One of the most important things to plan when visiting New York is, “Which hotel?” No rocket science that. But there are so many of them. So many hotels. And they are often terribly expensive. So, here, for your reading pleasure, is a review of the Crosby Street Hotel, where I stayed last weekend for 3 nights. It certainly qualifies as expensive, since rooms start at around $500/night, but I also have a few budget alternatives in my pocket to share. Remember, the family fortune is dwindling, and sometimes one’s job does not prefer to put one up at 5-star venues.
The Crosby Street Hotel is owned by the Firmdale Group, a London concern. As it turns out, this matters. The ethos of the place is dignified, pleasant, service in the best Anglo-Saxon tradition. (Oh, yes, I know there are bad Anglo-Saxon traditions, but hotel service isn’t one of them.) The aesthetic is both clubby and quirky. But the heart is New York, and the Crosby Street Hotel functions with Manhattan-esque efficiency smack dab in the core of cobble-stoned, 19th-century Soho. It’s even near the Spring Street subway station, on the #6 line. You can zip right on up to the Upper East Side if you must. I just don’t think you’ll want to.
Walk into the lobby to find the reception desk directly en face, as the French say. No need to navigate an echoing lobby. This is the perfect size, large enough that you don’t bump anyone, small enough to feel more like a tony, tongue-in-cheek apartment building than a hotel. Behind the desk clerk, little mailboxes for your keys, in the European style. Your keys, of course, are actually a plastic fob with some mysterious beeping technology, but never mind that. The large lobby statue of a head made from words makes clear you’re meant to be as much amused as served.
Two elevators. Phew. I hate those banks of 17 doors opening and closing with red arrows flashing and alerts buzzing. I always feel a faint anxiety that I will wind up on the 24th floor, unable to navigate my way back down, at the mercy of a mysterious card key I have failed to obtain.
The room itself is comfortable, elegant, colorful, and furnished with just enough extra details that, again, you feel both the aesthetic and the intent of the establishment. I mean, a little box of 3 aromatherapy lip balms as a favor? Thanks, Aunt Althea and Uncle Percy, the imaginary relatives you are coming to believe have invited you to their London house.
Althea and Percy have a unique sense of color, too. In the light of the floor to ceiling, paned windows, fuchsia is actually calming. Not something I thought I’d ever say.
The bed is properly fluffy, the television properly flat, the lighting properly adjustable, and the bathroom properly granite. My only quibble would be that I do not require enough room in the glass-walled shower to engage in Irish step-dancing and would much prefer a bathtub be included. Although the little runnels carved into the granite floor of the shower to enable fast drainage were a nice touch. Again, practical and graceful at once.
The hotel bar and restaurant is decorated in a similarly detailed, irreverent, and color-innovative style. Silver metal-covered bar tables. Light iron chandeliers hanging by the window. Warmly-colored glass globes overhead for light fixtures. And the most adorable felted wool chairs, each with a different totemic thingie appliqued on the back. All of which still manages to hang together. Nice work Althea and Percy. Super.
Althea and Percy have also managed to train a hotel staff to be solicitous, not obsequious. Having arrived very late, I was down in the bar hoping to eat, but the kitchen had closed. The waitperson, upon hearing I was a guest of the hotel, managed to find me some dinner anyway. Makes one feel quite, well, welcome.
At the end of the day, in a great hotel you must be both both home and away. Comfortable, in a foreign land. Witness orange stitching on felt pillows in the restaurant. Evidence of someone’s handiwork. The spinach and goat cheese omelette I had for breakfast was as good as those I make myself, and I make a very good one. Whole grain toast. A pot of loose leaf tea and a hotel silver tea strainer. Home.
If, in fact, you are thinking about going to New York, not just dreaming as I do at pictures of hotels in other places, I have some additional recommendations. For traditional luxury, I like the The Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South. The rooms are small but fitted out in wood-worked details like crown moldings and chair rails and built in vanities that merit the over-used term “jewel box.” Great park views too. For small luxury, I’ve stayed at 60 Thompson and The Gansevoort (good place for movie stars), but I prefer the Crosby to either of these, as the rooms are larger and the staff less prone to hipper-than-thou behavior.
If you’re traveling on a budget (at least in the Manhattan sense of the word), I have stayed in two places I can recommend highly. The GEM Hotel Soho stretches things a big with the Soho name, as they’re really on the Lower East Side. Oh well. Close enough. Manhattan is for walking. And, though they don’t have a restaurant of any sort, there’s an enormous Whole Foods right down the street, that serves a great breakfast upstairs. Yes, I said upstairs. It’s New York, of course the Whole Foods has an upstairs. Silly me, I was surprised. You, I am sure, have much better sense than I. Rooms are usually priced at $269, but they have a special offer this summer of $159/night with Choice Hotels membership.
I also like The Best Western Bowery Hanbee Hotel for <$300/night. It’s in the middle of Chinatown, which is rather underrated as a New York neighborhood. The Hanbee serves a cereal and coffee type breakfast, but right out the door you can find both bao (buns) and Western diner grub for very little. And in fact, the Hanbee is even closer to actual Soho than the GEM Soho.
I knew some day I would appreciate the frugal boss who introduced me to these places. Have a wonderful trip.