By Terry Trucco
At a glance: Reinventing a hotel is always a gamble. But it seems owners of the Roger New York, née Hotel Roger Williams, held all the right cards when they changed the look and slimmed down the name of this agreeable hotel in 2012.
Bucking the usual trend at boutique hotels, the Roger went from clean-edged modern with Scandinavian inflections to retro/eclectic. They actually added moldings in the bedrooms, which channel the building’s 1930s origins. In the lobby they stripped the walls of its honey-colored wood paneling to expose brick walls, painted white. Lobby furniture is soft and slouchy – tufted velvet sofas, impish houndstooth club chairs, drinks trolleys and butler’s tables doubling as side tables. Very downtown, in other words.
There’s also a large wood table under the stairs for setting up a laptop or settling in with a coffee and a newspaper. But the big addition is a bar, turning the lobby into a lounge, at least at night. Just the thing for a smart north of NoMad hotel.
Rooms: Refurbished in 2012 by interior designer Annette Jaffe, rooms are stylish, serene and urbane. You know you’re in New York – and not just because there’s a huge photo print of an iconic New York image like the Central Park fountain framed in molding over the bed. The refurbished penthouse room I saw was just large enough to contain a king-size bed with a navy suede headboard flanked by a desk and a bedside table. A velvet club chair commanded a corner, and a clean-lined dresser hiding a mini bar faced the bed (a flatpanel TV hung on the wall above it).
For additional proof that this is New York, the room opened onto a terrace outfitted with two chaises and a superb view of the Empire State Building looming in the distance. (Many of the rooms come with terraces – though not necessarily this view — so be sure to ask if lounging alfresco interests you.)
But beware the little ones, called Classics. They’re nicely appointed but small. Move up to a Superior or Deluxe, and two people should have room to breathe, if the rooms I saw were on target. “All rooms have windows,” my guide said, which seemed an odd comment until I investigated further. The Superior-ranked city-view room I saw had a curtained window onto Madison Avenue.
But in the king-bedded Deluxe room in the back, the bed sits in front of a shoji-screened window that beams ambient light into the room. The screens slide open if you want direct light but there’s no view, and the room was considerably darker than the Madison Avenue room.
Bathrooms were gutted and refurbished in 2012 and are small but chic with large, glass-fronted stall showers and marble countertops. The pale green tiles are pretty, and the bathrooms we saw looked very clean.
Food and drink: A breakfast buffet is served daily in the mezzanine dining area, a stylish, informal room with round tables overlooking the lobby. Light American fare is served throughout the day as well and is a big improvement over the previous offerings. The lobby bar features stylish drinks concocted by Johnny Swet, a well-known hotel mixologist who has also worked with Jimmy bar at the James Hotel.
Amenities: A daily $15 service fee covers WiFi and local calls. The security-minded elevators won’t move unless you swipe your key card. The well-equipped fitness center is open 24 hours. C.O. Bigelow toiletries. A number of the rooms have balconies and terraces outfitted with plantings and chaises.
Surroundings: Roger is on the southern outskirts of Midtown, a boring, artless sprawl populated by delis, furniture stores, office buildings and other hotels. But the area, newly dubbed NoMad, is flirting with hipness, thanks to a fleet of new and renovated hotels including the Ace, NoMad, Carlton, Eventi, Kings and Cox New York and Roger New York. The hotel is near lots of good stuff, like the Empire State Building and the Morgan Library & Museum. And Madison Square Garden, Macy’s, the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal and Times Square and the Theater District aren’t too far afield. Bus stops are steps away, and the subway stops are a short four to five block walk.
Back story: Long before Roger, the hotel opened as the Roger Williams in 1930 on property leased by the Madison Avenue Baptist Church. The name, with its flinty New England connotations, was no coincidence: Roger Williams, the Rhode Island theologian and abolitionist, started the first Baptist church in America. Over the years the hotel in the tidy brick building sluffed off its between-the-wars appearance and morphed into a more modern creation. In 2004 it came under the wing of California-based JRK Hotel Group, which includes the Oceana Santa Monica, Hotel Florene in San Francisco and the nation’s largest Holiday Inn Express in Nashville.
The deep-dish renovation that followed bumped up the style – and comfort – a notch or two, but that was just for starters. A six-month renovation in 2012 spiffed up the works even more – down to brand new guest room bathrooms – and slimmed down the name to Roger New York.
Keep in mind: Elevators can be s-l-o-w (and the wait can be long during prime time).