“It’s a scene,” people often say of a new, fashionable restaurant, but I can’t recall this ever seeming as literally true as it was at Feroce, the in-house Italian trattoria of the Moxy’s new Chelsea branch. As I sat down in a curved alcove at one end of the long room, staff were assembling an extended banqueting table for a birthday party along one cloistered wall. It was like having a box seat at the theatre; in duly trotted a cast comprising forty or so of the host’s closest pals. The girls had ironed hair that hung lower, it seemed in some cases, than the hems of their dresses, the gents, as if issued them from wardrobe, wore button-down shirts and chinos and appeared to have come direct from the barber’s. What ensued was the kind of fun you get in New York’s buzzy spaces and which seems to the overseas visitor, especially those like me minutely trembling with jet-lag, to be at once a super-OTT performance and deadly in earnest, the kind of happiness you’re so intent on displaying that the performance actually brings you contentment. At one point the birthday boy was the only person seated while his guests were all mingling, dancing, going outside to vape, invading the personal space of other unrelated diners and so forth; yet he too, seemed quite ecstatic.
A party like this could be a waitstaff’s biggest headache, but I’m not sure anybody there actually ordered any food, let alone ate it; some of these girls had been sewn into outfits so tight they made my eyes water, never mind the wearer’s, and to consume food would have been to undertake a dangerous risk. With its understated lighting, its cosy, cavern-like ambience and scalloped cooper ceiling, and its centrepiece, a kind of steampunk deli display, Feroce is a neat fusion of New York design trends and plausible Italian pastiche; but, as with many “scenes”, the food is by some distance the least impressive element. We in our isolation chamber at the end of the room had perfectly serviceable pasta mains, a dish of gnocchi fritto with speck and parmesan that seemed to have been assembled by a child, and a starter – ordered in some brain-melt moment – of potato chips with grated pecorino cheese on top. What this is doing on the menu is a mystery only matched by the one of what we were doing ordering it; still, the food here is not the point. (Service was glorious. My dining companion dropped his fork, and was so taken by the ensuing small melodrama which involved several waiting staff that he did it again on purpose five minutes later. My wild boar pappardelle was served alongside a man equipped with a grater, two blocks of cheese, and a short story to recount about each option. I know from experience that every single hard cheese in America tastes the same, but enjoyed the theatre nonetheless.)
By day the Moxy – the boutique chain’s third location, after Times Square and Downtown – is rather more sober. The hotel sits right in the middle of the Flower District, and the first space you pass through on entering is a florist’s store. A ground-floor café is open to guests and non-residents for brunch, slightly odd pastries (I’ll never understand serving cheese and ham on a croissant sweetened with marmalade glaze) and, to the surprise of one of the staff, orange juice: “We don’t have that,” he confidently announced to a customer, who silently indicated the great catering carton on the counter nearby.
The public spaces are full of neat and noteworthy design accents. Reception is a concrete box, the blocks that make up its walls imprinted with the grain of timber. The hotel’s setting in one of the greenest parts of Manhattan is reflected in the vertical plantings in the co-working space upstairs, which has a Soho House-like atmosphere, with artfully mismatched seating for hot-deskers; there’s a bar temptingly at hand, with a kind of indoor balcony on its far side. Treble-height windows let in masses of natural light, greenery cascades down over the high walls, and there are more desk chairs and couches for when the work assignment gets too much and you need to retire for a cocktail. There’s a tiny gym in the basement, but it’s pretty much an afterthought – New York is not lacking in gyms – aimed at those, like me, who feel a guilty need to offset their indulgences elsewhere in the Moxy.
Rooms are comfortable and “cosy”. I arrived with a companion and two full suitcases; once we’d Tetrised the luggage into the room there wasn’t much space for us. You definitely couldn’t stay there more than a couple of nights; it’s one of those modular rooms, like very (very) upmarket student digs, where the basin is in the short interstice between door and bedroom, and the bed – extremely comfortable – uses up a good 80 per cent of the floor space. There’s no wardrobe, and just enough room for some design flourishes: a rotary telephone on the nubbin of a bedside table, a row of hooks for displaying your capsule wardrobe. But the trade-off is that you get a splendid view of the Empire State Building through the narrow, floor-to-ceiling window, a readymade photographic backdrop.
Taking a shower, I noticed the word “LUST” picked out in mosaic tiling, a mystery which endured until I visited the lavatory adjoining, where the corresponding prefix “WANDER” appears. I’m not sure “Wanderlust” is quite the thought that should accompany your ablutions, but there we are; here, as throughout the Moxy, the extra detail is witty, thoughtful, sometimes a tad overwrought, but always memorable. This is a hotel I’ll recommend. C
Moxy Chelsea, 105 W 28th St, New York, NY 10001, USA
+1 212 514 6699; moxychelsea.com