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Get inspired by writers like Hemingway and Steinbeck at this boutique property in midtown Manhattan. The pros: Intimate, chic rooms in a historic space. The cons: Mediocre staff and organization.
After a four-night stay at the generic but dependable Hyatt House in Chelsea, I had hoped to spend my last two nights in New York City at a hotel with a little more character, so I chose the Renwick Hotel, a Hilton Curio Collection property located in Midtown East. The building dates back to 1929 and was originally part of artists’ lofts where writers like John Steinbeck, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald once worked on their masterpieces.
The hotel, which is now a member of the Historic Hotels of America, took much of its design inspiration from these famous literati.
I was able to book two nights at the hotel at an HHonors discount advance purchase rate of $282 per night, which is reasonable for a New York City hotel. If I had used HHonors points, I would have paid 59,000 points per night, but it was possible to find lower rates on other dates in both cash and points; for example, I did see some for 46,000 points per night. I was able to earn 5,729 base points for the stay, plus 3,864 bonus points for holding Diamond status. I even got 572 United miles thanks to the Hilton double dip bonus.
I paid using my Chase Sapphire Reserve card in order to get 3X the points for a travel purchase. You could also use your Citi HHonors Visa to pay, but keep in mind that starting in January 2018, the card will be switching from Visa to Amex.
The Renwick is located on 40th Street between Lexington and Park avenues, just a few blocks from Grand Central station. If you’re in the city for work and need to be in midtown, the location is ideal. It was also convenient for tourists who plan to see the main attractions but might prefer something a little quieter than a hotel right in Times Square, due west.
Since I usually spend a lot of time in lower Manhattan, this isn’t my favorite part of town, but it’s close to the subway. It was also convenient to have a variety of options for coffee shops, restaurants, fast food and shopping nearby.
Check In and Lobby
I received an email to complete the check in online the day before my stay. I decided to give it a try thinking it would be easy: they would assign me my room and then I would pick up my key upon arrival.
The room assigned to me was 907, a one-bedroom King suite, an upgrade I received for being a Hilton Diamond member.
The exterior of the hotel was a picturesque brown brick building. Once inside, the lobby was small but trendy, with chic lighting, red seating and cool graffiti murals. It felt very boutique-y and cozy, which I loved.
After giving my name at reception, I was given a key for room 1111. Since I was on a phone call at the time, I didn’t really notice that the room wasn’t the one I had originally checked into online (again, 907) until I was in the elevator.
I figured maybe I had received another upgrade, this time to an even higher floor. When I got to the room, I realized it wasn’t a suite at all — just a normal room — and while that was fine, I was surprised to have checked in online and been assigned a suite only to have been downgraded.
I called the front desk to inquire about what had happened, and the receptionist got pretty fresh with me. She told me that they had given my room away to a “paying customer” and upgrades weren’t a guarantee (wait, I was a paying customer, too, though). I told her that I totally understood, but that I found it a bit odd to be assigned an upgrade or particular room and then later have it downgraded. Why not just assign me the regular room and then later upgrade me if it was available? That seemed like a much smarter way to handle things.
I later voiced my frustration again at the front desk to a much friendlier staff member and was told that an upgrade would be available the following day (I had a two-night stay planned) and so the next day, I was upgraded to a suite on the 6th floor.
While I understand that upgrades are not a right or guarantee, I wasn’t impressed the way the staff at this property handled the situation. I also don’t recommend doing the online check in — what’s the point if you’ll just be assigned a different room anyway?
The room was small, though I typically expect that of a New York City hotel room, and it’s not the smallest I’ve seen by any means.
There was a full-length mirror on the wall near the door, which I love having in hotel rooms, and a cool Hemingway quote on the wall in big black letters.
Being a writer myself, I appreciated the whole ‘writer’ theme, and I sound found myself sitting at the quaint desk, admiring the views and imagining Steinbeck writing Grapes of Wrath. My fantasies were soon interrupted when I banged my ankle on the the shelving unit though — again, New York City hotel rooms are tiny.
