W Union Square
Updated: Feb 20, 2014
cool detail: smartly redesigned lobby 'living room"
By Terry Trucco
At a glance: W Union Square is effortlessly hip. Part of its cool is its address: Cater-corner to Union Square, it’s close enough to 14th Street to qualify as Downtown.
The building, a timeless Beaux Arts pile, is pretty cool, too, if splendid historic structures refashioned for a contemporary audience pump your pulse. Built in 1911 as headquarters for Guardian Life Insurance of America, the creamy, Metropolis-inflected lobby boasts mile-high ceilings and a magnificent staircase that winds round and round, like the spirals in Vertigo.
As with many buildings never intended to be hotels, you see awkward spaces: The check-in area is larger than it needs to be, and the sitting area -- Living Room lobby in W speak -- should be bigger. Scoring a spot on a high-back sofa or leather club chair is a challenge after 5 p.m., when the lobby morphs from daytime mode as a sitting room/high-tech work space to a cocktail lounge popular after work with local business and media types (brandish an iPad or laptop any time, and you’ll fit right in).
Following a redesign by Krause + Sawyer in 2013 that added infusions of colored leather (chartreuse! turquoise!) and sleeked up the walls (that outdated blanket of faux grass is gone), the Living Room looks contemporary, fresh and in sync with guest rooms smartly spruced up – and infused with color -- in 2012.
Also looking good are Todd English’s Olives restaurant and bar and Lilium, a sexy new nightspot that replaced Underbar. And W Union Square’s mojo? It’s back.
Rooms: If you've stayed here before, be prepared for a change. The new look, courtesy of d-dash design and Wilson Associates, is wildly colorful, a radical departure from the previous Downtown chic ca 2000 where dark wood furniture and cream walls ruled.
These could be the liveliest rooms in town with bold accents of persimmon and royal blue pumping up the whimsically patterned gray carpeting and pale gray walls. (Orange was Pantone color of the year for 2012.) I like the swirly edges on the bold black-framed full length mirror each room sports (the motif is lifted from details used in the 1911 building). And the sculpted metal accent leg seen on desks and luggage racks made me smile. My guess: W aficionados will eat these rooms up, but they're not for anyone who's color phobic.
Typical of a hotel converted from an office building, rooms vary in size and shape. I like that the smallest rooms are somewhat larger than most small rooms you find in New York.
But the little ones overlook the courtyard (keep those curtains shut) and are dark.
Moving up the hospitality food chain, rooms with partial park views are larger, and those with full-fledged park views are downright expansive by New York standards. The larger rooms sport roomy bathrooms outfitted with white tiles and big bathtubs. (Smaller rooms have teeny bathrooms with space-saving sliding doors and stall showers.)
But the showpieces are the suites, which increased in number during the renovation. Junior suites feature a clever divider between the sitting and sleep areas (the flatpanel TV, backed by a mirror, spins around so it an be watched in either area). And the square-back sofas edged in blue lizard-imprinted leather convert into beds, ideal for families.
Food and drink: True to W formula, the restaurant and nightspot are name brand. And both Olives, Todd English's high-concept Mediterranean-inflected chain with links in Boston, Washington, DC and Las Vegas, and Lilium, Randee Gerber's new subterranean nightspot, are primed for the 20-teens following major renovations.
Post-renovation Olives looks chicly contemporary with clothless tables, orange leather chairs and a new open kitchen. Barriers between the bar and dining area are gone, and the open restaurant, if somewhat generic, looks inviting and up to date. In the past, the burger -- and bread basket -- were memorable. We'll post when we've sampled the new menu.
Downstairs Lilium is dark and more open than its predecessor Underbar (the curtained hideaways are history). If you go, be sure to look up at the hand-made gilded lilies on the ceiling. Gorgeous.
Amenities: Expect the standard W perks including Bliss toiletries, bathrobes, flatpanel TVs. There’s a fitness center but no spa (in room treatments are available). Pets can stay for $25 a day plus a $100 cleaning fee. WiFi (free in the lobby; $16.95 in rooms -- and all rooms have it following renovation).
Surroundings: Besides acting as the gateway to Downtown, Union Square is a short walk from the Flatiron District, stands convenient to Midtown and is the site of the Greenmarket, the city’s best open-air farmer’s market, open Wednesdays and weekends. Good shopping and oodles of restaurants, from fancy (11 Madison Park) to fun (the Coffee Shop, Steak Frites) are nearby. The East Village, New York University and Washington Square are a short walk. SoHo, Tribeca, Nolita and the Financial District, though slightly further afield, are easy to reach. And the subway station and bus stops are steps away.
Back story: Opened in 2000, this was W’s fourth foray into New York, following the W New York, the W Tuscany and the W Court (the latter two, no longer affiliated with W, joined the British-run St. Giles group in 2010). As mentioned above, the building was built in 1911 to house the New York office of Guardian Life Insurance of America and is an official historic landmark. In 1998, the Guardian Life relocated to newer, larger digs near Wall Street. Rooms, restaurants, ballrooms and bars were renovated in 2012. Redesigns and renovations to the main lobby and “living room” lounge wrapped in 2013.
Keep in mind: Though free in the lobby, there's a fee for WiFi in the rooms. Interior rooms are dark.
What We Saw: