By Terry Trucco
At a glance: The Iroquois New York, a small hotel with 114 rooms, is quiet, comfortable and unpretentious — ideal if you like being near Broadway theaters without constant reminders of how noisy, glitzy and touristy Times Square is.
You’re greeted by a small but well-designed lobby that deftly links the present with the building’s Edwardian history (the exterior is a turn-of-the-previous-century cousin to the flashier Algonquin a couple doors away). Looking totally at home, a handsome grandfather clock anchors the room, playing nice with the leaf-patterned fabric walls and the stylish high-back sofa that makes for pleasing, albeit abbreviated, seating.
A highlight is the snug wood-paneled library, ideal for sipping a morning coffee, cozying up with the newspapers (stacks are available) and playing on the house computer or your phone. A one-time budget hotel that welcomed residential guests — actor James Dean lived here before it hit it big in Hollywood — the Iroquois received a radical redo in 1997 that elevated it, and its prices, from budget to plush. I wish that the lobby, like much of the hotel, was more spacious, but it’s easy to call the Iroquois home, even if only for a night.
Rooms: Not large but attractive; rooms were refurbished top to toe in 2006, updated with new linens and pillows in 2012 and are well appointed with Frette bed linens and Anichini towels. Think traditional in the best sense — comfortable, solid and stylish with wall-mounted flatpanel plasma TVs, Bose radios and iPod docking stations. Beds, mostly kings, are surmounted by tufted headboards that stretch to the ceiling. Contemporary Venetian blinds have replaced window curtains, and desks have Aeron chairs.
The white marble bathrooms have pedestal sinks, brass fittings, tub/shower combos and Molton Brown toiletries. In the suites, large enough to conduct a small business meeting, colorful throw pillows garnish the sofa bed and the square desk can accommodate dinner for two or a round of bridge.
Amenities: WiFi, shoe shine, Le Belge chocolates at bedtime, ice tea or cider upon arrival and morning coffee from a big silver urn in the lobby – all comp. The gym, carved from two former guest rooms, includes a pocket-size sauna and a bathroom with a shower so you can clean up before catching the plane.
Food and drink: Triomphe, the hotel’s pricey Nouvelle French restaurant is romantic, intimate, boasts a graceful white marble bar and is packed at lunch and pre-theater. Meals, from my experience, vary from pedestrian to delicious; the softshell crabs, a summer special, fall in the latter camp.
But the showpiece is Lantern’s Keep, a stylish speakeasy behind the lobby, discreetly hidden by curtained doors. A discreet lantern in front of the hotel is lighted when the bar is open. Drinks are stylish — and potent.
Surroundings: A super block, almost high-rise free, with six stylish hotels, clubs galore (Harvard, Penn, Mariners) and some appealing architecture straight out of a black-and-white movie or a Wee Gee photograph. Times Square and the Theater District, Grand Central Station, Bryant Park and the New York Public library are nearby. Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, Fifth Avenue shopping and Macy’s are slightly further afield but not far. Subways are several blocks away; bus stops are steps away.
Back story: The Algonquin had Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle, but the Iroquois had cool, ie: James Dean, who lived here from 1951 to ‘52, before the Frette sheets – and Rebel without a Cause. In less palmy days, the hotel restaurant was the memorabilia-filled James Dean bar.
Following the 1997 renovation, the photos, playbills and autographs landed in the James Dean Suite (room 803), now just a memory following this latest refurbishment. If you’re a fan, console yourself at www.jamesdeangallery.com.
Keep in mind: Closet space is minimal. Back rooms sometimes hear the hum of the generator next door at the Sofitel. I waited eons for an elevator even though the hotel has two.