By Terry Trucco
At a glance: Strolling through the Whitby I felt a jolt of deja-vu, the good kind.
It’s not unusual for boutique hoteliers to open same city properties displaying similar DNA, as Sean MacPherson ably demonstrated with the Bowery, the Marlton and the Jane.
But interior designer Kit Kemp, co-founder of London’s Firmdale Hotel Group, goes a step further, outfitting her luxurious properties with playful, color-drenched interiors instantly identifiable as hers alone. That means if you’ve been to the Crosby Street Hotel, her whimsical SoHo property that opened in 2009, you’ll immediately recognize the Whitby as its same-but-different, separated-at-birth Midtown sibling. And not just because both showcase life-size dress forms in the all guest rooms.
Built from the ground up like the Crosby, the 18-story Whitby opened in March 2017, boasts floor-to-ceiling steel-frame windows that open and with its restrained limestone facade helps dress up its oddly dingy block, playing nice with swanky neighbors like Tiffany, the Museum of Modern Art and Bergdorf Goodman. Inside it’s unadulterated Kempland, brimming with idiosyncratic art like Stephen Cox’s towering marble stalagmites that bisect the light-hearted lobby and one-of-a-kind collections, like the 80 vintage serving plates mounted in identical Perspex boxes in the Whitby Bar dining area.
Larger than it appears, the hotel boasts a nest of deliciously anti-corporate subterranean meeting rooms that seem imagined for the English country house of an eccentric collector. There’s also a 130-seat screening room complete with orange leather seats (you can catch a recent movie at the hotel’s Sunday Film Club complete with brunch, lunch or afternoon tea).
Dialing into a high-end trend, exclusivity is a prominent perk; the skylit Orangery dining area and plushy drawing room, outfitted with a fireplace, library and honor bar, are for guests only. But the deliciously decorative Whitby Bar, open to all, is like nothing else in Midtown with 53 (count ‘em) handmade baskets suspended above the 30-foot pewter bar. For anyone contemplating where to take a first date, the decor is all-but-guaranteed to get the conversation rolling.
As visually engaging as the Whitby is, I found I couldn’t help playing compare and contrast with its Downtown sib (a chic woman from Paris seated at the table next to mine at breakfast confessed she was indulging in the same game). And that’s exactly what the hotel wants: the Uptown, Down package includes a stay at each property with breakfast — and they’ll transfer your luggage between hotels and send up a staff member to pack and unpack everything.
Rooms: You’d never mistake these homey but crisp settings for hotel rooms unless you’ve stayed at another Firmdale property. No two are exactly alike — a feat with 86 rooms — but similarities abound. Look for tall, curvaceous headboards blanketed in exuberant prints, colorful wallpaper, splashy print curtains, decorative pillows, king size beds swathed in pristine white linens and a sofa or club chairs in every room. Suites vary the mix; ask for one with a terrace if you’re contemplating cityscapes and al fresco drinks. With the smallest rooms clocking in at 330 square feet, none are teeny. But given their spacious gray granite bathrooms, the living areas of smallest don’t feel huge. What’s irresistible is Kit Kemp’s gift for mixing colors in witty, unexpected ways, like a love seat that’s split down the middle, half orange, half charcoal, in a burnt orange room. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, your eye catches something new.
Food and drink: Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the Whitby Bar, a stylish, white-tablecloth dining room with striped banquettes, kicky wallpaper, original artwork and a seasonal menu (I pondered a colorful print of shoes and socks in the bar area while tucking into my picture perfect but pricey Eggs Benedict and coffee). The dining area is equally eye-catching, punctuated by a thicket of woven chandeliers and walls blanketed in that remarkable collection of English china platters, the kind used for a classic Sunday joint of beef.
The airy Orangery is reserved for guests guests and opens onto a spacious dining room with dramatically backlit vases (you can see them through the Drawing Room’s picture window). There’s also a brick-lined patio for drinks and light bites.
Amenities: The superb gym, while windowless, is well equipped and inviting. The hotel boasts a terrific screening room with excellent acoustics, state-of-the-art electronics and comfy orange leather chairs identical to those at the Crosby. Besides being available for private screenings, the theater shows movies on Sunday as part of the Whitby Sunday Film Club ($55 with brunch, lunch or afternoon tea). Open honor bar in the Drawing Room. Free WiFi. RikRak by Kit Kemp bath products.
Surroundings: As good as it gets if you want Midtown. Central Park is three blocks away; the Museum of Modern Art, Paley Center for Media, Fifth Avenue shopping (Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany, et al), Trump Tower (if that interests you) and Rockefeller Center are steps away as are numerous restaurants. Buses run on nearby Fifth and Madison avenues and Avenue of the Americas and subway stops a short walk away. The Theater District is a walk or cab away, depending on your sensibilities.
Backstory: The second New York property created by London’s Firmdale Hotel Group, the Whitby was built from the ground up and opened in March 2017. The company operates eight proudly idiosyncratic hotels in London including The Haymarket, The Covent Garden and Number Sixteen and created SoHo’s Crosby Street Hotel, its first New York outpost, in 2009. Though both the Crosby and Whitby were designed by Stonehill & Taylor, high-end hotel architects, as mentioned above the interiors are the inimitable work of London interior designer Kit Kemp, co-founder of Firmdale with her husband Tim.
Keep in mind: A 20 percent gratuity is automatically included with your restaurant bill.