Hotels are springing up in New York—the city has been well aware of its supply pipeline—but on a week’s trip to what was my home for 20 years, this writer sees the Big Apple’s fulcrum once more having moved, this time downtown and south of the Village.
I am currently in New York, my first visit in 30 months to a city I called home for 20 years. Home this time around is the CitizenM Bowery, on the corner of Bowery and Delancey, which opened in September.
It is apt for a Dutch—yes, I know the firm distains geographical ties; the “M” stands for mobile—hotel firm to be here in what, at least in its first colonial guise, was once called New Amsterdam.
The hotel has a split-level entrance, with the downstairs of the two floors being the hub, with the usual CitizenM objets d’art and cool photography books on the shelves and a wonderful crew of staff.
I was told the Bowery had changed beyond recognition, and indeed the famous CBGB rock club has long gone (my first stop anywhere in the Americas almost three decades ago).
But much is the same. Still there are the lighting and restaurant-kitchen suppliers and one or two homeless shelters or food kitchens.
Cranes are apparent across the city, and there is an alarming trend at the southern edges of Central Park of pencil-thin residential skyscrapers where I am told the world’s newest rich pay in cash and then never live there—a criticism of a lot of the London skyline, too.
Otherwise, things remain largely the same. Café Habana still sells its delicious pulled pork and shrimp tacos and chili-rubbed corn on the cob, and David Chang’s Momofuku noodle and ramen bar still sits on 1st Avenue and 11th Street, despite his growing empire of eateries.
I was always a downtown aficionado, despite spending days in Central Park birdwatching and running, and it is good to see stylish hotels such as Sohotel opening up where Soho meets the Lower East Side, where skyscrapers are mercifully short on number.
Few hotels in Alphabet City, though, which is fine, despite that being such an enjoyable neighborhood to visit.
After that early trip to CBGB, where played a band unknown to me at the time called Prong, I wandered down to Alphabet City and a bar, also long gone, called Alcatraz.
A doorman checked my ID and asked if I knew how Alphabet City derived its name. I did not, and my voice betrayed it was obvious that at that moment I was terrified of everything.
“A, B, C, D,” he said. “Assault, battery, concussion, death. Don’t go to D!”
I went back to the Bowery, which—it might sound unlikely—was safe territory.
New York City has had a renaissance since 1989, and that is continuing, although the hubs are shifting. For instance, the Meatpacking District seems less busy.
I was relating this anecdote to my journalist, travel-writing friend of many years Bruce Northam, who among other skills conducts walking tours through some less-trodden neighborhoods of the Bowery, Lower East Side, Alphabet City, Chinatown and the area around the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges.
But this is happening mostly south of Delancey, where the city is coming back to its original Dutch roots.
If anyone wants to know what hotels were where, and which new ones are the talk of the town, Northam, a born storyteller, no doubt is the one to ask.
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