Five years ago, no one would have looked to the Bowery for Manhattan’s hottest boutique hotel, but the one-time skid row is now an irrepressible hipster hangout. The Bowery Hotel's light, bright bedrooms capture the classic style of New York apartments (complete with moodily lit tiled corridors), and its art-deco-inspired Lobby bar is a homey, wood-panelled haven from the unsleeping city.
Noon; later-check out is subject to availability. Check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £464.01 ($637), including tax at 14.75 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of $3.50 per room per night on check-out.
Breakfast is chosen from an à la carte menu.
No smoking (apart from on the fifth floor). Your shoes can be shined and your back can be rubbed – just ask.
At the hotel
Gym, DVD library, valet parking, laundry, free WiFi. In rooms: HD plasma TV, DVD/CD player, iPod dock and stereo system, CO Bigelow toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
The north-facing rooms offer glimpses of the Empire State Building from the comfort of your bed. Number 705, a One-Bedroom Terrace Suite, has a marble-tubbed bathroom that opens directly onto a surprisingly spacious private terrace. Wherever you end up bedding down, you can expect classic NYC-style, with hardwood floors lined with intricate Oushak rugs, marble bath tubs, and oversized factory windows.
A CBGB T-shirt in honour of the Bowery’s punk-rock glory days.
As a concession to the Chihuahua-toting crowd, lightweight pups (30lbs or less) are warmly welcomed. There's no charge – as long as everything stays clean and tidy. Just let the hotel know when booking and sign a waiver at check-in. See more pet-friendly hotels in New York.
Welcome: high chairs and baby cots are available, and extra beds can be added to larger rooms for $60 a night. The Bowery works with a nanny service to provide babysitting, from $25 an hour.
Gemma only takes reservations for hotel guests, so sweet-talk your way to a window table for people-watching, or to one of the leather-banquette booths – it’s possible to lose hours in them.
Edwardian dandy, backstage with the Ramones.
With thatch-covered wine bottles swinging from beamed ceiling, distressed wood tables and a copper-topped bar, Gemma is a picture of Tuscan rusticity. The food, however, is more polished than peasanty, and the Nutella calzone is a particular treat.
Since its opening, the Lobby Bar has shot to the top of the New York hot list, becoming a favourite destination for A-listers in search of a glam-drenched venue.
Gemma’s pizza oven is switched off at midnight (1am weekends). The bar’s open until 2am (4am weekends).
A full menu based on Gemma’s à la carte offerings is available 24 hours a day.
All of the city's main airports are within 30 minutes of the hotel – the nearest, La Guardia, is a 15-minute drive. Allow much longer at peak times, though.
Grand Central Station and Penn Station are both under 10 minutes away from the hotel. You'll be able to board Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) services to other destinations all over the USA. Penn Station will also get you out to the Hamptons on the Long Island Rail Road (www.lirr.org).
From JFK, take the Van Wyck Expressway then the Long Island Expressway, before heading over to SoHo from the Queens Midtown Expressway.
Worth getting out of bed for
The Bowery is a few blocks from the landmark Nuyorican Poets Cafe in Alphabet City, the birthplace of the Nuyorican (a blend of New York and Puerta Rican) poetic movement and a great place to catch energetic slam poetry, theatre and alternative film nights. There’s a rabble of galleries in the ‘hood to hang out in: the New Museum curates curious contemporary work, the Elizabeth Street Gallery has an array of sculptures and antiques and James Fuentes has an impressive roll call of talent. And the Tenement Museum shows life as it was in the New York of old.
You've the world's cuisine at your fingertips here, so arrive hungry. Prince Street’sCafé Habana satisfies Cuban cravings – try the semi-divine grilled corn – Balthazar is an iconic French brasserie, Bar Primi is a low-key Italian with a carb-laden menu and BondST serves delicate Japanese dishes. Fight for a seat at Momofuku Ko, David Chang's immensely popular pan-Asian eatery, pair rugged steaks with hard liquor at meat- and whiskey-loving Saxon + Parole, and tuck into inventive veggie fare at Dirt Candy.
For scrumptious sweet stuff, hit Doughnut Planton Grand Street and order a ‘Tres Leches’ – life may never be the same. For an egg sandwich with black-forest ham and caramelised onions, smoked salmon with lemon-caper cream cheese and PB&J cookies, try the Smile diner.
Bars are in abundance, too. Angel's Share (8 Stuyvesant Street) is a little tough to find with its unmarked door, but its well-renowned cocktails make a visit worth the effort of hunting it down. Please Don't Tell is similarly secretive, even if patrons have blatantly ignored its titular plea. Death & Co's spiffily dressed barkeeps fit in with the burnished surroundings; some of the best movers and shakers in town mix up drinks here.
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.