Room Service: The Nolitan, New York City
Take the rough with the smooth
Dumbo or SoBro? The title for New York's Silliest Neighbourhood Name is a hard one to call. The acronym refers to the area Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass in Brooklyn; the latter is a portmanteau of the South Bronx. Then there's BoCoCa and GoCaGa ... Spike Milligan, eat your heart out.
As whimsical as they sound, these neighbourhood labels are the dirty work of real estate agents, whose calculated reportioning and rechristening have seen previously insalubrious areas transformed into some of the most expensive property in the US. And so it was with Nolita, the tiny grid of streets that was once part of Little Italy, but was left out in the cold after Italian-Americans moved on. Although tacked on to the side of SoHo, it didn't quite fit the bill. And you can see why. While upscale boutiques started to pop up, there was still an inherently Italian feel here. The Feast of San Gennaro scene in The Godfather Part III was filmed on Elizabeth Street, the same street Martin Scorsese grew up on; further afield pizzerias still dot the corners. So, when The Nolitan, the area's first boutique hotel, opened last summer, it was a signal that Nolita was firmly on Manhattan's map.
There's still a hint of its southerly neighbour at The Nolitan: a nod to the red and white that you'll find in Little Italy eateries in the red slippers, crisp white bed linens dressed with red cashmere blankets, red and white striped stationery and the hotel signage, written out in the window in retro red neon lighting. But, just to throw you off the scent, a French bistro, Cantine Parisienne, has just opened on the ground floor.
Otherwise, the design has kept the locality in mind with an emphasis on personality, comfort and connectivity. The showpiece is the inviting lobby lounge, with an industrial double-height ceiling, elongated concrete pillars and floor-to-ceiling windows that fuse inside with out. It contrasts comfortably with the intimate feel of a sunken leather seating area, complete with a Phaidon-curated library. (The publisher has a store on nearby Wooster Street.)
But what really makes this a neighbourhood fixture are the thoughtful and homely extras, which all come bundled in the room rate: Wi-Fi, "Sips N Savouries" (wine and cheese in the evenings), Dutch bikes and skateboards to borrow, yoga at a nearby studio, local phone calls, discounts at local businesses and a 2pm check-out. In a city where you're almost charged (and required to tip) for the oxygen you breathe, it's a notable and welcome break from the norm.
On the corner of Kenmare and Elizabeth Streets, the hotel is ideal for exploring SoHo, the Lower East Side, Little Italy and Chinatown. The tiny Nolita area has some illustrious residents (David Bowie, Gabriel Byrne, Billy Joel), alongside sophisticated boutiques and eateries such as Mexican joint La Esquina (esquinanyc.com). On Elizabeth Street you'll find rails of vintage finds at Frock (frocknyc.com), upscale stationery at The Paper Boutique (paperboutiqueny.com) and preppy threads at Tory Burch (toryburch.com).
For a slightly edgier experience, strike south east for the bars of the Lower East Side or north east for the East Village. If they don't satisfy, the Williamsburg Bridge will siphon you over the East River to the heart of happening Brooklyn.
There are 55 rooms, with plans for about a dozen more. I was in room 702, a Cityscape Corner room on the seventh floor with views down Delancey Street to the Williamsburg Bridge and across to the Empire State Building. It had floor-to-ceiling windows on the street side and a dinky open-plan bathroom on the other. If you're not up for watching your room-mate take a bath, opt for anything but the corner rooms, which have a shower only – these rooms are smaller but have balconies. This being Manhattan, the rooms aren't generous, but the white walls and glass panels make them seem roomier. The frosted glass sections distort car and street lights, giving the effect of giant, blurred fairy lights.
The design plays on texture – polished concrete takes turns with rough pillars, oak floors, soft grey wool rugs, white walls, black glossy vinyl headboards: the juxtaposition of rough with smooth suggests the very nature of the area. An injection of high style comes courtesy of petrol-blue velvet tub chairs, Eames dining seats, and chrome anglepoise lamps. Organic toiletries come from Red Flower on Prince Street, and the room service menu calls on all the local hangouts, which can deliver to your room.
The Nolitan, 30 Kenmare Street, Nolita, New York City, US (001 212 925 2555; nolitanhotel.com).
Double rooms start at $266 (£166), including breakfast.
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