There was a small shelving unit with some drawers, a small wardrobe with hangers, a robe, an iron and an ironing board.
A safe was located in the unit with a large flat-screen TV next to it. Some funky knick-knacks were placed on the shelving too.
There was also an empty fridge (but no mini bar) and two complimentary bottles of water.
The desk was vintage-chic, with its own Renwick pencils and a neat little desk lamp that matched the bedside table lamps.
There was also a vintage alarm clock radio with a USB port on one of the bedside tables — perfectly befitting the design aesthetic.
The funky exposed piping gave the room a cool vintage feel.
The window was large and the view was nice, though in order to see the Empire State building you had to get right up to the window and crane your neck up.
The curtain was a shade decorated with a printed skyline on it, and it’s worth nothing that it didn’t completely block out light, so if you’re a late sleeper, bring an eyemask.
The bed was comfortable and I thought the leather-and-wood headboard was beautiful.
I love when hotel rooms have high-design ceiling lighting; here, a unique fixture consisted of a sculptural frame with several bulbs.
The bathroom was tiny but had black-and-white subway tile, giving the space a slight Art Deco feel.
The bathtub and shower was outfitted with Apothique amenities, a Brooklyn brand.
The bathroom also had a blowdryer and a small window in the bathroom — something most native New Yorkers covet!
There were many outlets on either side of the bed, including USB ports, more outlets near the desk and two outlets in the bathroom. So for a ‘historic’ property, it had all the comforts of the plugged-in modern world.
The “Do Not Disturb” sign was a paintbrush with a rope — a cool design touch, for sure.
The walls were thin and in need of better soundproofing. The first night, I could hear babies crying on and off. It seemed like my room was sandwiched between two rooms occupied by the same family; at one point, I noticed them roaming the hallways. Why not just put the two rooms next to each other? Again, another of the hotel’s organizational room-choice decision I didn’t quite understand.
The bedroom in the suite was almost identical to the original room, as was the bathroom. I was surprised at how small the bathroom was even in the suite — truly a tight squeeze.
The living room was great — I would have loved to have some friends over to enjoy the space.
The bold turquoise velvet couch was definitely the focal point, and the leather gold armchair was comfortable and sophisticated.
Besides all the amenities I previously mentioned, the suite was outfitted with two TVs — one in the living area and one in the bedroom. Another perk? The microwave.
There was also a large, useful coat rack. However, not one of the three windows in the suite (the living room, bedroom or bathroom) had any kind of notable views — just close-ups of buildings and offices.
The bedroom of the suite seemed to be more protected from noise; I ended up getting a very comfortable rest.
Amenities and Dining
The hotel had a gym that seemed like an afterthought. Stuck in the basement, the space was small, with exposed ceiling fixtures, a few machines, some weights and a moldy smell.
I received four $10 coupons for use at Bedford & Co, the restaurant connected to the hotel. Argentinian-inspired, with a special wood-burning grill, the dimly lit joint was scattered with tourists and hotel guests.
To use up my coupons, I ate breakfast there one day and got a salad to go on my last night. Breakfast was overpriced (about $23 for a breakfast sandwich and coffee) and my egg-and-bacon croissant was greasy.
I could have easily gotten something better for just a few dollars at a nearby coffee shop. The salad was also nothing special: just some romaine lettuce, one tiny piece of avocado, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and olives.
My advice would be to skip the restaurant and go out to eat — this is New York City, after all.
However, I did appreciate that coffee was available in the lobby each morning until 10:30 and fruit-infused water was available throughout the day.
Wi-Fi was free for guests and was fast and easy. I logged in right away with my last name and room number, and didn’t have to re-login again once.
While the hotel’s boutique-y feel was vintage and cool, I really didn’t enjoy being downgraded and dismissed by the staff. Although they eventually handled things correctly, I do think the organization could have been better. That being said, if you’re looking for something a little different than your typical-cookie cutter chain in Midtown, this is a solid choice.
Know before you go.
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