Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Business travelers and families haunt the earthy, mood-lit lobby by day; by nightfall, the Empire can become party central.
Dating back to the mid-1890s, the Empire is one of New York's oldest hotels, and it still holds on to its old-fashioned neon sign on its rooftop and its traditional entrance. But the hotel's interiors -- completely renovated in June 2008 -- tell a different story. Outfitted with zebra- and leopard-print seating, heavy brown curtains and modern chandeliers that resemble crash cymbals, the lobby looks like a classed-up but low-key pad suitable for liberated, 1960s jazzbos. Imagine the sounds and feel of this scene from Bullitt, but add in two stories of wide-open space, fancy artwork, and a 2nd-floor balcony.
Families from America and abroad, as well as laptop-wielding business travelers, frequent the lobby during the day. But the Empire is most notable for its bopping, cosmopolitan party crowd in the evening. The lobby bar, 12th-story rooftop bar, and private areas near the pool all attract young locals, and the hotel has also been known to host swanky private events (Google was having a party when I was there).
But because, in part, the public gains access to the rooftop bar via a separate elevator, the cocktail crowd doesn't interfere with a good night's sleep. And the earth-toned rooms supplement the public spaces' smokey allure with sun-inspired mirror-sculptures and sauna-style showers. Guest rooms are small, but the in-room amenities, like ultrasmooth Frette linens and deluxe l'Occitane bath products, are top of the line.
All told, a rooftop pool is practically unheard of in New York, and only the Hotel Gansevoort's rooftop pool and bar scene can compare. The Gansevoort might have a hipper downtown location, but the Empire's rooftop bar boasts cheaper cocktails, more space, and a more down-to-earth crowd than you typically find at the Gansevoort's Plunge. Given the Empire's pool, spa, fitness center, beautiful rooms, close proximity to Central Park, and sultry, sophisticated atmosphere -- all for a reasonable price -- it's an incredible deal.
Facing the small Dante Park and effectively sandwiched between Lincoln Center and Central Park on Broadway, the Empire sits in the Upper West Side, near that neighborhood's border with Midtown West and Times Square, which is 21 blocks south. Although it lacks the maddening crowds of Times Square, it's still a busy part of town.
Small, for the price, but with high-tech gear and deluxe amenities
Like the lobby, rooms achieve a funky, naturalistic tone through tan walls, brown trimmings, and darkly painted furniture. The entire property underwent an overhaul completed in June 2008, so everything's fairly new, and wear is minimal.
On the downside, 200 square feet runs a little small for hotel rooms in this price range: The path to the closet on one side of the bed is quite cramped, and the narrow desk doesn't exactly facilitate taking care of business. For a single traveler, though, that's a small caveat, and for me, the quality of the sheets and mattress more than made up for other drawbacks.
A New York hotel with a pool is a rare thing, so even the Empire's small rooftop facilities immediately set it apart from much of the competition. For a pool elsewhere, travelers have to stay downtown, pay higher rates, or book the Sheraton Manhattan, whose rooms are drab and dated.
Perhaps because of its pool and its clean, relatively uncrowded Upper West Side location, families do stay at the Empire. But given the small guest rooms and the hotel's evening cocktail-party scene, travelers with children might fare better at the Hotel Beacon in the same neighborhood. It has large rooms and kitchenettes, but no pool.
For the price, you'll be hard-pressed to find this level of on-site amenities at any other New York hotel. The Empire's rooftop bar and pool, both with excellent views of the upscale Upper West Side, make this 422-room hotel one of the city's best values, despite the small rooms.