NEW YORK -- After three-and-a-half months of working solely from home, it was a thrill to have an excuse to put on my nicest face mask, head to Brooklyn and step into a hotel lobby.
The lobby was in SH Hotels & Resorts' 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge on the day that it reopened for the first time since the pandemic began, just ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. I had been invited by the hotel team to see its new safety protocols in action.
There were changes I noticed as soon as I approached the main entrance of the hotel. First, I was intercepted by a masked staff member, who quickly checked a tablet to confirm I was an expected guest.
Staff wearing masks greet guests at the hotel's entrance. Photo Credit: TW photo by Christina Jelski
A large sign located at the lobby's entryway outlined a few of the property's new rules: Masks are required anywhere on-property outside of one's room; guests must practice social distancing; and a temperature check, via noninvasive thermal imaging, is mandatory, with the hotel reserving the right to deny entry to any person with a significant fever.
I paused for a moment on a social distancing floor marker before advancing farther, allowing 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge's thermal imaging camera to take its reading. Despite having just broken a sweat on my brisk walk from the subway, I came in at a healthy 96.8 degrees.
The check-in desk, where tall plexiglass shields create a physical barrier between guests and staff, was busier than I had expected, though guests were careful to remain approximately 6 feet apart.
The lobby itself, decked out in gorgeous, overgrown greenery, offered what felt like a momentary respite from the monthslong pandemic. The music was loud and upbeat. Cozy, spaced-out seating areas offered plenty of opportunity for people-watching, all while still maintaining proper distance. 1 Hotels' signature scent, infused with notes of sandalwood, wafted through the air.
Standing there, I felt a sense of absolute normalcy for a fleeting moment.
The group's president discusses the reopening process, his outlook on New York's tourism rebound and what's next when it comes to expansion.
However, a change in my walk-through of the property brought me back to the current moment. I had been scheduled to meet SH Hotels & Resorts president Arash Azarbarzin at the property, but those plans were disrupted at the last minute. Azarbarzin, who would have been flying in from California, was forced to cancel his trip after New York mandated that travelers coming in from the Golden State quarantine for 14 days after arrival.
This eleventh-hour complication was emblematic of the fast-changing regulatory landscape that continues to present fresh challenges to the hospitality industry.
"There are certain things that are completely out of our hands," Azarbarzin said during a follow-up call. "All we can do is focus on providing a safe environment for our associates and guests, making sure that team members who come back in have been tested [for Covid-19] and that they all know the protocols of working within this new normal."
Hans Schaepman, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge's general manager, and Donna Rodriguez, SH Hotel & Resorts' vice president of marketing, graciously stepped in to host me in Azarbarzin's stead.
"Our first guests checked in at four minutes after 7 a.m.," Schaepman said. "People have been really eager. Those who are staying in the hotel right now are primarily from the tri-state area, so it's mainly staycations."
A visit to 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Schaepman estimated that the property would hover at about 40% occupancy for Independence Day weekend, an occupancy level he said dovetails with the property's current level of comfort.
"We're not going to go above that," he added. "We really want to go slow and steady with introducing all of these new processes and procedures, making sure that our team feels confident and safe and not rushed or pressured in any way."
In another example of regulatory changes and setbacks, New York officials had announced that plans to allow indoor dining would be postponed.
On the Thursday I visited, dining amenities were limited to grab-and-go offerings for guests only at Neighbors, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge's lobby-level cafe. All seating in the venue had been removed.
On the rooftop, where only guests were allowed, a small cocktail menu was also available.
Neighbors, the hotel's lobby-level cafe, has removed its indoor seating and offers only grab-and-go items. Photo Credit: TW photo by Christina Jelski
Options, however, were set to expand in the coming days, with Neighbors preparing to open up some outdoor seating as well as to serve nonhotel guests from an outside-facing counter. The Osprey, the hotel's farm-to-table eatery, would also soon open its outdoor patio and serve nonhotel guests, with diners required to undergo a temperature check and provide their contact information at the host stand before being seated.
All the food and beverage outlets at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge are offering disposable paper menus as well as providing QR codes that diners can scan to view digital menus on their own personal devices.
Meanwhile, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge's guestrooms appear largely unchanged at first glance. There are a few miscellaneous extras missing -- decorative throws and pillows, magazines and in-room iPads have all been removed -- and a complimentary hygiene kit, featuring a pair of masks, hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes, is tucked within the minibar.
Magazines, throw blankets and other miscellaneous items have been removed from guestrooms. Photo Credit: TW photo by Christina Jelski
Behind the scenes, however, the rooms have undergone an extensive cleaning process, with housekeepers employing hospital-grade cleaning agents and electrostatic sprayers to sanitize, and all linens and towels laundered and replaced, regardless of whether they appear used. Special attention is paid to high-touch items and fixtures such as the room's telephone, TV remote and door and window handles.
Once a guestroom is cleaned, it must sit empty for 48 hours. Doors are sealed closed with a sticker.
Nightly turndown service is no longer offered, and housekeeping cleans only every third night of a stay. Guests must preschedule those cleanings to ensure they're out of the room when housekeeping arrives.
"If anyone wants any cleaning service more frequently, it needs to be coordinated," Schaepman said. "But guests understand the situation that we're in, so they're not being unreasonable at all. And it's also in how we pass the message on to the guest. We're very confident and matter of fact when we tell them this is our protocol. The guest gets it."