The luxury of nothing in New York


Simon Gage stays at the Langham Place Fifth Avenue and likes what it lacks. Behold – one of the best hotels for business, and minimalists, in Midtown Manhattan

The luxury of nothing in New York

I hate stuff. Wouldn’t give it the time of day. Won’t have it in the house. By stuff I mean bits and bobs. Knicks and knacks. Bric and brac. You know… stuff.

And when I say I won’t have it in the house, I mean it. People come round and think I’ve just moved in. “But where’s your stuff?” they cry. But there is no stuff. I am stuff-free. Unencumbered by any stuff that doesn’t wash me, feed me or allow me to sleep. A burglar would be truly baffled. And I’m not saying it’s zen or John Pawson minimal or anything clever like that. It’s just empty. A non-stuff zone.

And stuff is the reason hotels are sometimes a problem for me. Often, they are so busy using stuff to tell their stories – often complete works of fiction – that there’s no room left for you, the simple guest.

Take this new hotel in London’s Shoreditch (no names, no shames): very cool, very nice, very buzzy, very all-the-right-things and yet it was so busy telling its story, I actually felt like I’d moved into someone else’s flat. And there’s Airbnb for that sort of thing.

My allergy to stuff is the main reason Langham Place Fifth Avenue, a tall skinny thing in the shadow of the Empire State on, yes, 5th Avenue, is something of a refuge. Walk in under the modernist canopy and it’s instantly reassuringly light on the you-know-what. The tear-shaped sculpture that hangs down the two-storey spiral staircase from chef Michael White’s Michelin-star restaurant Ai Fiori is way too big to count as stuff, while the reception has some jazzy light thing going on. But that’s your lot. No Philippe Starck furniture painted gold, nothing funny or quirky or too clever for its own good. In short, no talking points to speak of. So far, so good. The last place I stayed in New York had so much going on in the lobby that it was like walking onto the set of Batman. You almost expected to be asked not to touch the props.

Review Langham Place Fifth Avenu

Langham Place Fifth Avenue

But it’s when you get to your room at Langham Place that you really do feel the glamour of space. A huge room – so huge there were parts of it I never went to, huge enough to ride a bike around in, a horse even – with nothing but a bed, a TV, some sofas way over there and a desk. Oh, and some lighting.

Instead of wallpaper there’s some no-colour paint on the walls, while the couple of pictures hanging there are so unobtrusive that I didn’t notice them until I was packing to leave. On the surfaces there is nothing more than a phone, a lamp and a magazine (which I threw away). And instead of those open mini-stores that most hotels go in for nowadays with jellybeans and condoms and t-shirts and time-shares in the Caribbean for sale, there’s just some complimentary aluminium bottles of the entire Coca Cola range in the fridge.

In the bathroom is a square marble tub big enough for four and an equally crowd-friendly shower. The marble slab into which the sinks are set is so big that it could double as a massage table for at least two. Space, space, space. The wardrobe area with dressing table is bigger than the entire overcrowded room in that last place I mentioned, as is the entry hall (OK, it has a small table but they do use it to put some complimentary snacks on so we’ll let it slide).

Crucially, none of this suggests austerity. The absence of cheap hotel bric-à-brac makes this room seem more luxurious, not less. The lighting is just so – and it doesn’t hurt that during the day you get a full slap of sunshine from windows which have a glass shelf at the bottom so you can look down onto the street.

And it’s this luxury of nothing that goes right through the hotel. The huge basement fitness room just has great machines and weights and a glass cube for private lessons, while the fourth-floor spa has all the right jacuzzis, showers (very scientific and quite hard to work out) and treatment rooms with the bare minimum of inexplicable pebbles and twigs.

Michelin-starred Ai Fiori is one of the hottest tables for a business lunch in Midtown. This is the only place in the hotel where decoration has been allowed to elbow its way in, and it’s the poorer for it. Huge photographs of… I didn’t even focus on what it was but probably flowers or water or hair or sand – don’t add, they detract.

I’m not saying it’s not fun to stay somewhere with character, but hotels do seem to be sliding a little far down the Las Vegas theme route. And it’s gimmicky. Do we really need to be a ton of unnecessary stuff screaming to tell us that – lucky us! – we are in the right hotel? You know what my answer is. C


Langham Place Fifth Avenue, 400 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018 USA
212 695 4005;