Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
This 258-room outpost of Seattle's Ace Hotel mini-chain diverges slightly from the original model, folding some New York grit into the plaid-and-flannel Northwest grunge aesthetic. Guests are an eclectic crowd who appreciate all the vintage details.
Ace Hotel New York is the fourth outpost of this funky, Seattle-based mini-chain, started in 1999 by a group of Emerald City natives. The most prominent owner, Alex Calderwood, who's been praised for starting a "new breed of hotels," cut his teeth throwing parties for grunge bands like Pearl Jam and opening a very cool barbershop in Seattle.
At 258 rooms, this is Ace's biggest property, and in some ways its most conventional -- no guests have to share bathrooms, for example. But the company's affordability-without-sacrifice ethos and unique design approach are still firmly in place.
The landmarked 1904 building, formerly the Hotel Breslin (and in recent years an SRO), has been completely renovated and is now furnished with meticulously curated objects, some actually found at flea markets and others vintage reproductions. Many of the building's original details, including mosaic tiled floors and coffered ceilings in the lobby, have been preserved. (Even some of the SRO tenants remain, mostly on the 11th and 12th floors.)
Ace hired Roman and Williams, the New York Times-celebrated designers behind the Standard and the 2008 renovation of the Royalton's lobby, to create a New York version of the brand's funky Northwest aesthetic.
Along with the vintage-inspired furnishings and brainy, multilayered room design, the firm commissioned more than 70 artists to create unique artwork for the rooms and public spaces, including graffiti sticker art by Michael Anderson in the lobby and one-of-a-kind murals in the rooms.
The giant lobby, with the Breslin Bar tucked in the back, is filled with cozy leather couches, plaid upholstered chairs, and fur throws. By day the atmosphere is Seattle coffee shop, with rows of bespectacled faces peeking over Apple laptops at the long, library-style tables; by night it's a hip neighborhood bar, with clusters of guests chilling out and sipping cocktails into the wee hours.
Some may be put off by the aesthetic, or think it's too contrived. But unlike many downtown boutique hotels, the overall vibe never feels too-cool-for-school exclusionary. And with rooms starting under $200, there's good reason to want in on the Ace.
Super-casual on the surface, accommodating and knowledgeable at the core. The Ace's employees don't offer traditionally formal service, but they do help guests with everything they need, and more.
Walking into Ace NY feels like strolling into a Seattle coffee shop: Everyone treats you like a regular, and informality is the norm. Doormen loaf around the front of the hotel in low-key uniforms, giving the familiar "What's up?" to guests. Inside, young employees seem genuinely friendly. It's all a little weird, given that this is in fact a hotel: I felt more inclined to request a short soy latte than to discuss my room bill.
And yet the staff is thoroughly helpful -- and knowledgeable about the area. When friends and I met in the lobby before heading out for dinner, one friend said he was in the mood for something "fresh and healthy," a pretty esoteric request. But when I asked at the front desk for suggestions -- the front-desk clerks double as concierges, which can be annoying when the desk is busy -- I not only got a nearby suggestion that fit the bill, but the clerk also produced a binder of local menus so I could check out my options before deciding.
A somewhat gritty Flatiron location on 29th and Broadway isn't half as stylish as the hotel itself, but that may be the point. Plenty of shops and restaurants nearby, and good subway access, but few major tourist attractions.
"Ace is in the center of Manhattan" says the Ace Survival Guide, which guests will find in each room. That's only sort of accurate. Broadway and 29th Street is one of the northwestern blocks of Flatiron, a distinctly commercial area. Knock-off watch, jewelry, and fragrance emporiums crowd this stretch of Broadway. To some critics, the gritty location is a head-scratcher: Despite having solid restaurant options in all directions, and although gem-like Madison Square Park is just a few blocks away, this is certainly not among the most picturesque or tourist-friendly parts of town. But given the hotel's scruffy, found-object aesthetic, that may be the point.
Even if the immediate surroundings are lackluster, it is true that the hotel is central to loads of other great spots -- though guests will generally want to hop in a cab or on the subway to get to them. Taxis are easy to find outside the front door, and one block away is the 28th Street station on the R/W subway line, plus the F, V, and 6 lines are within a few blocks.
