I’ve lived in New York long enough not to be surprised by the clip at which its neighbourhoods are reinvented. But the transformation of the Bowery – named for the eponymous Manhattan artery stretching from the southern edge of Chinatown up to the East Village – is nothing short of shocking. America’s original skid row, for more than two centuries it was a slum of last resort for no-hopers of all stripes; a fetid collection of flophouses for the chronically unlucky and inebriated. Even as neighboring NoLita and the East Village sprouted blocks of fashion boutiques and trendy bars, the Bowery remained a degenerate no man’s land, seemingly immune to gentrification. And then the Bowery Hotel opened.
Anyone unfamiliar with its brief history might readily assume it had been here forever – a handsome relic from an age when buildings were made of brick and marble, instead of steel and particleboard. The lobby, sectioned off with vintage leather screens and oversized exotic palm trees, is lined with dark, carved wood panels of the type you’d find in an elegantly decrepit English country pile. Opulent Edwardian and art deco antiques in varying states of tasteful decay are arranged throughout atop fabulously tatty oriental carpets. Spanish-style iron lamps that could have doubled as mediaeval torture devices keep the room just shy of total darkness. A massive, hand-painted mural of the Bowery circa 1860 provides additional period cues.
In reality, it was built from scratch – the palm trees are silk, and the panelling was salvaged from old buildings in Philadelphia. But you only know that because I told you.
We find our room as tastefully appointed as the lobby promises. The furnishings are new, but in keeping with the theme; antique-looking Persian carpets, deep green velvet chairs, a white-marble-topped table. The room, a corner King, isn’t particularly large, maybe 300 sq ft, but it’s Manhattan after all. Like every other space in the hotel, the proportions are what an architect might call ‘human’.
The most pleasant surprise is the windows, which are floor-to-ceiling on two sides of the bedroom, and have a direct view of the Empire State Building uptown. For now, at least, the hotel is the highest building in the neighbourhood, affording unfettered views of the action down below. After a night spent in various states of undress, it only occurs to Mrs Smith and I after check-out that the view from the street is equally superb.
Even better than the view is the bathroom. The tub, in particular. With patinated bronze Waterworks fixtures, it is more like a small pool. The woman at the front desk tells us we are among the lucky few to have one, and to make sure we take full advantage…
The hotel’s owners, Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode, are celebrated New York nightlife vets responsible for a string of phenomenally successful restaurants and bars throughout the city. Like all world-class hoteliers, they have a unifying aesthetic vision for each of their properties (the Bowery is their second hotel, after the nautical-themed Maritime in Chelsea) and carry it out to the fullest extent possible.
Although a table at the Waverly Inn, MacPherson and Goode’s celeb-packed playpen du jour in the West Village, might be out of the question unless you ‘know someone’, there’s Gemma downstairs if you’re in the mood for a casual Hollywood star sighting (one was in the banquette next to ours). The food is classic Northern Italian with little fuss or fanfare, served in a beautiful room designed by Taavo Somer, the brains behind acclaimed taxidermy-and-comfort-food hotspot Freeman’s, which is just down the block.
The bar inside the lobby is the most ‘done’ of all the hotel’s public spaces, and is reserved solely for guests. With its zinc bar and high-end boho, World of Interiors-ready decor – roe deer heads on carved wooden plaques, high-backed club chairs, a stuffed pit bull – it’s the kind of room you’ll want to linger in for several rounds. We, however, are in the mood for ?a movie, and open the guestbook to peruse the DVD directory. We’re impressed to find the selection as tightly curated as we suspected it might be. We choose Sid and Nancy – listed under ‘New York’ – and ring the front desk. It’s in our hands in four minutes flat. (I timed it.)
In a city as hectic as New York, the need to escape the madding crowd after a long day of pavement pounding is a vital factor in any getaway plan. As it settles into its indisputably chic self, I can only imagine the homey Bowery Hotel is destined for jet-set immortality.
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Smith extra at The Bowery
A bottle of wine