At a glance: I like the idea behind the Marrakech: a budget hotel with simple but stylish Moroccan-inspired rooms and a moody, candlelit lobby/lounge serving drinks after 5. And it almost works.
To be fair, the hotel, a former brick tenement perched atop a Starbuck’s, has problematic bones. Hallways are narrow, rooms are small, and though the hotel has five stories, there is NO ELEVATOR.
Still, if you appreciate a good deal and aren’t super picky, the Marrakech has its charms. I like the little lounge, a moody Kasbah that evokes a nightclub – or a budget (very budget) Royalton — with pillow-strewn wall seating, striped ottomans, a mural of its namesake city (complete with a camel) and a bar serving flashy, moderately priced drinks. True, the lounge looks a little weird during the day when you see wall-to-wall guests with suitcases waiting for the Super Shuttle to the airport.
But the gurgling fountain at the top of the tile-lined entry staircase is welcome eye-candy after you’ve lugged your duffel bag up a full flight. (Porters are often — though not always — on hand if extra muscle is needed.) And following a much-needed paint job, the hotel, if not exactly an oasis, looks cleaner and spiffier.
Rooms: Small, simple and very basic. Walls are painted Moroccan red, bed linens are snowy and good quality, and the smallest rooms have ceiling fans, a welcome accoutrement. Flatpanel TVs swing out from the walls. Bathrooms are teeny but freshly tiled with small tub/shower combos. The website shows a large room with a brick wall, but I didn’t see anything that resembled that.
Food and drink: Sook, a stylish, moderately priced Thai/Chinese restaurant downstairs from the hotel, serves lunch and dinner. The hotel lounge morphs into the Kasbah Lounge at 5 pm, when the lights are dimmed and drinks are served to a crowd that often includes locals as well as the hotel’s international mix of guests. And Starbucks is next door.
Amenities: Free WiFi in the lobby. House computers are banked in an alcove next to the lobby. Ecco toiletries. High-thread-count sheets.
Surroundings: The ‘hood is residential (West End Avenue, one block west, is lined with classic prewar apartments, including several creations by 1920s master architect Rosario Candela) and convenient to Columbia University, Riverside Park and Central Park. It’s also packed with moderately priced restaurants like the relaxed French Café de Soleil and Amla for Indian food (I swear by the $10.95 lunch). Smoke, one of the city’s top jazz bars, is down the street. Starbucks, as mentioned, is next door.
The subway station and bus stops are across the street, and though the hotel is farther north than most, you can get to Midtown in 20 minutes and the Financial District in 30 to 35 minutes by subway (on a good day). Fifth Avenue museums are easily reached on the 95th Street crosstown bus. And the Cloisters, the gorgeous uptown branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a straight shot north by subway.
Back story: The Marrakech’s five-story walk-up was built in 1911 as a tenement and spent much of the following years housing locals, often as a grim SRO (single room occupancy) hotel. In the late 1990s, it became the Malibu, a budget hotel, and quickly degenerated into a halfway house before hotel developer Hank Fried brought in Lionel Ohayon of trendy ICrave Design to create the lobby — and concept. The spruced up Marrakech opened in 2006.
Keep in mind: No elevator; don’t even think about this place if you hate stairs. (There’s often a traffic jam as people cluster at the front door to use the stairs.) Window air conditioners (which can be noisy).