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At first glance, the 16-story Knickerbocker Hotel seems overshadowed by the modern skyscrapers and dazzling billboards of its Times Square setting. But make no mistake: The historic Manhattan property, which reopened in 2015 after a substantial renovation, is a real showstopper.
The Knickerbocker’s brick, terracotta and limestone exterior has been meticulously preserved to look like it did more than a century ago, complete with carved cherubs, Juliet balconies and a mansard roof. At the same time, its revamped interior is decidedly sleek and contemporary, with service to match.
Colorful PastWealthy businessman John Jacob Astor IV opened the Knickerbocker in 1906, making it the place to stay in New York City. Guests admired its technology — such as telephones and electric fans — and swizzled a new drink called the martini, which, legend has it, was invented by a Knickerbocker bartender in 1912.
The hotel lured luminaries such as novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, actors George M. Cohan and Mary Pickford and former president Theodore Roosevelt. Opera star Enrico Caruso lived there for an extended period of time, and his wife even gave birth to their daughter in a Knickerbocker suite.
In 1912, Astor died in the sinking of the Titanic. The hotel closed in 1921 and eventually became an office building. However, its colorful past and Beaux-Arts good looks landed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, with New York City landmark status to follow in 1988. In 2015, after a multimillion-dollar renovation, the Knickerbocker reopened and resumed its reputation as a five-star Times Square hotel.
During a recent stay at the Knickerbocker, I marveled at its seamless blend of then and now. Sipping some wine at its open-air, rooftop St. Cloud bar, I was whisked back in time by architectural gems, including original copper balustrades. Simultaneously, I had a bird’s-eye view of 21st-century Times Square in all its manic glory, which returned me to the present.
Luxurious DigsThe restoration of the Knickerbocker has resulted in 330 up-to-date guest accommodations. My posh room, with its chic palette of beige, gray and white, offered trendy perks, including a 55-inch flat-screen television, automated blackout shades and bedside Samsung tablets. The marble bathroom had a walk-in shower with a voguish rainshower head. One of the unit’s most impressive features was its soundproofing. Although the hotel hugs bright and bustling Times Square, my room served as a quiet, peaceful oasis.
For history buffs and VIP clients, travel agents should suggest one of the Knickerbocker’s four tribute suites. The Caruso Suite sports Italian marble and oak-veneer custom millwork, while the Martini Suite honors the hotel’s signature cocktail. The George M. Cohan Suite channels the larger-than-life personality of the Broadway star, and the Maxfield Parrish Suite evokes the respected painter who created a mural for the original hotel.
Like its namesake, today’s Knickerbocker wows guests with food and beverage standouts. Famed chef Charlie Palmer runs all three of the hotel’s culinary outlets, including the acclaimed Charlie Palmer at The Knick. For more casual fare, I gravitated toward Jake’s @ The Knick, the hotel’s espresso shop and artisanal cafe whose vaulted barrel ceiling reminded me of a hip subway stop.
When it came time to work off the extra calories, I sought out the gym. The hotel has not one but two fitness centers designed by former New York Knicks forward Larry Johnson, both featuring state-of-the-art equipment and training areas.
With Business Travelers in MindThe Knickerbocker’s director of sales and marketing Mario Busquets told me the hotel holds particular appeal to business travelers.
“Times Square has become a hub for the corporate sector, with businesses such as Bank of America and Nasdaq calling the area home,” Busquets said.
In order to draw this audience, the Knickerbocker offers a quick, quality power lunch for business meetings on the go. The hotel also provides incentives for repeat customers, added Busquets. For instance, its Always Packed program lets frequent guests store essential wardrobe staples and toiletries in a custom garment bag at the hotel between visits. The belongings are placed in the guest’s room prior to each arrival.
Whether for business or pleasure, the Knickerbocker presents the same sophisticated hotel experience that it did more than 100 years ago — and then some. From accommodations and dining to guest services, it’s a Big Apple legend.