In the Ace Hotel, the lobby reigns king. Comfortable chairs and stone tile work make for a comfy spot to work in the daytime, particularly over a cup of adjacent Stumptown coffee. At night, the scene heats up and soft drinks are replaced with harder ones, and the furniture is sometimes cleared out to host live bands. Grand columns squat like sequoias in the middle of the floor. At the hotel desk, a record collection curated by Other Music is kept for retail. And if this is not enough to entice a traveler to make reservations, The Breslin, a trendy restaurant awaits.
How is this for an architect’s resume: The Dakota (known today as the apartment building where John Lennon was shot), the original Waldorf and Astoria hotels, (subsequently torn down to make room for the Empire State Building), the Plaza Hotel, the Willard Hotel in DC and the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. Henry Janeway Hardenbergh designed the Hotel Martinique in two phases: the first part opened in 1898, and was then completed in 1910, with 600 rooms in total. The intricate mosaic flooring remains intact, as does the winding staircase that climbs eighteen stories.
All my assumptions about the Hyatt Herald Square were dashed upon entering the lobby. I assumed that the Hyatt Herald Square, as part of such a well-known, far reaching hotel brand, would be a reasonably generic, glamorous hotel like one would find in any other major city. I could not have been more wrong. As soon as I stepped inside and saw the fascinating art pieces, chic espresso bar, and unique layout, I realized that this was something special. The concierge is hidden at the back of the lobby, rather than the front, which invited me to explore the lobby’s many treasures before speaking to the staff. A series of clocks on the wall, inspired by Salvador Dali and echoing the shape and color of gourds, displayed the time zones of all the major fashion capitals. Plug ports were located by every seat so that guests could easily rejuice phones or work on laptops. Winding my way to the back, I met Nina Jones, the director of sales and marketing. She explained that all the main Hyatt hotels try to draw inspiration in their décor from the surrounding area’s history and culture. For the Hyatt Herald Square, that means drawing on the publishing and fashion worlds. Nina pointed out that the front desk was made from layers of old newspaper, and the brightly colored books creating a rainbow on the back wall were influenced by media and fashion. Nina went on to say that “Herald Heart, ” the spiraling mobile at the entrance, is made up of 151 sentences, carved from wood, representing the past and present of Herald Square. Having spoken with executive chef Gunnar Steden at Up on 20, I knew that the cuisine at the Hyatt uses local ingredients as much as possible and that even the snack counter around the corner stocks mostly treats from the Tri-State area. As I sipped on a Double Standard Sour in a classy pink hue at the lobby bar, Nina wowed me with the fact that most of the surfaces in the lobby are made from repurposed water tower wood. I left the Hyatt that day feeling like I had received a lesson in the history and culture of New York, as well as having been given a dose of highly-honed hospitality.
Originally constructed in 1905, this building became the home of the beloved Gershwin Hotel in 1992. In 2014, Triumph Hotels took over the space and invested a good deal in renovations, renaming it The Evelyn. As an homage to building’s artful and musical past, the guest rooms feature music note-tiled bathrooms, trombone-shaped chandeliers, and decorations inspired by the Art Nouveau style of the 1900s.
After visiting the newly opened Renwick, Olivia, Tom and I walked west to its sister hotel, the Gregory. Originally built in 1903 and known as “The Gregorian, ” its purpose was to house spillover guests from the Waldorf Astoria. It was designed to be reminiscent of Upper West Side homes, with rooms that were double the height of normal hotels. In the mid-twentieth century, the Gregorian closed and the building passed through the hands of different hospitality groups. In 2015, however, the Gregory opened with the goal of recreating the hotel’s former glory. Susan Richardson, the Director of Marketing at the time, was pleased to give us a tour of the newly renovated hotel and to share some of the history, while also pointing out the various amenities and features. The overall design of the hotel is inspired by elements of the fashion world, as it is located in the garment district. Susan also mentioned that the Gregory is the only hotel that is a member of the Save the Garment Center movement and that they have recently formed a partnership with Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Susan explained that the hotel was designed with the goal of feeling "homey. " The lobby was built to have the comfort of a living room, complete with the bar, called “The Liquor Cabinet. ” The whimsical idea behind the name is that guests can “raid the Liquor Cabinet” during happy hour. While chatting, the bartender made one of their signature drinks, the Ginger Bootlegger, made with Bootlegger vodka, Cointreau, and ginger beer. The cozy, home-away-from-home atmosphere is enhanced by the concierge desk, where guests are encouraged to sit down in an armchair as they check-in and to feel the warmth of the fireplace during the colder months of the year. Similar to the Renwick, the Gregory focuses on trying to manufacture many of the features of the hotel in New York City. The lobby’s wood floors were not only made in Manhattan, but cut right here in the building. The shelves, which held fashion books, sewing machines, and other relics of the design world, were also cut in the lobby. Adding to their strong link to its history, we observed the pictures of the original hotel on the wall, along with an old menu and various artworks from the early twentieth century. Before heading into the elevator, we stopped into Brendan’s, the lively Irish pub connected to the hotel. The restaurant used to be the Gregorian’s Palm Court. “They are a great neighbor, ” Susan said. Upstairs, we stepped inside an impressive guest room. It was remarkable how different the Gregory and the Renwick are, but with the same careful attention to detail and emphasis on guest comfort. Where the Renwick has eclectic images and outside-the-box design, the Gregory has clean lines and simple patterns. As Susan so aptly described it, “The Renwick is the artist and the Gregory is the tailor. ” There are hints of the fashion world everywhere, including Do Not Disturb signs made of ties and framed clothing patterns on the walls. Like the Renwick, each of the beds are custom made for the hotel. Although both hotels are designed for the transient traveler, Susan feels that the Gregory appeals to a slightly younger crowd - one that wants a warm, communal place to work and network. With that in mind, guests are encouraged to come down to the lobby for coffee in the morning and mingle with one another. The tech industry has started drifting into the neighborhood and Susan feels that members of the tech world appreciate the chance to meet people and work in the living room environment of the lobby. “We are creating a culture of offering guests an experience, ” she said, smiling.
Opened in 1903 as a place for only women to reside, this hotel on 29th Street has continually operated under many different names and owners (most recently, it has been known as the King and Grove and the Martha Washington). At the start, it attracted primarily those in business, but also had several noteworthy female guests who were actresses, writers and poets. It was not until the late 1990s that men were allowed to book rooms. Today, it has been completely renovated and updated, and invites people from around the globe to stay. The lobby is attractive and the rooms are small, but perfectly outfitted for traveler's needs.
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. We left wondering whether phantom customers are good tippers.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
This tiny shop tucked away in Kips Bay has been the go-to spot for any and all of one’s footwear-related troubles since it opened in 2014. Manuel Muicela, the owner, came to New York from Nicaragua in 1987 and quickly joined the trade of shoe repair, enduring grueling six-day workweeks. After gaining thirty years of experience in the field, he was finally able to open his own business. “I learned how to repair shoes, and now I work for me, ” he remarked proudly. In this residential area, most of his regulars live in the neighborhood. On the loyalty of his customers, Manuel noted, “If you do a good job, people come back. ” A few things about Manuel’s shop set him apart from the rest. One of the first things that grabs the eye upon entering is the set of old-fashioned shoeshine chairs, where one can get a shoeshine for $5, cash only. He also has a unique machine in the back of the shop that stitches both the inside and the outside of the shoe. With a chuckle, Manuel warned our team, “You can stitch your finger if you’re not careful. ” This machine is so rare that many other shoe repair shop owners throughout the city come to Manuel to use it.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill, ” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to. ” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.