Q: What is it? A: A hotel.
The American Radiator building… a Gothic dream in black and gold. It was one of the 45 skyscrapers built during 1924-25. No other building boom ever came close. Style-wise, it’s a forerunner to the leaner, more modernist art déco buildings that would soon follow.
Windows are quite small. The real estate developers who bought the building in 1998 soon discovered that converting the building into a hotel wouldn’t be as easy as they thought. In November 1974 it was listed as a NYC Landmark building. Very few changes, including enlarging the windows, would be possible without violating the landmark rules.
A posh corner room may need a stylish, spacious bathroom. Arriving here a very cold week in January, meant that it was also a rather cold bathroom. This shouldn’t put you off, as you will probably not arrive to this hotel on the coldest week in 118 years.
Peek out the window and there you have Bryant Park. It occupies a 39,000 square meter-space between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. In 1996, the final scene of the Howard Stern film ”Private Parts” featuring the band AC/DC was shot here. Little known fact: The park has free WiFi.
It’s impossible to even mention this hotel without starting on the outside. Completed and occupied in 1924 the American Radiator Building is a forerunner of New York’s art deco skyscrapers. What architects John Howells and Raymond Hood created was a design that was celebrated and talked about even at the time it was completed. And for sure, it’s striking. For Nordic architectural buffs, it may be uplifting to know that the design is based on Eliel Saarinen’s unbuilt competition entry for the Tribune Tower. Familiar name? Yes, Saarinen’s son Eero, also an architect, was the man behind the modernist ”Tulip” series of chairs and tables.
Let’s go inside.
Checking in at this black-and-gold landmark is like entering a Batman-movie. Not. It’s completely undramatic. The inside is a red and black lobby where the ambition clearly is to make your stay as hassle-free as possible. Check-in is a breeze (a smiling, friendly breeze), doormen are a platoon of positive energy and somehow the atmosphere makes you feel less gloomy and more well-clad, urbane and successful (trust me, it was a welcome feeling this particular Monday). It’s like you are becoming part of buzzing spot where other urbane, positive and successful people meet. In short, the Bryant Park Hotel stands out, and I do mean that in a good way.
Reception puts baby in the corner.
On check-in, I am rewarded with a free upgrade (thank you!), which means a corner room with a better than good view over the park. This is clearly not just an ordinary room (I believe it’s called Deluxe Queen when you book) as it measures some 400 square feet (37 sq. meters) and comes with a bathroom that is almost hangar-sized for Manhattan (it’s not a hangar but you know what I mean). A short visit to the Koi restaurant means quite an OK culinary experience (note to self – next time, don’t visit only minutes before closing – the staff handled my late arrival with grace, though). Next time, I’ll try to get a room with a private terrace. Hopefully temperatures will be less brutal by then. They’d better be. Yes, I’m pretty sure they will be.
Bryant Park Hotel
40 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
Trivia: Art-nerds may recognize the building from Georgia O’Keeffe’s oil-painting ”Radiator Building-Night” (1927). A fitting motif for a painter recognized as the Mother of American Modernism.