- The best tables and service sometimes go to the beautiful and famous
Celebrities, European tourists, West Coasters, business travelers, and local hipsters gravitate to this downtown hotel, known for its hip boho-industrial design and thrice-weekly DJ party.
Mixing whimsical touches like goldfish in the guest rooms with the elaborate boho-industrial design of the lobby, the Soho Grand creates a casual atmosphere that also draws a relentlessly chic party scene. A diverse group of scarf-loving Europeans, well-heeled West Coasters, and businessmen redoing their PowerPoint presentations over a second round of scotch all happily share space in this laid-back yet elegant property.
According to the hotel's website, interior designer William Sofield kept "one eye on the street and the other in the heavens." That may be a stretch, but visitors are likely to feel a certain serenity as they climb the glass bottle staircase to the grand lobby, with its 17-foot ceiling covered with panes of antique mercury mirrors. Over the Grand Bar hangs an exquisite lighting fixture made from the mirrors and hardware of an old operating-table light. Across the hall in the Yard, a long, skinny Art Deco-style bar open only on the weekends, the atmosphere is built around vintage ceiling fans. In the long lounge area, tall potted palms and lamps fitted with low-light, old-fashioned Edison-style bulbs surround plush furniture.
The 369-room property is partly famous for the celebrities who come to stay or hang out in the bar. Frequent guests include everyone from Britney Spears to Dave Chappelle, and downtown hipster emeritus Lou Reed was recently spotted in the lounge having an afternoon beverage with his dog. During my stay, a pack of tabloid photographers were camped out front waiting for Jessica Simpson to emerge.
In the afternoon guests use the lobby and bar lounge for leisure -- pecking away at their BlackBerries, eating a light meal, or reading the newspaper while the sounds of mellow indie artists like Belle & Sebastian and Serge Gainsbourg play softly in the background. The music goes upbeat and loud in the evenings, as the lounge fills with 20- and 30-something scenesters -- men in dark skinny jeans, women with chic bobs -- and you often have to push your way to the bar. The scene is particularly frenetic on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, when a DJ spins the tunes.
Generally efficient and professional service, with some nice special touches but also a few notable lapses. The can-do concierge will make your biggest Gotham dreams come true.
In New York, trendiness can sometimes be accompanied by cold and even indifferent service -- as if being friendly and attentive would somehow undercut the overall air of exclusivity. And the Soho Grand does have a reputation for cultivating that air by lavishing extra attention on celebrities and leaving mere mortals to fend for themselves. One guest I met told me this was her experience exactly.
Even though I was on the lookout for such slights, however, I didn't see any myself. In fact, I got a warm welcome when I checked in an hour early on a weekday afternoon. After being invited to wash the urban grime from my hands with a steamed hand towel -- the kind you get at a lot of sushi restaurants -- I was assigned a room on the highly desirable 16th floor, just below the penthouse. (Apparently, the Soho Grand clientele tends to check in late in the evening, so you can score an excellent standard room by showing up unfashionably on time.)
All my requests for service were answered promptly and professionally. The staff always gave me an estimated time of arrival when I asked for something -- and generally did better than promised. I called room service for a pot of coffee at 7 a.m. and was told that it would arrive in 25 minutes. Less than 15 minutes later, I was getting my caffeine fix. Returning to my room at 6 p.m., I found that a housekeeper had turned down the bed, drawn the window shades, and left the radio on for me -- tuned to a horrible lite FM station, but still a nice touch.
I found the concierge particularly full of can-do spirit and eager to help arrange everything from a Sex and the City tour to a much-desired reservation at Nobu to a private training session at the hotel's well-equipped gym.
I even saw glimmers of above-and-beyond-level service. A hotel staffer came to my room to deliver my complimentary goldfish -- a fun little extra that the hotel, like its sister property, the Tribeca Grand, offers guests. Even before setting down the fishbowl, he noticed my bare feet and insisted on bringing me a pair of white terry cloth slippers.
That said, a few small lapses distinguish this generally fine service from a true, over-the-top, five-star experience. In this case, I noticed my neighbor's discarded room-service tray sitting in the hallway for more than three hours.
Near the southern edge of SoHo, on the border of TriBeCa, the Soho Grand sits at the epicenter of New York's haute bohemian downtown shopping and nightlife scene.
Though it's lost much of its edge since the days when starving artists squatted in the neighborhood's then-abandoned (but now historically preserved) cast-iron industrial buildings, SoHo -- short for South of Houston -- still draws the young, beautiful, and moneyed in droves.
Over the years, as real estate prices rose, artists' studios gave way to art galleries, which in turn gave way to retail. Pioneering fashion-forward boutiques like Anna Sui have in recent years been joined by more mainstream retailers like J. Crew. Be-seen restaurants like Balthazar and Mercer Kitchen now fill the area. 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, at night. Guests will have no problem hailing a taxi anywhere to and from the Soho Grand.
The Soho Grand sits near the southern edge of SoHo, just steps from TriBeCa. Together the two neighborhoods embody New York's haute bohemian downtown shopping and nightlife scene. Greenwich Village, meanwhile, is walking distance to the north. The Financial District is just beyond TriBeCa to the south.
Canal Street, the border between SoHo and TriBeCa, is an international bazaar of shops packed with everything from T-shirts to designer knockoffs. Late at night Canal clears out late at night, though, and can feel a bit desolate.
If visitors head east from the hotel, a very different world awaits in Chinatown. This growing neighborhood, slowly taking over what used to be Little Italy, is at once an adventurer's dream and a smelly, crowded mess that some visitors might prefer to avoid. Guests looking for a reliable Chinatown eatery might consider Joe's Shanghai, where the specialty is soup dumplings.
