By Terry Trucco
At a glance: Including this chain hotel in a guide to boutique properties is a stretch, but bear with me. Despite its undeniable cookie-cutter visuals (white walls, wood tones), Element New York Times Square comes up big where it wants to: it’s really, really green — and not just in its kelly, clover, celery and forest accents. If that’s more important to you than one-of-a-kind independence, read on.
Consider the stats — wall art mounted on bases made from recycled tires, carpets, furniture and floor-coverings fabricated from recycled materials and walls bathed in low-VOC paint. And though the hotel’s energy isn’t completely green, 70 percent is purchased from a renewable source.
Best of all, this 2010 sliver skyscraper looming over the Port Authority Bus Terminal is from-the-ground-up new, as are the dual-flush toilets and recycling bins in the guest rooms.
Typical of extended stay properties, Element serves a breakfast buffet, included in the price of the room, and splashes the spare but comfortable lobby with tall tables ideal for grabbing a sandwich or a laptop. Two roomy lounges outfitted with low sofas and side-table/seating cubes sit behind the lobby (the back lounge, aka the greenhouse, features a glass roof). And for that techie/homey touch, you can curl up with a house computer or borrow a book from the sampling on a lounge shelf.
Rooms: Rooms are a visual continuation of what you see downstairs – white, frill-free, environmentally conscious and more visually in tune with Ikea than with Jamie Drake – or Jonathan Adler. All come with king-size beds (the vaunted Westin Heavenly Bed, to be precise), and differ only in room size and view. Spring for a Times Square view from a high floor if you can ($50 extra per night) – it’s glorious; views from low floors at the front of the hotel are grim (lower that Roman shade).
As customary with extended stay properties, rooms are larger than typical Manhattan hotel rooms, but these aren’t big. Each comes with a well-appointed kitchenette paneled in glass tile and outfitted with a cook top, LG microwave and refrigerator, coffee maker and sink.
In addition to a pale green accent wall behind the bed (in case you forget you’re staying at a green hotel), elements include a large desk, a console with drawers that supports the flatpanel TV, and a sofa.
The compact white bathroom, tucked behind a pocket door, features a dual-flush toilet, a low-flow faucet for the square white sink and a rainforest head in the shower. Built-in dispensers provide shampoo and shower gel.
Cool detail: the magnetized – and reusable — Do Not Disturb sign that slaps onto a metal plate on each room door.
Food and drink: Typical of extended stay hotels, Element offers a complimentary continental buffet breakfast that includes fruit, cereal, bagels, muffins, low-fat wraps, toast, juice, smoothies and coffee. Comp appetizers, wine and beer are served in the sitting area from 5:30 to 7pm, Monday through Thursday. A small grab-and-go stocks cold drinks, microwave meals and snacks.
Amenities: Roof deck. Free WiFi. Pets allowed up to 40 lbs. ($25 per day cleaning fee, refundable at end of stay if no problems have occurred). Westin Heavenly Dog beds available. Laundry room with machines ($1.50 per wash, $1.50 per dry). The medium-size fitness center is clean and well equipped. Bikes available for use of the guests, no charge.
Caveat: Element is a virulently non-smoking property, indoors and out; no one can smoke within 25 feet of the building. A $750 to $1,000 cleaning fee is levied against anyone who smokes in a room.
Surroundings: Element is one of five (!) new skinny high rise chain hotels on a gritty block steps away from the Port Authority Bus Terminal (a simultaneously convenient and scary place) and just west of Times Square. The block is touristy, boring and rather grimy. But nearby await Times Square’s myriad attractions, from multiplex movie theaters and restaurants galore to the best Broadway theaters in town. The hotel is located too far west to be completely desirable, but if you don’t mind walking, you can easily reach Macy’s, the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden. And with subway and bus stops just steps away, the location is superb for heading uptown (Lincoln Center, American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University) or downtown (SoHo, Tribeca, the Financial District). And if you’re heading to Fifth Avenue and points east, the crosstown bus and subway shuttle are nearby.
Back story: The hotel is a link in Starwood’s Element chain, a green-is-good, extended stay subset of Westin Hotels. All hotels in the chain are required to pursue LEED Certification from the U.S Green Buildings Council. Element Times Square was built from the ground up and opened in November 2010.
Keep in mind: Elevators require a keycard to operate, but they are s-l-o-w. Lobby tables get overcrowded most mornings at breakfast.