The Scene: a landmark, 16-storey Beaux Arts building on the corners of 42nd St and Broadway with spectacular views over Times Square, NYC
The Style: Confident, sleek, almost zen-like in contrast to the pulsating rhythm of the “Lullaby of Broadway” outside its doors
Seen in the lobby: Sophisticated, smart, New York know-how with sass, definitely an address for socially-mobile high achievers. And yes, the bellhops wear pale grey knickerbockers with jaunty black caps.
It is impossible to disassociate the iconic Knickerbocker from New York history. The stylish hostelry is poised on Times Square - crossroads of the world - where fortunes are made or lost, the bright lights of Broadway beckon, the grand dame of newspapers - The New York Times still prevails, and yellow cabs and NYPD vehicles jostle where horses and hansom cabs were once the norm in the days when the square was called Longacre.
The Knickerbocker has burst free of its chrysalis and emerged as a re-imagined classic. The legendary landmark hotel has returned to its roots just shy of 100 years after it was opened by John Jacob Astor IV in 1906. Astor built his masterpiece to cater to the rich, powerful and pedigreed and the celebrity set of the day. This was the ‘jazz age” - and the ethos was “anything goes’’. Guests partied like there was no tomorrow, the champagne flowed and the martini was rumoured to have originated here.
Universally renowned opera star Enrico Caruso lived here, so did “America’s Sweetheart” film star Mary Pickford, and men of many talents, George M Cohan and writer F Scott Fitzgerald were frequent visitors, as were other great stars of the era, composer Puccini, and ballerina Anna Pavlova. Japan’s Admiral Togo stayed as did Teddy Roosevelt and more.
Some visitors though, were less than welcome – such as hatchet -wielding Carrie Nation. Dubbed the ‘saloon smasher” she was a radical member of the Temperance movement and spread her gospel in taverns and bars by smashing them with an axe. She did terrorise The Knickerbocker’s infamous barroom – nicknamed the “42nd Street Country Club” in 1909, merely by walking into the men-only venue.
Astor and his cronies Rockefeller, Fitzgerald and others would gather in the now infamous club beneath Maxfield Parrish’s Old King Cole mural. But tragedy was waiting in the wings. Astor perished in the Titanic, and prohibition killed-off The Knickerbocker in 1920.
Opened in 2015, the Knick, as it is affectionately known, is the perfect watering-hole for theatre lovers, fashionistas, financiers, art lovers and discerning travellers who want to experience the pulsating heart of the city in a classy establishment. Besides, the Big Red Bus stops right outside the door!
The hotel is only a few blocks from Fifth Avenue, The Metropolitan Opera, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Rockefeller Centre and Central Park.
Within the hotel’s uber-cool streamlined interiors, minimalism is the norm. Tones are subtle variations of grey, beige, and taupe. If this sounds dull, look again at the clever juxtaposition of textures and surfaces. All have been carefully considered to create a sophisticated urban sanctuary.
Guest rooms are among the most spacious in the city. All accommodation has soaring 12-foot ceilings, 6-foot windows and 18in thick walls and sound-proof windows and black out shades. The Knick has 330 guestrooms including 27 junior suites and 4 Tribute suites appropriately named The Caruso, Cohan, Martini and Parrish.
Cutting edge technology - a tradition established in Astor’s day with his love of new-fangled gadgetry such as telephones, ice-making machines, and coffee machines - re-appears here in 21st century guise with One-touch Tablet in-room automation, and complimentary Wi-Fi.
Charlie Palmer at The Knick is the hotel’s signature restaurant. Cool and classy, intimate dining space – if that is your request – is cleverly managed by chain mail screens, which shimmer with the changing light, and provide a soothing oasis from the hubbub and the kaleidoscope of neon images outside.
The menu features master chef and culinary entrepreneur Charlie Palmer’s contemporary cuisine which showcases honest, locally-sourced regional ingredients presented in creative new ways. Start with a martini at the long, gleaming bar before dinner. Try and persuade the bartender to share the secrets of the original martini. We got as far as the ingredients being Tanqueray gin, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Cocchi Torino, and orange bitters. We don’t remember anything else.
St Cloud Rooftop Bar and Lounge
Saving the best till last – the pinnacle of The Knickerbocker experience is undoubtedly the St Cloud rooftop bar and lounge. This is quintessential New York.
Below are the lights of the Great White Way, and at eye-level, above, and beyond, flashing neon fashion brands, company logos, and the glittering lights of a city which never sleeps. Once you have feasted on this ever-changing visual spectacle, at close range you will see the three Sky Pods fitted out with smart indoor and outdoor seating, living walls of greenery and dining spaces. Magic.
Maggy Oehlbeck 21/3/16