30 to 90 minutes from three airports
New York City has three nearby airports: JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark (in New Jersey). Getting into town from JFK or LaGuardia is usually more convenient than from Newark, but travel times are heavily dependent on the time of day and traffic conditions. From JFK, a taxi to anywhere in Manhattan costs a flat rate of $45 and takes around an hour in average conditions. From LaGuardia, a metered cab ride to midtown Manhattan costs about $40 and can take 30 minutes if traffic is light, three times that if it's bad. Rides from Newark cost at least $40 plus tolls and can take more than 90 minutes. It's customary to tip your driver 15 to 25 percent.
Those looking to save some cash can use the privately run shuttle buses that are available at all three airports for about $14 per person. For more information on the shuttles, go to Super Shuttle or New York Airport Service. Public transit is also available for as little as $7 per person, but travel can take up to two hours and involve a lot of lugging bags up and down stairways.
For mass-transit directions right to the hotel, check out HopStop.com.
Sparkling bathrooms offer whimsy and lovely bath products, and rooms were refurbished in 2010.
With a leather headboard, patterned wallpaper, a brocade closet curtain, a copper table, and a leather corset chair, the rooms at the Soho Grand echo the neighborhood's tasteful but understated sensibility.
The queen-size platform bed was comfortable and done up with simple cotton bedding in neutral colors. Ample storage space is provided by the Art Deco-inspired dresser as well as the closet. The electronics are all up to date, including a plasma-screen TV and Bose iPod dock. In the 2010 updates, the hotel added some life with plaid bedframes and earth tone color pallet. In suites, the walls are now adorned with patterened wallpaper similar to the touch of whimsy in the bathrooms.
Guests like this TripAdvisor reviewer complain about the size of the rooms. At 225 to 235 square feet, they are fairly small -- but not by New York City standards.
The bathrooms are a highlight. White subway tiles are set off by delightfully whimsical Schumacher wallpaper. The interesting peppermint- and cilantro-scented Malin + Goetz bath products were responsible for a very good hair day.
My only serious criticism: The room lacked good lighting. I enjoyed the view from my 16th-floor window overlooking Canal Street and West Broadway, but at night, the all-but-uselessly dim bedside lamps are insufficient for in-bed reading. And I had to turn on every light in the room to see the keyboard of my laptop.
The hotel's 24-hour fitness center is well equipped, with plenty of treadmills, stairclimbers, exercise bikes, and weights. There is also a pleasant outdoor deck, great for a post-run breather. If guests wish, they can arrange for one-on-one personal training through the hotel's concierge (for an additional charge). The hotel also offers complimentary bike loans.
Free Wi-Fi is available in the rooms and public spaces.
The 24-hour business center has several computer workstations (both Mac and PC), fax machines, multiline telephones, and copy machines, all available for free.
Every floor has a pantry room where guests can help themselves to complimentary coffee and tea.
A welcome kit for kids, a special menu, free cribs, optional childproofing, and even goldfish make this a solid but expensive family choice.
Though kids are generally scarce at the Soho Grand, the hotel certainly does its part to welcome pint-size scenesters. The hotel's Grand Kids program ensures that kids feel at home with a complimentary welcome package that includes a child-focused guide to New York City and assorted coloring books and toys.
Guests can request that a room be childproofed, or have a crib or rollaway bed installed before arrival. There is no charge for either, but the hotel allows rollaways only in Grand Corner King rooms. Connecting rooms are available as well.
A children's menu is available both at the restaurant and via room service. (Think: Grilled cheese, hold the truffle oil!)
And don't forget the goldfish.
It's worth noting that the hotel's sister property, the Tribeca Grand, also offers a weekly kid-friendly film series at the Grand Sunday Brunch, which is popular among even locals. Parents partake in a lavish buffet while the little ones watch a favorite movie in the hotel's movie theater. Oysters on the half shell, prosecco, and Disney might be the epitome of downtown cool parenting (and not a bad deal, at $34.95 for adults and $12.95 for kids).
Special treatment -- even room service -- for four-legged friends of all sizes.
Pets get special treatment at the Soho Grand. The hotel doesn't even put a restriction on animal size or weight -- so it's as willing to welcome a Saint Bernard as a Chihuahua hitching a ride in a handbag. The hotel asks only that visitors inform the staff ahead of time so that the reservations department can book a room on one of three pet-friendly floors and ensure that food, bowls, and a crate are available -- at no extra charge. Room service delivers Hartz-brand animal chow and some special treats. Dog walking, a more extensive menu, and grooming can all be arranged through the concierge for an extra fee.
Refined American classics, perfect french fries, and 24/7 room service.
Meals at the Soho Grand are modern, refined versions of classic American comfort food and some of the veggies are actually grown on the rooftop garden. For breakfast, guests tend to go with standard eggs (American or English-style) or French toast. The ricotta lemon pancakes were simply delicious.
Dinnertime favorites include mac and cheese, chicken sandwiches, and goat cheese ravioli. The french fries are pretty much perfect -- one of the waiters, a professional dancer, told me he actually cried the first time he tried them.
All meals can be taken in the Grand Bar, the Lounge, and also the Parlor restaurant, which has an attached Club Room space with a more loungey feel. In warmer months, the hotel opens up the Yard, an outdoor space. And room service is available around the clock, so you can dig into a New York strip steak at 4 a.m. should the craving strike.
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