Manhattan’s new breed of design hotels

Timothy Barber
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YOU could argue that New York does hotels better than any city in the world. Historic luxury landmarks, hipster crash-pads, fashionable design hotels, groovy boutiques, high-tech business places – it’s got more, and better, examples of each than pretty much all of its rivals.

But even the best needs a shake up. The Big Apple has seen a slew of new launches this year (see box), including the two that have opened under the Hyatt Group’s Andaz banner. Both are in peachy locations – one on Wall Street, the other on Fifth Avenue in Midtown – and each does a good line in simple, stylish hospitality.

The Andaz concept is essentially an attempt by big, corporate Hyatt to tap style-savvy boutique culture. The original Andaz, of course, is the former Great Eastern hotel by Liverpool Street Station here in the City, which received its jazzy revamp a couple of years ago.

As well as sleek style, Andaz brings service innovations – wifi and mini bar (apart from booze) are free, and in place of a check-in desk you find staff with handheld computers buzzing around the lobby. Personally I’ve no problem with traditional check-in procedure, but Andaz staff are well drilled, and fall over themselves to make your day go better. The free snacks and wifi – still an annoyingly rare thing to come across in hotels – are most welcome.

First, then, to Wall Street. How funny that such a tiddling side-alley between the highrises somehow came to stand for the crashing power of an entire civilization – insert your own metaphor here. As a place to stay – well, it’s like staying in the City. You’re away from the normal tourist action (though Battery Park, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Police Museum are all worthwhile attractions in the ‘hood, and it’s an easy walk down to the Liberty Island ferry) but for a business visit to the financial heartland, it’s a banker (sorry). You would be able to hear the clang of the Stock Exchange bell from your room, were it not for the effective double-glazing.

The hotel itself is a masculine place, all glossy browns, greys and pressed bamboo finishes. It tries to make you feel relaxed – the lobby’s lounge area is meant to feel like a homely kitchen with it’s own baking ovens and a spread of cookies and muffins – but come on, there’s a running design theme based on the watermark from a bank bill. The private dining room is like a bachelor shag-pad with a dining table inserted. The main restaurant is a big place with a sensational morning spread – lunch may be for wimps round here, but brunch is a religion. The rooms are spacious – which is a real bonus in Manhattan – and smart in an unobtrusive way, with some dinky space-saving designs, very comfy beds and gorgeous big bathrooms. I liked the windows into the room to enable telly watching from the (large) bath.

At Andaz Fifth Avenue you need a suite to get a tub, but the huge walk-in showers do come complete with a ceramic footbath. Andaz Fifth Avenue is a bit more chic, everything designed in crisp black and white in a variation on the post-industrial loft style – exposed pipes, simple airy spaces, the odd mural – that’s so very NYC. Sitting on the corner of 41st street opposite the grand New York public library, it’s right in the thick of the Midtown action, and perfect for tourist and shopping activities. Saks Fifth Avenue department store, Grand Central station, MOMA and Times Square are all short walks away, and the Empire State Building towers over from a few blocks down.

Right in the noise it may be, but it’s a quiet, discreet place and all the better for it. Though it occupies the former HQ of fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger, you’d easily miss it from the outside – the little entrance on 41st Street barely even has a sign. The restaurant, which has an open kitchen serving food of the hearty, locally-sourced variety, is bright and laid-back, and there are nifty little lounge areas secreted around the first two floors, complete with numerous hefty coffee table books. The hotel’s sizeable dive-bar, which had yet to open when I visited – may create more of a party buzz, mind. But I’d head out for partying and keep both New York’s Andaz hotels for quiet comfort, something at which they excel.

Andaz Fifth Avenue: rooms from £207; Andaz Wall Street: rooms from £188.

It’s a year since the launch of BA’s Club World service from City Airport in Docklands to New York, and it remains a truly sensational way to go. It’s like travelling on a private jet – 15 minute check-in, just 32 vast seats that are more like flat-reclining thrones, onboard web access, and tasty food served when you want. Best of all, a brief refuelling stop at Shannon in Ireland includes customs and immigration, meaning you arrive at JFK as a domestic traveller and avoid a wait that can often last hours.

The Club World London City service departs twice daily Monday-Friday, and once on Sundays. From £2,187.

300 West 44th St,
A huge new hotel right by New York’s entertainment epicentre, also overlooking atmospheric Hell’s Kitchen (inexplicably renamed Clinton District), with views to the Hudson River. Corporate but comfortable, and touchscreen computers in each room are a nice detail.

123 Washington St,
The latest opening from the funky W brand is a 58-floor tower overlooking Ground Zero, with views over Battery Park and out to the Statue of Liberty. Expect plenty of slick style, and the outdoor Terrace bar is an extra draw.

Madison Avenue and 77th St,
Okay, not new – The Mark is a stalwart of Upper Eastside luxury – but it may as well be, having reopened this year after a three year renovation. It’s now one of the most stylish hotels in New York – a stunningly handsome place mixing bold design with a sense of ineffable elegance. The rooms are tranquil, the restaurant’s gorgeous and the cocktail bar – complete with cowhide sofas – is a must.

130 West 44th St,
Aiming to recapture the high luxuries of New York’s Art Deco heyday, hotel kingpin Sant Singh Chatwal’s new flagship is steeped in old fashioned opulence.

246 Spring Street,
Donald Trump’s new hotel is as bold and brazen as its dodgily-coiffured owner, towering over the surrounding area in a 46-floor tower that’s annoyed some locals but is packed with beautiful rooms and high-tech comforts.

27 Grand Street,
Opening in the heart of SoHo on September 1, the New York branch of Chicago’s James Hotel promises plenty of stylish razzamataz in its own purpose-built high-rise. With 114 naturally-lit it rooms, it will also feature the work of local artists, both established and up and coming.