That Crosby Street Hotel – it has such a big head. Huge in fact. It’s sitting right there in the lobby, an enormous white metal frame of a skull, by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.
Yes, it’s an appalling joke I know, one I’m ashamed to say I serve up several times while staying at the stylish city slicker, but it’s worthy of attention, this giant cranium. Like the hotel that it’s housed in, Plensa’s head is far from discreet; sitting assuredly in a reception area filled with art so playful and so gorgeously arranged that when Mr Smith and I check in we felt compelled to take photos. And then ask whether we can purchase a mini-head to take home. (We cannot.)
Like any of the delightful, riotous Firmdale Hotel group properties lovingly created by interior designer Kit Kemp and her hotelier husband Tim, the Crosby is not short on art, whimsy, stripes, comfort or motifs. Dogs are the keynotes of choice in this, their first American hotel (the hotel logo features a pooch, there are Justine Smith’s papier-mâché hounds on the ground floor, and snapshots of smoosh-faced Soho micro-dogs adorning the lifts as taken by daughter, Willow Kemp).
Our room (bordering on ‘girly’ says Mr Smith) is luxurious, thoughtfully designed, and instantly homey. And it is big. Large-enough-to-swing-a-dog big – and not just a handbag hound. Beautiful loft-style floor-to-roof windows comprise one side of bedrooms, offering us a view east over the gloriously grotty Lower East Side and a rare vista of the Manhattan skyline. It is the perfect contrast to Kit’s fearless, flamboyant use of colour on the bedhead, lounge and dressmaking mannequin; here exploding with juicy apple greens, ochre yellows and musky pink in florals and stripes. The bathroom is cavernous and techy, with anti-mist mirrors, bespoke Miller Harris toiletries, heated towel racks (so British) and a waterproof TV and remote for the bath.
Starving, I snack on chocolate from the perfectly edited minibar, a mischievous space where David Hirsch Wellness Supercharged Greens mingle with Krug and Intimacy Kits; I browse hotel dossier’s razor-sharp list of things to do/see/eat taking notes to pass onto friends, so as to appear hip, cool and utterly in-the-know.
As Mr Smith leaves to spend silly money over at discounted electronics store B&H up and over on Ninth Avenue, I shuffle down to the gym to undo said snacking. Met by faded floorboards, Evian and decorative wallpaper the whole Crosby experience feels akin to staying in a very wealthy, extremely stylish friend’s home. Someone who knows they need to exercise, but recognises it doesn’t have to be in a horrible-looking room. What morons we are for not visiting sooner.
Brandishing a titanic thirst and Mr Smith’s new [insert impressive specifications here] camera lens, we head down for a cocktail in the sculpture garden. It’s one of Crosby’s two outdoor spaces, well three: they also have a rooftop vegetable garden that is plundered for the restaurant (chooks included), just one element of an impressive eco-attitude that saw them win the Leed gold award for the greenest hotel in New York state.
Being a balmy summer’s evening, the main courtyard, feathered with a jungle of boisterous plants and elegant wooden furniture and industrial light-hangings from zigzagging overhead wires; it is littered with attractive creative types, the kind who keep the thick-rimmed glasses trade alive. I thoroughly enjoy overhearing their conversations and it is with indignation and tipsiness Mr Smith shuffles me to dinner in the ground-level restaurant or, as they would prefer you think of it, ‘a great bar that serves great food’.
Despite a meal of many, many small plates in the Crosby Bar 12 hours earlier, I can’t get downstairs quick enough the next morning. Manhattan excels at dinner, lunch, and brunch, but breakfast is the domain of the English, and with its British roots I know we’ll be in for a treat at the Crosby. Just glimpsing a toast-rack amid the colourful interior makes my heart skip. I order the fig French toast and 56 cups of tea to celebrate.
Jittery with caffeine, we set off to unleash our cheeringly strong Aussie dollar onto Soho. Located a few, tourist-saturated steps from both Spring Street and Broadway, the Crosby simply could not be in a better location. Foodies revel in being able to see Balthazar from the front door, and knowing La Esquina, Café Habana, Dutch, Public, Freemans and the Meatball Shop are a block or two away. Art-lovers are amid a mess of galleries, while those who are keen to spend up in Manhattan’s most desirable shopping district.
We love being in the crazy, beating heart of downtown NYC and then walking 50 metres up Crosby Street's cobblestones into immediate calm. Retreating to a luxurious, cool oasis after spending a day rabble-rousing in one of the most energetic cities in the world is pretty unbeatable.
Despondently we drag our swollen luggage down the next day (a little dramatic considering we’d been given a two-hour check-out reprieve without a blink of an eye). We realise, sadly, we’ve forgotten to make use of the Poltrona Frau-seated screening room and the plush guest-only drawing roomwith its famous Firmdale honesty bar, something I couldn’t fathom existed. That I’m astounded by the concept of people drinking what they want and then just writing down how much the owe doesn’t say much about my faith in human beings. It does, however say a lot about the Crosby, and what they think of their stayers-over.
This five-star hotel is neither stuffy or predictable; nor is it an annoyingly hip hotspot devoid of personality. The CSH is a lively, fresh take on hospitality, a design lover’s nirvana with boutique chic and an authentic sense of homeliness.
Too bad it has such – ahem – a big head.