Known for its bohemian art scene during the ’70s, Manhattan’s SoHo district today draws art appreciators seeking galleries and boutique shoppers looking for their favorite designers. The architecture of SoHo reaches its pinnacle in the Cast Iron Historic District, with iconic buildings housing anything from cafes to gallery space to clubs. The five-star Mercer Hotel NYC distils the very essence of the area’s history as a haven for the artistic. It offers its guests loft-style accommodation that includes open-faced brick walls and wooden floors, giving the flavor of the building’s use as a former artists’ colony.
Accommodation type: 5-star
No. of Rooms & Suites: 75
Pricing: starts at $625 for Courtyard rooms, at $650 for Mercer rooms, at $750 for studios, at $1,100 for suites, at $3,000 for the Soho Suite
High season: May through December
Nearest airport: LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
Suitable for: couples, honeymooners, families
• American Academy of Hospitality Sciences’ Star Diamond Award to the Mercer Kitchen, 2013
• World Travel Awards’ Nominee “USA: New York’s Leading Boutique Hotel,” 2008
John Jacob Astor II’s office building in lower Manhattan stands as the quintessential example of Romanesque Revival architecture. Built in 1890, the red brick structure totals 84,000 feet spread over six stories. Prior to its 1997 conversion into what is today the Mercer Hotel, the building’s former offices served as studios and lofts for resident artists. Today, the hotel is the favored retreat of Hollywood stars like Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio and other members of the glitterati like fashion designer Calvin Klein.
The lobby is sleek, modern and comfortable, with shelves of books available to peruse and furniture meant for lounging. The Mercer Kitchen lies just off of the lobby, with two levels serving meals from breakfast to dinner.
Rooms in the Mercer hotel carry the ambiance of their former use as bohemian artists’ studios. This is particularly evident in their high windows that allow in plenty of light. In addition, many of the rooms enjoy views of the courtyard bamboo garden. Exposed brick, comfortable furniture in soothing colors and luxurious touches like Egyptian high-thread bedding are available across the range of rooms offered. Guest rooms may also feature large, walk-in showers or oversized bathtubs. While there is no on-site spa, guests may book private beauty services, including massages, in their rooms. Trainers focusing on Pilates, yoga and other physical disciplines are also available for one-on-one sessions.
• Mercer Kitchen — the culinary genius of Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is evident. From the early morning breakfast menu offerings to the last late-night snacks of the evening, everything is a treat. Dishes take advantage of seasonally available ingredients. There are also plenty of healthy and appealing menu choices for vegans and vegetarians. Locally available seafood plays a large part in menu offerings, from the raw oyster bar and the warm crab cakes to the crispy squid appetizers. Desserts will please any sweet tooth, with offerings like warm chocolate cake oozing hot caramel, sour cream cheesecake or a tropical banana split.
Guests receive a free pass to the Equinox Gym, which has a swimming pool and spa. The gym is just a three-minute walk from the hotel. The Mercer Hotel also maintains a large library of DVDs, CDs, magazines and books that guests can borrow at no charge. Guests also have use of board games, card games and video gaming machines on a first come, first-served basis.
The Mercer Hotel maintains a fleet of chauffeured cars, and guests can arrange for airport pick-up with the concierge. The nearest airport is LaGuardia. Visitors can take a taxi from there or opt for the true New York experience by taking the subway. The nearest subway station to the hotel is right around the corner on Prince Street.
For those planning to rent a car at the airport, they will need to get on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway East at 23rd Avenue. Stay on the Expressway, which is also I-278 West, for just over two miles. Take Exit 35, which is marked as I-495/Long Island Expressway, towards the Midtown Tunnel. Stay in the left lane through the tunnel, taking the left exit marked as Downtown. Make a left onto East 35th Street. Take a right onto 2nd Avenue. Make another right onto East 14th Street. The next turn will be a left onto Broadway. Following Broadway for nearly a mile, drivers will need to make a right onto West Houston Street. After several hundred feet, make a left onto Mercer Street. The hotel will be on the right.
Main Attractions Around Mercer Hotel
National Museum of the American Indian
Housed in the ornate Beaux Artes building that functioned as a customs house for decades, the 100-year-old structure is a stately backdrop for a fascinating array of artifacts and art of the Native American peoples. Spread across several floors, the collection includes not only North American pieces but items spanning Central and South America as well. A number of limited-time exhibits join the permanent collection, and visitors may encounter live performances as well.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
This appealing green space offers incredible views of the eponymous bridge and a chance to kayak in the East River. A carousel from the Roaring ’20s is housed in a glass enclosure but still treats customers to an entrancing ride as it did nearly a century ago. There are often musical performances or Shakespeare plays to enjoy in the warmer months. Bicycle riding, in-line skating, yoga, wall climbing, jogging, bocce, and handball represent just some of the activities available. Visitors can also go fishing or enjoy some bird watching of the local estuary species.
Top of the Rock
Venturing out of Lower Manhattan, visitors can survey the vast expanse of the island from the top of the famous Rockefeller Center building. While the Empire State Building is a popular choice, The Rock also features outstanding views. It is also usually less crowded than its famous counterpart. Visitors can also enjoy many of the other sights at this 22-acre complex, such as Radio City Music Hall, a tour of the NBC Studios or seasonal activities like the ice skating rink and lit Christmas tree.
Still retaining its air of counter-cultural revolution even in the face of its recent gentrification, the SoHo district is Manhattan’s artistic heart, with galleries featuring the latest in avant-garde masterpieces. Stroll its streets and admire the architecture. Catch an art house film or sip a cup of espresso and people-watch for a feel of the real spirit of the district. Have you ever visited the SoHo area or stayed at the Mercer Hotel? Let us know about your trip in the comments below. And if you cannot get enough of Manhattan’s artistic prowess, the St Regis hotel offers old-school glamour and sophisticated elegance to its patrons.