Come Into My Room
by Seth michael Donsky
Until now, Manhattan’s so-called Nomad (north of Madison Square) District has been mostly industrial. But all that changes this month when Ace Hotel New York, on West 29th Street, brainchild of hotelier and self-professed “serial entrepreneur” Alex Calderwood, becomes fully operational.
Developer Andrew Zobler approached Calderwood in the summer of 2007 with a proposal to renovate the historic but derelict Hotel Breslin into one of Calderwood’s chic Ace Hotels. Calderwood, a former warehouse-party promoter, welcomed the challenge. “New York is a perfect place for our concept,” he says. “Our customer base isn’t a demographic, it’s a ‘psycho-graphic.’ A mindset. Our ideal customers are pas- sionate culture enthusiasts. They all eventually find their way to New York.”
The Ace concept began in Seattle in 1999 when Calderwood and his friends Wade Weigel and Doug Herrick set out to con- vert a former mission in the city’s bohemian Belltown into a minimalist hotel with sliding-scale rates. Leaving the original structure intact where it suited their aesthetic, the trio (who at the time had no specific visual in mind) furnished the space room by room with a mixture of custom-made, vintage, and found objects. The result was both sympathetic to the building’s history and in sync with a contemporary vibe. The challenge of Ace New York was to adapt that concept to the scale of the Breslin. At 247 rooms—the largest Ace property to date—Ace New York is three times bigger than Ace Portland (the company’s second largest inn) and almost nine times big- ger than the original 28-room Seattle property.
To turn his vision into reality, Calderwood and his team collaborated with New York-based design firm Roman and Williams. Today the hotel’s lobby retains its original 1904 coffered ceilings, plaster moldings, massive columns, airy skylights, and mosaic floors. A wood-paneled library in the rear serves as a bar, and an 18-foot slate-topped lab table sur- rounded by vintage furniture encourages culture enthusiasts and nomads of all constituencies to gather.
For the guest rooms, furniture was created that reflected the neighborhood’s industrial fashion history (clothes racks made of bent plumbing pipes, hanging steel boxes for closets). Several rooms contain full-size Smeg refrigerators, Gibson guitars, and Music Hall turntables, plus a handpicked selection of new and vintage vinyl. And in keeping with Calderwood’s belief that each Ace property should reflect local culture and industry, many rooms also feature original works by New York artists, and the minibars are stocked with local confections like black-and-white cookies.
The hotel’s high-profile retailers include an outpost of the NYC fashion boutique Project No. 8 and a highly anticipated (as-yet-unnamed) new restaurant from the owners of the Spotted Pig gastropub in Greenwich Village. Even some elements of the staff’s uniforms, such as the shirts (L. Gambert), gloves (LaCrasia), and tie pins (Surface to Air), come from local manufacturers.
“We’ve put a lot of spirit and energy into preserving the best parts of this building and celebrating the neighborhood’s history while simultaneously participating in its rejuvenation,” says Calderwood. “It’s exciting, and I feel blessed to be doing it.”
photograph by Sari Goodfriend
Cover shoot: May/June 2014 issue of Gotham magazine.