By Terry Trucco
By the time 2011 morphed into a memory at the stroke of midnight, New York City boasted an unprecedented 90,000 hotel rooms. But the year that was didn’t just set records. If 2011 was a wine we’d raise a glass (and buy several cases).
The dozens of new hotels embraced notables like Dream Downtown, Hotel Americano and Mondrian SoHo. Shop-worn behemoths, like the Marriott Marquis, Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers and Grand Hyatt New York, refashioned themselves with 21st century panache. And buoyed by hip newcomers like Brooklyn’s Hotel Williamsburg and Queens’ Z Hotel and style-conscious chains like Aloft Brooklyn, the boroughs beyond Manhattan jumped gleefully into the game.
Most notably, more and more hotels established themselves as entertainment emporiums for savvy locals and out-of-towners alike. Here are our top ten picks for the best of the new, 2011’s innovations at new and old hotels that caught our attention and made us smile.
The lobby at the Mondrian SoHo We love Benjamin Noriega-Oriz’s fantasy lobby for the Mondrian SoHo, inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et La Bete (Beauty and the Beast). The tables sport carved animal feet, the ceiling is sprinkled with silver stenciled roses, and the lamps wear shades resembling the blue feathered hat flaunted by the deliciously daffy music lover in the Jerome Robbins ballet The Concert. Not many hotel lobbies can boast that. For all its newness, this 2011 lobby is the old-fashioned kind where you can hang out without being strong-armed into buying a drink or meal. We like that, too.
Mondrian SoHo, 9 Crosby Street; 212 389-1000.
The pool at Dream Downtown How many hotels have lobby skylights that look up into the pool? This design detail is cool rather than cheesy as is much on view at this 2011 Chelsea newcomer housed in a metal building punctuated with circles (and dubbed the cheese grater). The pool resides in the open amidst plants and potted trees on the second floor deck, adjacent to the bar, and it’s a beauty. It’s one of this geometry-obsessed building’s few deliberate rectangles; nearly everything, from the windows to the bathroom tiles to the mirrors, is a circle. Yes, it’s over designed, but Dream doesn’t play safe, and that’s smart.
Dream Downtown, 355 West 16th Street near Tenth Avenue; 212 229-2559.
The Yotel yobot Who knew checking a bag could be so entertaining? Residing in a gigantic glass cage that occupies nearly an entire lobby wall, the yobot sports a white mechanized arm that grabs your bag, stores it in a wall of white drawers when you check out and retrieves it when you leave. The show – and storage fee – is $2 per bag, one of the cheaper entertainments in Times Square. The Yotel, which opened in 2011 with pod-style rooms and a Japanese dining room that morphs into a dance floor, is pretty entertaining, too.
Yotel New York, 570 Tenth Avenue at 42nd Street.
The café at Hotel Americano It’s a bar by night, but by day this small café with an entrance directly onto West 27th Street is a find. Coffee, made individually and served in a large white cup, costs $2 – a giveaway by New York hotel standards. Cappuccinos and lattes are equally agreeable as is the setting if you can score a table or a seat at the bar. (Though new, the Hotel Americano is a classic boutique hotel, and space is limited.) Stacks of newspapers are at the ready. Best of all is the Americano’s location in the midst of Chelsea’s art gallery district and steps from the High Line. (Sweetening this chic hotel is its rooftop bar with a High Line view and an outdoor pool, open only to guests, in the back.)
Hotel Americano, 158 West 27th Street near Tenth Avenue; 212 216-0000.
The John Dory at Ace Two years after the Ace took over the site of the old Breslin hotel in 2009, the John Dory opened. Talk about worth the wait. A pitch-perfect oyster bar with tall round tables and a bustling air, it reminds us of a classic tile-lined fish palace in London’s East End. A no reservations policy means you’ll wait during prime time – you can shop at an adjoining outpost of SoHo boutique Opening Ceremony to kill time. But show up mid afternoon and you’ll waltz in (usually). We love the kedgeree, but chef April Bloomfield (Breslin, the Spotted Pig) knows her way around a fish menu as easily as the gastropub fare she’s known for. And the twin fish tanks the bookend the bar look great.
