No Vacancies Til Brooklyn: How Three Kings of Kings County Conquered Williamsburg, and Gentrification Itself

Mr. Lawrence, the inn keeper. (Matt Chaban)

One of the very first buildings the pair stumbled upon was 80 Wythe Avenue. It had been the longtime home of Newcastle Fabrics, a producer of woven fabrics used everywhere from NASA to Tiki Lounges. Newcastle had moved to North Carolina in the 1990s, and the building had lain vacant for years, gathering all that graffiti. In 2006, with the neighborhood exploding, the family that ran Newcastle decided to sell.

Three other parties were interested in the space, as well, at least two of whom who also had plans for a hotel, according to Mr. Lawrence. The friends were outbid on the property and began looking elsewhere. “It was like meeting the girl of your dreams and then having to go on all these crummy first dates because you couldn’t be together,” Mr. Lawrence said. They looked everywhere from Gowanus to Park Slope and almost took a spot on the border of the Navy Yards in Fort Greene.

“Then, lucky for us, everything fell apart,” Mr. Walentas said.

When the world briefly imploded in the wake of the financial crisis, almost every real estate deal in the city unraveled. Mr. Walentas, however, had the means to swoop back in on 80 Wythe when it became available, paying $9.5 million for the five-story brick building, according to city records.

“In a way, I think we were really lucky to have those two years,” Mr. Lawrence said. “It gave us time to really figure out what we wanted to do.”

Among the things Messrs. Walentas and Lawrence had figured out was Mr. Tarlow. Mr. Walentas had been introduced by a mutual friend to the Diner proprietor, who had also had been mulling the possibility of a hotel in the neighborhood for some time. “When I first paddled across the river in my little boat, I never would have envisioned this—it felt like the country,” Mr. Tarlow said archly. “But over time, it became clear this would not only work but was actually a necessity.”

The three had dinner at Marlow & Sons, hit it off, and a partnership was formed: the builder, the restaurateur, the hotelier.