By Terry Trucco
I love hotel libraries, book-lined havens – or at the very least, a cozy room with a couple of well-stocked shelves – where you can climb into a big, squishy sofa or club chair. Sure, you can byo, but half the fun is discovery – that obscure novel you missed, a travel or photography book you’ve never seen or a Dutch design magazine you didn’t know existed.
Paper rules at hotel libraries. Elsie de Wolfe knew nothing warms up a room like books, and generations of decorators absorbed her edict. Let’s face it — most hotel libraries are decorative. (For the serious stuff, check out New York Public Library on 42nd and Fifth Avenue.) Increasingly, hotels garnish their sitting areas with picture books, like the lounge at the new Hyatt 48Lex. A few flaunt full-fledged libraries.
Here are five I love – and a few more I like a lot.
Library Hotel, 229 Madison Avenue at 41st Street; 212 983- 4500.
At most hotels, the library is a room. But the Library’s library boasts more than 16,000 volumes and encompasses the entire building. Organized according to the Dewey Decimal System, each of the 60 guest rooms is a book lover’s dream, a mini library named for its literary topic, from Economics to Erotica. In the lobby, art books line a wall and stacks of bookmarks printed with hotel information sit on the check-in desk. My favorite haunt is the second floor library lounge, its floor-to-ceiling bookcases jam-packed with eclectic titles. Curl up on a banquette with a complimentary coffee and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces or Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People or Low Fat Living. Or look up bibliophile in the mammoth unabridged dictionary on the windowsill. Something for everyone, in other words.
Trump SoHo, 264 Spring Street near Varick; 212 842-5500.
The first time I visited the mezzanine library at Trump SoHo, a wedding party was posing for pictures. Small surprise. This glamorous sitting room, outfitted with a wall of art, architecture and travel books, is picture perfect. Plop into a hyper-stylish (and surprisingly comfortable) sofa, club chair or window seat (splendid vistas through floor-to-ceiling windows) and page through a lavishly illustrated volume on Renzo Piano, Santiago Calatrava or Michelangelo. Or pull up a Fendi Casa armchair at the enormous gator-embossed leather table and pore over Helmut Newton’s edgy photos. (Order coffee or something stronger if you plan to settle in.) Like this year-old high-rise hotel, the books look new and fresh (I love the huge illustrated tomes, like one on Mohammed Ali, lying open on a table by the window). Caveat: all the books are from German publisher Taschen, whose name even appears on the bookcase. Talk about product placement.
The Mercer Hotel, 147 Mercer Street at Prince; 212 966-6060.
I stayed at The Mercer six months after it opened in 1998, and one of my enduring memories – besides that of the glamorous soaking tub in the room I wished I’d had – was of the lobby library’s well-stocked bookshelves. The books reflected the standard SoHo enthusiasms – fashion, photography and art – and I crawled happily into a club chair with a volume of Robert Mapplethorpe’s flower photos. Fast forward to 2011. The Mercer’s wall of bookcases is still well stocked and still entertaining (shelves of faux volumes in tastefully colored jackets wink above the real books). Besides a comfortable sofa, the reading area includes tables, usually occupied by laptop users. You can hang out though you’re encouraged to order a coffee or a drink. Bonus: besides books, there’s a smart selection of magazines.
The Iroquois New York, 49 Wes 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues; 212 840-3080.
A pocket of a room at the front of the lobby, the Iroquois library is so compact you’ll miss it if you blink, but it’s a pleasing little lair with wood paneled walls, two guest computers, buttery leather club chairs and well-stocked bookcases. As befits a midtown hotel frequented by business people and tourists, books focus on New York — The Encyclopedia of New York City, Harlem Lost & Found, a guide to the Metropolitan Museum and a volume of Annie Liebowitz photographs to name a few. Books are in good shape (a sign asks that they not be removed from the library). But you can bring in a complimentary coffee or water from the lobby and curl up. An excellent selection of newspapers, too.
The Maritime Hotel, 363 West 16th Street and Tenth Avenue; 212 242-4300.
Problem: the long, narrow lobby looks like a bowling alley. Solution: bring in bookcases to break the room into discrete seating areas. And that’s how the Maritime wound up with a lobby library stocked with several thousand volumes. The bookcases, each topped with a model ship, are low and wide, studded with shelves on both sides. You can study the stacks from a stylized deck chairs or 1950s-style tubular loveseat. At night, votive candles set the coffee tables aglow and drinks are served. I’ve seen readers almost every time I’ve passed through. Are they perusing the eclectic art titles like Whistler, The World of Jazz or Early Chinese Graphics? Not when I’ve been around (try paperbacks, movie scripts and printouts of the bill). Still, the books are there if you want them, and the lobby has never looked better.
I also like:
The Nolitan, 30 Kenmare Street at Elizabeth; 212 925-2555.
As befits a small hotel that makes smart use of its space, the Nolitan’s lobby is two sided – a sofa-lined space centers around the check-in desk and a sunken seating area demarcates the library, consisting of a streamlined bookcase stocked with art, fashion and movie titles from Phaidon. I prefer library offerings from multiple publishers – they feel like libraries instead of advertisements. Still, I’m not going to quibble about peruse-worthy titles like Orson Wells at Work, Eastwood on Eastwood and monographs on Pop, Minimalism and Surrealism. And the inviting sofa and club chairs look as good as they feel.
Hudson, 356 West 58th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues; 212 554-6000.
A dilly of a room, the Hudson library has literary inflections but mainly it’s a bar. With its centerpiece pool table, caramel leather sofa, commanding fireplace (gas-jet) and game tables scattered about, it’s quite a play space, a hip, lived in riff on an English country house library. Books line the double-height room’s upper reaches, but they’re good-looking fakes. Real books are scattered throughout, light reading like Taschen’s All Time Movie Favorites and Taschen’s Paris Interiors. This is, in other words, a terrific place to byo Nook Book and curl up with a martini. Prefer paper? The lobby vending machine usually stocks Catcher in the Rye and Great Expectations.