In 2002, the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park became the first true luxury property in lower Manhattan, an area where people mostly worked during the day and left afterward.
The Ritz proved to be a pioneer: It took more than a decade for other upscale properties to follow suit. The hotel's isolation lingered until the Andaz and the W opened in 2010, followed by Hilton's Conrad in 2012, and culminated last year with the opening of both the Four Seasons New York Downtown and the Beekman, a Thompson Hotel.
The new hotels are part of a monumental shift in the downtown experience. Over the past five years, iconic attractions such as the Sept. 11 Memorial and 1 World Trade Center's 103rd-floor observatory have opened. More than 1,200 stores and restaurants have opened since 2001, many in the Brookfield Place and the Westfield World Trade Center shopping centers, including destination restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs and Eataly's second Manhattan location.
Travel Weekly editors spent one weekend each at the Beekman and the Four Seasons, two hotels embodying very different takes on luxury that together help define the new lower Manhattan experience.
The Four Seasons New York Downtown
The Four Seasons' second New York property is just two blocks from a showpiece structure of downtown New York: the Oculus, which houses the Westfield shopping center and a transit hub that was conceived after the attacks of 9/11 destroyed the World Trade Center, and its unique, curved spine shape is a reminder of the changes in the area since that day.
The hotel is adjacent to other neighborhoods that have been changing and thriving in the past few years: Wall Street, the burgeoning Financial District and residential Tribeca and Battery Park City, not to mention the 1 World Trade Center tower, home of the Conde Nast publishing empire.
The sophisticated, moneyed crowd is evident in the lounge of Cut by Wolfgang Puck, which functions as the de facto lobby bar. At night, its impressive, towering black bar is set off by hot-pink neon lights (the restaurant's website suggests that Cut is where New Yorkers "broker deals over power meals," and I have no doubt this is happening, perhaps over a serving of the restaurant's Japanese wagyu beef and a heady glass of Bordeaux).
The Four Seasons New York Downtown's large indoor pool. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin
At the Four Seasons room level, cool, gray-and-blue toned, modern interior design from Yabu Pushelberg doesn't try to outshine the city views. In fact, the windows even open a bit, enabling guests to bring the city noises in (once shut, the silence is profound). The showpiece penthouse is the Royal Suite, a 2,400-square-foot, floor-through marvel of an apartment with dining for eight, a separate office, media room, modern fireplace and bedroom views of faraway midtown Manhattan.
Serviceable by comparison but luxurious nonetheless, our one-bedroom, corner Hudson Suite was notable for its envy-producing walk-in closet and a to-die-for, marble-clad master bathroom. I can imagine the suite to be a comfortable haven for a busy executive, but it was also an excellent size for a family, with the fold-out couch in the living room and dining area where our kid noshed on a Shake Shack burger with her babysitter while my husband and I sampled Cut downstairs.
The Four Seasons also is one of the few New York-area hotels to have a sizeable indoor pool, and this one ups the ante with the surrounding decor: windows letting in tons of natural light, a dreamy blue-tile mosaic of clouds at one end and magazines for guests who actually have the time to relax on the cushioned loungers.
If one has additional downtime and tense shoulders, don't overlook a massage at the adjacent spa. Everything can be arranged via the in-room tablet, or by the pleasant spa staff who greet you with a smile.
Which brings me to my final point: Despite the rarified brand name, a sleek building designed by celebrity architect Robert A.M. Stern and nightly rates that reach into the skies, the Four Seasons Downtown is friendly. I love the grandeur of the stairway entrance of the uptown Four Seasons New York on 57th Street, with its concierge desk looking on from up high. Downtown, I found the highlight of the lobby was the front-of-house staff who greeted us by name. I was surprised by how quickly the hotel seemed like home.
— Rebecca Tobin
If there's one new hotel that New Yorkers have been buzzing about, it's the Beekman.
The Beekman hotel’s defining feature is its nine-story atrium that dates to the 19th century.
The Thompson property has all the makings of a great Gotham institution: an intriguing backstory, stunning architecture — you simply will not tire of looking at the atrium in what was among the city's first "skyscrapers," at nine stories — and a history that includes once being a library frequented by Edgar Allan Poe.
And by bringing in homegrown restaurateurs Keith McNally and Tom Colicchio, the Beekman is a local hot spot, making it all the more attractive to tourists.
The Beekman hotel experience begins as soon as you enter the lobby, where the reception desk is draped with vintage rugs, the first nod to its 19th-century history but one that continues throughout. It took three years to meticulously restore the 1883-built Beekman, down to its mosaic floor tiles, wrought-iron balustrades on every floor and the arched wooden doors to each room, which were individual offices before the building was shuttered in 2001.
The Beekman's defining feature is its aforementioned, Victorian-era, nine-story atrium topped with a glass skylight, which is what made the property so difficult to restore. As far back as the 1940s it was boarded up, so that tenants had no idea it was even there, due to onerous fire codes.
The property's 287 rooms are accessed via corridors surrounding the atrium and maintain the property's vintage feel with the modern touches travelers expect. The mismatched furnishings almost seem like pieces someone collected during various trips around the world. Colorful ceramic lamps add color to the rooms, which by New York standards are quite spacious, and high ceilings and sparkling beaux-arts chandeliers brighten them up.
The supremely comfortable beds have custom dark leather headboards, which match the dark wood floors. And random trivia from Joseph, who showed us to our room: Those headboards are made of the same leather that lines the elevator cars.
A custom-designed cocktail cart enables guests to craft their own drinks, with various glasses and a collection of bitters for inspiration.
A modern room service menu, with items like a Freeke grain bowl, are a reminder that this is Manhattan in 2017.
For clients looking to splurge, this fall the Beekman opened its two Turret Penthouse Suites, built into the turrets atop the building. The duplexes have 800-square-foot private terraces with views of the New York skyline from 1 World Trade Center to the Empire State Building. The 1,200-square-foot suites feature 40-foot ceilings, freestanding soaking tubs and lounge and dining areas with stone fireplaces. An outdoor terrace connects the two suites.
The Beekman’s 287 rooms maintain the property’s vintage feel, while providing the modern touches guests expect.
Stepping out for a night at the hotel starts with looking down at revelers in the Bar Room while waiting for one of the two restored original elevators, which because they are antique are much smaller than modern lifts. The bar and lounge are designed with dark wood and brass fixtures and velvet and leather furniture, with tall bookshelves in reference to its library past. The throwback ambience is a contrast to the modernist trend most new hotels embrace these days.
Be sure to have a cocktail in the Bar Room — the bartenders nail the classics and offer them with a twist, like their Prince Gin Fizz, made with orange blossom and egg whites — before stepping into McNally's Augustine for salt-baked oysters and roasted bone marrow or Colicchio's Temple Court, which offers a $99 tasting menu that currently includes lobster and venison.
Travel agents say that getting client out of midtown can be difficult but that repeat visitors in particular are interested in lower Manhattan. With those clients, a hotel with the Beekman's architecture and story, and its proximity to Brooklyn — the hotel is blocks from the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge — can be selling points.
"I loved the whole idea of taking a landmark building from 1883 that had gone to rack and ruin that was going to be transformed by Thompson Hotels," said Ignacio Maza, Signature Travel Network's executive vice president. "I don't think there is a comparable building in Manhattan. It is amazing."
— Johanna Jainchill