By Terry Trucco
Lighten up was my verdict the first time I saw the smartly renovated lobby.
The walls and ceiling are the color of whipped cream. Enormous mirrors paned in black offer a clever take on industrial loft windows — and double the space, visually at least. And the rectangular chandelier hugging the ceiling looks like it was formed from crystal icicles.
Turns out I missed the point, as I discovered on a second visit, armed with a press release.
With a nod to the hotel’s name – the part that isn’t Affinia – the lobby is a visual ode to New York’s most famous island. The ups and downs of that custom-made chandelier are designed to replicate the Manhattan skyline. (Once tipped off, you can’t miss it.)
Additionally, the main seating area, replete with green velvet sofas set in a white stepped sculpture, is in the shape of Manhattan. That flew past me the first time as well. Though I walked around it and sat on a sofa, I initially came away thinking of ziggurats, soft ice cream cones, The Jetsons and even a Mayan pyramid under a coat of spray paint.
But yes, I could see the island’s shape in there as well once it was pointed out. It’s clever.
Lighted futuristically from underneath, it has no business being in a sprawling room with 1920s inflections that include the original floor tiles and a lacy, wedding cake ceiling. That only makes it more audacious, and eye-catching, even if it must be murder for the hotel staff that dusts it.
My advice: the hotel should put up a discrete sign highlighting these high-concept details. It’s fun to spot them, but I’m not convinced every visitor will channel Manhattan without a well-placed prompt. There’s lots to be said for a conversation-starter lobby.
All this is a huge departure from the lobby’s previous baroque appearance, with hooded chandeliers, faux-painted stone walls and lavender curtains that conjured a romanticized rendering of Miss Havisham’s digs (without the cobwebs).
It was high time for a change, especially after the 600-plus guest rooms received a smart new look in 2011 from the Rockwell Group (they were lightened up, too, with white walls, gray accents and grand-scale floral wallpaper).
One detail left unchanged: this is still an old-style lobby, where you can check your messages from the comfort of a black velvet wing chair, plug in your laptop at a table fired up with chargers or curl up on a sofa with USA Today (paper copies are stacked on the coffee tables).
A new grab ‘n go stocks bottled drinks and mainstream snacks near the check-in desk. But there’s no pressure to order cocktails or coffees to gain admission.
Sweeter still Affinia Manhattan hosts a Wine Hour featuring wines and fruit-infused waters for guests. The nightly event is offered at all four Affinia hotels, including Affinia Dumont, Affinia Shelburne and Affinia 50.
So if you’re staying at the Affinia 50 but wrapping up a late-afternoon meeting near Madison Square Garden, you can stop by the Affinia Manhattan for a glass of wine – and check out the new lobby. Just remember to think Manhattan.