In 1906, when The Knickerbocker Hotel opened its doors, weary travelers were able to experience top of the line luxury for an estimated $3.25 per night. Built by John Jacob Astor IV, the building tipped its hat towards French architecture with a stately Beaux Arts design. Fifteen years later, the party ended, presumably due to the onset of prohibition, and the hotel ceased operations. The lavish rooms were subsequently converted to offices, where Newsweek magazine housed their publication from 1940-1959.
In 1988, the building was declared a New York City landmark and in February 2015, it was re-opened as a hotel. Fortunately, the integrity of design remains, thanks to the sleek New York based firm of Gabellini Shepard, whose other projects include Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room and the high end restaurant Nobu. While the building is situated at the corner of 42nd and Broadway, directly in the heart of Times Square, guests need not venture too far to enjoy in house conveniences: Jake’s is a great coffee spot for a business or personal meeting. With fresh fruit, pastries, and top quality brew from Stumptown Coffee, it’s the “go to” spot before heading out for the day. For a more formal gathering, American chef Charlie Palmer lends his flair to a variety of dishes. His fourth floor restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Those wishing for lighter fare can sit at the adjacent bar, which boasts live jazz from 6-9 PM Monday through Thursday. For a nightcap overlooking the neon lights of Times Square, The Knickerbocker offers an incredibly spacious roof-top bar, sure to attract tourists and natives alike.
Visitors will pay significantly more than they did near the start of the 20th century. According to their website, the lowest rooms for the spring season start at $495. I recently stayed here for two nights in the middle of April and this was my assessment:
I enjoyed a leisurely Thursday afternoon and decided to check in and catch a nap before heading to the theater later that evening. Check in began at 3 PM, and I arrived at 2:50 PM. I was invited to wait in the lobby until 3 PM sharp. Policy is policy—fair enough. Perhaps the 10 minute wait was either to ensure the room’s cleanliness or build anticipation for the comfort that would await. It seemed a tad on the strict side, but I patiently bided the time.
The room, which consisted of two queen size beds, was enormous by any standard—especially for the spacially challenged Manhattan. A living area with a sofa, chairs, a flat screen TV, and a mini-bar greeted me when I opened the door. Alcohol and other beverages are available for purchase, but bottled waters are soft drinks are said to be refilled once a day- a promise left unfulfilled, but more on the later. The bathroom was also extremely spacious with plenty of counter space, extra amenities (cufflinks, anyone?), two sinks, and large walk in shower with a refreshing, powerful, and adjustable showerhead. Both the adjoining toilet and shower were tinted and provided enough privacy. The beds barely contained a wrinkle and were presented with crisp, clean linens. Comfort wise, they struck a perfect balance between soft and firm. It’s tough to believe that that I was in the hustle of Times Square as the din was silenced when I finally turned in for the evening. A friendly note of welcome, including a martini glass of jelly bellys and a fresh fruit plate added a pleasurable touch upon my late Thursday night return.
Friday morning, I visited the main hotel lobby where a complimentary coffee bar is arranged daily from 4 -7 AM. As my guests and I were talking in our room, we were subjected to a consistent slamming noise. Directly beside our room was a linen/utility closet. A thought crossed our minds: perhaps it would be useful to employ a rubber door silencer?
When I got back to the room early Friday evening, room service had not attended to it. It wasn’t a huge deal since I didn’t exactly trash the place or spit roast a pig , but it was a curious oversight. I phoned the front desk who were apologetic and understanding. They inquired when I might wish to have someone clean the room. Any time after 8 PM would be fine. Shortly after 7, cleaning services knocked on the door to ask if the room could be clean- an “A” for Eagerness, an “F” for ignoring the time frame. Shortly after midnight, we came back to a pristine room, but the complimentary beverages hadn’t been re-stocked.
Saturday morning, we had requested some ice. It seemed to take a while and I phoned the front desk a second time to find out where it might be. A few minutes later, the ice finally arrived, and we checked out.
The hotel interior and the rooms are neutral earth tones and there is little that is flashy here. Yet they are warm and inviting and the cleanliness is impeccable. There are also state of the art sensors and controls, including remote control blind darkeners and a touch screen tablet with Netflix, internet radio, and alarms. It might be helpful to include a guide to these bells and whistles, exclusively for the luddite bunch. Free wi-fi is also available and for the health nuts, a comprehensive fitness center is on premise.
With all of the history made within their walls, the Knickerbocker would be wise to emphasize it, either with historic pictures or areas within the hotel that highlight the original heyday. Overall, it is a solid establishment with a prime midtown location and quick access to all major subway lines. Once they fine tune some of their services, it will be a perfectly balanced martini (fabled to have been invented here) at the end of a tiring day.
The Knickerbocker Hotel is located at 6 Times Square on the corner of 42nd and Broadway. For information on reservations, live jazz line-ups, and dining options, visit: http://theknickerbocker.com/