For years the lobby at the Belleclaire bothered me.
The Belleclaire was the W of its day, as cool as they came in 1903. The hotel occupies a spooky/gorgeous brick and limestone pile architect Emory Roth appears to have dreamed up in a hallucinogenic haze. Carved Roman goddesses gaze down from the balconies. Mark Twain and Maxim Gorky signed the guestbook.
But times change. The hotel lost its cool, spiraled downward into the ranks of Single Room Occupancy and bubbled up as a budget hostel. In 2008 came a clean sweep. The Belleclaire refurbished its rooms (wood floors, red tufted leather headboards, new bathrooms), opened a fitness center and raised its aspirations (the rates went up, too).
But somehow no one thought – or budgeted – a lobby renovation. The space was as distinctive
as a Motel 6 and as ungainly as a room that looked like it was missing its other half. About the best thing you could say was free newspapers were always stacked on the coffee table.
But that changed earlier this year. Though scaffolding still embraces the building’s entrance the lobby is finished at last. And it’s a beauty.
The lobby is twice as big as before and looks like at long last it can breathe. The designers kept the best of the old, namely the faded mosaic tile floor, and added wood paneling, a skylight and a colossal chandelier that manages to look retro and new at once.
With three seating areas it’s an inviting place to stop by, check your messages or scan the headlines (the coffee tables are new and improved but newspapers are still stacked). And the sofas are comfy, from the buttery bourbon leather beneath a big mirror to the mile-long tufted velvet number near the elevators.
The latter has a curvaceous back, and like most of the furniture spins tradition.
I like the neo-traditional vibe. The Belleclaire resides in an old building, and the lobby respects its past while tweaking it. My favorite detail is the wall of shadowboxes separating the lobby from the elevators. They’re filled with early 20th-century memorabilia – top hats, typewriters, pipes, photographs and hatpins. I couldn’t find any copies of Huck Finn or The Lower Depths, but maybe eventually.
There’s also a bar that looks great but doesn’t serve drinks at the moment. Definitely eventually, according to the desk attendant.
For now, drinks or no drinks, the Belleclaire lobby rocks — and that’s something I never expected to say.
Hotel Belleclaire, 250 West 77th Street at Broadway; 212 362-7700.