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

In one of his last Critical Shopper columns for The Times, right around the time the Wythe was just getting

Mr. Walentas, the master planner. (File Photo)

In one of his last Critical Shopper columns for The Times, right around the time the Wythe was just getting underway, in the July of 2009, Mike Albo highlighted the existence of a particular event each annum in modern New York: the summer hot spot. “Summer hot spots are always very specific,” he wrote. “In the past, it was Elizabeth and Spring; the southwest corner of Seventh Street and Avenue A; Manhattan and Driggs in Greenpoint. This time it’s a two-block section of Orchard below Delancey.”

Without question, the intersection of North 11th and Wythe will be it in 2012.

The place has been popular for some time, with Williamsburg mainstays the Brooklyn Brewery and Beacon’s Closet half a block down North 11th Street. Brooklyn Bowl opened just about three years ago, in a low-slung series of factory buildings at 61 Wythe Avenue, and has been serving up concerts and Blue Ribbon fried chicken alongside the lanes ever since. Last fall, Kinfolk Studios opened on the other corner, at 90 Wythe. Part creative agency, part bike shop, part bar, the space has begun hosting Frej Monday through Wednesday, a pop-up New-Nordic restaurant. It is heavy on the foraging, food cooked in hay and so forth, and with a five-course, $45 menu, it would be easier to uncover a lost Viking longship in Jamaica Bay than secure a reservation.

On May 1, the Wythe opened. Fifteen days later, the rooftop bar began letting guests in. The transformation is complete. Those fears from 2009, from 1999, fears of hoodlums and developers, have vanished.

“It’s amazing, this strip used to be so dead, just empty,” Vice publisher John Martin said last week, after finishing lunch at Reynards—the salmon special and a lemonade, which was “lovely”—with one of the magazine’s contributors. “I remember we used to watch truckers getting blown from our office window, and now you’ve got dude’s grandma’s spending the night on the waterfront.”

“We went from zero tours a weekend to 3,000,” Steve Hindy, proprietor of the Brooklyn Brewery, said in a telephone interview.

Welcome to High Williamsburg perfection. Sidle up to the railing at the roof bar, Ides (named, in a way, after Mr. Tarlow’s fourth child, born on March 15), expert Old Fashioned or Gin Fizz in hand, the sun setting over Manhattan. Soak up paradise while it lasts.

Looking down, there are the painted logos on the wall of a warehouse next door, an installation by artist Steve Powers, which borrows from the borough and the building’s past: Brooklyn Dodgers, Charles A. Fletcher (an early Pepto Bismol), Newcastle Fabrics, Holmes Protection (an ADT predecessor, of which there is a tiny sticker on the neighboring warehouse that the artist copied). Below that is the private side entrance for the events space, capacity 200, beneath which a movie theater is just being finished, in which screenings both public and private will be held.

One of the defining features of the hotel, beyond all the artisanal touches, are the views. These are are facilitated by the structure’s unique design, courtesy of Manhattan architect Morris Adjmi, who specializes in fusing new and old. Along with a team of Mr. Walentas’ in-house designers, Mr. Adjmi worked out a scheme to shave the Manhattan-side of the old building off, and onto the five-story structure the designers sutured a slender eight-story glass Tetris block. The addition is offset just so, to give the sixth floor bar its L-shaped terrace. The glass facade has a tougher, industrial feel, relative to all the would-be sleek boxes on the surrounding streets.

“We didn’t cut any corners,” Mr. Walentas said. “If we had, this just wouldn’t have worked.”

Off the bar are two band rooms, one with four beds, the other with six, an idea that came from across the street, at the suggestion of Brooklyn Bowl’s Mr. Shapiro. The main rooms, on floors two through five, are Manhattan Kings and Brooklyn Queens, denoting the size of the beds and the boroughs they face, with the former having grand views through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows while the latter enjoy punched the punched windows and exposed brick of the original building.

On the top two floors are four loft-style rooms, with kitchens, couches, dining room table and windows on all sides. The top two lofts, on the eight floor, have private terraces. They cost $495 a night and are the most expensive rooms in the building. That is about $150 more than the cheapest room at the W Union Square or the Bowery Hotel—or the nearby Hotel Le Jolie, a nondescript brick tower of 10 stories overlooking the lovely BQE. The Wythe has 72 rooms in total, the cheapest of which are $175-a-night bunk bed rooms, perfect for a pair of friends crashing a wedding, and so cheap they almost beats AirBnB.

They boast 13-foot ceilings, which are original to the building, as is nearly every plank, beam and massive iron column holding them up. The polished concrete floors, with radiant heat inside, are new, though. The beds and desks are new, too, in a way, except that they are made from wood recycled from the building, milled and built by local craftsmen, no less. “We’re very proud of our beds,” Mr. Walentas said. In another backwards nod, an old industrial track still runs throughout the main floor, hanging from the ceiling, the ultimate throwback detail, while the mirrors look old but are actually “antiqued” by some local guys. Ditto the funky light fixtures, what Edison would have created if he had met Picasso.

The nightstands were fabricated locally, as well, and while they are not original, they are the same seafoam color as most of the walls in the building once were. “There must have been a special on this color of industrial paint once upon a time,” Mr. Lawrence said.  The wallpaper, in three flavors, all Brooklyn themed, was designed by Boerum Hill’s Flavor Paper. Every room is stocked with a real refrigerator, a typical hospitality no-no, so as to accommodate Mr. Tarlow’s in-house ice cream in every room, along with other goodies. Instead of tiny bottles of Absolut, the mini bar is stocked with a selection of small-batch distillations.

The hotel’s website, proudly declares: “Wythe has rooms for artists, friends, brewmasters, musicians, concertgoers, mothers, brothers, grandmothers, bowlers, interns, twins, engineers, vignerons, and chefs,” which sounds exactly right.

The same exacting quality is behind every bar (four, counting the event spaces) and on every plate in Reynards. “You won’t read the farmer’s name on the menu because we’re not into boasting, but know that we’ve met every single one of our producers and shaken their hand, and that is the kind of experience we want to share with our guests,” Mr. Tarlow said proudly.

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