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Travel

Sparkling hotel adds to the growing sheen of New York's Lower East Side

Email|Print| Text size + By Bonnie Tsui
Globe Correspondent / August 31, 2005

NEW YORK -- When you walk through the Lower East Side these days, it's easy to believe you might have strayed into NoLIta, its chic, boutique-lined neighbor to the west. The old deli counters and pickle palaces -- Katz's and Russ & Daughters most venerable among them -- still remain, as does a clutch of dive bars, Dominican lunch spots, and tenement houses south of Houston Street.

But these local mainstays are increasingly crowded by shiny new clothing shops, bistros, and sidewalk cafes frequented by a flashy hipster crowd. The most compelling harbinger of change to this historically gritty, scrappy section of Manhattan is a 21-story glass swath that rises from the block of Rivington between Ludlow and Essex: the 110-room Hotel on Rivington, slated for a grand opening at the end of next month.

I moved from the neighborhood a year and a half ago, and on a recent visit during the hotel's unofficial launch, I am startled by the increase in foot traffic to the area's once lonely streets. Two local friends come along to offer their impressions. ''This is the hotel? I always thought it was a nightclub or something, because of those doormen outside" is one remark, and we all marvel at the transformative effect of the tall glass structure on the neighborhood skyline.

Originally conceptualized as a modern, design-focused hotel in partnership with Surface magazine, Rivington was left to its own devices last year when the fashion and architecture publication's association was downgraded to consulting status. Construction issues further delayed the hotel's completion, but the property has quietly been open for business since last October. Guests willing to brave the inconveniences of an unfinished hotel -- nonfunctioning flat-screen televisions, no bathroom towel hooks, perhaps a stalled elevator -- are rewarded with discounted rates and one of the city's most extraordinary views.

With the Empire State Building to the north, the financial district's high-rises to the south, all three bridges of Lower Manhattan to the east and south, and clear views across town to New Jersey, panoramas from the middle to upper floors are exceptional, due to the Rivington's standing as the tallest building by far in the neighborhood. Lower East Side denizen Moby, whose tea shop and vegan cafe, Teany, is a block away, chose to shoot the cover photo of his latest album, appropriately titled ''Hotel," in Rivington's penthouse suite. During the day, the sunlight can be a bit overpowering, but double-layered drapes offer welcome protection from the outside.

With interiors by Paris-based designer India Mahdavi, rooms are sleek and modern, outfitted in dark woods and neutral tones that are enlivened by touches of steel and mirrors; in some cases, canary-yellow bathroom tiles or carpet add further accent. Most rooms are slightly different in design -- shape configurations vary by floor -- but all bathrooms are stocked with Paul Labrecque spa products, and cushy Swedish Tempur-Pedic beds and Frette linens ensure a luxurious night's sleep.

All rooms are keycard-access only, as is the small fitness center on the third floor, stocked with weights and the requisite cardio machines. According to Sandra Ardito, Rivington's public relations manager, elevators to the guest-room floors will soon be strictly keycard-access as well, and a security team will be on hand to monitor the stairwells and dimly lighted hallways. In general, I find the young staff friendly and eager to please; particular touches, like cool, ripe plums presented in a dish at turndown, are especially welcome in the summer heat.

The hotel's restaurant has yet to be finished, so room service is currently provided by 'inoteca, the extremely popular Italian restaurant and wine bar owned by Jason Denton. Every morning, a welcoming spread of fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee, bagels, pastries, yogurt, and cereal is laid out in the second-floor lobby lounge, which features wireless Internet access (also to be available in guest rooms). By night, the lounge features bar service, and the angled floor-to-ceiling windows frame the lively street life below to full effect.

This just might be the Lower East Side's best people-watching spot. A view of the thankfully still eclectic street population reveals the meeting of several very different worlds in the space of five minutes: I watch an elderly Chinese couple stroll by, the man clutching a pink grocery bag and a Klondike ice cream sandwich, followed by two string-bean models, a flock of tourists, and a bike messenger shoving off the back of a cab.

If you want to sample night life, the Hotel on Rivington's location can't be beat. No more schlepping to Midtown in the wee hours. Just a few steps away, you'll find classy wine bars ('inoteca), nouveau tapas-style eating (the Stanton Social), sexy bistros (Schiller's Liquor Bar), new American classics (71 Clinton Fresh Food), and the best hip-hop lounges (bOb). Across the street from the hotel, there is Verlaine, a lounge serving Vietnamese-themed cocktails.

And at the end of this downtown New York feast for the senses, the hotel allows easy retreat to its glittering, glass-enclosed aerie. Just remember to close the drapes before morning.

Hotel on Rivington
107 Rivington St., New York

212-475-2600

www.hotelonrivington.com

The hotel is a block from the Delancey Street station on the F line of the New York City subway.

Rooms start at $259 a night, including breakfast. After the grand opening in September, prices will start at $325 a night.

Bonnie Tsui is a California-based writer.

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