I sort of love Times Square. Predictably, I’m going to say how much better it was before Giulianification. Because it was. Having a night out with the go-go boys at The Gaiety (as immortalised in Madonna’s Sex book) or taking the slide down to the main dancefloor of Peter Gatien’s Club USA are both things that I wish I could still do. Today Times Square is all about M&Ms World and gangs of German tourists wearing identical Converse that they bought together a few hours earlier. And yet … viewed from a high floor nearby, it’s pretty fabulous. It is lurid and Baudrillardian and feels pleasingly far away. And now Ian Schrager has created the perfect set of high floors to put that necessary distance between you and it.
Schrager continues to open new hotels as part of his Marriott-backed EDITION brand. We all know about the London, Miami and Madison Avenue properties. Now there’s Abu Dhabi, Bodrum, Shanghai and Sanya (one of the weirdest islands I’ve ever been to – it belongs to China, looks like Hawaii, and is full of Russian fur shops). West Hollywood is also imminent. And for much of this year, I haven’t been able to escape social media news of The Times Square EDITION. The hype worked on me: I looked forward to seeing how Schrager could create something credible somewhere so inherently unpleasant.
There’s a lot of Blade Runner-style LED signage up the side of the building to let you know that this is … EDITION
Unlike the Schrager extravaganzas of yesteryear, the entrance (as with the Madison Avenue property) is low key. There’s a long and fairly vanilla hallway with a hypnotic backlit Anish Kapoor-style green orb at the end. It is, as they say, “a mood”. It’s simple, clever and effective, and looks great in photographs. Which is the point. And while this may be fairly subtle, guests checking in needn’t fear they might walk right past the front door: there’s a lot of Blade Runner-style LED signage up the side of the building to let you know that this is … EDITION.
I took the lift to the 10th floor lobby, which has a matte black cantilevered switchback staircase flanked by a living green wall at one end, and a monolith of a black check-in desk at the other. After expressing slight shock that a charge was being levied for a package that had been delivered to the hotel for me – a charge I have never encountered before – I was in my room and feeling pleased with the white on white space, offset with the artfully thrown faux fur throw on the bed – a familiar EDITION flourish. The layout is classic, with a small shower, sink and toilet arranged to make the most of a diminutive footprint, and a good-sized bedroom area. I’d be more than happy to stay here every time I needed a hotel in New York. And if the room was good, the view was great. There are still few places on Earth that have the visual impact of Times Square, and I love how ephemeral its signifiers are – every photograph I took had a giant billboard for Rocketman in it. In the future I’ll look back on those pictures and be transported in a heartbeat back to 2019, and that moment in the screening room at Soho House, three minutes into the film, when I turned to my companion and whispered: “Oh God, it’s actually a musical!”
I had a ton of work to do while I was at The Times Square EDITION, and alternated desk time between my room (perfectly good for working in) and the 10th floor lounge, which has a bar and café service and a long table that’s obviously been conceived as a laptop hub. This would have been a superb place to work for my two afternoons at the hotel, if it hadn’t been for the German family who had apparently come to New York City solely to hang out in this lounge while their hellion offspring hurled anything and everything at each other and screamed, “Ich hasse dich!!!” I periodically locked gaze with the barman, who was clearly also hoping for some Godzilla-type event to hit the hotel and end our misery. Another unpleasant surprise: while I was enjoying some (not) alone time in my room, an unfamiliar voice started shouting “Hey! Hey you!” Panic ensued. There was no third party present, though. It was a member of staff being paged, somehow, audibly via the iPhone they had accidentally left in my room. I threw it out into the hallway. The phone was still there in the morning, so I took it back to reception on my way to breakfast in the leafy, pretty, very un-Times Square environment of the Terrace Restaurant (yes, there is a terrace, and there’s also superb maple custard French toast).
There’s always a destination dining room at the heart of every Schrager property, and with EDITION we’ve been seeing, and tasting, a lot of Jason Atherton. This time, however, it’s John Fraser at the helm, up in 701West (a kind of velvet midnight counterpoint to the daylight and shrubbery of the Terrace). Fraser is the chef who brought Narcissa to the Standard in the East Village, Dovetail to the Upper West Side, and the veggie dining room NIX to the West Village. I’m nowhere near as familiar with Fraser as I am Atherton, but I like what he’s doing here. The restaurant’s name may be prosaic, but there are plenty of buzzwords on the menu to repeatedly remind you that this is, indeed, fine dining, albeit structured as a reasonable $98 for three courses. The restaurant’s parakeet-blue upholstery is slightly jarring, but the food is substantially subtler, and good: smoky asparagus arrives in a wrapper of thinly shaved cedar along with truffle-infused aioli, a veal breast ravioli comes with chanterelles, and wagyu is served with spinach and black garlic jam (and a supplement of $25).
The bar at 701West is pretty indeed, with green velvet seating, wood paneling and framed photographs hung cheek-by-jowl in what is now an EDITION trope. There are fancy cocktails that come with theatrics, but a serious approach to mixology and flavor profiling – the Purple Noon mixes rum with blackcurrant and smoked beet, the Poseidon blends gin mare with sherry, saline and oyster. This is a good bar – and, when I visited on a Sunday night, a quiet one. Which means that there’s now the gay dive of 9th Avenue Saloon a few blocks away and this bar worth coming here for. So, hurrah for Times Square.
Service at 701West, as throughout the rest of the hotel, is cheerful, slick and anything but stuffy. We’ve come a long way from the Schrager hotels of old, where guests were made to feel unwelcome unless they were on the list of whatever party had closed down the lobby bar that evening. This is 21st century Schrager. And a 21st century hotel, for what might be a new 21st century Times Square. C
The Times Square EDITION, 701 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10036, USA
+1 212 398 7017; editionhotels.com