Images by Lauren Zelisko
Out our window, watching cars flooding through the Holland Tunnel was oddly enough like a spark of new life, after three months of sheltering under coronavirus conditions. It was a sign that New York was getting back to its business, if cautiously, as COVID-19 casualty numbers thankfully continued to plummet here. (Despite escalating elsewhere.)
We’d been watching the city struggle back while checked-in at the Arlo SoHo, which was also working diligently and fearlessly to get its groove back. And that groove was more important than might be readily imaginable—as it has been since its opening in 2016 a hotel that had always relied on its ability to hum with a singular sort of cultural savvy. It was a place where you came from Chicago, Austin, Paris, even New Jersey or Minnesota, not just to sleep, but to be immersed in the electricity of Downtown NYC. You want cool? The hotel even has its own fragrance, which they call Dark Wood—but which a colleague of ours mistook for Le Labo’s popular Santal 33.
“We get that all the time,” confirmed a friendly gent at the front desk.
But of course, there were still no gatherings of the creative cognoscenti for the time being—as such events are yet understandably disallowed.
“We are normally very engaged with the urban explorer,” says General Manager Bassim Ouachani. “I mean, what other hotels have cabins in the yard? We can even have apple picking out there. That’s why I think we’ve succeeded, because we are always doing something very different. But we had to adjust to people coming now and just staying here for the room.”
He observes that a return to their regularly scheduled “programming” will have to be slow, methodical, and very carefully considered.
“We have to take it step by step. Activations are going to take some time to come back at the same level—I’m thinking 2021. But one thing we can maybe bring back quickly are the movie nights, because we can create social distancing.”
Yet we had been visited by assorted music biz and event production friends whilst at the Arlo—and over cocktails in the garden, they were already plotting the possibilities for future happenings at the hotel’s various spaces. As we rocked in the rocking chairs outside those aforementioned and very woodsy-chic cabins one evening (the hotel’s Bodega is selling bottled cocktails and frozen drinks in lieu of the rooftop lounge being open—which is slated for early July), we imagined a time in the near future when those coveted seats would actually be a little tougher to get.
But the buzz of masked guests in and around the hotel’s uniquely stylishly designed public areas (we love the smartly mismatched furniture) was a site to behold after months of isolation. Most were upbeat and gregarious, making it the first time we’d experienced a genuinely social atmosphere since early March (seriously, the Target check-out line doesn’t really count). Encouraging, as just weeks ago the Arlo was hosting heroic healthcare workers who were returning to the hotel each evening after their shifts, exhausted and dispirited.
“Just to see them come back at the end of the day, after working 12 hours,” recalls front desk manager Amaris Ayala, “…all we could really do was offer them a glass of wine. Then we suddenly started to see how their moods were changing, that things were getting better.”
Yet whatever the adjustments of the last few months, one constant reminder of the hotel’s DNA was its unquestionably good taste in music—which we cannot emphasize enough, considering how many so-called “hip” hotels get it so terribly wrong. To wit, beyond grooving contentedly to Prince and Janet Jackson one evening in the garden, at various moments during our stay, we caught “Patricia” by Florence & the Machine, Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” “Fall Down” by Crumb, “Indigo” by Only Sun, and even Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” (the latter which just happens to be our own personal ring tone) all coming through over the soundsystem, keeping us endlessly entertained. It was a very knowing soundtrack, exactly what you’d expect from a hotel not beholden to corporate machinations, but rather to its own keen sense of the cultural zeitgeist.
But strolling around the neighborhood, the faint scent of optimism had noticeably begun to fill the air. More people were on the street just because. Outdoor drinkers filled the tables at Spring Street’s legendary Ear Inn. Trendy restaurants like Houseman and Adoro Lei were getting creative with their sidewalk displays to lure in passersby for walk-and-drink cocktails or some well-reviewed gourmet pizzas and salads. And the hotel’s own Harold’s restaurant was opening on the 24th for dining in the garden area and at Renwick Street terrace tables—very exciting indeed.
There’s still a long way to go to defeat this pandemic, physically, spiritually, financially. But at the Arlo SoHo, we were getting a good glimpse of the returning sense of normality we’ve been hoping to get back to these last few months—whatever normality means in New York City, anyway.
And we were very much looking forward to our first real restaurant check since February at Harold’s.