Andaz 5th Avenue
485 5th Ave., at 41st Street; 212-601-1234; 184 rooms with rates starting at $265; andaz5thavenue.com. Silver LEED eco-rating.
Quicker than you can say "starter plate," I inhaled my veal meatballs at Andaz 5th Avenue's street-level restaurant, The Shop, and then did something totally out of character: I begged the chef for his recipe. It was as if he'd flipped through great-grandma's cue cards for such a belly-warming dish, which we ate by the glow of the New York Public Library opposite the hotel, watching as shoppers dashed along one of Manhattan's busiest retail corridors. The experience was homey and refined - and so is the rest of the new Andaz 5th Avenue, the second of Hyatt's boutique brand to open in New York.
Following a street sign that reads "Library Way," you pass through bronzed doors to what feels like an urbane friend's Midtown loft. No traditional receptionist awaits in the lobby; instead, a roving "host" sits you down for a glass of wine and check-in via iPad at a counter resembling a kitchen island. Later, you'll relax in a room with views of the library. The next morning, grab an espresso to go (it's free) from the lobby, and start toward Times Square or the Empire State Building, just minutes away.
Tony Chi, of tonychi and associates, took on structural and interior renovations to what was originally a department store. Chi, a Taiwan-born New Yorker who has designed InterContinental and Mandarin Oriental hotels overseas, restored the 1916 building's great bones. Coverings on the floor-to-ceiling windows and the 12-to-14-foot-high walls are black-washed poplar panels reminiscent of Japanese Shoji doors, creating cohesion and further amplifying the sense of spaciousness. And there are little surprises throughout, such as a brick wall salvaged from a 1790 Connecticut farmhouse that's now used in the downstairs bar.
Oversize contemporary art in the lobby and at elevator banks fits the loft vibe, particularly a two-metre, white synthetic marble sculpture by British artist Nick Hornby that looks like a chiselled root bolted upright to the lobby's reception desk, but is actually a dodecagon (a polygon with 12 sides) with fragmentary images that snap into view as you tour the sculpture's base.
Rooms are a generous size for Manhattan, at 322 square feet minimum. Each has a good-sized work desk with leather chair, a complimentary mini-bar, a flat-screen television on the wall and a travertine marble bathroom with walk-in rain shower and double sinks. Chi's design omits most gadgetry - though light switches swiped with a pinky-tip are a fun touch.
All that's expected of an upscale hotel is delivered: nightly turndown, free Wi-Fi in the rooms, free local calls, 24-hour room service and a well-equipped 24-hour gym. There isn't a spa room or a pool, but with so much to see and do at your doorstep, I didn't miss them (and you can book in-room spa treatments).
If you've only ever experienced a traditional check-in, handing off luggage to a "host" who, throughout your stay, performs the combined duties of concierge, receptionist and porter, takes some getting used to. But the young staffer's amiability and overall helpfulness won me over to this Generation Y-esque trend.
Executive chef Roberto Alicea's elegant comfort food menu at The Shop draws from the Puerto Rican and Italian traditions of his childhood. With sunlight streaming through wall-to-wall windows, all 32 tables were taken at lunchtime. Dinner was reasonably priced at $150 for two, including tax and cocktails. After the parsley-flecked meatballs bubbling in tomato juices and dotted with green peas, I tried the bouillabaisse and, for dessert, simple pan-toasted, buttery brioche slabs with a pot of chocolate ganache spread. I've never enjoyed hotel food as much;
Alicea sources ingredients from nearby farms, and meals are served without pretense. You feel at home from the first morsel.
A thoughtfully designed hotel that ticks all the boxes for a shopping junket to New York: fair price, great food and central location. The luminous façade of one of the city's beloved institutions framed in your bedroom window is reason alone to return.
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