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Without reservations

Two nightlife entrepreneurs move into the New York hotel business with a detailed vision of 1960s style.

June 15, 2003|James Verini | Special to The Times

New York — New York

Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode, the New York slash L.A. restaurateurs slash club owners and now slash hoteliers collectively responsible for L.A. perennials such as Bar Marmont and Jones and New York's Bowery Bar and the Park, are not terribly concerned that a visitor is poking around their not-yet-open hotel when the place is still, to put it mildly, a shambles.

Immune to the drill bursts and cement dust, they hop over a plank of wood to point out the exact future position of a magnolia tree they have on order. MacPherson, 38, and Goode, 45, are blithely confident that this still very much in-progress "project," as they call it, a $33-million-plus boutique hotel on Manhattan's lower West Side would open its doors in a mere three months -- and in the midst of one of the worst hotel markets in New York's history. They know exactly how they want the Maritime Hotel to look when it is done. They know they'll get it done and that it will be The Next Scene. Devil take the rest.

"We're not as obsessed about the cost as we are about believing it will work," MacPherson says. Pause. "This is our first hotel, so maybe it will prove to be a judgment error."

His tone implies that although he doesn't believe that could ever happen, he would be content either way. This is how these partners talk.

"What separates us from other hoteliers is that we've done this place like it's our house," MacPherson says. "We literally are the designers and contractors."

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Obsessive attention to detail

MacPherson and Goode are sitting in one of the finished rooms -- in the end there will be 120 of them, identical, plus four penthouse suites on the eighth floor. The room, which will go for about $200 a night, has a Queen-Mary-meets-the-Orient-Express feel, with dark teak paneling and shiny metal appointments.

"We did everything," MacPherson says. "There isn't anything on the property that we didn't consider. "

As anyone who knows MacPherson and Goode knows, this is their hallmark. Obsessive attention to design and detail has made both their careers.

Goode opened the epochal New York club Area 20 years ago. An heir to Studio 54, it was a second studio for the likes of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat (who lived with Goode's sister). MacPherson, who got his start at the L.A. rock club Power Tools in the late 1980s, has become the arbiter nonpareil of West Coast lounge chic, with places such as Bar Marmont, Jones, El Carmen and Baby's in Las Vegas.

The Maritime occupies a 12-story, 80,000-square-foot building that has been a famous curio on Manhattan's 9th Avenue since 1968. Originally a a boardinghouse for people in the maritime trade, its architect, Albert Ledner, was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. It clearly draws from Wright's '50s sci-fi phase. In a 25-foot-wide sliver with an exterior of 1-inch white tiles ("A lot," says MacPherson, when asked for a tile count), the Maritime's rooms all face west, overlooking the Hudson River through 5-foot porthole windows.

The building was converted into a rehabilitation clinic for Covenant House in the 1980s. It was then sold to the Chinese government. But the last few years have seen this beleaguered stretch of land, which straddles the Meatpacking District to the south and Chelsea to the north, turn into the neighborhood of the moment in Lower Manhattan. It began with the exodus of Soho's gallery scene; now not a month goes by, it seems, that a new brasserie or lounge doesn't open on a converted factory floor.

MacPherson and Goode bought the property in April 2001, for about $19 million. At a cost of $5 million, they rebuilt the outdoor plaza to make room for two 120-seat restaurants -- one Japanese, one Italian -- and an elevated courtyard garden.

The locale's combination of unripe Warhol seediness and will-I-get-mugged? suspense -- a stretch of housing projects looms not two blocks away -- is just right for the partners.

"Yeah, it's an interesting area," Goode says.

He would know. He and MacPherson were among the first restaurateurs to venture into it, in early 2001, when they opened the bar-restaurant the Park, their first joint venture. They bought that property -- which consisted of three adjoining taxi garages -- because it was cheap and because they knew, in an area such as this, they could get the needed licenses from the city without much trouble.

They also knew they wanted to introduce massive L.A. lounge-style outdoor dining to New York (the restaurant seats up to 500 in the summer, virtually unheard-of capacity in Manhattan), and that they would do it with the same studied early-1960s West Coast nostalgia flair -- rosewood-veneer walls, Naugahyde banquettes, a 30-foot dracaena tree -- that MacPherson had perfected at his L.A. spots. What they didn't know was whether people would really venture to the banks of the Hudson River not to dance -- there were plenty of sweaty dance clubs around -- but just to eat and drink.

People would, it turned out.

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