At a glance: The new James NoMad is a case study in how rapidly NoMad, a once gritty neighborhood north of Madison Park, has become desirable.
Consider the history of the striking brick and limestone Beaux Arts building the hotel occupies. Opened in 1904 as the Hotel Seville, it housed a white-glove property reflecting its Gilded Age neighborhood where grande dames like Edith Wharton and Elsie de Wolfe felt at home. Tumbling downmarket like its surroundings during the Depression, the hotel was resuscitated in 1987 as the Carlton and in 2005, ushered onto the National Registry of Historic Places. That year it also underwent a $60 million reboot overseen by John Rockwell that glamorized the premises, unveiled a breathtaking Tiffany stained glass skylight and brought a splash of aspirational luxury a neighborhood in transition.
Fast forward to February 2018. After almost a year of refurbishment without closing its doors, the James NoMad emerged self-confident and contemporary with a new entrance on 29th Street, a living room-style lobby with midcentury-inflected furniture and 360 rooms, from snug to sprawling, where the bespoke mid-century influences include eye-catching grated brass minibars straight out of Mad Men. And yes, with its built in cool and laid-back luxury the James is more in sync with NoMad 2018 than the more formal Carlton.
I like how the lobby sums up the hotel’s style. With painted industrial columns and a gorgeous chevron-patterned wood ceiling, the room is equal parts comfort and chic, boasting soothing colors, multiple seating areas and cushioned window seats in front of the arched Beaux Arts windows, ideal for working a laptop. The building’s magnificent windows also backdrop the stylish bar at Scarpetta, the upscale Italian restaurant that relocated to the James from the Meatpacking District. The clubby subterranean Seville Bar delivers an added historical flourish, if in name only.
Kudos to designer Thomas Juul-Hansen, the Copenhagen-born New Yorker who did a masterful job of fitting a contemporary hotel into an Age of Innocence building. I’d love to see what he’d do with the Tiffany skylight, which disappeared with the current renovation. With luck, we’ll find out.
Rooms: Coming soon.
Food and drink: The James is the new home for Scarpetta, the acclaimed modern Italian restaurant that made a splash with its signature tomato, basil spaghetti in the Meatpacking District in 2008. At present, only dinner and a continental breakfast are served, but a full breakfast and lunch are planned in future. The dining room and bar are quietly gorgeous with soft colors, rounded banquettes and the building’s massive arched windows. The Seville, the moody subterranean bar, is like a nightclub with craft cocktails, swooping sofas and a DJ most nights.
Amenities: Free WiFi. Fitness room. Pets up to 25 lbs. allowed ($75 cleaning fee). Shinola pet toys available on request.
Surroundings: A boring block but the surrounding NoMad (north of Madison Avenue Park) neighborhood has become desirable, even hip. It’s loaded with boutique hotels — the NoMad, Ace, Redbury, New York Edition and the Evelyn, to name a few, and nicely situated if you need to get downtown (SoHo, Nolita, Tribeca, the Village and the Financial Distrist, et al) or to Midtown. The Empire State Building, Morgan Library, Madison Square Park, lower Fifth Avenue shopping, Flatiron building and the Fashion Institute of Technology are a short walk away. Madison Square Garden, Macy’s and Times Square and the Theater District are slightly farther afield as are Grand Central Terminal and Fifth Avenue stores. Bus stops are steps away, and the nearest subway station is a short walk.
Back story: As mentioned above, in a previous life, this was the Seville, an elegant 1904 hotel whose fortunes rose and fell with those of the city. By the mid 80s, it was rundown and scuzzy, a prime candidate for an extreme makeover. In 1987 it was updated and renamed the Carlton. And in 2005, the ground floor was gutted, the lobby was moved from 29th Street to Madison Avenue, and hotel/restaurant architect David Rockwell was recruited to design the premises. Best of all, the renovation unearthed a stained glass dome, believed to be by Tiffany — a smoke-stained, broken, boarded up wreck that was restored to showpiece glory. Several years – and $60 million – later, the Carlton on Madison Avenue opened. Rooms retained the original dimensions but with new bath fixtures and heating (radiators be-gone). Along the way Carlton joined Marriott’s Autograph Group collection of historic hotels. But in 2016 the hotel was sold to the Denihan Group. In 2017 the Carlton became The James NoMad, and the rest you know.
Keep in mind: Hallways are labyrinths, and the hall floors leading to the rooms are uneven, though less so than prior to their latest renovation. Interior rooms on low floors can be dark.