Travel Smart: High Life, Low Budget, in New York

Gourmet’s executive editor discovers an Ace in the black hole of affordable (yet ritzy) Manhattan hotels.
the ace hotel

There’s a new breed of hotel out there. They’re inexpensive, for sure, which is their initial attraction, but when you arrive at them, they don’t seem cheap. Instead, they feel like a place you belong. How is this seeming sleight-of-hand accomplished? By skimping on traditional luxuries—plush carpets, whispering concierges, highly-polished furniture—and concentrating instead on the details that matter most to a younger, less formal clientele. The new Ace Hotel in New York City is a prime example of the class. Part of a mini-chain with branches in Seattle (the original), Palm Springs, and Portland, Oregon, the hotel is in the space just off Fifth Avenue on 29th Street formerly occupied by the long-decrepit Hotel Breslin, and as soon as you walk in, you know you’re in the land of the hip. The vast lobby, with its 18-foot ceilings, is scattered with an idiosyncratic collection of what seem like found objects, from tartan-covered club chairs to cracked leather sofas (one has a fox fur thrown over its back) and stuffed birds, all arranged into sitting areas. For readers, there are long wooden library tables with newspapers and magazines scattered across them; on the west wall is a collage of graffiti stickers installed by artist Michael Anderson; in one corner is a bar, its specialty cocktails spelled out on a blackboard. (A restaurant, the Breslin, run by the chef/owners of the Spotted Pig, is slated to open in October—stay tuned—as is a branch of Portland’s Stumptown Coffee.) All in all, it has the air of a slightly bohemian British hotel that’s been around a long time, where people of means hang out in comfort without worrying about ostentation. The lived-in-but-luxurious feeling continues in the rooms, which have the feel of spartan but cosseting dorm rooms, kind of like what Oxford looks like in a Merchant-Ivory movie. My room had a very comfortable bed with the requisite luxe linens, and conscientiously quirky accoutrements—a turntable in one corner, a guitar in another, and (my favorite) a faux-antique refrigerator with booze segregated in a wire cage that required a key. And as for the staff? Let’s just say they’re friendly, often efficient, and their footware is either green Chuck Taylors or black Doc Martens. But even if your shoes run more to wingtips, this hotel is a deal.

Sertl Says: The Ace in Palm Springs was built on the foundation of a HoJo’s—a classic ‘60’s piece of roadside Americana. I love old motels, but the Ace formula works much better in cities.

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