NEW YORK - The city has always been a bit of a drama queen, and its newest luxury hotels celebrate that pedigree and personality, with a dash of performance thrown in.
Anyone who knows Gordon Ramsay, the British celebrity chef, strictly from his brash stints on reality television's "Kitchen Nightmares" and "Hell's Kitchen" will be surprised at the cool formality of his eponymous restaurant in the London NYC hotel. Formerly the RIHGA Royal, the London NYC now showcases an elegant, modern look that emphasizes clean lines and comfort.
Sprays of flowers shoot theatrically from tall glass vases at either end of the long black check-in desk, backed by a framed silk tapestry of London's Hyde Park. David Collins, the British designer, is the aesthetic mind behind the revamped midtown building, which features parquet floors, herringbone carpet, lots of mirrors, and pale blue, cream, and rose palettes edged with silver and gold, all meant to recall the civilized, subdued-yet-stylish feel of a London flat.
More than 500 rooms, including suites and two-bedroom apartments, fill 54 floors. Given the hotel's past incarnation, room configurations can vary, and some spaces are laid out better than others. If your first choice doesn't suit - an empty sitting room off a cramped bedroom, or an oddly placed dresser with nonfunctioning drawers - ask the front desk staff for a change.
But most guest suites are surprisingly generous in square footage, with striped blue-and-gray sofas, oversized dark-wood work desks, and bedrooms separated from main living rooms by sliding French doors. Dual showerheads and mosaic-tiled bathrooms, wraparound headboards with bedside lights, and deliciously crisp 500-thread-count sheets add to the luxury. Liberal amounts of sunlight filter in through large windows dressed in white fabric; an additional layer of heavy blackout drapes ensures a good night's sleep.
The sleek downstairs bar is lively, casual, and popular with tourists; it has an all-day menu that emphasizes small plates, and also serves afternoon tea. The restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at the London, marks the celebrity chef's US debut. It is hidden away in an intimate dining room that seats just 45 (it is based upon Ramsay's three-Michelin-starred restaurant in London). Signature dishes include poached lobster ravioli, pot-roasted rabbit leg confit with garlic, oyster mushrooms, and an anchovy jus, and caramelized calves' sweetbreads. For an all-out experience, go for the seven-course prestige menu, priced at $110, or ask for a seat at the eight-person chef's table, which gets you a customized menu of the day.
Other well-thought-out perks at the London NYC: custom-designed swivel tables for in-room dining, free calls to London, a state-of-the-art fitness center with personal trainers, and a location (54th between 6th and 7th avenues) convenient to Central Park, Broadway shows, and Fifth Avenue shopping.
Downtown at the Bowery Hotel, on a street whose grungy reputation was made on bums, junkies, and the now-shuttered CBGB's, the design hand is restrained and appropriate to the neighborhood. Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson are the team behind the Maritime Hotel; they are also partners with Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, in the exclusive Waverly Inn. With the Bowery, they have forgone glossy minimalism for a solid brick exterior and an interior furnishing style that can be described as urban renewal: worn Oriental rugs, dark wood salvaged from old buildings, marble sinks.
The Bowery's guest suites are roomy and flooded with stunning natural light. But the hotel's location (Bowery and East 3d) makes it, at 16 floors, the tallest building around for many blocks, and the views (of vacant, overgrown lots, adjacent rooftops cluttered with chairs, and taxicab-clogged Bowery) are expansive.
This is not the place to stay if you are averse to grit, because despite the Bowery's sublime touches of comfort - private terraces, plush bedding, a funky lobby bar and garden, and Gemma, a terrific, buzzy Italian restaurant - the Bowery (the street) remains as scruffy as ever.
You can sit at a sidewalk restaurant and observe a group of dolled-up young model types holding court at the next table, but you might also see a drag queen teetering past on mile-high stilettos. Whose performance wins out is a matter of interpretation. But then that's part of the beauty of this city. Personality reigns, and there's still room for the unexpected.
Bonnie Tsui can be reached at bonnietsui.com.