’s in the Northeastern USA.