Friday, November 27, 2009

Loo with a view: The Lounge at the Standard Hotel, Chelsea, NYC

Above: The view from the Standard Hotel's elevator - one you don't mind being stuck in



The Standard Hotel - a shingle as chicly understated as the building is understatedly chic - has opened its lounge in the stratosphere. Straddling the wildly popular Highline aerial park, which I filmed just before it opened, this Polshek-designed, Andre Balazs-owned inn reminds me of the Jolly Gray Giant.

I don't even know what the latest name of the lounge is - Manifest? Boom Boom ... Boom? The celebs have christened it of course, but this post is for us plebestrians who pass between the Giant's gray chino'd thighs, peering crotchward to see if those mile high performances are just a myth (Motel Sex? Boom boom).

You enter the hotel through a Lego-like yellow cylinder and reappear in a small lobby flanked by two very cool, white egg-crate like partitions. The maid in me wonders if someone is hired to featherdust each and every hole ...

The elevator to the lounge features a stunning video installation called "Civilization", a looping 300-clip collage by by acclaimed artist Marco Brambilla. From his website:

Civilization depicts a journey from hell to heaven interpreted through the modern language of film using computer-enhanced found footage. This epic video mural contains over 300 individual channels of looped video blended into a multi-layered seamless tableau of interconnecting images that illustrates a contemporary, satirical take on the concepts of Heaven and Hell.

As the lift ascends,  the video takes you to heaven. As it descends, you go to hell. You see snippets from all the movies you ought to see before you die: Michael Jackson breakdances on a grassy knoll; Santa emerges from a cave shaped like a yawning mouth; ET sails across the moon; Stormtroopers storm by. Apparently, if an artist uses less than 3 seconds of footage no royalty fee is due. The lift attendant patiently and good-naturedly allows you to ride up and down several times trying to go to heaven or hell. Try as we might, we could never go to hell, the angels we are!

On reaching the lounge floor, a low window gives your shins a spectacular view of the Meatpacking district.


There's a reception to the inner sanctum. The good news is that we of the sneaker and nylon parka set can easily visit this area from 4pm til 9pm, Tuesday to Saturday. After that, it re-opens to people with superior genes (and jeans) than you.

"We have a coat and bag policy," announced the attendant.

"Goodie, I've got both," said my friend gleefully, about to launch himself through the Millenium-Falcon-like porthole in his Tevas. 

Not so fast - you need to cloak your jacket and bag, before partaking of a $7 cup of tea or $20 cocktail and a surround-town view of Manhattan, the Hudson and the Jersey shoreline. Not for security reasons, mind you, but to "maintain the lines of the lounge." Heaven forbid should your padded Patagonia snowvest be slung over the back of those terraced, white leather lounges! If you're wearing a blingy Versace duster over your Dept Public Works overalls, you might be allowed to keep it on - in fact, you should.
Once inside, you literally swim in soft pink light. There is a central "tree of booze", as my friend called it, that does indeed transport you to the Carousel scene in Logan's Run to be wasted on your own tab, not theirs. There are sunken pits on either side where you can drape yourself on the aforementioned, leather rice-paddies and $20 cocktails, served by cocktail waitresses decked out with giant, blingy white bows. I was given an earlier tour of this area and the gym below by friend and lighting architect Peiheng Tsai (pictured right). She's often called in to tweak the lighting just so. What a cool job you have, Pei.

There is a narrow little smoking balcony off to one side - try and snag it for a few moments while the puffers are at the bar taking a clean air break. The view is spectacular, taking in the luminous Empire State in its latest peacock like plumage, and two of my personal favorites - the MetLife tower, which transports me to somewhere in Europe, and the  Shop architecture firm's 'citadel' as I call it, which transports me to another planet.  12th St, 13th St and Washington Ave hurtle away to their respective vanishing points below. The floor of the smoking balcony is translucent,  so hell plummets to another vanishing point between your feet. Don't look down if you have vertigo.


Of course, toilet tourists will delight at adding the lounge's darkened 'hall of mirrors' ablution facility to their collection of Morimoto's welcoming loos and Charmin' tinkle tower in Times Square. If you can feel your way to an actual stall without crashing through a mirror,  or even more scarily, a pane of glass, you will be greeted with a full length panorama of the city skyline as you feel around for the toilet paper. Note that there is a hook on the wall to hang your non-existent coat and bag.

"I'm surprised there isn't a hole out through the urinal so you can pee out the building," said my friend, of the men's urinals - which men will probably locate with difficulty only after they've held up the women's stalls.

Surprisingly, I consider this a valid candidate for my Cheap'n'Choosy blog.  That  $7 cup of tea can be broken into a market value $3 for the tea, and $4 for the view. The cocktail can be considered $12 for the drink and $8 for the ambience (fancy drinkers gotta pay more for their view as it looks better over a frosted glass with an umbrella). It's better than paying $17 for a no-drinks view from the Rockefeller center - and at least you don't freeze your ass off.

POTTED REVIEW: THANKSGIVING @ THE STANDARD GRILL: I've eaten at the Standard Grill, the restaurant in the "hell" level of the hotel, a couple of times. It's surprisingly good and reasonable. Several blogs suggest that the restaurant is so popular, you can only get a booking at either 5.45pm or 9.45pm. That only applies to the restaurant area that resembles a glorified diner. Just show up and be seated at one of the tables in the non-reserved front area with the black and white decor and oyster bar. It's more fun and cozy anyway. This was one of the few restaurants in the area with vacancies for Thanksgiving Day. The $40, 3-course meal was just OK. Despite my party making a special request for dark meat, we suspect the nicer dark meat slices (as opposed to the burned knobby bits) were reserved for the evening guests, and there was a blatant lack of sides including something green. But as other menus around town were $65 to $125+, I suspect it's a case of ... you get what you pay for.

The Standard Hotel NYC
848 Washington at 13th Street
New York 10014
Phone: (212) 645-4646

From Peiheng Tsai: The interior designer on record is Roman and Williams, the concept is by Shawn Hauseman. The Standard New York has an internal design team that cook up a general direction. L'Observatoire is the lighting designer on record.

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