One of the city's newest hotels, the Aloft just also happens to be one of the hippest too. The Starwood brand, a kind of 'no frills' W, makes its debut in New York and is, incredibly, the first new hotel to be built in Harlem for 40 years. Not only does the Aloft represent a new concept in hotels in the city, but also reflects the rise and rise of this once unexplored borough north of Central Park. The property's design is highly contemporary, the rooms are generous in their surface area and the staff members are not your usual suspects (more on them later). What's more, come the evening, the lobby takes on a new lease of life and attracts a trendy, eclectic crowd. A loft is a breath of fresh air which young travellers on a medium-sized budget should definitely experience.
The hotel is situated on Frederick Douglass Boulevard (8th Avenue) between 123rd and 124th Streets in the borough of Harlem, above Central Park. It's true to say that this is not typically where tourists would stay, especially during their first visit, but getting down to Midtown and Downtown is quick and simple with the subway (lines A, B, C, D, 2 and 3 are all within a few minutes' walk). Nearby to the hotel you can visit the Studio Museum which showcases African-American artists, El Museo del Barrio, the newly renovated Latin, Caribbean and Puerto Rican museum, and a host of alternative boutiques and restaurants, including the highly anticipated Red Rooster. JFK airport is 18 miles away, La Guardia 7 and Newark 23.
This new build hotel opened just a few months ago in December 2010 and aims to attract Echo Boomers - those fashion-conscious 20- or 30-somethings for whom surfing complimentary wifi on their iBooks has become an everyday norm. These people are fashion savvy, hang around in lounge bars and work in advertising or new media. It is for this reason that the hotel decided that it did not want its staff to have a traditional hotel background - a new hotel concept calls for a new human resources concept. So the talent members, as the workers are known, were auditioned rather than interviewed and had to go through three stages of vetting before filling the 35 positions. And, with a similar result to The Standard, you'll find you relate to them a lot more than you do the staff members at other hotels. Platinum Starwood Preferred Guest card holders are able to take advantage of a 'smart check-in' whereby they receive a text message prior to arrival with their room number and can go straight to their room when arriving and use their card to get into the room.
The entrance to the hotel is down a set of stairs taking into the heart of the new low-storey building which was purpose built for Aloft. Once through the revolving doors you'll come to a convivial circular reception desk from behind which the casually-dressed talent members welcome you with an unconventionally laid back greeting, setting the tone for the rest of your stay. To the left is Re:fuel, the grab & go while to the right is the W XYZ bar (more on both of which in 'Food and Drink'). In the hall there is also a pool table, a seating area featuring black armchairs with contrasting, brightly coloured cushions and a display of artwork, showcasing local artists, which will rotate every 2 to 3 months. All the décor and furniture was chosen and conceived by The Rockwell Group, whose success in New York knows no bounds. Other features of note in the lobby are the ticker tape display informing the guest of the day's news, the complimentary wifi and the 2 iMac computers on which guests can surf the internet. You'll also notice that there is a welcoming aroma wafting around the hall - this changes every month or so according to the season. The hotel has a small gym with top-of-the-range machines for a full work out and provides water, towels and yoga mats free of charge. On the second floor you'll find a self-service laundry and the premises are patrolled by a security guard 24 hours a day. Access to the rooms (via the lifts with weight sensitive floors which turn from blue to white as you step on them) is quick and efficient and your room is easy to find along the wide, loudly-carpeted corridors. Being only several months old the general condition of the hotel is superb.
There is only one category of room at the Aloft although some guest rooms are bigger than others as they contain two double beds. Of a relatively generous size, they are decorated fairly soberly but with flashy accessories such as the turquoise blue Big Ben alarm clock, a desk chair of the same colour, the record player print above the bed and the bolster cushions placed in front of the bed's pillows (which match the blinds). As you enter through the extremely tall front door, you see to your left a closet containing coffee machine, safe, iron and ironing board, complimentary water and a few snacks (there is no minibar as such in the room). Opposite is the bathroom which boasts a full length mirror on the loo's sliding door, bliss toiletries, hairdryer and a monsoon shower. Back in the room other amenities include 2 cordless phones, an extremely long desk whose surface climbs up the wall and along the ceiling creating a rectangular shape, a 42" flatscreen television with plug in & play facility and 2 recycling bins for plastic and glass. The views from the room are not anything spectacular (the building only has rooms on 5 low floors) and look onto either the boulevard or the interior courtyard. If you are travelling as 2 couples or a small family, opt for the queen double which has an extra double bed.
The hotel does not have a restaurant, although Re:Fuel, the hotel's grab and go situated in the lobby, is available 24h a day, and offers hot and cold drinks, breakfast items and salads and sandwiches to which guests can help themselves. Payment can be in cash or by credit card or the items can be put on the room and paid for at check-out. If you are not in a rush and the weather allows, you can enjoy your food in the 'backyard' outside the W XYZ bar. This latter, which is a lounge by day, opens at 5pm when the lights go down and the panels behind the bar swivel round to reveal the selection of alcohol. The bar itself is lined with tall, silver stools while the other seating is made up of a high standing sofa, bright coloured armchairs with clashing cushions and a huge pouffe in the middle of the space. In addition to the false fireplace and selection of artsy books, there is, much to our delight, an Etch A Sketch to play with if the conversation becomes too dull. The loud green rug and oblong light boxes on the ceiling complete the picture.
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