All the signs of cool in New York

JOE YONAN
Last updated 08:00 18/04/2013
Ace Hotel

LOVE A TRYER: Everything I thought was cool, they thought was an example of a place trying way too hard to be cool.

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The Ace Hotel really speaks to me.

I don't mean that figuratively, as in I'm so in tune with the vibe of the place that it feels designed to appeal particularly to me (although that happens to be true). I mean it literally. This Manhattan hotel talks. A lot.

"You sure would look better pressed," says the ironing board.

"Love is meant to make us glad," says the bathroom mirror.

"This one does not go to the lobby," says one of the elevators on my floor, with an arrow pointing to the next elevator over. "But that one does." Then that elevator pipes in, "Yes, this one. And use these buttons."

Of course, these aren't actual voices speaking — that would creep me out — but examples of the Ace's addiction to signage. And an aesthetic that might come across as too cool for school if it weren't for some simple facts: The place looks great, the rooms are comfortable, the service is efficient and friendly, and the food (and coffee) is top-notch.

When I visited in February, there was so much to look at in the lobby of this building, which was built in 1904 as the Hotel Breslin, that I almost didn't make it up to my room: coffered ceilings, mosaic tile floors, big white pillars with bulbous light fixtures, red leather sectionals stitched with leather straps, a communal table lit by old-fashioned library lamps, a working photo booth, a mural made up of graffiti posters. At that table and in other little areas, various people — mostly young, beautiful and tattooed — sat eating breakfast (from the Breslin Bar & Dining Room), drinking coffee (from Stumptown Roasters), and/or working on their laptops (from Apple, of course).

Up on the third floor, my standard room looked like the pad an app developer friend might have set up if he had exquisitely focused taste, a charter subscription to Dwell and a lot of time to go vintage shopping. The room had a minimal, masculine look, done up in grays and blacks and creams and browns, with a low wooden platform bed and a "wardrobe" made from old pipers, fixtures and boxes, one of them stocked with the world's most tempting minibar food. I resisted the chocolate biscotti and bowl of instant ramen but tore into a bag of Indonesian-spiced cashews.

As at so many hotels, there was more for sale than just snacks in the room: Possibly the coolest robe I've ever tried on, a cross between a boxing robe and a hoodie, goes for $150. That custom Pendleton wool blanket is $300. Who ever said that hipness was cheap?

In the bathroom, with its brass fixtures, was my favorite little sign of all. Behind the towel rack was this take on the requisite green-initiative strategy: "Want a fresh towel? Leave it in the tub. No tub? Leave it in the shower. No shower? Leave it in the sink. No sink? Leave it on the floor. No floor? Leave."

The Ace isn't for everyone, I admit. I stayed there by myself but made arrangements to meet friends for breakfast in the lobby, and they weren't as able as I was to enjoy the place. "In lobby," one texted me before I came down from my room. "So dark in here. By the bar. I think." And when I joined my friends, they rolled their eyes at one piece of signage in the lobby, where a glowing red "exit" sign over a door marked "staff only" is coopted to be part of a sentence: "Every (exit) is an entrance somewhere else."

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I thought it was cute. But everything I thought was cool, they thought was an example of a place trying way too hard to be cool. Until they had some coffee and some pastries, which shut them up.

By the time I left, the city was blanketed in snow, and the bellman — in skinny jeans and a green parka by Alpha Industries (for sale for $300, of course) — trudged out onto West 29th Street and cheerfully flagged down a cab. It wasn't until I was down the road a bit and looked at my invoice that I noticed one last message from this talkative hotel, written by hand: "Thank you for sleeping with us!"

Trust me, I thought. The pleasure was all mine.

- Washington Post