By Terry Trucco
At a glance: Did Michael Phelps design this place?
Instead of sofas, the lobby sports a swimming pool. In fact, the lobby is a swimming pool (a heated 22-footer) outfitted with stadium seats, atmospheric lighting that changes color, a back wall that doubles as a movie screen and the overpowering smell of chlorine. (The air feels a bit humid, too, but hey, you’re poolside.)
A large bar adjoins the pool, so you can throw back mojitos and watch the late night swimmers make waves. The liquid lobby isn’t the only surprise. From the street, you’d never know this is a hotel with plate glass covering the front of the building.
As for the curious name – why not call it Splash? — this unusual boutique was originally the QT, named for the racy 1950s Hollywood tabloid, but was sedately rebranded Grace in 2008 when hotelier Andre Balazs handed it over to Spain’s Room Mate hotel group.
Under Room Mate, the hotel has embraced its Spanish affiliations. Madrid designer Lorenzo Castillo, who favors a mix of baroque and modern design, did the upbeat, wildly patterned interiors, relegating the minimalist white walls, framed copies of QT and arch attitude to hotel history’s dustbin. The tweaked hotel is warmer, less edgy — and thriving. It’s also a lot more family friendly. Just look at who’s splashing in the pool these days.
The pleasant breakfast room with tables, amble seating and a pleasant vibe is always open. Even though there’s no lobby per se, comfy spots to meet friends, work on your laptop or just chill with a book or messages are available.
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 king bed I saw, set on a raised upholstered platform. A suitcase slides easily beneath (the closet is minuscule). The flatpanel TV hangs on the wall opposite the bed, and you can perch on the upholstered bench extending from the bed’s platform. Lively, cocoa-colored wallpaper sprinkled with white flowers envelops the little room, turning it into a stylish sleep cocoon.
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: There’s no restaurant, but the Aquatic Bar opposite the pool is good looking and attracts an evening mix of people in street clothes, bathing suits and bathrobes. (You can breast-stroke up to the bar if you’re a guest, but don’t expect to swim if you haven’t booked a room.)
There’s no room service, but a generous continental breakfast included in the cost of your room is served on the second floor. Plenty of nearby restaurants and delis do take-away (the hotel supplies menus). And rooms have minibars.
Amenities: There’s a steam room and sauna (co-ed) and a teeny fitness room. Free WiFi. 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: You’ll smell the chlorine in the lobby but not in your room.