27 Grand St., New York; 1-800-230-4134; www.jameshotels.com. Rooms from $349; no eco-rating.
The original James in Chicago is known as a hotel of luxury. This second James, open since September in New York's vibrant SoHo district, is every bit as haute but will no doubt become known as a hotel of art. The young and friendly staff includes a full-time curator, Matt Jensen (a 29-year-old photographer whose work was acquired this year by the Metropolitan Museum of Art), who selects original artworks to adorn each floor of the hotel. The works are by mostly emerging artists with a connection to SoHo, the Manhattan neighbourhood that has become the art world in miniature.
With its undulating steel-and-glass tower rising 18 storeys above SoHo next to historic Duarte Square and LentSpace, a new public exhibition park on nearby Canal Street, The James stands out as the new kid on the block. The spanking new sleekly designed tower sparkles like a beacon of cool amid the converted factories of bordering Tribeca.
Inside, floor-to-ceiling glass walls make everything appear bathed in sunlight and open for enjoyment. It's a thoughtful, smart idea from the Office for Design and Architecture in collaboration with Perkins Eastman. In fact, every detail is a tour de force throughout the hotel, from the custom interiors by Amanda Sullivan to artisan John-Paul Philippe's wrought-iron numbers on the doors (a reminder of SoHo's past as an iron-ore centre).
The entrance off Grand Street, at Thompson, is through a narrow glassed-in corridor where a concierge desk stands in the shadow of the first of many original artworks QWRTY 5. The lobby doesn't feel like a lobby as much as an uber-chic living room, with art books everywhere and, after 5 p.m., wine bottles open for pouring.
Softening the hotel's industrial edge is a multitiered outdoor urban garden designed by the award-winning landscape designer Rebecca Cole. The garden will supply fresh herbs to the two in-house restaurants that are scheduled to open by month's end. Also on the roof is an outdoor pool and capacious bar and lounge offering spectacular 360-degree views of Manhattan.
The guest rooms are spacious, with unobstructed views of Manhattan due to the hotel's location next to a public square. The one-bedroom suites, with their king-sized beds and separate living room with two large-screen TVs, have a mini-bar crammed with such SoHo area treats as Dean & DeLuca chocolate chip cookies and Kee's Chocolates. Sleeping here is a dream, thanks to smooth cotton sheets and linen duvets with shams by Fili D'oro. The open-concept bathroom features a walk-in shower, soaker tub and radiant-heat marble floors, plus a series of dimmers for ambient lighting. One of the switches activates a screen that can close the bathroom off from the bedroom. Try it - the screen is actually another commissioned artwork.
General manager Colin Gold refers to the easy, breezy way his staff has with guests as "luxury liberated." Guests help themselves to pots of coffee and fresh baked goods in the lobby every morning, or a glass of wine with nibbles in the evening. Also at their disposal are three computers offering free Internet access and printing, and complimentary luxury car service around Manhattan or to and from the airport.
FOOD AND DRINK
The hotel restaurant opens in early February led by chef David Burke. Expectations are high. There is room service, but at the moment it is wanting. A request for orange juice resulted in something that tasted like Sunny D, hard-boiled eggs were cold.
Art and a feeling of spaciousness are The James's hallmarks. It is also deliciously close to great restaurants and shopping (Chanel is just a stroll away) so even if the eggs aren't how you like them, SoHo itself offers plenty of alternatives.