Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Like other chi-chi celebrity-friendly New York boutique hotels like the Bowery, Greenwich, or Crosby Street hotels, the Mercer offers trendy design, exclusivity, and highly personalized service. The Christian-Liaigre-designed lobby, featuring high 14-foot ceilings, a library of books for guests to borrow, and low, plush, intimate seating, doubles as a late-night lounge for young players in New York's entertainment and fashion industries. The on-site restaurant, renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Mercer Kitchen, draws well-heeled customers with high-end, adventurous dishes -- like wasabi pizza and salmon with kaffir and lime.
Fancy as it is, that whole scene takes place behind careful urban camouflage. The tourists and shoppers that crowd the sidewalks in the Mercer's SoHo neighborhood would have a hard time picking out the hotel; there's no sign, and the red-brick building blends in fairly seamlessly with the fancy flats and designer fashion shops that surround it. Even I made several passes by the hotel's address before I saw a doorman usher a guest inside through a nondescript black door.
But unlike celebrity-grade hotels, all of the very good-looking staff members, including the doormen and bellmen, offer prompt, unpretentious service. Each is trained as a concierge, so just about anyone working at the hotel can help with nearly any request. Plus, thoughtful service touches like a tray of apples and a handwritten welcome note from the hotel manager make guests feel at home in their beautiful -- but smaller-than-authentic -- loft-style guest rooms.
All this adds up to a great hotel experience for those who want to be surrounded by powerful, beautiful people. Still, for about the same price, the Thompson LES and the Greenwich have similar atmosphere, service, and rooms, plus much better amenities -- both have a pool, spa, and fitness center on-site.
High-level service to rival the best luxury hotels -- from 24-hour room service to automatic turndowns -- but the staff is a bit more laid-back and casual
It's hard at first to know who works at the Mercer, mostly because the staff are good looking and well dressed enough to be the models and celebrities the hotel hosts. Clerks, servers, and doormen also opt for a relaxed mode of address, avoiding the formality found at places like the Four Seasons, the Plaza, or the Carlyle. It's a simple, friendly, "hello" from the door and check-in staff; no "sir" appended.
But the caliber of service reflects a hotel of its price range -- guests receive a personal escort to their rooms; porters seem to be as knowledgeable about the neighborhood as a concierge would be at another hotel; same-day dry-cleaning services; 24-hour room service; 24-hour food and drink service in the lobby; turndown with bottled water and a late edition of The New York Times.
Surrounded by chic shopping, fine dining, and trendy nightlife -- where New York tastemakers and celebrities often hang out.
Predictably, the Mercer is on Mercer Street at Prince Street, on the northern edge of SoHo, New York's haute, bohemian fashion epicenter. Back in the 1970s, SoHo's then-abandoned (but now historically preserved) cast-iron industrial buildings were filled with starving artists (some of whom were squatters). Over the years, as real estate prices rose, artists' studios gave way to art galleries, which in turn gave way to retail shops and be-seen restaurants like Balthazar and the Mercer's own Mercer Kitchen. Fashion-forward boutiques like Anna Sui have in recent years been joined by more mainstream retailers like J. Crew. The 2002 arrival of Apple's Prince Street flagship store in many ways solidified Soho's current status as the Official Neighborhood of New York Creative Types.
SoHo is a safe place to wander during the day and, since so many of its dining and drinking establishments are still hopping, well past midnight. You won't have a problem hailing a taxi anywhere to and from the Mercer at any hour. And as for subway travel, the hotel sits within three blocks of seven lines -- you can get anywhere in the city from here.
SoHo doesn't have the same tourist attractions as the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, or Midtown West, but it's still only about a 15-minute, $15 cab ride to Central Park, the Theater District, and other midtown attractions, like Rockefeller Center.
In the words of the Mercer's website, the rooms offer an "authentic taste of loft living." Steel doors, high ceilings, and understated, modern design make the rooms feel like luxurious versions of the neighborhood's many studio lofts. Sure, you're not going to get the same square footage -- 250 square feet versus the 1,000 square feet of a real-life SoHo loft -- but the 11-foot ceilings still tower above, and the large windows with French doors open onto a bamboo courtyard or the surrounding streets (much like the even larger rooms at the new Greenwich Hotel in TriBeCa).
No on-site gym and no spa, but free passes to Equinox, which has both, two blocks away. There's free Wi-Fi everywhere, and the lobby functions as an enormous business center.
A frequent stop for celebrities visiting New York
From Leonardo DiCaprio, to fashion designer Calvin Klein, to oddball rock star Marilyn Manson, to Russell Crowe -- who, incidentially, made headlines for allegedly throwing a telephone at a Mercer check-in clerk. Even the engineer who installed my DVD player said he'd recently fixed the electronics in the room of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.
It's not a family hotel, per se, but the Mercer offers enticing services, like video games or DVDs on request.
The Mercer's confined location and lobby full of young professionals make it imposing for parents with young kids, but the hotel provides video game systems, boardgames, and childrens' DVDs -- amenities that will help keep kids happy. For another boutique hotel that's surprisingly family-friendly, check out the Gansevoort, which provides, in addition to a pool, diapers and bottle warmers).
Another reason the Mercer isn't well suited for families: Rooms are only 250 square feet, and sleep a maximum of two. Plus, there are no standard rooms with more than one queen bed. To get an additional bed, guests have to pay considerably more for a Deluxe Studio Room. Rollaway beds and cribs are available on request ($100 per visit -- not per night -- for rollaways; cribs are free), although it would be a tight squeeze to fit a rollaway in the standard rooms.
Like most hotels in New York, the Mercer outsources its 24-hour child care services to the Babysitters' Guild, which can provide multilingual caretakers.
Pretty darn spotless
I couldn't find a single cleanliness issue anywhere on the property.
Celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's on-site Mercer Kitchen is high end but not ultratrendy (anymore). Nearby options abound.
Earlier this decade, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Mercer Kitchen was one of New York's hottest dining establishments, but has since fallen out of favor, as this 2006 New York Times review suggests. The two-story, mostly subterranean purveyor of "American Provencal" entrees as varied as steamed skate ($19) and breast and confit of duck ($27) has been surpassed by Vongerichten's namesake restaurant uptown at the Trump Hotel, Jean-Georges.
The Mercer's 75 loft-style guest rooms, beautiful staff, stylish lobby/lounge, personalized service, and swanky SoHo location make it a go-to choice for celebrities and other fashionable members of the entertainment industry. Still, several chic downtown rivals like Thompson LES and the Greenwich Hotel have all those things, plus more on-site features, like a pool and a spa.
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