The New Downtown: W New York Downtown Hotel Opens

What is Downtown? Is it a location or a state of mind? The new W New York – Downtown hotel is located so far downtown that if it went any farther south it would be swimming with Luca Brasi. Out of the ashes of tragedy, a new downtown is being born. It isn’t the old Financial District that’s being reconstructed, but a new vision, a new idea, a new city. As glass and steel is welded and manipulated into place, the W is focusing its energies on the soul of the area. For many, the area still brings back hard memories, but going there is also an opportunity to honor courage, and strength, and the reasons we all live here. The new downtown is all about residences and nightlife and amenities that just a few years ago were not available without going at least a good mile north. I used to live in Tribeca, just north of this developing district, but far enough south not to find what we are used to finding. Getting an OJ at midnight was an ordeal. Laundry, restaurants, and fun was a trip to another hood. The new downtown has almost all the services you would ever need, and every day what’s missing is being addressed. It’s becoming a self sufficient little burg. It feels like another city, until you walk into the W. Then it feels like home. I caught up with the grand dame of the WNYDH, the lovely Sofia Vandaele, and asked her what it’s all about.

You are the general manager of the W Hotel on Albany St. It’s W New York Downtown and our official address is 123 Washington St. We’re on the corner of Albany, just a block south of the World Trade Center perimeter, and two blocks away from Wall St.

I just got a tour of the hotel, and it’s spectacular. And I’m not just saying that—I think it’s absolutely beautiful. This area is booming now. The old is being washed away and the new is going up. How does the W Downtown, the WNYDT, intend to embrace this neighborhood? What are you trying to do here? Well, when you look at the neighborhood, the first feeling you have is a sense of energy, and we’re a part of it. There’s a lot of regeneration, a lot of revitalization happening in this area, and not just with new buildings and construction. I think it follows you in every aspect of life here. Whether you come to work, whether you come to live here, it’s the fastest growing residential community in greater New York. It’s a community for us, as a hotel, to reach out to.

For people looking for an apartment in New York, something I’m doing right now, this area has always been an area where you can find good rent, because there’s been nothing here. In the past, you couldn’t get groceries, you couldn’t get this, you couldn’t do that. There was nothing here, but that’s changing rapidly. Massively. You almost sense that people really come here to live in New York. You get an area where people live and work that has a fantastic Whole Foods close by, that has a phenomenal Bed Bath and Beyond, great restaurants in the Battery Park City area. Stone St. is going through a revival, South Street Seaport, and everything in between. Plus the area is accessible from anywhere in Manhattan, and it’s also accessible to niche areas, Governor’s Island, for example.

And there’s a waterfront. Are you basically servicing the guests in the hotel with your food and beverage strategy, or are you hoping that the neighborhood will feed you as well? Do you expect people from the traditional downtown, or other parts of Manhattan, to travel here? All of the above. With the 58 floors we’ve built here, WNYDT is a hotel, but it’s also 223 residential units. It’s really about being part of a residential community. Our BLT Bar and Grill is a 24/7 experience, because the person that works down here will come with a colleague for a drink. Then they might go for dinner at BLT Bar and Grill, or invite friends over for after-dinner. On the weekend they come back with the family.

This neighborhood is expanding. As I look out this window, the Deutsche Bank building is being taken down two floors a week. The neighborhood is growing exponentially. Can the hotel grow? Is there a roof? There are different parts of the hotel that will definitely be activated. Our key element is on the 5th floor. Our Living Room bar and terrace has no equal downtown. We will definitely tap into our connections to get the best possible drinks on the menu. We’ve worked with celebrity mixologist Charlotte Voce. She’s put a fantastic cocktail menu together. We have the outdoor space, a complete wraparound terrace on the 5th floor bar that really nobody else has. But at the same time, BLT Bar and Grill is our culinary provider throughout the whole building, and next summer they’ll have an outdoor space on our public piazza in the back on the hotel. We have our own DJ booth. We have a music director

Who’s your music director Michaelangelo L’Acqua

He’s an old friend of mine, he’s part of my family. So Ma, as he is known.

New York City is the only major city I can think of that has a waterfront but rarely uses it. You’re downtown, you’ve got Battery Park, you have these new developing spaces, Battery Park and Riverside Terrace. Do you believe that the water can be developed into a major attraction? We’re really at the tip of Manhattan. We’re surrounded by water, and I think that flux of energy in itself is felt. Whether you arrive from Brooklyn via water taxi, or you come around the tip of Manhattan, or you come to the World Financial Center, you have a little harbor here.

