At a glance: Did Michael Phelps design this place?
Instead of sofas, the lobby has a swimming pool. In fact, the lobby is a swimming pool (a heated 22-footer) outfitted with stadium seats, atmospheric lighting, a back wall that doubles as a movie screen and the overpowering smell of chlorine. (The air feels a bit humid, too.)
A large bar adjoins the pool, so you can throw back mojitos and watch the midnight swimmers make waves. The liquid lobby isn’t the only surprise. From the street, you’d never know this is a hotel: The glass-fronted check-in desk holds stacks of magazines and looks like a newsstand.
As for the curious name – shouldn’t it be called something like H2O or Pool? — this edgy boutique was originally the QT, named for the racy 1950s Hollywood tabloid, but was sedately rebranded Grace in 2008 by its new owners, Spain’s Room Mate hotel group.
If you’ve stayed here before you’ll notice minor adjustments: The once-minimalist white rooms now sport accent walls in wildly printed 70s-inflected wallpapers, and the framed copies of QT are gone. The tweaked hotel seems warmer and less edgy. But it’s still, to borrow a phrase, a luxury YMCA for the Abercrombie & Fitch crowd.
Rooms: Think dorm rooms with panache. Rooms are small, but a clever open-plan design provides a convincing illusion of space (a mirrored door slides in front of the toilet and stall shower, and a cabinet with a sink is in the middle of the room). I liked the raised king platform bed I saw, upholstered in white ostrich leather, with a built-in bench at the front. A suitcase slides easily beneath (the closet is minuscule). The flatpanel TV hangs on the wall opposite the bed, and you can pull up a molded side chair. And the lively midcentury-inflected wallpaper works well with the decor.
Group travels? Ask for bunk beds — a sleek twin-bed platform suspended above a queen, like a canopy, or a set of twin quads, accessible by a gleaming chrome ladder.
Food and drink: Make that drink and (not much) food. There’s no restaurant, but the bar opposite the pool is good looking (I love the quilted stainless steel pool-meets-diner wall) and quite a scene with a DJ five nights a week and a mix of people in street clothes, bathing suits and bathrobes. I’ve never seen anyone in the pool during the day, but revelers make quite a splash at night. (You can breast-stroke up to the bar.)
There’s no room service, but a generous complimentary continental breakfast is served on the second floor. And plenty of nearby restaurants and delis do take-away (the hotel supplies menus).
Amenities: There’s a steam room and sauna (co-ed) and a teeny fitness room. Free WiFi. The pool is open 24/7, but there’s no lifeguard, and it has a distinctly adult vibe. (Got kids? Try the Sheraton.) Pets allowed ($25 lbs. max) for $100.
Surroundings: A boring block (touristy bars, delis, cheesy discount shops) but near good stuff if you crave Times Square. Broadway theaters, the TKTS booth, multiplex movie theaters, Madame Tussauds, countless restaurants and enormous specialty shops (M & M store, Hershey’s Cocoa) are nearby. Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library, Bryant Park, Fifth Avenue shopping and Rockefeller Center are farther afield but walkable (if you like walking). Subway stations are a short walk away, and bus stops are even closer.
Back story: Hip hotelier Andre Balazs (The Mercer, The Standard) made waves when he opened this quirky-cool hotel in a former office building in 2005. Three years later, the hotel was sold to the Spain-based Room Mate hotel group, known for personalizing each boutique property in their growing chain with a proper name like Mario (Madrid), Lola (Malaga), Marina (Valencia) and of course Grace. (A photo of the good-looking inspiration for each name appears on the website.)
The chain prides itself on creating lighthearted properties that promise a good bed, nice sheets, free WiFi and breakfast but no restaurants since guests are expected to dive into the city instead of hanging around the dorm.
Keep in mind: On a recent visit the public spaces looked worn (and the steam room was out of commission).