Fred A. Bernstein

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The Blue Moon, on Orchard Street

A hotel I should have skipped

Published in The New York Times, June 16, 2006

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New York: The Blue Moon Hotel

THE BASICS I have never felt much nostalgia for Orchard Street, where I spent hundreds of childhood Sundays bored in the back of my grandparents' dress shop (J. & A. Bernstein, at No. 176), watching size-12 women squeeze into size 8's. Orchard Street was crowded, dirty and - at least as I remember it from the 1960's - the last place I'd want to put a hotel. But these days, Orchard Street is hot - Il Laboratorio del Gelato (No. 95) has joined stalwarts like Guss' Pickles (Nos. 85-87). That may be why Randy Settenbrino, a Brooklyn-born artist and real estate developer, decided to open a hotel at No. 100. But, unlike the Hotel on Rivington (visible across Delancey Street), a glass-and-steel insertion that makes no concession to its neighborhood, the Blue Moon revels in its past. Mr. Settenbrino lined his walls with ephemera, including newspaper clippings recovered from the building's boarded-up apartments.

The trouble is, recalling the plight of impoverished immigrants is a peculiar mission for a hotel where rooms start at $275 a night. Plus, it's hard to meld nostalgia with the amenities of a modern hotel, and the Blue Moon rarely hits the mark.

THE SCENE Mr. Settenbrino added three floors to the five-story tenement building, then constructed 22 guest rooms. Charmingly, he named each room for one of his favorite entertainers. Some, fittingly, were residents of the Lower East Side, but others had more to do with Harlem.

THE LOCATION Orchard Street has several terrific restaurants (including the Orchard, at No. 162, which The New York Times gave two stars earlier this year, and - for a superb brunch - Little Giant, at No. 85). There are dozens of nightclubs within walking distance; one of the most popular is Element, at 225 East Houston Street.

THE ROOM On a night when the hotel was only half full, I was upgraded (for the basic weekend price of $330) to a room with a terrace. No larger than a fire escape, it offered a pleasant view directly onto the Williamsburg Bridge. The room itself was less appealing. The walls - painted a melange of bright yellow and orange - are meant to evoke the Victorian era, but looked more like the Victorian error. There is lots of old woodwork, all of it overshellacked, but no cabinet for the flat-screen television, which hangs forlornly, its wires dangling down the wall. To control the speed of the ceiling fan, I had to stand up on a chair, and I'm 6'-2". There's only one phone, far from the bed. Duke Ellington posters (one for a concert "with McKinney's Cotton Pickers") dominate the walls.

THE BATHROOM Bland, with retro-style fixtures. The Blue Moon gets credit for leaving a pair of toothbrushes and a tube of toothpaste in the bathroom (something most hotels, inexplicably, fail to do).

AMENITIES None, so far. In the lobby, there's an electric kettle and a selection of teabags, but no coffee. Luckily, an in-room coffee maker, and packets of Folger's, satisfied the morning craving. Without a restaurant, there's no room service, and not even a folder of takeout menus to peruse. (There are plans to open a kosher restaurant, featuring Eastern European and Italian food, later this year.) Service is spotty. When I arrived at the hotel, the pleasant man behind the desk was directing an out-of-town couple to walk north to Canal Street. (I intervened.) The elevator, which could presumably be set to chirp (or just keep quiet), makes a loud buzz on every floor. A newspaper clipping about Mussolini should have been filed away, not hung in the penthouse-level hallway.

THE BOTTOM LINE The lowest-price room on weekends comes to $374 with tax (though there are promotions available via the hotel's Web site). Weekday rooms are about $50 less. That's a lot for this hotel.

The Blue Moon Hotel, 100 Orchard Street, New York, N.Y., (212) 533-9080,