The Knickerbocker name carries heavy clout. Opening on New York’s Times Square in 1906, the hotel soon established itself as a go-to spot for the booming city’s elite. F Scott Fitzgerald wrote his short story Mr Icky in one of the bedrooms, and namechecks the hotel bar in his novel This Side of Paradise. Said bar had a reputation, and it was colloquially dubbed the Forty-Second Street Country Club. It’s perhaps unsurprising to learn that, shortly after the introduction of prohibition in 1920, the hotel shut amid financial difficulties. Until February, that is, when The Knickerbocker was reborn.
Amid all this grand heritage and mythmaking, it’s easy to feel underwhelmed by this modern reincarnation’s small, minimally decorated lobby. There’s an explanation; in the century-long interim, the building was used by various businesses and offices (including as the base of Newsweek magazine from 1940 to 1959), and nothing was salvageable from the original furnishings.
It’s Times Square, the unofficial Crossroads of the World, so it doesn’t get much more convenient or exhilarating than this (the odd spandex-clad pavement obstruction aside). The Knickerbocker sits on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway, next to the busiest subway station in the city, which serves four main lines and connects easily to all the others. Inside the station stands an aged subterranean masonry plaque marked “Knickerbocker”, where an exit once ran directly into the hotel lobby. A piece of history.
I’m in a deluxe room king, and for New York, it’s huge. The 1906 building housed 570 rooms, and just 300 bathrooms. This incarnation goes for comfort, capping at 430 rooms (all, sensibly, en suite). Furnishings are tastefully hued in muted, modern tones. The original room price back when the hotel opened, incidentally, was US$2.75 a pop.
The attention to detail is sublime. After a long day of sightseeing, there’s a surprise knock at the door and a delivery of a tray of chocolate-coated almonds, an apple, Voss water and a cocktail glass of jelly beans. A nice and unnecessary touch – water and soft drinks are free from the minibar.
The fourth floor hosts an impressive cardio gym – overseen by the New York Knicks basketball legend Larry Johnson, who has even curated special workout playlists. Next door is the intimidatingly specialist weight room, crowned with a high-tech boxing machine – overhead, Rocky is played on repeat for inspiration.
Best of all is the 16th-floor terrace, which offers obstructed views of the Times Square Ball, and likely to be the hottest spot in town come December 31.
Charlie Palmer – the American celeb chef whose Michelin-starred Aureole is just steps away from the hotel – oversees the hotel’s culinary programme. The signature restaurant, Charlie Palmer at The Knick, has a casual but classy vibe. Downstairs, there’s a pleasant, casual coffee joint named Jake’s – a nod to the hotel’s founder, John Jacob Astor.
The history, location and attention to detail.
I was a little disappointed not to find a bath in my bathroom.
Fresh life has been breathed into an iconic property, in a peerless location, and the result is about everything you could hope for.
The bottom line
Rooms at The Knickerbocker (www.theknickerbocker.com) cost from $491 (Dh1,803), including taxes.