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New Times Square Hotel Has an Old History

SmarterTravel

(Photo: The Knickerbocker)

Pretty much everything in Times Square seems like it’s brand new, from the shiny chain stores to the bright electrical billboards and screens. That’s why the just-opened Knickerbocker Hotel is so unique in the area—although it’s completely new, it actually used to be a hotel a very long time ago. This luxury property was originally built by John Jacob Astor IV in 1906, when it was a major Manhattan social spot until it closed in 1920. After that, it became an office and a showroom building, before finally turning back into a hotel this year. The building is actually designated as an official New York City landmark, which means that unique touches were preserved during the renovation, which gives the place plenty of character.

The original Knickerbocker hosted famous guests like F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Rockefeller, and (unfortunately for Red Sox fans) former Red Sox owner Harry Frazee—the hotel is where Frazee told the team’s manager that he was selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and we all know how that turned out for Boston.

Guests back when the hotel first opened had a cool perk—a private access door to New York’s subway. Unfortunately for people staying at the Knickerbocker today, they’ll have to go through the regular, public MTA turnstiles.

(Photo: Rick Lew)

Although the Beaux-Arts exterior remains the same, the interior has been completely remodeled, with 330 deluxe guest rooms, a fine dining restaurant, a cafe, and a (not yet opened) rooftop lounge. The building’s old bones, with some added help from modern technology, make it perfect as a hotel. The rooms are unbelievably well soundproofed. It’s pretty amazing looking down on the hustle and bustle of Times Square and not hearing a thing as you watch the goings on from from behind the six-foot tall windows. When it comes time to sleep, electronic blackout curtains keep the room totally dark, not letting in a sliver of natural or electronic light. Related: 10 Hotels with the Best Views in the U.S.

Sleeping will come pretty easily on the Knickerbocker’s seriously luxurious beds, which are topped with 300-count Egyptian cotton sheets. There are smart touches throughout, from the complimentary tablet to use within the room, to the deliciously scented Ted Gibson bath amenities. Speaking of amenities, The Knickerbocker has by far the best free toiletries kit of any hotel that we’ve ever stayed in. Lift the lid on the unobtrusive white box on your bathroom counter and you’ll find, among other things, a Tide Pen, cufflinks, makeup remover wipes, shaving kit, and a toothbrush.

The hotel’s dining options are all just as on-point as the amenities. Renowned chef Charlie Palmer heads up all three spots, which attract locals as much as hotel guests. The signature restaurant, Charlie Palmer at the Knick, dishes up modern classics, like a Grilled Romaine Hearts salad (dressed with shaved Pecorino and a honey lemon emulsion), a rich vegetarian couscous risotto, and tender steak.

(Photo: Caroline Morse)

As the original Knickerbocker was rumored to be the place where the martini was invented, make sure you try the house martini, a delicious spin on the classic. Pair it with one of the restaurant’s decadent desserts like the apple crumble or the chocolate lava cake (served with salted caramel ice cream).

(Photo: Caroline Morse)

The hotel will soon have a livelier lounge option for drinks and small plates, which will open just in time for warmer weather, in the next few weeks. The St. Cloud will sit on the rooftop, overlooking Times Square. We got a sneak preview of the space, and were treated to an amazing view of the Waterford Crystal Times Square New Year’s Eve ball—this lounge is going to be the ultimate place to be on the last night of the year, or any time you want to look down over one of Manhattan’s busiest areas. Related: When Staying in a Crowded ‘Tourist Area’ Isn’t So Bad

For breakfast and lunch, Jake’s at the Knick (located in the lobby) is the perfect place for coffee lovers, featuring beans from the famous Brooklyn Roasting Company. The food stands up to the coffee—there are fresh-baked goods, healthy options like fruit and granola, and heartier choices like the gourmet flat-breads. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, the cafe is a great respite from Times Square—the calming space has a very cool vaulted barrel ceiling design that’s worth checking out while you take a coffee break.

We wish that more hotels would do such a good job of blending the past history with the present modern luxuries that the Knickerbocker does. If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by for a meal, coffee, or a great night’s sleep.

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