A biweekly staff review of East Coast and regional lodgings.
Perhaps I’ve stayed at too many so-called boutique hotels with emaciated desk clerks sporting permanently pursed lips, outdoor signage designed for a game of hide-and-seek, and lobbies dark enough to hide the infrequency of cleaning. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I pushed the reserve button for a night at the Nolitan, a self-described “boutique luxury” hotel in one of those hipster Manhattan neighborhoods called Nolita (short for North of Little Italy).
After a debacle of a trip from Penn Station involving closed roads, gridlocked traffic, a surly cabbie and a final mile-long walk with luggage, I spied the small but clearly visible neon Nolitan sign. A receptionist with a big smile stood in the well-lit lobby and cheerfully asked about my trip. As I told Dylan an abridged version of my sad tale, his colleague asked whether I wanted red, white or sparkling. Armed with a big glass of wine, a handful of gourmet jelly beans and the promise of a plate of snacks to come, I headed to my room with a vastly improved attitude. My notions of urban boutique were definitely being challenged.
Housed in a new and dramatic industrial-glass-and-concrete building, the independently owned Nolitan, which opened in 2011, doesn’t need a big sign to stand out in this older corner of New York. The designers, unconstrained by historic building retrofitting, molded the new construction into nine floors of contemporary comfort.
Smallish but not claustrophobic rooms, which come in eight configurations, sport modern architectural details, including huge windows with frosted glass, concrete ceilings and wide-paneled oak floors. Some rooms even have small bench-equipped balconies with views of the Empire State Building and the Williamsburg Bridge.
Interior design is uncluttered and efficient. Black, gray and white predominate, with a red cashmere bed throw serving as a welcome accent. A small closet holds a fridge, an umbrella and a yoga mat. The fairly priced mini-bar offers everything from Kit Kat candy bars ($2.75) to St. Germain Elderflower liqueur ($6). The white subway-tiled bathroom is stocked with terry robes, red slippers and locally based Red Flower products. Plus it offers an amenity that many hip hotels shun — the very welcome lighted makeup mirror.
The room lighting in general is more than adequate, although the painted red hallways are just a few lumens brighter than night light. I can fault only one goofy design element that seems to be a boutique-hotel fave: The glass wall between the shower and the bedroom, which in my room lined up perfectly with the toilet and the lone clear glass pane overlooking the apartment building opposite. Reminder to self: Don’t forget to pull the drapes before taking a seat.
Welcoming common areas include a rooftop with sweeping views, including an unencumbered look at the new One World Trade Center building. A sunken lobby lounge with caramel-colored leather seating offers a library of art, film and design books, including several for children by artist-turned-author HervéTullet, plus board games such as Sorry! and Monopoly. For the electronics-involved, the hotel lends out laptops, iPads and gaming systems. And if you’re looking for physical activity, bikes, skateboards and passes to a nearby 24-hour gym are available.
The hotel’s generosity extends to a free evening Sips & Savories happy hour, which I was lucky enough to stumble into upon arriving. Cheeses, olives, nuts, grapes, apricots and crackers washed down by chardonnay, pinot noir or sparkling roséare a nice way to start the night. And for those who don’t want to leave the building, meals can be had either at Cantine Parisienne, an upscale French bistro that opens to the hotel lobby, or you can order from any of 15 area restaurants through guest services, and they’ll send an employee on bike to retrieve and deliver right to your room.
I take advantage of another Nolitan perk, the 1 p.m. checkout, by sleeping in and then, fortified with a cup of the bistro’s wonderfully strong French coffee, people-watching in the hotel lobby. I listen as three skinny 40-somethings speaking French, a young couple with a cherubic baby in a Swedish stroller and an older woman wearing a Vera Bradley backpack happily interact with the hotel staff. I check out reluctantly, thinking that maybe this boutique stuff isn’t so bad after all.
The Nolitan Hotel
30 Kenmare St., New York
Rooms from $239.
Sottili writes the Travel section’s What’s the Deal? column.