Only four of the Bowery Hotel’s 17 floors have opened for business, but the fireplace in its whiskey-colored lobby already hisses. The thick velvet curtains are up, the over-worn Oriental rugs are down, and there’s pricey booze in the back-room tavern, as well as seven copies of The Times in the old-fashioned newspaper racks.
But this isn’t the first Manhattan hotel to be so bucolic and erudite. Ian Schrager’s recently redone and fawningly received Gramercy Park Hotel stands 18 blocks northward, casting a tall, dark and handsome shadow over its young competitor.
The double-height Gramercy ground floor is fit for lean modeling types: Thanks to co-designer Julian Schnabel, there’s a monster Cy Twombly on one wall—the kind of madman painting a bunch of open-mouthed kids might ogle if open-mouthed kids were allowed in the vicinity. (The local park, after all, is locked.)
And there are two man-sized white stone hearths with relatively petite fires, the scenic centers of gravity for the lobby, and the dominating Rose Bar one room over.
The Bowery Hotel is Gramercy’s little brother, squatter and less arty, but with the same genetic code. The white stone hearth isn’t so massive—and the exposed wood planks up on the ceiling are somehow less precisely designed.
The Bowery goes for its predecessor’s rustication, yet there isn’t the same elegance. Here, too, are red velvet curtains, although these are saloon-like and apparently secondhand. Then there are the velvet chairs around the fire: Gramercy has a prissy stripe that ties the furniture together, but the Bowery has ragtag antiques.
Nevertheless, both befit a mustachioed pipe-smoker, as these hotels are plush in the burliest way possible.
THEN COME THE BEDROOM WALL LAMPS: Unmistakably, it’s the same accordion-like metallic arm stretching out from either side of the hotels’ beds. They’d be identical twins if the light shade went down instead of facing up.
Has the style been pilfered? Is this wall-lamp and fireplace thievery?
“The design of the Bowery Hotel was planned long before the Gramercy Park Hotel was completed,” said a spokesperson for Bowery developers Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson, who constructed the porthole-clad Maritime Hotel on West 16th Street. (They are also partners in the fiercely supercilious new West Village Waverly Inn restaurant.)
“The Gramercy Park Hotel,” said the spokesperson, “was not a design influence for Sean and Eric.”
The 59-year-old Mr. Schrager probably wouldn’t agree, although his publicist wouldn’t confirm whether he had seen the Bowery’s new hissing fireplace or velvet chairs or accordion lamps. “They are friends of mine,” said Mr. Schrager, through a spokesperson, about Mr. Goode and Mr. MacPherson, “and I wish them all the success in their latest venture.”
Does the development timeline leave a window for those friends to have emulated either the Gramercy Park Hotel’s minute details or overarching aesthetic?
Mr. Schrager bought the Gramercy in 2003, 79 years after it was built (and long after Babe Ruth and Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello first became guests). Backed by art-collecting developer Aby Rosen and his partner, Michael Fuchs, he supposedly spent $200 million on a renovation, then reopened in August.
Messrs. Goode and MacPherson made their purchase in 2004, just as their building was being cheaply transformed from a garage into a residential tower. Except for the rooms on Floors 8 through 11, the hotel hasn’t been completed yet—so the restaurant Gemma and an additional bar on the gorgeous half-outdoor second floor aren’t completed. (Everything will be open in two months.) Luckily, like Gramercy Park, that bar will also have a billiards table.
Only in the very catty and very lucrative business of Manhattan hotels would an accordion-armed lamp or a barroom pool table be noteworthy.
But these are bubbly days in New York: According to the hospitality-research firm PKF Consulting, local room prices hit a record in 2005, then went even higher last year. Plus, occupancy numbers are nearly as steep as they’ve ever been, thanks to the record quantity of fanny-packing tourists.
Boutique hotels have even spread to Long Island City! The Ravel (a former prostitutes’ hangout) and Z Hotel are under construction there.
BUT EVEN IF THOSE OUTER-BOROUGH establishments lack the velvetiness or the fireplace, Mr. Schrager probably thinks he’s influenced them. After all, he credits himself with inventing the boutique hotel—an urban oasis where bohemians and celebrities and the rich and the arty show themselves off and only sometimes sleep over.
After going to jail with Studio 54 partner Steve Rubell (for evading taxes at their debauched discotheque), Mr. Schrager began his hotelier-inventor life in 1984, creating a neon-tinted plastic pop sheen for his Morgans Hotel on Madison Avenue.
He began a now-defunct partnership with designer Philippe Starck for 1988’s lively-lobbied Royalton Hotel on West 44th Street. Then came Miami’s garish Delano and West Hollywood’s glassy Mondrian, among others.
If those are the granddaddies of hip hotels, won’t Gramercy Park Hotel’s plush, fire-lit high-artiness inevitably be aped? That’s just what Mr. Schrager has aimed for: “I expect it will be a prototype for the hotel industry the same way my first hotel was 25 years ago,” he’s said.
Purposefully or not, the Bowery has fulfilled Mr. Schrager’s self-adoring prophecy by creating a slighter and less leggy version of Gramercy. (Another lavish similarity: The headboards are both covered in velvet.)
But the Bowery Hotel happens to be severely appealing: the kind of place to regale an out-of-town girl with opinions on antique armchairs and bourbon and hand-carved wood paneling and Flannery O’Conner. The literate, lodge-like ground floor—with antique books and scattered mounted antlers—will be a debonair hangout for New Yorkers who don’t drink under Cy Twomblys.
Ian Schrager may be a visionary, but he’s not an inviting hotelier for most Manhattanites, especially the ones below 30.
The Bowery Hotel is charmingly easygoing compared to the Art Club terror of the Gramercy Park environs. And, more importantly, it is blissfully stylish compared to the sorority-girl terrain that’s spread from the St. Marks strip mall to Houston Street.
Alone, the Bowery lobby’s backyard view of the green New York Marble Cemetery makes up for the petty peculiarity of an unoriginal bedside lamp. And the views get better higher up, where the Village spreads out like some pretty foreign town.