By Terry Trucco
When hotel historians – hey, they’re out there somewhere — look back on 2012, they’ll say what we already know: it was, for the most part, a very good year.
New York City boasts 91,500 hotel rooms – up from 90,000 in 2011. Put another way, 29 million hotel room nights were sold in New York City in 2012.
Manhattan’s newest hotels were among its cleverest (cheers to the NoMad, Conrad New York, Pod 39 and TRYP New York Times Square South). And hotels you’d actually want to visit are popping up in the outer boroughs – even Staten Island – with Brooklyn (and the hipster Wythe) leading the charge.
No one will say 2012 was always easy. Killer hurricanes that flood lobbies, kill the lights and uproot guests when nearby building cranes become unhinged don’t blow in every year (we hope). But as we slip into 2013, for most hotels – and current guests — Sandy is mere memory.
Here is my second annual list of what struck me as the best of the new.
The themed suites at the Carlton Okay, they’re gimmicky, but they’re also amusing and confirm our belief that the best hotel rooms offer an opportunity to try on a different life, if only for a night. Carlton, a smart 21st-century hotel in a meandering 1904 building, refashioned five large suites so no two are alike – or like anything you’ve seen. My favorite, the attention-grabbing Speakeasy Suite, has a secret room hidden behind a well-stocked bookcase, complete with a card table, a tommy gun replica and a bar.
The Waldorf-Astoria’s “new” Park Avenue lobby I bite my nails whenever a historic hotel undergoes a renovation. But the Waldorf’s refreshed Park Avenue lobby, completed in September, is cause for cheer (and easy on the nails). This soaring celebration of Art Deco is straight out of the architecture books — or a Fred and Ginger movie. The columns gleam. The gold leaf glistens. The allegorical Wheel of Life floor mosaic sparkles – all 150,000 pieces. Best of all, the renovation jettisoned the Waldorf’s outdated curtains, frumpy furniture and awkward skywalk seating area that was never part of the original plan.
The Wythe Hotel’s Brooklyn vibe I love hotels that personify a place. The Wythe, one of 2012’s most successful openings, is Williamsburg, Brooklyn ca 2012-and-beyond, down to the tiniest detail. A small brick hotel in a former waterfront barrel factory, it features a locavore restaurant (one of the year’s hottest), a splendid book-lined lobby (part quirky personal, part yard sale) and rooms labeled Manhattan or Brooklyn, depending on the view outside the windows. All this, and a roof bar, too.
The Lords South Beach pop-up hotel at the Inn on Rivington Pop-up restaurants? Been there. Pop-up shops? Done that. But New York hasn’t seen a lot of pop-up hotels. Lords South Beach, Miami’s famed gay boutique hotel, changed that in June when it took over the Inn on Rivington lock, stock and headboards during Pride Week. Lords tweaked the décor with touches of its New York signature color – hot pink – and additions, like Ricardo Bellini’s pixel portrait of ElizabethTaylor rendered in Nespresso capsules in the lobby.
The Proustian décor at the NoMad Boutique hotels are known as incubators for contemporary décor. Not the NoMad. This gorgeous new boutique is a meticulously detailed incubator for time travel – to fin de siècle Paris, to be precise (if you’re going to time-travel you might as well go some place good). From the free-standing claw-foot bathtubs next to the writing desk to the hidden WC in most rooms, this hotel looks like no other place in town. And the Library lounge, as well stocked with libations as books, is one of New York’s chicest, cleverest hotel bars.
The healthy fare at the Hyatt Hotels like to advertise that they offer all the comforts of home, only better. So why is it so hard to find healthy items like cage-free eggs, low-fat milk and grass-fed beef in the restaurants of most large full-service hotels? This year Hyatt introduced a new healthy fare manifesto (healthy choices, locally sourced, environmentally aware) on its menus. The result: Hudson Valley (and other upstate New York) dairy and produce, organic when possible, at Hyatt’s NYC properties including the Grand Hyatt New York, Hyatt 48Lex and the Andazes Wall Street and 5th Avenue.
Prosecco & Popsicles at Conrad New York In late 2011 Battery Park’s Embassy Suites closed forever, only to reopen in a chicer – and pricier – iteration as Conrad New York, the fifth branch of Hilton’s Conrad chain in North America. Appealing perks, aimed at the likes of Goldman Sachs, an owner of the property, include stylish suites, a superb fitness room, one of the best hotel shops in New York and a roof bar where the summer specialty was an iconic drink of 2011 – an alcohol-infused popsicle plopped in a big goblet of Prosecco.
The roof bar at Pod 39 The arrival of a chic budget-conscious property in New York is always reason to cheer. And Pod 39 follows the successful template of the original, frugal-but-fanciful Pod 51 hotel. When rooms are minute, clever public spaces are a must. Pod 39 gets it right with one of the most evocative roof bars in town – a roofless sundeck that looks like a Romanesque ruin and offers a view of the Empire State Building (architect Arthur Loomis Harmon, who designed the building in 1916, also helped create the Empire State). The drinks aren’t bad, either.
The lobby network at TRYP New York Times Square South Aside from having one of the longest and most misleading hotel names in New York – the hotel is closer to Madison Square Garden than Times Square – TRYP NYTSS, for short, stands out from the pack as a smart, good-looking moderately priced property. Among its smarts: a media suite with two HD TVs, Nintendo and a popcorn maker; sleeper sofas and bunk beds in the family suites; and a social media system for guests courtesy of LobbyFriend.
The new looks – and names — at One UN New York and The Roger The Millenium UN Plaza and the Roger Williams underwent successful renovations – and name changes – that set them up for the 20-teens. One UN New York emerged with smart new diplomat-ready rooms in its West Tower. And The Roger, younger and sleeker than its RW predecessor, sports an inviting lobby (I like the changing photography exhibitions on the columns) and crisply glamorous rooms in ink-blue and white. The hotel’s new icon – a bow tie – is sprightly, too.
And a nod to not-so-new The Sheraton New York Times Square started life as The Americana in – ta da – 1962. As part of its 50-year celebrations, the hotel saluted three employees who were there when the hotel opened its doors – and are still gainfully employed. New York isn’t Tokyo; lifetime employment here is an achievement. So congrats to Zoilo Vidro (bellman), Juan Medina (hotel steward) and Tilla Soeder (restaurant server) for their special spot in NYC hotel history.