by Ron Bernthal
Lower Manhattan Island began to develop in the 1600′s, after Henry Hudson discovered the waterway that would be named after him, and Dutch settlers began moving onto the fertile island, creating the village of New Amsterdam as their first settlement in the New World.
In the 1640′s they built a 12-foot stone wall across the lower half of the island, as protection against any groups that may want to invade their waterfront paradise with the deep water harbor. A narrow footpath ran along the base of the wall, leading to a buttonwood tree, which sheltered groups of traders who gathered there for informal business dealings. In 1792, long after the Dutch lost control of New Amsterdam to the British, and shortly after the British lost New York to the newly found citizens of the United States of America, 24 stockbrokers signed an agreement under the buttonwood tree, and the Buttonwood Agreement helped create the New York Stock Exchange. A century later, after the original stone wall had crumbled, the nearby footpath was widened and named Wall Street.
I thought of this history when I approached the Wall Street pier onboard a New York Waterways ferry from Hoboken, New Jersey, a 15-minute ride across the white-capped Hudson River on a cold, blustery winter day. It was late afternoon, the sky was darkening, and I was the only passenger on the boat, but dozens of financial district workers, heading home after a day of trading, were preparing to board the ferry on its commuting route back to Hoboken pier and the waiting NJ Transit trains.
Two blocks from the ferry terminal is the Andaz Wall Street hotel, a 42-story mixed-use building that opened for guests the week I arrived. New hotel lobbies can be sterile and cold, especially when they try too hard to be trendy and eclectic, as the Andaz does, but they somehow pull it off brilliantly, creating a surprisingly informal and warm welcome, despite there being no front desk, no bellman stand, no traditional lobby gift shop, and no concierge desk.
We get so used to walking up to a hotel’s front desk, that it is somewhat disorienting to enter a lobby where there is no delineation between guest space and staff areas. And that is exactly what the designers of this property, the Rockwell Group, had in mind when they converted the historic J. P. Morgan office building into 13 floors devoted to hotel space, and 29 floors of luxury condominiums and amenities.
“Since Andaz is Hindi for ‘personal style’ we wanted to give guests a sequence of unexpected personalized experiences through unconventional configurations in the lobby, bar and restaurant, and twists on traditional features in the guest rooms,” said David Rockwell, founder and CEO of the Rockwell Group.
Thus, the Andaz Lounge is both a lobby and a communal living room, with a table for reading or working, a small bar and kitchen, where guests can grab artisanal coffee, espresso, croissants, and pastries in the morning, or light snacks and wine in the evening. There is free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, and all these various areas are seamlessly connected, removing the traditional barriers between the guest and a hotel’s retail and staff areas.
Within minutes of entering the hotel, a pretty, young lady in a dark tailored suit, known as a “host,” arrived at my side with a hand-held PC the size of a TV remote, and within a few seconds she had checked me into the hotel, produced a room key card, and escorted me to my room. On the way up in the elevator I made a mental note to check-out the second floor, where Bar Seven Five was just getting busy with an after-work crowd.
My room, on the 6th floor did not have a particularly exciting view, but like the other 253 rooms, it was designed with seven-foot windows, an 11-foot ceiling, and was stylish and efficient looking, dark stained oak floors and bleached wood furniture. The big surprise in the room was the custom-designed rotating “personal closet valet,” each side offering a different use —clothes closet, suit hanging area, full-length mirror, and mini-bar—all rotating around a middle shaft, similar to the revolving watch display cases in a department store, only these were seven feet tall.
Another surprise (yes, there are lots of them), was the open, see-through bathroom, where a glass picture window provides a voyeuristic view from the bedroom directly into the shower area. Not all rooms have this feature, so if you want privacy while showering, or are travelling with small children, you should request a standard bath. On the other hand, the spacious black marble bathroom and shower window is a nice amenity for that special romantic New York weekend. The large, square, modernistic glass sink is striking looking, but too shallow, and drains slowly, leaving water in the bottom long after you’ve finished washing up.
