By Terry Trucco
At a glance: As a longtime fan of London’s townhouse hotels — clubby, comfy places usually owned by a family or individual — I like the City Club Hotel’s vibe. It’s small (65 rooms), stylish (blue-chip decorator Jeffrey Bilhuber was the original designer), and the staff know your name (usually).
Still, it’s easy to be underwhelmed, at least initially. The white, window-lined lobby is as quiet as a convent, as big as a pocket and there’s almost no place to sit (Jeff Klein, who created the hotel, told an interviewer he wanted his lobby to be the antithesis of the night-clubby Royalton across the street). The mezzanine is also small with a donut-style hole cut out to overlook the lobby. Still, I like that it’s a great place to sit back in a wing chair, check your phone, grab a bite or curl up with something to read after a wearing day in the city. Depending on the size of your room, the mezzanine may be your best friend.
Cool detail: Framed record albums and vintage Playbills are on view throughout the hotel, a nod to the neighborhood’s deep ties to Tin Pan Alley and Broadway theater.
Rooms: Ranging from teeny (195 square feet) to a grand-scale 750 square foot duplex, rooms are urban, masculine and chic. The smallest have space (barely) for a queen-size bed and built-in shelves holding a fun selection of travel books. But king-bed rooms — almost spacious and uniformly stylish — sport banquettes in front of the lead-paned windows. Bathrooms, encased in chocolate marble, are surprisingly big and luxe (small rooms have a stall shower and a bidet). Craving space? The duplexes (there are three) have magnificent floor-through windows, balconies and remind me of that classic New York apartment in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.
Cool detail: Cookies at turndown.
Food and drink: A big plus: db Bistro Moderne, Daniel Boulud’s high-style, high-vibe French bistro — home of the vaunted $36 truffle burger (messy but scrumptious) — is the hotel restaurant and provides room service. But the restaurant’s double dining rooms are so appealing – even if they’re looking a bit dated — it’s more fun to come downstairs, sit at a banquette, mingle with the stylish crowd, and sip a glass of hibiscus iced tea (the bright red flowers in a photo on the wall match the tea). I brunched on a flavorful spring risotto with vegetables and shrimp and cinnamon cake with a tiny scoop of gelato ($26 for two courses) paired with decent coffee and excellent service. At $45, the three-course pre-theater prix fixe dinner is a sweet deal.
Amenities: Free Wi-Fi and name-brand goodies: Frette bed linens, C.O. Bigelow toiletries, bathroom speakers so you can listen to the news while you wash your face. There’s no health club on the premises, but guests can use New York Sports Club ($20 fee per visit). Discounted parking available at a nearby parking garage ($35 a day; call hotel for details). Pets allowed, 25 lbs. and under ($100 deposit, refunded if no damage occurs).
Surroundings: West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues is known as Club Row (the a lineup includes Harvard, Marnier, Penn and more). Times Square and the Theater District, Grand Central Station, Bryant Park, Fifth Avenue shopping and the New York Public Library are steps away. Though farther afield, Rockefeller Center, the Museum of Modern Art and Lincoln Center are easy to reach as are, in the opposite direction, the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden. Subway stops are several short blocks away, and bus stops are even closer.
Back story: The City Club originated in 1904 as a gentlemen’s club designed to encourage nonpartisan political discussion (noble thought). Despite years as an office building and headquarters for the American Plywood Association, the original design still survives. The duplex suites were once a ballroom. And the teeny rooms? They were quarters for members’ butlers. Jeff Klein, a socially connected New Yorker and hotel geek, refurbished the place lovingly in 2001. It’s now part of the Conzerge Collection, which includes the Smyth, the Blakely and Broome SoHo.
Keep in mind: Small rooms are teeny as are most closets (how many outfits did the butler need?).