On the northwest corner of Mercer Street and Prince Street :
One massive, shining, white brick wall, lit from below, stretches the length of the large, high-ceilinged lobby bar in the Mercer Hotel. At one end, a wall of books includes Helvetica: Homage to a Typeface , The Lexicon of Shoes , Palestinian Cabinet Members . Slipcovered chairs and Ikea coffee tables are scattered throughout.
Seated in a corner: Denzel Washington is absorbed by his cell phone. Michael Richards-remember him? Kramer?-leans over to me.
“It’s celebrity time,” he says.
This lobby bar is meant for hotel guests, friends of hotel guests and associates. But the soft-spoken waitress wearing a black frock isn’t inclined to kick you out: She’ll just avoid serving you.
Moving from the large, brightly lit lobby bar through a doorway into the small, dimly lit Mercer Kitchen bar next-door: A Little Shop of Horrors rubber tree rests on top of the counter. Rectangular box-glass chandeliers glisten through the room. On this cold night, the temperature inside seems to hover somewhere around 30 degrees. Many coats and hats. A tall, thin, expensive blonde wearing a white suede coat, her nose stuck high in the air, stands in the middle of the passageway blocking traffic, dialing and redialing her mobile phone. She cuts a striking figure, but close up, her meanness dominates her beauty. When her date finally shows up, she dives into revelry.
A red-haired waitress with soft, creamy skin recommends the brioche pudding.
I’m seated against the wall, sipping a ginger margarita, next to a group of Frenchmen in the corner eating dinner. Their table is covered with plates, glasses and utensils.
Gazing out the large glass window, I notice the caged naked mannequins in the Prada store across the street. Suddenly, a massive Great Dane charges through the door, a bolt of canine lightning, heading straight for the French group in the corner! Before they know what hit them, the Great Dane opens up and devours their rolls and butter. He eats right off the table. He’s about to go for more when his owners come and retrieve him, but not a word of apology to the Frenchmen. No wonder zey hate us!
Ms. Uma Thurman strolls modestly through, wearing lavender and white.
Downstairs, in the restaurant portion of the Mercer Kitchen: at one end of the space, a white tiled kitchen in vivid relief, a bright stage to the dark theater of the restaurant where the patrons dine. The chefs, sous-chefs and servers are all actors in the play. There are rough brick walls and columns, large mirrors framed in dark wood, candles fixed against them. On one side of the dining area, more Little Shop of Horrors plants on the bar surface. The bartender in short sleeves blows hot air into his hands repeatedly. “I wish I was wearing long underwear,” he says.
I pass by two doors opposite each other, with an employee seated on a chair in between. He motions to his right.
Down another flight of stairs, past the boiler room and the engineering room, you’ll arrive at a really small dark cellar bar, for those in the know; this one is sometimes open and sometimes not. Now I’m on a bar stool at the counter, waiting for a table.
On my left is a thirtysomething bachelor, with spiky product hair and high-contrast highlights. Spiky removes a thick stack of $20′s from his wallet and places the bills on the bar. He’s comparing notes with his buddy: “She’s got serious separation anxiety-every time she goes back to D.C.”
The bartender refills Spiky’s drink, takes a $20 and brings him his change.
“So I’m like, ‘Listen, I’m not going to call you every day,’” says Spiky. “‘And don’t ever call me and wake me up when you know how hard I’ve been working.’ I mean, she’s got serious separation anxiety.”
The bartender keeps refilling. After a few rounds, Spiky collects his stack and leaves three bucks on the counter.
Farther down the bar, a woman in a blouse and jeans wears a massive Russian fur hat, with big flaps coming down over her ears. Fur is everywhere: collars, trim, jackets, coats.
On my way out, I spot the naked Prada mannequins. Baby, it’s cold outside.
On the northeast corner of Mercer Street and Prince Street :
Thenakedcagedmannequins are less intimidating than the army of 24 identical mannequins in precise rows, dressed in different Prada outfits. They all have their heads cocked in the same direction, and other than their clothing, the only perceptible difference is lip color-some pink, some mauve. This Prada “epicenter,” designed by Rem Koolhaas, exceeds expectations. An Epcot for Stepford Wives. Two giant naked mannequins, possibly 12 feet tall-one male, one female-watch over the others, along with a real live security guard.
A little farther, past the large glass futuristic elevator, is the next phalanx of 24 mannequins, who could come alive and kill at any moment. A long set of stairs, the width of the entire store, descends-and then, directly across, another set of stairs ascends in the opposite direction. There are impossibly high ceilings and an indulgent amount of open, echoey space, with relatively little merchandise. Prada wants us to know that they can afford to have a block-long store and keep it mostly empty: a spectacular design and a statement of superiority. The place is big, but you can’t hide. Lots of monitors and screens remind you of the cameras. If you walk down the wrong side of the stairs to inspect the mannequins up close, a guard will appear to let you know that you’re in the restricted zone. If you spend too long in the dressing room playing with the settings for soft, neutral and bright light, or watching the film of yourself in the mirror, a friendly voice will ask you if you’re O.K.
And at that point, you realize that someone somewhere is watching you in your bra and underwear.
The other kind of dressing room has a glass door that you can fog up for privacy-only some customers get confused and change their clothes without fogging up the glass, said one salesperson.
On the southeast corner of Mercer Street and Prince Street :
L’Occitane en Provence’s newest location has yet to open, but when it does, it will be a Mediterranean-lifestyle concept store featuring a combination of gourmet foods (including Oliviers and Co.’s specialty olive oils) and body-care products, as well as candles, fragrances and sunscreens. The location will also include La Table, a tapas-style Mediterranean restaurant; the tables will be decorated with L’Occitane products.
On the southeast corner of Mercer Street and Prince Street :
Monte Bernstein, a regular at Fanelli’s, says he’s been coming here for 30 years. Faded pictures of fighters plaster the wall of Fanelli’s: Joe Louis, Kid McCoy and Rocky Graziano. The absence of music doesn’t seem to affect business; neither does the frequently broken heating. A bacon cheddar burger costs $9.75; a steak sandwich, $9.50; a Red Stripe, $4.75. A “Happy New Year” helium balloon clings to the ceiling-from what year? You guess.