SV:Hotels are increasingly being driven by hospitality. Most hotels are being hospitality retro-fitted. You built this hotel around hospitality. How important is hospitality to a hotel? It’s the core. What’s so unique about the positioning of W is that we build everything around the core of our “Whatever, whenever” service. We strive for that passion, that personality within our people that will consistently deliver that “whatever whenever” service. It’s in small little things. We had such an amazing experience this week. There was a young boy here who just had surgery, wasn’t feeling well, and our doorman, Richie, took it upon himself to actually build a rapport. He said to managers, “I really want to do something for this kid.”

What did he want? Charleston Chews. The candy. Oh, they’re amazing—don’t have them, or else you won’t stop. So you know, the kid said, “That’s my favorite candy.” So we got them and sent him a note with the sweets that said “From your buddy Richie. That’s whatever, whenever. You go that extra mile. It’s the core hospitality spirit. It’s small things, sweet simple things, or it’s big wow experiences. You can book a chopper or a helicopter to go to your house in the Hamptons. We’ll get it arranged for you

You people know where to get Charleston Chews in this town? We actually found them in a small deli close by.

Are hotels the future of New York nightlife? I think they have been for a while, and I think they will continue to be an important part of the nightlife. We don’t just offer the bar or club experience. You can come and have a fantastic dining experience. You can have great drinks, but you also have the music, you have fashion. It’s much more about the 360 degree experience.

You’ve got the Ace Hotel, you’ve got the Standard hotel, you’ve got the Gansevoort Hotel, and of course Ian Schrager. Gotta give Ian credit for starting the boutique hotel. That’s what people say, anyway. How did the industry change after this? W brand is evolving. What did you borrow, steal, learn from the experiences of these other NY brands that have broken so well. The Standard, in particular, had a way of regenerating the Meatpacking District. We really feel the W has led the pack of these lifestyle hotels for 12 years already. When W Union Square came to that area, it added something, and we really feel that WNYDT, as a hotel, will be the catalyst to assist people like the downtown alliance and other partners that are so critical to the success of downtown. We will definitely be a catalyst to help them succeed in putting downtown, as a destination, on the map.

How did a nice girl like you come to this? Well, for me hospitality, literally, comes from within, it comes from the heart. It’s something that I grew up with. My mom and dad they were in hospitality industry In Belgium. It’s something that I have always embraced as a passion. I’ve been with Starwood for close to 15 years. When I started in hotel operations, it was like a tailor-made jacket. And then I got an opportunity here in NY, so it was a designer jacket that I got to put on. It’s an amazing brand to be with.

You’re a busy gal. Where do you go out and play? I live near Nolita, so my neck is definitely East Village, LES, Nolita. I love Madame Geneva, I think it’s a great. It’s the back of Double Crown. Everybody knows double crown! I’m Belgian, so I love steak frites, which is my national dish, and I go to Lucien for that, which is on 1st and 1st. Lucien is great, and the Pink Pony is obviously another one.

Industry Insiders: Sandra Ardito, Giving the OK to KO

Sandra Ardito heads sales, marketing and special events for KO Hospitality Management (Cooper Square Hotel, Empire Hotel, Hotel on Rivington, and Chelsea Hotel in Atlantic City). We met the hospitality connoisseur at the Cooper Square Hotel to get the scoop on the Hamptons Memorial Day hotspot, the Reform Club Inn (suites and private cottages in Amagansett), working for Ian Schrager, and why we should stay at Cooper Square (besides the fact that it’s the location of the Bjork’s afterparty tonight).

Is this the first hotel KO has developed? No, we did the Empire Hotel on 63rd Street, and we did the Chelsea Hotel in Atlantic City for Paul Sevigny and Matt Abramcyk. For those hotels, I would describe us as the hired guns.

Who are the other members of the KO team? Klaus Ortlieb, Yana Yevinson, Meg Burnie, Manuela Kolb, and Annie Ohayon.

How’d you get here? I was the director of special events at Chanterelle. Budgets were $250,000 to a million back then. And while there, I moonlighted by helping people open their restaurants. I opened the Harrison with owner Jimmy Bradley. I met some amazing people, like Joey Campanaro from Little Owl. I was Jason and Jen’s investor at ‘ino on Bedford street. Eventually, Meg Burnie brought me into meet Klaus at the Hotel on Rivington. That’s when I left Chanterelle. My first event at the Rivington was Timothy Greenfield Sander’s XXX Book. Bill Dye called me to be part of Gramercy Park Hotel with Ian Schrager. We opened with the Marc Jacobs party on September 11, 2006, after working for months nonstop. I shadowed Ian for the two nights before we opened the hotel. He had receptions for all of his friends and was surprised at how I knew them. He said, “You are the girl, you are going to do this.” It was like a love letter. And he trained me and nurtured me into this role. Finally, Klaus started KO Hospitality Management about a year and a half ago and asked me if I wanted to be a partner. It was very hard to leave Ian. At KO, we work with owners and developers from ground-up construction. We attaché the restaurant, the architect, the interior designer, and conceptualize the entire project.