The Ace's rooms are heavy on design, but not in any traditional hotel way. The effect is of some kind of unimaginably cool and cozy college dorm room. The aesthetic by Roman and Williams mixes vintage and modern, honoring this historic building and its New York surroundings while injecting an appropriate dose of Northwest flavor. The walls feature custom art by contemporary artists, making each room different. The brainy design takes a cue from the building's industrial surroundings; accents like garment racks, for example, are made of repurposed plumbing pipes fitted with black metal shelves. Dark, industrial notes aside, funky elements like turntables, blank sheet music, and cozy Pendleton wool bed covers made in Portland, Oregon, nod to the hotel's Northwest roots and the grunge music that originated in that region.
Don't bother looking for the conventional signifiers of luxury. What kind of sheets are on the beds? Who knows -- but they're extremely soft and comfortable. For ecological reasons, the shampoo, conditioner, and body wash are in large pump dispensers, like at a health club -- but it's high-quality stuff from co-owner Alex Calderwood's Rudy's Barbershop.
Room categories (Bunk, Cheap, Standard, Deluxe, or Loft) range from 140 to 700 square feet. Though the smallest are very small, the space is used efficiently so they feel fairly spacious. And yes, the Bunk rooms actually have bunk beds.
But those categories have more to do with pricing than any standardization; the design team decided not to change the structure of the 105-year-old building's rooms, so there are actually 65 different room configurations.
Turntables and SMEG refrigerators are among the flashy amenities available; they're not in every room but you can request them. Some of the rooms are dark because they face an internal air shaft; others face the surrounding streets. Note: So-called "courtyard-facing" rooms have tiny, frosted-glass windows that let in almost no natural light.
Bathrooms are surprisingly spacious relative to the rooms, and have full bath/showers with vintage-styled rain shower heads and fixtures. Though many rooms in the brand's first two hotels, in Seattle and Portland, have shared bathrooms, all rooms at this outpost have their own privies.
The minibars contain a creative selection of reasonably priced goods with a special emphasis on independent and environmentally aware brands. Refillable glass bottles of flat and sparkling water are provided, as are bowls of ramen noodles and teabag sets (all rooms have electric kettles as well).
Philips flat-panel TVs are mounted on the walls; the basic-cable package includes ESPN, CNN, Comedy Central, Bravo, and the like, plus On Demand movies. The Music Hall radio/alarm clocks have high-quality speakers and jacks for iPods or laptops.
Free Wi-Fi, gym, and four computer labs
Free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, an in-house gym, and four "computer labs" -- located on floors 5, 7, 9, and 11 -- instead of a single business center.
The moderate rates, casual vibe, and accommodating staff make this a solid choice for families. Kids like to romp around the big lobby. Deluxe rooms and Lofts have foldout couches. Cribs are free and rollaway beds cost $50 per stay.
The building dates to 1904, but Ace opened in May 2009 after a gut renovation, so virtually everything you see is modern. Rooms, bathrooms, hallways, and the lobby bar are all impeccably clean. Not even my black plasma TV had a fingerprint or a speck of dust on it.
Two highly anticipated eateries from the people behind The Spotted Pig and the East Coast's first Stumptown Coffee, plus 24-hour room service, and an active lobby bar
April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, co-owners of The Spotted Pig, teamed up for Ace's meat-centric Breslin Bar & Dining Room. Given Friedman's fondness for "nose-to-tail" cooking, it's no surprise that the menus include a chargrilled beef tongue sandwich ($17), smoked belly with mashed potatoes for two ($50), and a whole suckling pig for six to 12 people. The dining room takes you back in time (it's in a 1904 building, formerly the Breslin Hotel).
In November 2010, the duo opened a second restaurant at the Ace: The John Dory Oyster Bar (formerly located in far western Chelsea, where not enough diners ventured, despite positive reviews). The dining room seats 130 and is surrounded by two globe aquariums dedicated to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In addition to English-influenced seafood and, of course, oysters, the restaurant will serve Six Points oyster stout (stout filtered through oyster shells) and an extensive wine list.
A hip hotel in an unhip neighborhood. The meticulously curated, vintage-inspired design will be a turn-off for some -- the Ace doesn't aspire to most conventional notions of luxury -- but the property is as cool, comfortable, and inviting in its own way as any fancy downtown hipster boutique. Rooms are a bit small, and in some cases dark. But service is solid and the rates are usually very fair.
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