Adding to the list of surprises was the complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic drinks in the room mini-bar. Although the hotel has probably added the expense of these free amenities into the published room rates, it is a pleasure to have access to a mini-bar fully-stocked with soft drinks, organic fruit juices, premium potato chips, and energy bars without having to pay exorbitant prices for these at check-out (same for the free local calls and Wi-Fi). A 42-inch flat screen (not HD) TV, comfortable leather desk chair, large work desk with conveniently located, pop-up electrical outlets, and bedside tables with buttons for room lights and black-out shades, are nice touches.
Later in my stay I visited Wall & Water, the hotel’s 2nd-floor, full-service restaurant, with its large windows with views of the East River, interesting glass and iron light fixtures, a 12-person chef’s table at one end of the open kitchen, and a menu that offers a healthy array of food items, with lots of fresh Hudson River Valley produce. The designers took great pains to create subtle allusions to the hotel’s presence in the heart of New York’s financial district. I would not have noticed that the patterns within the restaurant’s slate colored walls and chestnut curtains were inspired by the watermark on dollar bills, until someone pointed them out to me.
The Life Fitness equipment in the hotel’s gym includes cardiovascular and strength-training products, and several exercise bikes. The upscale SPA offers two treatment rooms for massages, facials, and various body treatments. Corporate groups can book meeting and event space in the Andaz Studio’s, five high-tech rooms, totaling more than 5,000 square-feet, which offer all the latest design features, including iPod-synched sound systems, espresso machines, pushpin-friendly wall-coverings, and a comfortable “dining” area with an open kitchen for refreshment breaks.
A metal and glass staircase rises steeply from the center of the Andaz Lounge, ok, the lobby, and leads to Bar Seven Five, named after the hotel’s mailing address (the actual entrance is on Water Street). Continuing with the hotel’s “no barriers” theme, there is no traditional bar; instead there are floating “pods” throughout the room. There are no visible bartenders, either. Sure, there are nicely dressed employees who rotate among the tables taking drink orders, but it can be difficult, at first, knowing who to order your drink from, and or is a guest like yourself. But the atmosphere is welcoming, not intimidating, and it takes just a few minutes to figure out who’s who. Bar Seven Five is already becoming known for its signature cocktail, the Manhattan, which is brought over in the shaker and poured directly at the table.
The Andaz Wall Street is not only convenient for visiting bankers, brokers, and attorneys who will appreciate its location close to the Stock Exchange, but its proximity to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis and Governors Island, the South Street Seaport, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage at Battery Place, will attract lots of tourists as well. General Manager Toni Hinterstoisser will make sure that the staff and ambience reflect the best of European hospitality, ensuring loyalty among today’s young, European business travelers who desire the competent, sleek efficiency that the Andaz was built to deliver.
The Andaz Wall Street, which opened in January, 2010, is a Hyatt Corporation branded property. Other Andaz locations include London, West Hollywood, San Diego (open late 2010), Fifth Avenue NYC (open late 2010), and Austin (opening TBA).
Contact: ANDAZ WALL STREET
75 Wall Street
New York, NY 10005
Room Rates: From $295 per night weekend; $375 weekday, double-occupancy, (online rates April 2010)
Places to visit near Andaz Wall Street:
Castle Clinton National Monument
Located in Battery Park
Eldridge Street Project
12 Eldridge Street (between Canal St. & Division St.)
Federal Hall National Monument
26 Wall Street (between Nassau St. & William St.)
Fraunces Tavern Museum
54 Pearl Street (at Broad Street)
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
90 Orchard Street (at Broome St.)
Museum of American Finance
28 Broadway (at Bowling Green)
Museum of Chinese in the Americas
70 Mulberry Street (at Bayard Street)
National Museum of the American Indian
One Bowling Green (between State St. & Whitehall St.)
The New York City Fire Museum
278 Spring Street (between Varick St. & Hudson St.)
The New York City Police Museum
100 Old Slip (between Water St. & South St.)
10 River Terrace
Saint Pauls Chapel
Church Street between Vesey and Fulton
The Skyscraper Museum
39 Battery Place
South Street Seaport Museum
207 Front Street
(Pier 16 Visitor’s Center, near the corner of South St. & Fulton St.)
Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Immigration Museum
(Ticket booth/ferry at Castle Clinton in Battery Park)
© Ron Bernthal – No editorial content, portions of articles, or photographs from this site may be used in any print, broadcast, or Web-based format without written permission from the author or Web site developer.