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Why Brooklyn’s Luxury Hotel Boom Is Focused on One Small Area in Williamsburg

In Williamsburg, a range of luxury, beautifully designed hotels is opening, jostling for the attentions of fashionable travelers.

Courtesy The Williamsburg Hotel

Last Friday night, an hour and a half after arriving at the Westlight restaurant on the roof of the new William Vale hotel in Brooklyn’s hip Williamsburg neighborhood, I checked in with the hostess: Another 15 minutes, she chirped, promising that my name was at the top of the waiting list and my party of two would be seated shortly.

The restaurant was fully booked by noon that day, but another cheerful hostess had assured me on the phone that the wait wouldn’t be long, so I didn’t expect to be ensconced at the Westlight’s industrial-chic bar for more than two hours.

Yet with its sizable $16 artisanal cocktails (I ordered the not-too-sweet “False Start,” a tequila concoction with cardamaro, red vermouth, cynar, and cucumber) and floor-to-ceiling vistas of Manhattan, there are worse places to spend a few hours before being seated for dinner at one of the plush, yellow-golden sofas in the loftlike restaurant, which is warmly lit by globe lights overhead.

In the summer, Andrew Carmellini’s restaurant expands out onto the terrace, where guests can peer across the East River through telescopes or climb a flight of steps to the 60-foot pool at the very top of the towering, 21-story hotel.

Halfway through my second “False Start” and eager for a cigarette, I stepped out onto the terrace—a smoke-free zone even in the dead of winter, I discovered—and looked down at the Wythe Hotel’s rooftop bar across the street, then further down to the ground floor of the new Williamsburg Hotel two blocks over.

This mini-boom in cool hotels is happening within four blocks—between North Ninth and North 12th streets, off Wythe Avenue.

Later this year, the Hoxton—a London-based chain with hotels in the city’s Shoreditch and Holborn neighborhoods, as well as one in Amsterdam—will be the fourth hotel in this small stretch of north Williamsburg, part of the luxury hotel scene that has exploded there as the neighborhood continues to become a tourist destination preferable to SoHo and other hot areas in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

The McCarren Hotel & Pool, which opened in 2011 (a tad east of the current geographical hotspot), led the charge of Williamsburg’s fashionable hotels.

Since opening in 2012—and until the latest flurry of glossy openings—the 70-room Wythe has been the most popular hotel in the neighborhood where tourists and out-of-town employees of the Williamsburg-located Vice Media offices could lay their heads for a minimum of $395 a night.

The Wythe isn’t just a hotel but an adult playground of sorts, complete with an in-house art cinema, gratuity-free Reynard restaurant (sister to Marlow & Sons), and cocktail bar.

Located across the street from the Brooklyn Bowl and nestled among old factory buildings on the waterfront (the Wythe itself was once a factory building), Williamsburg's derelict industrial zone quickly became prime hotel real estate.

“Before the Wythe came along, a lot of these buildings were only semi-utilized,” said Toby Moskovits, co-owner of the new, 150-room (starting at $375 a night) Williamsburg Hotel with Michael Lichtenstein. While the hotel is currently in its “soft launch,” with only one floor of rooms housing guests and its ground floor bar officially opening on New Year’s Eve, Moskovits and Lichtenstein acquired the property in 2012.

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“Our goal is to be the neighborhood hotel,” Moskovits said, adding that she grew up in Williamsburg (“my family literally had a business across the street from the hotel”) and is an active member of the community board.

“We also want to bring a bit of elegance to Brooklyn, though ours is more of a faded elegance,” she noted of the hotel’s design aesthetic: part West Elm showroom and part Soho House, with lots of tufted furniture (even the walls in the elevator are tufted) mixed with mid-century modern inspired pieces.

Hotel rooms and hallways are lit by filament lightbulbs, which are something of a Brooklyn cliché (you’d be hard-pressed to find a popular restaurant in Williamsburg that doesn’t feature them somewhere). There’s plenty of artful quirk, too, like the toile-inspired wallpaper depicting scenes and figures from Brooklyn—the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.; Coney Island’s famous Cyclone roller coaster; a group of Hasidic Jewish men—designed by Mike Diamond of the Beastie Boys in collaboration with Revolver New York and Flavor Paper. A colorful yarn installation by the artist Eric Rieger hovers above the lobby bar.

“It’s more warm and comforting than industrial, which is how we think a hotel should be,” said Moskovits.

Chef Adam Leonti of the Brooklyn Bread Lab is masterminding the hotel’s Harvey restaurant, which will open the first week in February and features a grain and vegetable-focused menu with a daily meat and fish option. The hotel’s “ballroom,” which accommodates up to 400 people, will open later this spring, along with its water tower bar and rooftop pool.

Lichtenstein and Moskovits began working together on residential real estate in Williamsburg back in 2008, around the time the neighborhood landscape started changing, pricing out artists who had moved there because they couldn’t afford to live on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

“When I started developing in Williamsburg 15 years ago, it was a cheap alternative to Manhattan,” Lichtenstein said. “In the last three or four year’s it’s become a destination in and of itself, even more than Manhattan is for some people. SoHo is too corporate for a lot of tourists and residents, but Williamsburg still has that authentic feel that SoHo had until 10 years ago.”

Williamsburg certainly isn’t a cheap alternative anymore, with some residential rents running as high as those in SoHo and the West Village. 2016 saw Whole Foods and Apple open stores on Bedford Avenue, the neighborhood’s main drag, which is clogged with street vendors and Danish tourists taking pictures of graffiti.

In addition to Vice, which recently moved its headquarters 10 blocks south on Wythe Avenue, companies like Kickstarter and Amazon have opened offices in Williamsburg. The neighborhood’s music and arts scene is another big draw for both New York City residents and tourists.

“You have the old guard of people who have lived here for many years, as well as some really successful artists who moved here 10 years ago and stayed, plus the tech companies in this little pocket of an industrial area that was rezoned and has become a cultural incubator,” said Moskovits. “The close proximity of all this is what really draws people here.”

Of all the new luxury hotels in the area, the towering William Vale—a stilted monolith that rises from the ground like an alien mothership or a fantasy dreamed up by Paul Rand—is perhaps the one that forecasts the future of Williamsburg most.

There were fewer bearded hipsters at the Westlight than casually dressed, middle-aged Italian women and gray heads in Dockers. By the time I left, the queue waiting for the elevator looked like the line outside the Boom Boom Room, the rooftop bar at the top of the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District—only less glamorous and slightly less affected.