Ace Hotel, 20 West 29th Street near Broadway; 212 679-2222.
The toys at the Nolitan Unexpected details are a specialty of the small, contemporary Nolitan, which opened in 2011 in Nolita (North of Little Italy). Do Not Disturb signs are magnetized. Every closet contains a bright red yoga mat. Guests receive a packet of cards offering discounts at local shops, like Selima Optical, Sigerson Morrison and Vince. And this is the only New York hotel we know of that allows guests to borrow a skateboard as well as a bike. The hotel even has its own newspaper. The rooms look pretty good, too.
The Nolitan, 30 Kenmare Street at Elizabeth; 646 395-3539.
The Lexicon lounge at Hyatt Lex48 Not your father’s Hyatt. From the ground floor this small hotel, which opened in 2011, seems to lack a proper lobby. But the Hyatt Lex48 second-floor guest lounge dispels that idea immediately. Besides plenteous seating on the sleek sofas and swivel chairs, there’s a refectory table, a terrace, newspapers and art books galore and a welcoming contemporary fireplace, albeit gas jet. Best of all are the eats, provided by the stylish hotel restaurant Lexington Brass – continental breakfast, fruit and afternoon snacks (mini lemon-zest bars the day we visited). Coffee comes courtesy of a state-of-art WMF Bistro coffeemaker. Rooms are well appointed – they even sport dishwashers – so there’s no let-down when you finally wend your way upstairs.
Hyatt 48Lex, 517 Lexington Avenue at 47th Street; 212 838-1234.
The food at the Setai Fifth Avenue It isn’t often a brand-new restaurant scores a Michelin star on its first outing. But that was the happy fate of the Setai’s sleek Ai Fiori in October. The New York Times critic Sam Sifton liked it, too (three stars). Still, as the creation of chef Michael White, whose Altamarea group includes chic Italian restaurants Marea, Alto and Convivio, Ai Fiori comes to the table with impressive cred. And it doesn’t disappoint. Neither does the food at the Bar at Fifth Avenue, the pleasant if generic-looking bar. We’d happily eat the Nicoise salad with exquisitely seared tuna (pictured), served on Rosenthal china, any time we’re in the area.
Setai Fifth Avenue, 400 Fifth Avenue between 37th and 38th streets; 212 695-4005.
The roof garden at the Intercontinental New York Barclay When they say roof garden at the Barclay, they mean it. This isn’t the kind of garden you stroll through on a summer’s day or a restaurant garnished with a few trees in planter boxes. The Barclay garden, planted last summer, is the real deal, with a rooftop fleet of wood planters stocked with fruit trees, vegetables and herbs grown specifically for the hotel restaurant. Chef Serge Devesa dried roof-grown thyme for the hotel’s Thanksgiving dinners. Mint for the summer’s mojitos came from the roof, too. To keep everything properly pollinated, a colony of bees resides on the roof (and, when possible, provides honey for the breakfast buffet). We can’t think of a hotel in town with food this locally grown. Though dormant at present, the garden will be back this spring.
Intercontinental New York Barclay, 111 East 48th Street at Lexington Avenue; 212 755-5900.
The view from the Z roof bar What’s a sure-fire way to score a jaw-drop view of Manhattan? Build a roof bar on a hotel just over the East River in Long Island City, Queens. Proof positive resides on the 5,000-square foot rooftop lounge of the Z Hotel, which opened in July and affords 360-degree views of Manhattan. Even Mayor Bloomberg’s team agrees. When the major announced the hotel boomlet in the outlying boroughs, where did he hld his press conference? On the roof of the Z.
Z Hotel New York, 11-01 43rd Ave Long Island City; (212) 319-700011-01.