Behold the Un-Hotel
Valerie Gladstone - April 2010
From check-in to check-out every aspect of the new Andaz Wall Street minimizes its identity as a hotel—a new gestalt for travelers weary of being up in the air. Valerie Gladstone reports on the third in a new Hyatt collection, no two alike.
"Invent something new, something personal, something that matters," Hyatt challenged acclaimed architect David Rockwell, when they offered him the job of designing Andaz Wall Street, the third hotel in an elegant new collection. (The first two are in London and West Hollywood, and the fourth will open in Midtown Manhattan later this year. Each one is distinctly different.) "That got my juices going," he says.
The breathtaking result of that challenge becomes evident as soon as one enters Andaz. For anyone tired of travel's inconveniences and irritations, its implicit invitation to rest, relax, and savor life's riches comes as an amazing and unexpected gift. The underlying aesthetic of Andaz, which means "personal style" in Urdu, is palpable in every detail, from the subdued sophisticated ambience of the entrance lounge to the rich deep woods of Wall & Water, the intimate restaurant named for the hotel's location at the intersection of Wall and Water streets.
To create this oasis, Hyatt put together a formidable team of imaginative and thoughtful people, headed by Rockwell and Achim Lenders, vice president of international food and beverage operations for Hyatt Worldwide, and kitchen designer J. Russell Stilwell, founder of Next Step Design, based in Annapolis, Maryland. They spent years developing an environment that would make guests feel at home. "We don't want divisions between host and guests," Lenders says. "We established a place that makes guests feel good about where they are. Not wowed by the environment, but put at ease by it. Our goal was to produce a classic that will be as fresh and appealing 15 years from now as it is today."
Walking into the high ceilinged, light-filled lounge you come upon delightful unexpected features. Such as the small farmhouse-style kitchen, tucked in a corner and replete with cast-iron faced Chandley baking ovens and cream-colored ceramic bowls, trays of fragrant fresh baked pastries or tempting snacks, displayed on a white marble counter, and the solid walnut communal reading and working table, reminiscent of those found in private libraries.
You notice the sleek silver gray couches with pillows brushstroked in silver and gold and comfortable silver leather chairs, arranged for easy conversation. Then there's the view from the immense windows onto a quiet park and down the street to the East River. But almost as important is what you won't see: harried travelers at a reception desk--there isn't one--nor scurrying bellhops and elevator banks intruding upon the lounge's sensuous symmetrical lines.
How do you check in? A chicly attired man or woman--your personal concierge--bearing a tablet computer under the arm takes your name before causing your luggage to vanish. At this point, you might begin to wonder whether this alluring place is actually a hotel, for there is none of the pressure and nerve-fraying activity that usually occurs on arrival, only a calm and welcoming spirit. That, of course, is the objective.
Occupying 13 floors, the 253 room Andaz shares its location with 24 floors of luxury condominiums, also designed by the Rockwell Group. "Light is a key element," says Rockwell, who took full advantage in his design of the 360-degree views and lofty ceilings afforded by one of the area's few freestanding buildings. "How often can a hotel in New York City offer light on all sides? It streams into the lounge and all the guest rooms. It reflects on the bamboo-paneled walls and marble counters and brings out the whiteness of the staircase."
The glistening sculptural freestanding staircase could not be more splendid. Made of pearlescent steel and terrazzo stone, it links the lower level spa, gym, and banquet and meeting areas with the first floor lounge before proceeding on up to Bar Seven Five and Wall & Water. Every level offers a different experience, each with subtle references to Andaz's location in the financial district.
Imagine a watering hole without a main bar. That's Bar Seven Five. Instead, find nine pod-like small bars made of fiberglass, where guests can stand or sit on stools with woven leather seats. Bartenders roam the room, interacting with them and offering pre-Prohibition era cocktails, such as the Dark and Stormy and Perfect Pearl, named for nearby Pearl Street. So that nothing interferes with the genial atmosphere produced by dark wood tables and paneling and soft gold-flecked lighting, they made sure no industrial looking cabinets, needed for ice and beverage storage, interfered with the room's lines. "We worked with companies like DKDI, a specialty finish company in Toronto," Stilwell explains. "To make sure the gelcoat on the doors of the refrigerators looked like millwork, we shipped the drawer faces to them directly to apply their finish."
One flight up the white staircase and you arrive at Wall & Water.
A room that stretches the full length of the hotel, it brings to a climax everything that has come before. In the bright entranceway with gray and alabaster marble floors, a white marble island acts as a divider between a lounge and the main dining area, both with floors of recycled oak from old wine barrels. Here, servers prepare small plates and desserts, giving you an opportunity to see what the pantry offers, as they choose from a plentiful selection of locally grown ingredients. In the lounge, ideal for reading a newspaper or enjoying a meal, you can relax at one of the long Guanacaste wood tables, cut from the same tree so that their grain patterns align with each other.
More formal dining unfolds across the way. During the day, light filters through transparent russet curtains in woven abstract patterns like the watermarks on dollar bills, while in the evening handblown wall sconces glimmer above the well spaced tables. From them, you can see the food as it is prepared, which contributes to the feeling of being entertained in a private home. Chef Máximo López May, who last served as chef de cuisine at Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt Buenos Aires in his native Argentina, presides over the open kitchen at the room's center. Lenders discovered him in Buenos Aires and convinced him to come to New York. López May bases his menu on what's fresh from the Hudson River Valley, changing his specialties with the season. On opening, he won over guests with braised veal cheeks with black cabbage, sautéed celeriac, and organic carrots; orange and cinnamon braised lamb shanks with creamy Parmesan grits; seared diver scallops with slow cooked peppers, mussels, and preserved lemon; not to mention apple pie and a selection of homemade sorbets and ice creams, which included the French hued prune and Armagnac.
Stilwell applied the same high quality of detail to the chef's pass counter as to all the hotel's kitchens and serving areas. From the diners' vantage point, it looks like a fine piece of furniture with wood paneled front and marble top consistent with the room's other furnishings. "The custom range suite from Jade," he explains, "is designed to provide both ample fire power and elegance. The island-style hood, over the range, is enclosed in glass to soften the stainless structure." For private parties and special meetings, there is another dining area at the end of the lounge, equipped with a long table, kitchenette, bar, flat screen television, and a luxurious seating area. And at the opposite end is the chef's handsome wood table, seating 12 and overlooking Wall Street.
But the test of kitchen design ultimately lies with the chef. "It works beautifully," López May says. "I have great interaction with the guests, and I can adjust to their preferences. It's a lot of fun, not at all stuffy or formal. Just like home."