After a day or night in Manhattan, it's time to relax in the Ça… (Susan Spano )
Reporting from New York — Staying at a plush new hotel is possibly the last thing most Americans are thinking about this holiday season. Dreaming about, maybe, because who can afford it?
So here's a morsel of consolation: Although the economy in much of the country continues to stagger, an unprecedented 34 hotels have opened this year in New York, and 28 more are under construction. Occupying new buildings, joining a host of ever-permutating chains and pioneering neighborhoods across the five boroughs, the roster of just-launched properties offers visitors a wide selection in price and style.
Hotel industry experts have myriad explanations for the growth, but the bottom line is that the Big Apple is persistently popular with visitors and keeps reinventing itself by adding attractions such as the elevated High Line park in Chelsea and the Time Warner mall at Columbus Circle.
"Let's face it," said Sean Hennessey, chief executive of the consulting firm Lodging Advisors, "there's an almost endless number of people in the world whose dream is to take a trip to New York."
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Last month, I stopped in the city to check out a few new hotels. I was on my way home from a long trip to Southeast Asia, where I had stayed in a room at a guesthouse near the Thai-Cambodian border that cost $15 a night and came with a frog. It made for an interesting comparison with the places I sampled in New York, where the average rate is $250 and rising. ("If you wanted a really great bargain," Hennessey said, "you should have visited in 2009.") Rooms in the city have Vichy showers and 400-thread-count sheets — but no wildlife. I'm still trying to figure which was the reality check: New York or Cambodia.
I could not figure out why a woman in a Little Bo Peep costume was standing at West 44th Street and 8th Avenue, around the corner from the new, glass-clad, 36-story building that houses the InterContinental New York Times Square. Maybe she had just escaped from Bellevue or an 8th Avenue girlie show. Or maybe I was seeing things; after all, I'd been on a plane for 20 hours.
Things started to make sense once I reached the InterContinental. A bellman in a camel's hair coat stopped warming his hands long enough to wish me a happy Halloween and show me to the lobby, a large space, empty but for several massive copper columns and a long marble reception desk backed by windows overlooking a spotlighted courtyard.
The elevators are to the left. On the right, the lobby yields to a library-like concierge station, a lounge with a cheerfully glowing fake fireplace, a cool-looking bar plied by cocktail waitresses in backless black mini-dresses, the Ça Va Brasserie by celebrity chef Todd English (of Olives in New York, Boston and Las Vegas) and Marché Bakery.
Very snazzy, in a vaguely Midcentury Modern way; also buttoned-up, understated and gender-neutral — in other words, classic InterContinental.
More of the same in my sixth-floor double, priced at the time at about $350. It had the standard hotel room configuration, decorated in beiges and grays with unassuming textures and patterns, but was, alas, too low for a view of the Times Square skyline from the floor-to-ceiling window. Two overstuffed queen beds looked as though they'd been injected with collagen; there also was a comfortable work station with a touch-screen computer and a mini-bar with a Keurig coffee brewer. In the roomy midnight blue-tiled bath, I found a walk-in shower with an overhead spigot that rained instead of spurted, Gilchrist & Soames toiletries and new-smelling Corinelli robes and towels.
Everything suited, but nothing struck me as a pleasant surprise in the way, say, of a room with a frog.
So I had dinner from the three-course, $36 prix-fixe menu at Ça Va. It was tasty, but the lights were so dim that I had to ask for a flashlight to cut my hanger steak.
Then I discovered the hotel's most compelling amenity: its Theater District address, down the street from the Broadhurst, where Al Pacino is starring in "The Merchant of Venice," and near such Broadway fixtures as Sardi's, the old New York Times building and Restaurant Row; and 8th Avenue, which, despite gentrification, has clung to its seediness like an old hooker clutching her wig in the wind.
The InterContinental boasts a top-drawer concierge staff to help guests get tickets and navigate the neighborhood. This is a chain signature, so I put a young man at the desk to the test.
On a Sunday night, there wasn't much on except noisy, long-running musicals. When I told him that I didn't care for song and dance, he perked up, suggesting I catch "Welcome to the Rileys," a new movie showing near Lincoln Center. He spoke so cogently about its stars, James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo, that I had to ask, although I already knew the answer, "Are you, by any chance, an actor?"