By Shari Hartford
Downtown New York City has taken quite a hit the past years…9/11, two hurricanes, Occupy Wall Street and a myriad of financial and building woes. But with the fighting spirit that has made this city, and this community, the center of the universe (at least to me) we have come back bigger and better than ever.
Nothing makes this more evident than the downtown hotel scene. Where once there was an occasional mediocre chain with floors of indistinguishable beds, there is now a vast selection of upscale and unique lodgings. And, 1100 more rooms are on the horizon. No just for the tired businessman, downtown is attracting discerning tourists and well-heeled financial types who want an “experience” rather than just a place to rest their head. With the wealth of transportation options – almost every subway line in the city for getting around the boroughs and a direct route to the new Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn – lower Manhattan is no longer a distant inconvenience.
But how to choose? I’ve done the work for you…bounced on the beds, tested the pillows, used the remote controls, the Wi-Fi and otherwise done a one-night, test run at what’s new, what’s hot and what’s trendy. Since there is a bit of Eloise in me, this was not an insurmountable task. So, next visit to the Big Apple, continue on past Times Square and experience what downtown has to offer.
After a nasty encounter with Superstorm Sandy, the Andaz is once again a beacon on Water Street. There is no traditional reception desk…instead the fashionably clad greeters armed with iPads completed the check-in process at record speed. The coolly lit halls were more high-end residence than hotel. And the cutting edge guest rooms were edgy and sophisticated, although I would have preferred less ambiance and brighter lighting. The electronic black out shades, modular seating, complimentary non-alcoholic drinks and snacks, free Wi-Fi and a soaking tub and shower room made my stay unexpectedly self-indulgent. Alas, the Spa is still under renovation but treatments are available in room. andazwallstreet.com
When Goldman Sachs moved into the ‘hood, just west of the WorldTradeCenter site, they naturally needed a memorable hotel for their visiting movers and shakers. So, the existing Embassy Suites Hotel was gutted and turned into the high-end Conrad [Hilton]. This new hotel festooned with huge pieces of art to rival a museum is fabulous! Ride the escalator up from street level to the sleek and modern15-story atrium lobby. The hotel, which has received Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, also boasts a rooftop seasonal bar, a wine bar and the renowned Mediterranean restaurant, Atrio.
As soon as I entered my suite (all accommodations have a two-room layout) I was in heaven. Larger than some New York City apartments, the interior design is sleek with muted tones and blonde wood. There are sliding glass panels that can close off the sleeping area, the living room or the mini bar. The desk is comfortable and functional with a wonderful lamp. In fact, the entire suite has terrific lighting – usually not the case and a personal pet peeve. But it was the bathroom that had me gasp. The separate rainfall shower was large enough for group bathing – and had the best-smelling body wash I have ever encountered. After sliding into my incredibly comfortable king sized bed I drifted off for a most restful night’s sleep. conradnewyork.com
DUANE STREET HOTEL
Tucked away on a side street in Tribeca sits this tiny gem of a hotel. With only 43-rooms, it epitomizes downtown – hip and stylish. Enter through the discreet front door and you feel like you are entering a private club: there is a small desk to check in, a bustling bar to the left and the highly rated Mehtaphor restaurant through that. My room was on the small size but had a black leather platform bed with matching headboard, with the only hint of color being a gorgeous red leather chair. The shining hardwood floors contributed to the charm, although there was a bit of an echo in the room with no carpet or rug to soften the noise. The room was equipped with all the modern amenities one would expect at a hotel such as this, including a fab walk-in shower, turn down service, Wi-Fi and luxury bath products. Need to stay in touch? Borrow an iPad for the duration of your stay. The ever present helpful staff insured that my brief staff was memorable. duanestreethotel.com
THE MILLENIUM HILTON
Overlooking Ground Zero, the Millenium took a direct hit on 9/11 and remained closed for renovation for about a year. But now, a decade later, it is long reopened, restored and with 569 guest rooms and suites it is one of the premier hotels in lower Manhattan. My room on the 54th floor had a magnificent panoramic view of the World Trade Memorial out one window and the Hudson River and the World Financial Center out another. The blindingly white bed linens and duvet were so inviting and the large bathroom well lit. My only complaint? No bathrobe. And in the morning when I woke to a predicted blizzard, the view from my perch was breathtaking. hilton.com
THE RITZ-CARLTON, BATTERY PARK
When you combine the grace and elegance of the Ritz-Carlton chain with bang-up water views, you get a premier destination at the entrance to historic Battery Park. From the time you enter the flower-filled lobby and are whisked away to your room (65% of the 298 guest rooms and suites have a water view—with a telescope for taking in the sights) you are transported to serenity. I found my stay at the Ritz to be the most tranquil of my one night stands – although the room was hardly the largest or the most modern. There was just something about the traditional furnishings and the beautifully made bed that was soothing. If your accommodation has Club Lounge accesses, please do pay it a visit. I sat for a glass of Champagne and a little hors d’oeuvres nibble and again the word “tranquil” keep coming to mind. The spa at the Ritz, while intimate, is relaxing and rejuvenating. ritzcarlton.com/batterypark
THE W NEW YORK – DOWNTOWN
Another new kid on the block is the W, located just across from the entrance to the 9/11 Memorial. This homage to glass, art and design is at once funky and sophisticated. Since opening in August, 2010, The W has earned its reputation as a both a destination for sleeping and also for hanging out. The 217 guest rooms have wonderful touches of whimsy – window shades that upon close inspection have tiny red “Ws” worked into the design, animal skin patterned wall paper, and such. Recessed lighting, lots of white and chrome complete the clean look. And once again, here’s that great walk-in rain forest shower! If the weather is nice, spend time at the Living Room Bar and Terrace for a snack or unique cocktail. It’s a bit of resort living in the heart of the Financial District. starwoodhotels.com
AND THEN THERE’S ALSO…
I couldn’t spend the night in every hotel in lower Manhattan, but some more notables are the Wall Street Inn, Mondrian Soho, Tribeca Grand, The Soho Grand, the Crosby Street Hotel, Gild Hall and the Smyth Hotel. We also have our share of Holiday Inns, Hampton Inns and Club Quarters. As you can see, there’s something for everyone.
Shari Hartford is the former managing editor for Diversion magazine, where she wrote about travel in the northeast and cruising. She is currently a freelance writer and editor based in her hometown of New York City.