Fred A. Bernstein

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A New Orleans Hotel Bounces Back

A review of the W New Orleans

Published in The New York Times, March 12, 2006

Published: March 12, 2006

THE BASICS The mood in New Orleans these days will be familiar to anyone who was in New York after Sept. 11. People are gentle, unwilling to inflict more pain on anyone. This isn't a city where you're going to complain if, say, your toast is cold or your eggs are undercooked. So when I arrived at the W in late February, I was inclined to overlook faults.

As it turns out, there was hardly a flaw in the hotel, belying the five months it took to get it reopened in time for Mardi Gras. Although the floods didn't reach the 23-story building, Hurricane Katrina blew out many of its windows, resulting in extensive water damage. The general manager, Marcus Reinders, never left; other employees began returning in September, many moving into guest rooms that still had windows. Living together turned the employees into a particularly close-knit group. At the W, everyone is pitching in - the concierge was away from his desk when I arrived; he'd been assigned to the Style Department (the W's name for housekeeping). About 250 of the hotel's 423 rooms have reopened, and the rest will be available by the end of March. (The nearby W French Quarter, with 98 rooms, has fully reopened.)

THE LOCATION The W New Orleans is near the French Quarter (a few blocks away) and the vast Harrah's casino. Depending on which way you look, you're either in a small town or on the edge of the Las Vegas strip. Emeril's - the original - is a necklace-throw away. This year, most of the Mardi Gras parades went right by the hotel.

AMENITIES The pool on the fourth floor is small but inviting; the adjoining gym (with views in three directions) is well equipped with Cybex machines. The lobby is called the Living Room, which is apt, given its comfortable furniture groupings (including glossy picnic tables). The nightclub, Whiskey Blue, was open but practically empty. And there were only a handful of diners at ZoŽ, the hotel's surprisingly unfussy restaurant. (A 12-ounce sirloin, with fries and creamed spinach, was $28.) Still, everything was ready. The W seems to believe, correctly, that the only way to make the crowds come back is to act as though they have.

THE ROOMS This is a W, and that means giant mirrors leaning against the walls, lots of dark wood, black-and-white photographs and chenille throws. The beds are impossibly soft. There's also plenty of hardware - big televisions, high-speed Internet connections, CD players. The only flaw: I was awakened in the middle of the night by a cordless phone that began chirping to tell me that its battery was low.

THE BATHROOMS Not large but well-equipped with more W flourishes: a small stainless steel sink set into a giant white marble counter; a black seat over a white toilet; products from the hotel's own Bliss brand. (But won't they please stop shrink-wrapping bars of soap - impossible to open if your hands are even slightly wet.)

ROOM SERVICE Breakfast, ordered at 8, arrived at 8:16, and I won't say a word about the eggs or the toast (see above). Home fries, made from sweet potatoes, were a treat, and orange juice was especially delicious. The same person who took the order delivered it (a protocol that all hotels should follow) and he left a card with his phone extension, so I could call to have the tray picked up (ditto).

THE BOTTOM LINE A standard room is $199, plus about $27 tax. That's a relative bargain (the nearby La Quinta, for example, was $229 and up during Mardi Gras). While I was having dinner at ZoŽ, my waitress choked up when she looked out the window and saw a Mardi Gras float pass by. It bore the words "Come hell or high water, there's no place like home."

The W New Orleans is at 333 Poydras Street, New Orleans; 504-525-9444;