Here’s a question: When you want to take a dip in your hotel pool, what do you wear on the way there from your room (besides your swimsuit, of course)? And what if that pool isn’t in a courtyard in Miami or Palm Springs, but inside a lobby in midtown Manhattan? And what if it’s February, and what if you’re worried you’ll look ridiculous — not to mention cold?
Such are the quandaries that awaited me at the Room Mate Grace, where the pool occupies prime real estate, visible from the lobby, accessible from the lounge (with a swim-up bar, no less), and right next to the elevators. But wait! There’s more: a sauna, steam room and showers, too.
If that sounds like the niftiest thing ever, then congratulations: You’re probably a good match for the Grace, part of a Madrid-based chain that seems like the Spanish-born love child of a Kimpton and a W. If it doesn’t, you might not be hip enough to stay here — or you might be of the age and temperament that mean you couldn’t care less one way or the other. When I check in and the clerk promises me, “You’re gonna fall in love with the place,” I realize I’m not sure which group I fall into. But I figure I’ll find out soon enough.
The lobby feels cramped because of that pool area, fully enclosed and jutting into the room like a giant aquarium. Twenty- and thirty-somethings, each with a seemingly different European accent, chat and peck away at their smartphones and tablets on this chair and that, and nobody seems interested in peering into the aquarium, but that might be because there aren’t any swimmers to draw their eye. I make my way up to my 13th-floor room, and the hallway is so dimly lit and the wallpaper so swirly and trippy that I start to get a little queasy, making me feel positively grandfatherly.
My room looks straight out of “The Jetsons,” with a satellite-bull’s-eye wallpaper pattern, a bulbous light fixture over the bed that resembles an oversized dog bone, and a platform bed upholstered in cream-colored pleather. I unpack my iPad onto a little lavender acrylic table on wheels and sit in a little white plastic chair to bang out some e-mails. The place slowly but surely starts to seem charming, especially once I open the drapes to expose a big window with views of an office building across the street and wave to the worker drones in it. There’s actually a balcony out there, I notice, and if I just climb up a little onto the sill, I can open the inner and then outer windows and climb a few steps down and out. Now I’m a renegade, shivering from the shock of chilly air and looking down onto 45th Street and across to see the bright lights of Times Square a-flashing. I resist the urge to sing any of the lines from the “Green Acres” theme song (“The stores!”) for obvious reasons of coolness.
I’ve already taken a peek downstairs at what passes for a fitness room: two bikes, a bench, yoga mat, stability ball and a rack of little hand weights, so dimly lit as to seem almost dangerous. So I decide to skip any attempt at a real workout and go for a quick dip in the pool instead. But that takes me back to the what-to-wear question. A robe over the swim trunks? I look like an escapee from a mental hospital — or perhaps, more charitably, as if I just woke from a nap. I decide on a towel around the neck and rush to the elevator in the hopes of riding down without any fellow guests to notice me.
Downstairs, the pool glows blue and pink, thanks to lights in the water and another on a screen next to it, onto which are projected . . . ads, basically. They’re images of rooms from this chain’s properties in Miami, Buenos Aires and more, and a shout-out for the continental breakfast for $14. It’s an oddly commercial touch.
Before swimming, I take a steam. Inside the glass box, it’s even dimmer than the “gym”; the only light is a little green LED shooting down in one corner. I try to relax, but my thoughts are consumed by the idea that someone is going to barge in, not realizing I’m here, and they’re going to get startled and slip on the slick tiles and hurt themselves.
So I escape to the brighter, safer sauna, where a nice young British man here with his girlfriend strikes up a conversation. They have loved, loved, loved their first visit to the States — and their week-long stay at this, the coolest hotel they have ever seen. A Super Bowl dance party the previous weekend crowded the pool area with club-goers, he says, and they had a blast. I resist the urge to ask whether anyone got hurt.
“Everybody is so nice here in New York,” he says.
“Well, some more than others,” I say.
“We’re going to come back, visit some more places,” he says. “We’re thinking Florida.”
“Really?” I say. “Have you thought of California?”
After I make my case for the West Coast, I head for the pool, where it’s too shallow to dive — More danger! Don’t hit your head! — so I take it one step at a time. And then I go under, and as I float beneath the surface and gaze at the pink and blue lights up above, I thank my lucky stars that there’s not a dance party happening up there right now.
Room Mate Grace Hotel
125 W. 45th St., New York
Rates vary widely by day, month and season. This upcoming weekend, for example, rooms start at $199 on Friday, $349 on Saturday, and $179 on Sunday. Continental breakfast with Mediterranean touches: $14.
A biweekly staff review of East Coast and regional lodgings.