I always feel a twinge of sympathy for tourists in New York City, especially those with children. It’s expensive. It’s not an easy city to navigate—every day on the subway I observe tourists frowning over maps and muttering to each other before they finally humble themselves and beg their fellow passengers for help. And it’s not especially kid-friendly.
The ninth circle of hell for these folks is Times Square. By now, everyone from out of town has heard a million times that the area is safe, the sleaze is gone, the Disney musicals are there. So off they go to Times Square, wandering around four abreast on the sidewalk, clutching each other’s hands, and staring up at the Blade Runner billboards that now mask all the old buildings. You can almost hear them thinking, Why did we come here, and when can we go home? Because it has dawned on these families that unless you just want to eat hot pretzels, stare at electronic billboards, and watch mildly creepy Disney characters and Statues of Liberty strolling about, there is really not that much to do in Times Square. There is so little to do, in fact, that tourists will willingly pay to visit a wax museum.
So, when I heard that hotel impresario Ian Schrager and Marriott were opening their ninth Edition hotel in Times Square, I was slightly skeptical. Slightly because I have stayed in enough Schrager hotels to be a fan. Skeptical because, well, it’s Times Square. And reading through all the PR handout nonsense about how this luxury hotel and its classy John Fraser restaurants would mark a return to the glory days of Times Square, when high (cutting edge jazz joints and elite nightclubs) met low (“Talk to a live nude woman!”) on an equal, only-in-New-York footing, the politest response I could muster was, oh please.
Now, having spent a night at Times Square Edition, dined there, and been entertained at the Paradise Club, which the proprietors insist is not a nightclub, not a cabaret, not a theater but some special you-never-know combination of all of the above, I have to admit that, the puffy rhetoric touting the place aside, they’ve pretty much pulled it off.
The Lobby and Public Areas
The elevator at the stark street-level entrance takes you to the 10th-floor lobby, where mildly scented air and lots of potted plants and ivy wall coverings combine with a severe ebony and ivory color scheme to make you forget the noise and bustle you just escaped. And if the decor doesn’t do it, the staff will.
Everyone who works at Edition carries a credit-card sized piece of plastic imprinted with the marching orders for the staff. The 14 “Edition Ideals” include “1. Be nice! Use your hearts, minds and smiles to delight our guests. 2. At every moment, we are either ‘adding to’ or ‘taking from’ the guest experience. 3. Own your Guests: you are empowered to resolve guest issues… 10. Act like the owner: care for the hotel as if it were your own.” As much as this may sound like rah-rah nonsense, it seems to work: Edition’s staff does work hard to resolve any question and solve any problem you may have in an unfailingly pleasant manner. The lobby personnel is particularly thoughtful, without going all Eddie Haskell—quick with a handshake and once they learn your name, they don’t forget it.
Off the lobby are a sitting room (black walls and furniture, working fireplace, cozy) and beyond that an airy bar that also serves breakfast.
On floors above and below the lobby are restaurants overseen by Michelin-starred chef John Fraser. The tasting menu I sampled at dinner was excellent if unexceptional (steak, fried chicken) with two exceptions: the best grits and spinach I’ve ever eaten. My only complaint: the restaurant at capacity is quite noisy, a situation not helped by the fact that music is piped in (when I rule the world, there will be no music in public places, and I love music).
A nice touch: the wall outside the restaurant is covered with 150 black and white photographs of New York City taken by blue-chip photographers including Helen Levitt, Inge Morath, Susan Meiselas, Danny Lyon, and Ruth Orkin. This is one of the few overt nods to the neighborhood, and it’s a subtle, creative way to tie the hotel to its location (but do the right thing, Edition, and put the artists’ names on their work).
All bar and restaurant spaces are surrounded by what Edition calls the Blade Runner terraces: outdoor spaces where you can dine or hang out in good weather (or even goodish weather: the floors are heated), soaking up the luxe and gazing out upon the high-tech visual barrage that is Times Square above street level.
The Paradise Club sits one floor below the Terrace Restaurant. The walnut bar, the roomy banquettes, red-velvet drapery, and the original Bosch-like murals mix sumptuousness and surrealism. The sound system and lighting are excellent, but when the place is packed, as it was the night I looked in, don’t expect to hear a word said by anyone who’s not standing on stage in front of a microphone. The night I visited, the artists working those mics were Nile Rodgers and Chic and (ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and give it up for …) Diana Ross, which of course put me in mind of Ian Schrager’s days running Studio 54 five blocks away and forty years ago. Who knew disco had such legs.
As I said, Edition’s press releases trumpet a “multi-genre, high production spectacle” at Paradise, but the night I was there, it was a nightclub pure and simple. Not that Times Square can’t use a good night club.
Let me put it this way: once I checked into one of the hotel’s 452 rooms, I didn’t want to leave. My corner room had floor to ceiling windows, a good-sized balcony with a view of the Hudson River and Times Square the way it ought to be, i.e., 20 floors down. There’s not a lot of clutter, but plenty of high-tech whoo whoo (curtains and sheers that open and close at the touch of a button) and also plenty of functionality (plugs and lights where you need them, separate shower and deep, stand-alone tub). A big floor-to-ceiling sliding door separates the bath from the bedroom, but you can leave the door open and the space seems much bigger and airier.
There is a slight tilt toward design chic and away from common sense: if you prefer top sheets and a spread to a duvet, you’re out of luck and equally luckless if you like a lot of drawer space. If you can figure out how the shower works on the first go, your Mensa membership will be renewed automatically. And if you can relax in the white on white color scheme without worrying about getting the room a little dirty, you weren’t raised right. And yes, the fire alarm went off three or four times in the middle of the night I stayed there, but that’s not a design problem; that’s just my bad luck.
Those are quibbles, though. My general and most lasting impression of my room was one of relaxation and comfort, qualities Times Square Edition shares with the other Schrager hotels I’ve visited. In every instance, my room was so pleasant that I’d always just as soon stay in as go out.
Schrager made his reputation building smallish, boutique hotels that were each a one-of-a-kind experience. Now he’s partnered with a chain to replicate an experience in numerous cities and atmospheres. I have no idea what the other Editions are like, but if they’re like the Times Square version, then Schrager and Marriott just gave the phrase “hotel chain” a total upgrade.
The Times Square Edition is the sixth selection for The Daily Beast's twice-monthly series on gorgeous new or restored hotels, The New Room with a View.