Something unique about Cooper Square Hotel? Every book in the Cooper Square hotel was picked through Housing Works, which is a charity for AIDS victims. People can purchase the books and the money will go to the charity. Klaus is a seasoned professional who only takes on projects he believes in. He worked with Andre Balazs and Ian Schrager for years. He wanted the experience at Cooper Square to be completely different, that’s why there’s no reception desk. There’s a lobby host who shows you to your room. It’s about personal attention. Klaus sat on 575 chairs until he choose what he felt was the right one. We’re also building a screening room on the second floor. There’s an indoor/outdoor bar on the second floor as well, and a 3,000-square-foot terrace.

What is your specific contribution? The total experience here. I hand-picked the staff. What Ian and Klaus have given me, I hope to give to someone else.

What’s the next project? We are helicoptering to the Reform Club Inn in Amagansett to get ready to open for Memorial Day weekend.

What music do you listen to? Rock ‘n roll — Iggy Pop, The Raconteurs, Jane’s Addiction.

Favorite artist? Radek Szczesny.

Favorite restaurants? ‘inoteca, Little Owl, and James in Brooklyn

Favorite bar? Royal Oak in Williamsburg, Madame Geneva in the Double Crown and Bowery Electric.

Favorite hotel? East Deck in Montauk for a retro motel and The Crillion in Paris for high-end.

Who do you admire in the business? I grew up reading about Ian Schrager and then had the pleasure of working for him. He hired me to be his director of special events. The man who started the party is looking at me and letting me see his vision. It’s an honor and the best compliment. I also admire Klaus Ortlieb for his loyalty, compassion, and integrity, and Nur Khan for the incredible way he takes care of people

Who do you feel does it right? Joe and Jason Denton of ‘inoteca and Lupa

What’s something people don’t know about you? I’m an avid gardener and spend all my money on plants for my roof deck that I made totally grassroots style with my boyfriend.

What are you doing tonight? Going to Bjork’s concert at Housing Works and then to her after party at Cooper Square Hotel.

Photo: Mike Mabes

New York: Top 10 Cold-Weather Cocktails

imageForget spiked egg nog, pumpkin-based drinks, and all those other seasonal libations. Don’t even think about a chilled beer or frozen concoction unless you plan on spending the night perched over your heater. Instead, head to one of the spots below where the mixologists are whipping up specialty cocktails for sun-deprived-drinkers.

10. Thai chili hot chocolate @ Thom Bar (Soho) – Made with Thailand’s national spirit — Mekhong, which is sort of like a pisco — there’s no hotter way to beat your chills. 9. Wake-Up Call @ Brandy Library (Tribeca) – You could spend all night sifting through the never-ending list of options, but make it easy for yourself and go straight for this warm, aptly named mix of espresso, vanilla vodka, and homemade chocolate and coffee liqueurs. 8. Gingerbread cocktail at Empire Hotel Rooftop (Upper West Side) – The sunny skies may be gone, but the rooftop continues to attract with sweeping views, dim lighting, and a crackling fireplace — all of which are best enjoyed while sipping on their creation made with gingerbread syrup, Ten Cane Rum, apple juice, and lemon.

7. Black currant sake martini at Bond St. (Greenwich Village) – Get your blood pumping with this mix of gin, acai berry liquor, sake, triple sec, and black currant puree. 6. Hot chocolate martini at Gramercy Tavern (Union Square) – The winter equivalent to a summer burger at Shack Shack, Gramercy Tavern’s hot chocolate comes spiked with Stoli Vanilla and amaretto. 5. Woodcock Reserve hot spiced cider at Via dei Mille (Soho) – Forget about any brewing winter storm with this homemade classic. 4. Madame’s preserves and jams at Madame Geneva (Soho) – Skip dessert and indulge in a spoonful of house-made preserves served over Beefeater Gin or 42 Below Vodka — the 18th-century-inspired concoction comes in three varieties: mixed berry & vanilla, orange & green cardamom, and fig & ginger. 3. Whiskey-based hot toddy at Aspen Social (Midtown West) – Only in NYC could you find an Aspen-inspired cabin with this much glitz. 2. Hot buttered rum at Freemans (Lower East Side) – Nothing like warm rum and taxidermy to take away the winter chill. 1. The Randy Toddy at The Randolph (Nolita) – Conjured-up with Sasha Petraske-precision by a decidedly attractive and friendly staff, this enticing libation is made with honey, lemon, Applejack, hot water, nutmeg, and cinnamon.