Back in 2006, when Ian Schrager reopened New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel to much acclaim and a parade of celebrity guests, he left behind the specters of the former owners, the Weissberg family, whose string of tragedies culminated in scion David jumping from the roof to his death. Now Schrager, who still casts an apparitional shadow over his many previous ventures, has moved on, leaving the hotel to find a way forward on its own considerable merits. Hoping to get an inside take on the future of the Gramercy, I caught up with GM Scott Koster on a recent afternoon in the Rose Bar, which, it must be said, looks startlingly different at 3pm than it does at 3am.
“We talk a lot about when a hotel reaches iconic stature,” Koster explained. “There are a lot of people that take what Ian Schrager and Julian Schnabel created here and try to recreate it somewhere else. But there’s something intrinsic here that you can’t just replicate. Design alone does not make a facility; at Gramercy Park Hotel we’ve been able to maintain an ethos. At this point, you’d have to work to mess it up.”
Indeed, disguising myself as a guest, I found it remarkable how perfected the culture of the second generation Gramercy has become. From an almost pastoral breakfast on the Terrace to a buzzy lunch at Maialino to evening cocktails in the Jade and Rose Bars, it was clear that the hotel isn’t making any rash, ill-advised changes in an attempt to shake off Schrager’s influence. In fact, Maialino, Danny Meyer’s sophisticated but remarkably inviting Roman style trattoria, which opened in late 2009 (replacing the haughty Wakiya), may have already become the touchstone for a new era for the GPH.
Koster agreed. “We want [the Gramercy] to be a true New York experience. And to do that, you have to be involved in the community. What Danny Meyer and Maialino did was to cement that. I think it put us into the fabric of the neighborhood,” he said.
Damion Luaiye remains as Creative Director, but nightlife impresario and celeb-magnet Nur Khan has departed, with Sebastien Lefavre now brought over from GoldBar to oversee the hotel’s considerable nocturnal goings on. Also on the way is a new bar setup on the roof, which Koster hopes will create a more seamless flow of buzz throughout the public spaces.
“We want the Terrace and the Rose Bar to feed off of each other,” he further explained. “Being inclusive rather than exclusive is really the direction we’re going in. Not to say that the Rose Bar is not going to remain one of the most difficult reservations to get; it always will be.”
So, moving on from the era of Ian Schrager has not been too difficult, even though his and Schnabel’s touch still permeates the space. Indeed, the Gramercy Park Hotel in some ways feels more like an extravagant Florentine Renaissance palazzo than a hip New York hotel.
“He is an amazing visionary,” Koster observed of Schrager. “But once a hotel is created, the people who are running it help give it a life of its own. While he gave birth to it, eventually it does become its own entity.”