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October 7, 2008

Wise Guy

Robert De Niro's latest joint venture, a lavish New York guesthouse with a family feel, has received plenty of media attention. But can it offer more than a famous name? Lucinda Baring visits The Greenwich to find out.

By cms admin

A hotel opening in New York is rarely something to write home about. The city has so many places to stay that an addition to the list needs a very exciting angle to generate interest.

The opening of a hotel by a celebrity, however, catches everyone’s attention.

Robert De Niro’s new hotel, The Greenwich, is a case in point. There has been so much hype about it in the US and UK media that Hotel Management International wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The Greenwich is a collaborative project between De Niro and his son Raphael, and Ira Drukier and Richard Born, boutique hoteliers with a portfolio of 20 hotels worth more than $1bn. Together they bought a disused car park in TriBeCa and turned it into a lavish 88-room guesthouse.

“With his office just next door, De Niro visits the hotel almost every day.”

De Niro has been heavily involved every step of the way and with his office just next door, he visits the hotel almost every day. He was the first person I ran into – literally – when, dressed in a bikini, I exited the lift on the wrong floor en route to the pool.

The hotel is on the corner of Greenwich and N Moore Street and is just a street away from the Hudson River – you can see it as you walk out of the building, which adds to the hotel’s appeal.

This part of Manhattan feels less claustrophobic than others, especially in summer, and more light and airy, not least because of the good breeze coming off the river. But far from being out on a limb, the shops, restaurants, art galleries and nightclubs of West Broadway, Soho and Nolita are within ten minutes’ walking distance.

The service is exceptional – it has to be in any top New York hotel to stand a chance of competing – but at The Greenwich the idea is to make you feel like family. To this end, houseguests can check in from their rooms, and afternoon tea is served in the drawing room and champagne in the courtyard in the evening.

In a city where little is complimentary, this attitude is unique. And that’s not all.

A continental breakfast in Ago, the fabulous restaurant (more on that later), is also included and the minibar left me skipping with delight. You have to pay for the alcohol but the retro American sweets and snacks were fantastic, and free – from salted sourdough balls and Cracker Jacks to a big jar of sweets, Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

De Niro’s aim was to create a home from home, which is immediately apparent on entering the hotel, or ‘residence’ as he likes to call it. Although The Greenwich is not short of grandeur, there is a mismatched, antique theme running throughout, from the terracotta-tiled floor of the lobby and deep velvet sofas in the drawing room to each of the 88 bedrooms (which include 13 suites and a penthouse), every one of which is unique.

Everything is hand-sewn, handcrafted and handmade – even the bricks.

The burnished glass in the windows is taken from the iconic Flatiron Building, the wooden floors, doors and beams are reclaimed and the furniture lovingly collected from around the world. The effect is disarming – nothing is uniform, no two pieces of furniture exactly alike.

Even better than the bedrooms are the 68 bathrooms, which are decorated with white Carrara marble or bright Moroccan tiles. Mine was brilliant blue and had a vast wet room with two showerheads.

The downside is that only a third of the bathrooms have baths.

Back to Ago, the New York outpost of the Italian-style trattoria franchise that De Niro owns with Harvey Weinstein. The room is filled with light courtesy of floor-to-ceiling French windows, yet the feel is old-fashioned due to the dark leather banquettes, wooden bar and distressed beams.

“Nothing is uniform, no two pieces of furniture alike.”

The food is simple and has an excellent reputation.

The last word is for the Shibui spa. It is Japanese inspired, which initially seemed out of keeping with the hotel, but it succeeds as an enclave of dusky tranquillity and relaxation tucked away in the basement.

The lantern-lit pool is framed by a 250-year-old Japanese bamboo farmhouse that was flown in from Kyoto and reconstructed by 13 Japanese builders – without using a single nail or bolt. The treatments, which are available only to hotel guests, are based on Japanese tradition, as is the bathing room.

All in all, De Niro and co have done a grand job. No one does antique and old-fashioned quite like the English, but his mission to create something different in New York, a move away from sleek modernity and towards a more intimate, homely residence, makes for a timely and refreshing change.

The Greenwich Hotel, 377 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10013 Website:

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