Now that the holiday season is upon us, visits from your family and friends are imminent. And while you may be looking forward to clinking glasses of eggnog together, finding closet space for your visitors’ luggage and putting sheets on the sofa bed is a much less appealing prospect — for you and them.
Rest assured, there are now plenty of lodging alternatives in Brooklyn. [See sidebar.] Over the weekend, my husband and I were welcomed into the swank Hotel Le Bleu on the border of Gowanus and Park Slope, which bills itself as “a whole new world of uber-chic glamour and luxurious living.” It’s an option for your discriminating in-laws or pals.
Opened just last month, the first self-proclaimed “boutique” hotel in the borough has found a unique spot for its discerning clientele: The not-so-lovely Fourth Avenue. Flanking the shiny silver and white building: a Staples store and a taxi depot.
While the location is an unusual choice, hotel General Manager Robert Gaeta maintained that the California-based Globiwest International is simply “ahead of the curve.”
“Everyone knows the neighborhood is on the precipice of change,” Gaeta said, noting that Novo, a multi-storied condominium, is being built across the street. In addition to new high-rises under construction, Gaeta cited Fifth Avenue as an attraction.
“Of all the Brooklyn neighborhoods they could have chosen,” he said, “Park Slope, with all the restaurants, cool stores and hip music venues has the widest variety in terms of activity.” True enough. Yet, over the months I watched the hotel evolve on the long stretch of the still-seedy avenue, I had my doubts.
And I kept having them after I heard the rates. According to Gaeta, Le Bleu’s rooms begin at $270 and don’t go a penny over $399. “This is Brooklyn my friend,” I thought. While I know boutique hotels in Manhattan can go for well above that, come on! You’re on Fourth Avenue; one side of the hotel looks onto a U-Haul parking lot.
My concern wasn’t assuaged when we pulled into the small parking area in front of the hotel, where a bored receptionist could be spotted behind the glass. Nor was it quieted by the sight of the front lobby.
If you choose to enter through the foyer, where one is invited to conduct “discreet business tete-a-tetes,” do it during the day, when the sun warms the space, or arrive before your guest and meet in the room. Compared to the entrance at night, supermarket lighting looks flattering.
I was uneasy on the ride up with the bellman, who carried my husband’s bag but not mine.
Finally, the term “boutique” started making sense as we walked to our room. Exiting the elevator, I noticed a silver sign against a chocolate brown wall, with the floor’s number etched out Chelsea gallery-style. The lighting was moody, and the designer, Andreas Escobar of the eponymous Montreal-based firm, was careful to use texture throughout the building to create a sense of drama.
The room’s modern interior — although not glitch free — was sexy and amusing. Escobar has found a way to utilize every inch of the limited space in each of the 48 rooms. The designer carved out an efficient work area equipped with standard perks like Internet, as well as an iPod docking station. The king-size bed functions not only as a sleeping area but a theater of sorts — to watch the 42-inch plasma TV with Sony DVD system and anytime-you-want-it-HBO (the selection of drama, classics and comedy are fairly limited, while the porn listings are vast).
This is a room that functions perfectly for a quick hookup or as a getaway for couples who know each other well. I’ve shared a bathroom with my husband for 23 years, and yet, I felt like a peep show performer in the large, clear glass shower stall that juts into the room — as I’m sure Escobar intended. (A sheer white curtain can be pulled around the glass for the inhibited.)
After turning on the TV and seeing “Hello Barry, Tina” on the screen, we decided to get out for a while and see just how convenient the hotel was to the Slope’s nightlife.
We headed to the still-lovely French bistro Cocotte on Fifth Avenue and Fourth Street. If we had opted for an evening in Manhattan, the M, R and F trains are a five-minute walk from the hotel. (For anyone who is interested, Sunday is BYOB at Cocotte with no corkage fee.)
Back at the hotel, I opened the little refrigerator in the room, expecting a stocked mini-bar. (After all, the hotel claims to “reflect the needs of sophisticated global travelers.”) Imagine my dismay upon finding just two blue bottles of Le Bleu water.
Also missing at the moment is the Vue, the two-level cocktail bar and restaurant that’s slated to occupy the eighth and ninth floors of the hotel by late spring. Gaeta said the Vue’s menu will be “Continental.”
“They like steaks,” he said of Chris and Eddie Arias, who will operate the eatery.
My husband and I got ready for bed, washing, rinsing and moisturizing with the array of organic toiletries provided. The “allergen-free goose down comforter” looked inviting, and the “special woven Egyptian cotton linens with 250 thread count” felt like silk.
This is the point in the story when I walk to the door and hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the knob. Cut to an orchid in bloom (the flower is a signature of the hotel) or sun setting over, well, not the Gowanus, and you know the rest.