Fred A. Bernstein

Hotel on Rivington

A review of the long-awaited Lower East Side hotel

Published in The New York Times, June 12, 2005

The New York Times
June 12, 2005

THE BASICS -- Back in the waning days of the last century, Paul W. Stallings, a developer, decided to erect a hotel amid the tenements of the Lower East Side. In search of hipness, he consulted with Surface Magazine and began bandying about the names of top designers, including the Pritzker prize-winner Zaha Hadid of Britain and Marcel Wanders of the Netherlands. Last October, with Surface no longer involved, the hotel began renting out most of its 109 rooms, despite construction that was still in progress. Think of it as a soft opening with hard edges. At present, the lobby bar (a lovely room a floor above the street, designed by Piero Lissoni) is open, but the ground floor (which will include a restaurant by Mr. Wanders) and the penthouse (which Ms. Hadid is no longer designing) are still construction sites. Despite this, the hotel is pretty much sold out -- I heard potential guests being turned away at the front desk. But the construction poses problems. The emergency stair outside my room had a sign saying, ''Wet Paint. Do not enter. Stairwell is closed.'' A problem that construction won't solve is the lack of a service elevator; customers share two elevators with maids and their equipment.

THE ROOMS -- With the public spaces mostly unfinished, this hotel -- near the emerging restaurant row on Ludlow Street -- lives or dies by its rooms, nearly all of which are thrillingly light and open, with striking views of Manhattan. My corner room on the 11th floor (only halfway up the building) took in the financial district and all three downtown bridges. In the morning, there was so much light that I couldn't see the screen on my computer, and the room began heating up like a greenhouse. Luckily, the miles of drapes are a marvel -- two layers (one gauzy, the other opaque) that sweep around the room at the touch of a button. You can go from aerie to womb in seconds. The minibar is stocked with appealing items, including Teany Tea, from Moby's restaurant down the street ($5), but it's almost impossible to open the little fridge (to fit it into a shallow cabinet, the designers removed the door handles). Over all, the construction is shoddy -- where walls meet ceilings, tile meets carpet and cabinetry meets sheetrock, the origins of the word ''seamy'' are clear.

THE BATHROOMS -- There's a wall of floor-to-ceiling glass, and if you can see the people on Delancey Street, they can see you. It's true that a hot shower will steam up the glass. But do you want to run a hot shower every time you want to use the toilet? (According to the general manager, Klaus Ortlieb, the hotel will install a plastic film on the window for guests who request it.) The heated floor is a welcoming touch, but the shampoo from Paul Labrecque (the hotel's ''spa partner'') made me smell like a corsage.

ROOM SERVICE -- Breakfast is Continental -- Stonyfield Farm yogurt, doughy New York bagels and coffee in paper cups. Lunch or dinner for now comes from 'Inoteca, a restaurant across the street; meatballs in tomato-orange sauce taste better than it sounds. But on a recent Monday, some dishes were hot and some weren't -- and all were delivered unceremoniously: a pile of plates with metal covers carried into the room by two hotel employees. There was no bread and butter, condiments or water.

THE CROWD -- German camera crews; designers checking out furniture showrooms; a couple from Sweden visiting their son, a Manhattan art student. ''He thought it would be the kind of place we'd like,'' the mother said, humorlessly.

THE BOTTOM LINE -- If you're willing to overlook a lot of faults, you can get a sleek room with drop-dead views for $250. And the high-energy neighborhood makes up for the lack of amenities in the hotel.

Hotel on Rivington, 107 Rivington Street, New York; (212) 475-2600; FRED A. BERNSTEIN