Mercer Hotel in SoHo keeps its stature, adds nostalgia

December 19, 2010

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NEW YORK — We’ve come a long way when a boutique hotel in SoHo can be thought of as nostalgic. But basing yourself at the corner of Mercer and Prince streets in this supercharged urban playground is a turn backward in time, of sorts, when groovy mood music and a Lower Manhattan vibe were just hitting their stride, after Prince was singing about 1999.

Yes, the boutique hotel in Manhattan has long since soared to the next level — the Standard, the Greenwich Hotel, the Bowery. The Mercer Hotel, sister to André Balazs’s Chateau Marmont, was among the first on the scene 13 years ago, in the ornate 1890 building designed by architect William Scheckel for the commercial headquarters of John Jacob Astor II. The six-story, 84,000-square-foot building, cited by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission as an example of the Romanesque Revival period, served as artists’ lofts and studios before being gutted and redesigned by French interior designer Christian Liaigre for the current 75-room property. And talk about retro — smoking is still allowed on the premises.

The living room lobby, with a floor-to-ceiling, 50-foot-long bookcase housing an expanding library dedicated to art, architecture, design, and fashion, features African wenge woods, 14-foot-high ceilings, divans, and soothing muted color tones. The location is at the heart of bustling, out-of-control SoHo. Paparazzi camp outside to photograph celebrities, while jet-black town cars idle, and the crush of holiday shoppers is three abreast. For the latest fashion offerings, the Isabel Marant store is two blocks away. Broome Street, which Robert Moses eyed for his Lower Manhattan Expressway, is a corridor of cast-iron facades of the Palaces of Trade, site of early department stores and the city’s first Otis elevator.

147 Mercer St.,, 212-966-6060 ANTHONY FLINT

MOUNT AIRY, N.C. — Gloria Joyner Johnson had one wish for her birthday: to go to Mayberry.

So she and her friend Addie Lisby traveled 100 miles north of Charlotte to Mount Airy, Andy Griffith’s hometown and the inspiration for “The Andy Griffith Show.’’

“I have every DVD, but I still watch the reruns,’’ said Johnson. “The show captures a more peaceful time. Mayberry was a real neighborly place, a place where funny things happened, but there wasn’t ever any cussin’ or real problems. Andy practiced ‘Do Unto Others,’ which is something I believe in.’’

The show, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, inspires a cult following, with a regular stream of pilgrims fueling Mount Airy tourism. Visitors can take a tour in a Mayberry squad car, stopping at landmarks such as Wally’s Service Station, Floyd’s City Barber Shop, Snappy Lunch, and the Griffith homestead. Emmett Forrest, Griffith’s friend since grade school, curates the Andy Griffith Museum, a collection of memorabilia that includes Sheriff Taylor’s original office set, one of Barney Fife’s dandy suits, and the keys to the town jail. In front of the museum, a statue of Andy and his son, Opie (played by the young Ron Howard), is a popular place for photo ops.