The emergence of the boutique hotel as a social hub has been one of the defining trends in New York culture over the last decade and a half. Places like The Standard, The Wythe, and The Bowery Hotel have become staples that have managed to elude the disinterest that comes with time. With that kind of sustained success, as locals check in to relax and unwind in droves, it should come as no surprise that the field is now filling up, with vacancies few and far between.
As I write this, I’m sitting in the Marlton Hotel. And something is working for me. The soundtrack, the coffee. The sound of clinking glasses as waitresses circle round tending to tables, of cocktails being thrown about in a tumbler. Guests enjoy drinks by the fire, businessmen murmur off imaginary numbers, a stylish girl tests her confidence, chatting up the decidedly charming bartender. This place, with its loud, yet unobtrusive energy, is in full season. That’s the hotel lobby du jour, an even more pronounced version of the social milieu that’s been thriving since The Bowery, The Marlton, The Nomad, The Wythe, and The Ace tapped in on this phenomenon.
The boutique hotel trend has hit a fever pitch, and it shows no signs of slowing down. A decade earlier everyone wanted to have a fashion brand, to be an editor, to start an agency; now, everyone wants to create a hotel. Even the concept of the boutique hotel has been redefined. No longer a place purely limited to guest fulfillment, it’s become a canvas, which balances hospitality and creativity.
Few restaurateurs or bar owners have escaped the hotel dream – with most telling you this project of theirs is ‘in the works.’ And while little offshoots like motels and B&Bs have rightfully earned their place as cheaper and more approachable outlets, the influence and grasp of this transitional space, this meeting ground of the hotel lobby, a place in which one now not only meets but stays awhile, has never been more apparent.
New brands are popping up left and right, the newest of the city’s hotels hidden under the scaffolding you most likely tunnel your way through every day. And so, the personalized, communal, creative space is no longer the exception, but the rule. For locals, that means more options than ever. Everyone’s a guest, even if you don’t have a room key. The impact extends to places like Soho House (and the forthcoming Ludlow House), which has traded in guests for members, and Neuehouse, which is effectively a reimagined hotel lobby that gives members a starker, productivity-friendly workplace complete with artwork, artisanal food and drinks, and a smattering of stylish events.
SIXTY Hotels subtly launched last year, led by the Pomeranc brothers, who added a touch of refinement to the Thompson hotels. Take the second floor at the SIXTY Soho – comfortable couches, carefully curated coffee table books, dimmed lighting, all a designer’s play at that all too desirable if-only-my-living-room-was-actually-like-this feel. Or the adjacent Gordon Bar, a popular watering hole in its own right, lined with artwork from Jason Pomeranc’s personal collection— luxurious, yet welcoming.
Few have achieved this feat as well as Sean MacPherson. A master of matching cozy with modern within his classic design tag, and that old-world-luxury-meets-bohemian-artist vibe that’s treated his ventures with such success. Yes, my bias may be real on this afternoon, it being a fall day that just begs for such a scene, for this fireplace, my favorite track by The Kinks pushing me along in my work. But I imagine the dozens of guests beside me feel that same tidal pull of a MacPherson spot.
Just as present it is at The Ludlow Hotel, which has emerged alongside The Marlton as one of the prime destinations for the downtown set as the Bowery before it. During the first year Vito Schnabel curated the artwork on display, a responsibility that has since shifted to private collectors seeking a communal space to showcase their acquisitions over cocktails and bites provided by the Dirty French team.
On the subject of drinks, let us not overlook one of the biggest nightlife trends stemming from the last decade: the rise of the craft cocktail. No longer reserved for those underground bars you’re only granted access to after entering a hidden passageway and rattling off some questionable password, cocktail culture is in full swing in the hotel industry. Lobbies serve as the beginning, the middle, and the end of the night, and beverage directors have their own way to accommodate guests.
Places like the New York EDITION pride themselves on their experienced bar team, serving up immaculate drinks that match the luxury of the space (the coffee infused whiskey ‘Cold Fashioned’ we sampled at a Bob Gruen party is one of the best drinks we’ve ever had). The elegant ivory lobby is only broken by the glowing golden bar that has an irresistible allure which guests are repeatedly drawn to. And that above – 14th street experiment – which creative boutiques so fear – has worked well for the EDITION, among others.
The lobbies are the best representation of this fleeting luxury that’s become increasingly normal – a far more stylish home away from home. Never before has this offering of comfort been so accessible. And within no time, the place feels all your own. Of course, it’ll be interesting to see how the concept will evolve, and how tastes will change when the market becomes oversaturated. It’s all but inevitable that the artwork, the quirky bourgeois bohemian décor, even the playlists, can be commercialized – devoid of the energy that forged them a fountainhead for creative communities. But for now, I’ll sip on my night cap writing motivation of Irish coffee, typing away to The Kinks in front of a glorious fireplace, lapping up the comfort of what amounts to my very own sumptuous home.
Words by Gautam Balasundar.
Article as featured in Whalebone’s 5th issue, the NYC Issue.