Bed Check: A hotel grows in Brooklyn

Hotel Le Bleu in the Park Slope neighborhood.
Hotel Le Bleu in the Park Slope neighborhood. (David Nicolas - David Nicolas)
By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2010; 3:27 PM

It would be so easy to describe Brooklyn's Hotel Le Bleu in Manhattan terms, using the insomniac island as a point of reference. If I were going that route, I would say that the property sits in a neighborhood that resembles SoHo without the pretension. That the boutique decor looks as if it had been furnished by MoMA's gift shop. And that the rates are based on New York currency; you don't get a discount just because you have to cross water to reach the front desk.

But that comparison would be unfair to the 48-room hotel, which opened about three years ago in the neighborhood of Park Slope, known in the 1800s as the Gold Coast. Hotel Le Bleu does not pass itself off as a Manhattan property that woke up on the wrong side of the East River. It brandishes its Brooklyn roots, so guests won't confuse their boroughs.

"We get two kinds of people," said Michael Jones, who tends bar in the top-floor restaurant, Il Tetto. "People from New York who no longer live in New York and are returning to visit friends and family. And vacationers who want something different, who like the idea of the challenge of Brooklyn, the unknown."

The location of the hotel is a puzzle. It sits a few yards back from busy Fourth Avenue, wedged between a dialysis center and a taxi dispatcher. With my organs working well and the Ninth Street subway station a few blocks away, I assumed I would not need either service.

In a very neighborly gesture, the hotel offers free parking in its onsite lot, plus generous space in the guest rooms, which measure 425 square feet, including a balcony that snugly fits two chairs. Though the hotel is named after the color of oceans and the cheese (as pronounced by Jean-Claude), it uses the hue with restraint: as accents on the throw pillows, for example, and on that slip of fabric that delicately warms ankles resting on the bed. The room is mainly cloud white, from the textured walls and the CEO-size desk to the bathroom and shower, a fishbowl for those who forget to close the cloth curtain. However, with the flick of a switch, the ivory cube transforms into a luminescent aquarium, thanks to lights bordering a long mirror over the bed that bathe the room in Atlantic blue. From the outside, passersby see a ghostly glow and the shadows of giant sea creatures that turn out to be guests.

Unless you crave greasy Chinese food or corner bodega fare, the bulk of good eating is a few streets up, on Fifth and Seventh avenues. For onsite dining, options include the minibar - sample menu: Swedish fish and Whoppers, chased with Brooklyn lager (a cheap $4 per bottle) or chardonnay - and the Italian restaurant upstairs.

The main dining room on the seventh floor has a Mediterranean villa feel, but the bar one floor up is real Brooklyn. TVs flashed images of tumbling New York Giants and batting Chicago White Sox, and the wait staff lingered between checks to watch the action. Outside on the porch, a vista never seen by Manhattan eyes appeared through the viewfinder: the Statue of Liberty, her torch touched by a star; and the brawny skyline of Lower Manhattan melding into the equally dramatic structures of downtown Brooklyn.

"You get to see the scale of Manhattan without being oppressed by it," said Jones, "and the scope of how big Brooklyn is."

The metropolis outside my window, however, was in miniature, a shadow box with live figures. On a morning excursion to nearby Prospect Park, I watched Park Slope tend to its weekday rituals. Mothers escorted their children to school. Nannies pushed covered carriages. Residents walked fashionable city dogs.

When I returned to the hotel, the staff had delivered my free breakfast in a box, a plain bagel (my choice among three carbs) and yogurt. I took my meal out onto the balcony, but first turned off the colored bulbs to enjoy the true blue of the Brooklyn sky.

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