By Terry Trucco
Walking into the new Conrad New York hotel gave us weird déjà vu.
Greeting us at the top of a wide marble staircase was Sol LeWitt’s towering Loopy Doopy, a feast of purple swirls plotted on a blue grid. But what was it doing on that wall?
We’d seen the space before, of course. The Conrad occupies the 16-story brick structure built in 2000 to house an outskirts-of-the-Financial District outpost of Embassy Suites. We spent a night and wrote about it shortly after it opened. Then as now, Loopy Doopy, 100 feet tall and 80 feet wide, was entrancing and imposing (it gobbled up 100 gallons of paint). But the lobby looked so altered, with futuristic furniture lighted from beneath and bursts of orange punctuating the cool gray and white surroundings, the mural’s location seemed different, too.
Most remarkable was the architectural sleight of hand that made the brute lines of the
15-story atrium all but disappear. Credit the trompe l’oeil magic of Veil, Monica Ponce de Leon’s artful aluminum triangles suspended mid-air in an intricate network of webs, and a metallic scrim shielding the glass-fronted elevators (riders can see out but lobby viewers can’t see in).
The new lobby was like the hotel version of the classic movie makeover — Audrey Hepburn going from plaid jumpers to Givenchy gowns in Sabrina or Julia Roberts shedding the blonde wig and dominatrix boots to become a full-throttle Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. You see the ghost of the original, but only if you look closely.
Twelve-year-old hotels rarely get such extreme makeovers, but Conrad, a Hilton brand that’s big internationally but only five hotels strong in the US, aims to make a splash in New York. Conrad’s contemporary take on luxury – complimentary shoe shines and in-room wet bars are part of the package – represents a leap up from the previous occupant.
So, too, do the constellation of businesses surrounding the hotel. Replacing shopping mall favorites like Applebee’s, DSW and New York Health Club are Danny Meyers’ Blue Smoke Barbeque, Shake Shack and new North End Grill (two stars from Pete Wells) as well as Blooms, the stylish florist that supplies Conrad’s statuesque lobby arrangements and sells camera-ready bouquets starting at $130. (Regal Battery Park Stadium, a multiplex movie theater, remains we’re happy to report.)
In a space-starved city, Conrad’s biggest luxury could be its elegantly packaged elbow room.
Nothing is cramped. The lobby is airy and spacious. You could do cartwheels across the floor without bumping into anything. But the space is used cleverly. We like the smart placement of the curving sofas lighted by sleek gray lamps that seem to grow out of the carpeting like giant daisies; groups can mingle easily without disturbing others. We also like that you can hang out with a newspaper or iPad without ordering a drink, though drinks are available from the adjoining bar.
The spaciousness extends to the 463 suites, starting at 430 square feet. The room we saw, styled in serene creams, grays and browns, felt like a businesslike, if compact, one-bedroom apartment with contemporary furniture and a hint of downtown style. You could hold a small business meeting in the sitting area (a glass door styled like a shoji screen slides shut to separate sitting and sleeping rooms). A flatpanel TV sits atop an ample desk opposite a velvet club chair, a cool mid-century-inflected coffee table and a sleek sleeper sofa.
Handsome built-ins abound. A wet bar is outfitted with a Nespresso coffee maker, a phalanx of glasses and a minibar. And in the sleeping area, the wall-mounted 42-inch flatpanel TV is part of a good-looking configuration of closets and drawers opposite the king-size bed. (The room was one of the lucky ones with a heart-pounding Hudson view.)
Though the number of suites is the same as in the hotel’s previous incarnation, rooms were gutted during the renovation. (Note to anyone who stayed previously: those annoying sitting area windows facing the atrium are history.)
The brand new bathrooms, encased in stone and marble, feature deep rectangular sinks and dual-flush toilets. A spacious, stone-clad stall shower merits a separate room.
We didn’t get a chance to try Atrio, the hotel’s Mediterranean-inflected restaurant and wine bar billeted in a big, white, retro-futuristic expanse off the lobby. Another time. Conrad New York is intriguing. A roof bar is coming in May. The hotel is aiming for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification. Even the location on a small side street near Battery Park feels less like a southern-tip-of-Manhattan Siberia than it once did. (The hotel handed out free coffee and donuts to taxi drivers prior to opening as an enticement to return.) We’ll be back.
Conrad New York, 102 North End Avenue; 212 945-0100. Opening rates start at $249 through August, subject to availability.