By Terry Trucco
One day a parking lot, the next day a hotel. Okay, the Nolitan wasn’t built in a day. But after years when new hotels mostly grew out of old buildings, New York’s latest properties are rising from the ground up. Consider the Mondrian SoHo, Yotel Times Square, Dream Downtown and the James, to name a few.
The 55-room Nolitan, which opened this week, joins this group with one big difference. This is the first hotel in Nolita, the crunchy, east-of-SoHo neighborhood that nudges Chinatown and Little Italy (hence the North of Little Italy moniker). A spiritual subset of the Lower East Side, Nolita feels like a genuine neighborhood with its mix of hip restaurants and shops next to old-time bakeries, glam-free warehouses, auto repair shops and miraculously, almost no chain stores. Greenery is scarce, but the skyline is low.
How does this translate into a hotel? We headed downtown to find out.
An early Web site photo displayed a traditional brick edifice, so we were startled to see a wide glass-and-metal structure cutting a hip but low 21st-century profile that blends with the surroundings. Owner Edmond Li, a local real estate developer, wanted an open, light-filled lobby – nothing dark or intimidating, we were told – and he got it. Build a hotel from scratch, and floor-to-ceiling windows are yours.
Those windows amplify the space as does the open, loft-style layout. (Grzywinski+Pons, the hotel design team, also did the contempo-chic Hotel on Rivington.) For a small hotel, the airy Nolitan feels larger than it is. The lobby offers two modestly generous seating areas punctuated by kicky mid-century mod-style pendant lights that channel Calder mobiles. Tufted cognac-colored leather sofas dress up the cozier seating area, a laid-back library well stocked with Phaidon coffee table books and bordered by a clever frosted glass panel, ridged like a Ruffles potato chip, and nifty wood-framed mirrors that swivel. Behind stands ellabess, the hotel restaurant helmed by chef Troy Unruh and furnished in downtown-spare dark-wood tables and chairs. (Ellabess hadn’t yet opened when we visited, but early reviews range from raves to meh.)
The laid-back-glam-meets-industrial-loft vibe migrates to the rooms upstairs. Consider the chic oak floors, concrete ceilings and ceiling fans. Corner rooms are the showpieces. A brief hallway with a closeted toilet and a generous clothes closet leads to a sleeping area that overlooks an urban cityscape — and the Williamsburg Bridge. Storage drawers hide beneath the queen wood platform bed, dressed in 300-count cotton sheets from One Park Avenue and a zingy red throw. Frosted glass windows, paired with large clear glass panes, offer privacy and light (floor-to-ceiling curtains swish closed for privacy).
The good-looking open bathroom features a Corian washstand, stall shower and a gorgeous egg-shaped soaking tub with a window view. The room has so much panache you almost forget it’s rather small.
Single-window rooms, also compact, look much the same, with peek-a-boo stall showers overlooking the room (a curtain pulls over the glass) but no bathtubs. Better still, more than half the rooms sport glass-fronted balconies – narrower than Juliet would have liked but plenty big if you want a breath of air or a glass of wine alfresco.
What we liked best were the details. Magnetized Do Not Disturb signs, a bright red yoga mat in the closet, bespoke bath products by Nolita-based Red Flower, a packet of discount cards from local shops like Selima Optical, Sigerson Morrison and Vince, free WiFi – fun stuff, in other words. You can borrow a bike or a skateboard. You can check out at 2 pm. The hotel even has its own newspaper, the Nolitan. The de rigueur roof deck/bar/lounge is coming soon.
Lots of thought went into the place, in other words. In the curious, competitive world of boutique hotels, the Nolitan more than holds its own. Rooms start at $259 through the end of August.
The Nolitan, 30 Kenmare Street at Elizabeth Street, 212 925-2555.