A new wave of Brooklyn hotels are grabbing the spotlight from hipster Williamsburg to showcase the area’s lesser known neighbourhoods - and the arrival of the Ace Hotel brand downtown should make New York visitors sit up, take notice and consider making Brooklyn, not Manhattan, their base.
Where is it?
Ace hotels have a reputation for spotting up-and-coming areas, then helping them up-and-come — and the chain’s Brooklyn outpost follows in that tradition. Don’t be fooled by the random-seeming location on a street notable only for its subway station — from where it’s 15 minutes into lower Manhattan — this downtown Brooklyn spot is on the cusp of several neighbourhoods on the rise.
Leafy Boerum Hill, with its rows of brownstones, and picture-perfect Cobble Hill, where 19th century architecture rubs up against trendy cafes and boutique shops, are two of the most charming for walking around. Smith Street, just a few minutes from the hotel entrance, sees independent bars and restaurants jostle for space, while a branch of Lululemon speaks to the area’s aspirations.
The Ace Brooklyn is, like its siblings, all about communal working, dining, drinking and Zooming — ‘lobby culture’ rules here. When we check in around 7pm on a Tuesday night, there’s a buzz in the air — the work crowd, which sits around a long shared table, is winding down and enjoying happy hour. The bar, with its warm wood panelling and squishy leather sofas, is filling up and the lights are dimmed to just the right level for first dates and all-night cocktail-drinking sessions.
There’s an intentionally retro feel to it all, giving the Ace’s signature concrete and black steel a Mad Men-like touch. Sculptural lighting and art by a roster of local artists adds colour and character, while an old-fashioned photo booth in one corner nods the hipster credentials the brand has built up and for which — let’s face it — people still flock to the brand. And if you really want to buy into it all, there’s a shop selling Ace merch by the front desk.
The 287 rooms are inspired by architect Le Corbusier’s modernist Cote d’Azur holiday cabin ‘Le Cabanon’ — with mid-century wooden furniture and flashes of dark green, set against more concrete and steel. Some have record players with a selection of vinyl curated by Rough Trade, others feature guitars — though I don’t hear anyone strumming away during our stay. While not exactly big, the rooms are spacious enough by New York standards — with a desk, Smeg fridge, clothes rail, and enough manoeuvrability for two in the bathroom, as long as one of you is brushing their teeth at the concrete sink while the other is in the shower. I was on the 13th floor and had a stand-out view across to the Statue of Liberty, a treat to gaze out from our comfy bed with its biodegradable mattress.
Food & drink
The main event is in-house restaurant As You Are — an all-day 130-seat eatery which brands itself as a ‘bar, restaurant and bakery’. Tick, tick, and tick. The mornings see us grab coffee and buns to go from the tempting bakery counter — the brainchild of star pastry chef Danny Alvarez — although a full brunch menu is available for those who prefer to linger. Don’t miss the pastel de nata and maple pecan doughnuts for a sugar rush first thing.
Dinner is a convivial affair, with the warm wooden tables, neon lighting, and bar area springing to life with residents and Brooklynites alike keen to taste the food of head chef Michael King. I’d come here even if I wasn’t staying at the hotel, and that’s the idea — a friend, who lives nearby, suggests visiting for dinner, such is its reputation for good food among locals. The menu is seasonal: we enjoy oysters and salads of celery root and pear. A main course of grassfed beef strip (a tender and little-used part of the loin) is charred and served with artichokes and bone marrow.
Arguably more interesting (to me) is the drinks menu, which features local beers including those by up-and-coming all-female brewery Talea, from nearby Williamsburg. Cocktails are best enjoyed at the main bar for sheer atmosphere, although the ‘Howard’ (bourbon, vino amaro, vermouth) and ordered as it’s my father’s name was too strong as a digestif.
The Ace may not have a rooftop pool, but special mention must go to the gym — designed in collaboration with streetwear/gym brand Yeah, I Work Out. With vintage bodybuilding posters, retro equipment, and 1980s trophies, it plays into the vintage feel this hotel is dying to capture, but in a way that doesn’t take itself (or working out) too seriously.
Another slice of Ace branding is the so-called ‘Stoop’ — a set of concrete steps outside the front entrance which are intended to be a nod to the traditional Brooklyn Brownstone, and where residents and locals alike are encouraged to stop, hang out, or eat those morning pastries.
Boerum Hill may be off the beaten track, particularly for those making their first visit to New York.
But it’s perfectly positioned if your destination is the Barclays Center Arena, where you might catch a Brooklyn Nets basketball game or Bruce Springsteen on tour.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music is just a few blocks away, too. Don’t bypass the Brooklyn Heights Promenade — a 1,826 foot-long pedestrian walkway with unmissable views of the Manhattan skyline and ferry stops, if you prefer crossing to the city via waterway rather than subway.
And don’t forget a stroll through picture-perfect Cobble Hill, which is on your doorstep, as well as Boerum Hill’s quintessential rows of brownstones.
Taking in the best of Brooklyn off the beaten track, but still getting that New York buzz.
Rooms from $199; acehotel.com/brooklyn