By Terry Trucco
At a glance: When the Bryant Park hotel opened in 2001, Conde Nast was housed in a nearby skyscraper and Fashion Week unfurled in tents across the street in Bryant Park twice a year. With the Garment District nearby the area was Fashion Central, and the hotel fit right in.
The Bryant Park is still chic and stylish, even if much of New York’s fashion world has migrated downtown. The runway-handsome porters manning the heavy brass and glass doors wear black. Check-in occurs at a lipstick-red lacquer counter parked in front of a matching leather wall. And though the lobby’s dark, wood-paneled sitting area is no bigger than, well, a lipstick, the two armless leather loveseats are undeniably chic (dressed in the house red, naturally).
The exterior is just as delectable: The hotel occupies the American Standard Building, a magnificent black brick Gothic skyscraper as tall and sleek as a supermodel – and immortalized by Georgia O’Keeffe in her 1927 painting “The Radiator Building at Night.”
The lobby is so lush I’d prefer more places to sit, the better to watch the parade of stylish guests or drink in the view of the park. Better still, how about a sitting room to replace the top floor meeting space? (The spectacular views are by invitation only). Still, there’s plenty of seating in Koi, the sleek, snooty outpost of the L.A. Asian-fusion restaurant adjoining the hotel. And the Cellar Bar, a glamorous basement lair, pulsates late into the night, albeit for the price of dinner or a drink.
Rooms: They’re chic, minimal and surprisingly large. The standard room I saw, plenty big for two people, was a stark, spotless white envelope with a black metal-frame queen-size bed garbed in white sheets and perched on legs, so you could see beneath. The aubergine leather headboard matched the leather bolster running the width of the bed. I liked the upholstered chair/bench and little table in front of the window, overlooking a cityscape and shielded by white floor-to-ceiling curtains. Besides a closet big enough to hold the fruits of a Manhattan shopping spree, a second closet contained the minibar and “romance accessories,” as the assorted condoms and whatnot were described to me, and an LG flat-panel TV hung on the wall.
The large stone and white bathroom sported a glassed-in stall shower (tub/shower combos are also available), a contemporary rectangular pedestal sink that would look comfortable in a Japanese aparto and Molton Brown toiletries.
Food and drink: Koi, a stylish, pricey Japanese restaurant feels Downtown and serves lunch and dinner in a cavernous, glamorous lair punctuated by dark wood walls and a sleek openwork white ceramic ceiling. There’s almost no upholstery, and the room shrieks (on my first visit, a friend insisted we leave before being seated because she couldn’t stand the din). I returned another day without her — the noise, slightly tuned down, didn’t bother me and the heartier friend I recruited — and tucked into a lunch of tofu with vegetables in a ginger sauce (delicious) and iced tea (weak). Unlike the hotel, where the staff seems eager to please, service in the restaurant was cool and indifferent.
The Cellar, open at night for drinks and DJ tunes, has a cool vibe and a gorgeous tile ceiling that looks like the Oyster Bar and gets very crowded. The bar had a prominent cameo in an episode on season 1 of the short-lived TV series “Smash.”
Amenities: You need to show your key to a porter to use the elevator to get upstairs (most of the time). The fitness center is clean and well equipped with cardio machines and free weights. Screening room in the basement (alas, it’s only open for private screenings).
Surroundings: A superb Midtown location, equidistant between Times Square and the Theater District, and Grand Central Terminal. The New York Public Library and Bryant Park (ice skating in the winter, outdoor movies in the summer, a merry-go-round year round) are across the street. Fifth Avenue shops, the Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the Morgan Library & Museum and several multiplex movie theaters are a walk – or cab ride — away. Bus stops and subway stations are even closer.
Back story: The Bryant Park Hotel building started life in 1924 as the offices of American Radiator, a heating manufacturer. Designed by Raymond Hood and Andre Fouilhoux (Hood also designed the Chicago Tribune Building and the massive GE Tower in Rockefeller Center), the Gothic black brick structure featured a then-cutting- edge set-back design, with parts of the building recessed to make this relatively small structure appear taller. Carved allegories depicting the transformation of matter into energy punctuate the exterior (the building housed a heating company, after all). The black bricks, chosen to give the building heft and solidity, also symbolized coal; the gold trim embodied fire.
The radiator company eventually became American Standard, reflected in the building’s name change. This National Historic Landmark was sold to the hotel’s developers in 1998, and the Bryant Park opened in 2001.
Keep in mind: For a high-end hotel, there’s not much public space that isn’t a restaurant or bar.