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Raging success

Hollywood heavyweight Robert De Niro enters the hotel game. George Epaminondas investigates.

The idea of a New York hotel steered by Robert De Niro has almost farcical overtones. One half expects the concierge to snarl, "You talkin' to me?" in the manner of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. Or to discover a pair of silk boxers, favoured by Al Capone in The Untouchables, mysteriously left in your room. But don't count on any of these absurd scenarios. The image projected of De Niro at his recently opened Greenwich Hotel has little to do with any of his movie roles. Instead of one of the greatest actors on display, it's De Niro the cultural aesthete, design aficionado and knowing epicure.

De Niro is known for his entrepreneurial smarts. He is celebrated for revitalising the downtown district of Tribeca by setting up his production offices there, helming the Tribeca Film Festival and opening restaurants such as Nobu and The Tribeca Grill. If anyone is qualified to open a sophisticated hotel in the locale, it's De Niro. The Greenwich Hotel is a handsome building that harmonises with the neighbourhood. The ambience is low-key and luxe. Leaded glass windows, terracotta tiles, Tibetan rugs, plush sofas, and cases of glossy tomes conspire to create a well-heeled residential vibe, while a series of abstract nudes behind the check-in desk are by De Niro's late father.

The mismatched and slightly masculine design continues in the 88 rooms, which all boast distinctive arrangements of furniture. A deep leather sofa, coral-hued rug, turquoise cushions, and rustic side tables formed a pleasing tableau in my room. Some elements, including the oak floors, Dux beds, chicken-wire closets and sculptural jars filled with chocolate, remain constant throughout the hotel. In another novel twist, The Greenwich has two styles of bathrooms: I had a choice between one in grey and white marble, and another embellished with blue and yellow tiles. With flourishes such as Red Flower soap, an iPod dock, a high-definition TV, and a slew of books to read, I contemplated barricading myself inside my room.

When the turn-down staff delivered a giant chocolate chip cookie and retro-looking bottle of milk, I was reminded of what De Niro said about "creating a space that would serve guests more as a residence than a hotel." Certainly, it's the thoughtful touches that make all the difference. The Greenwich is a collaboration between De Niro and the hoteliers behind The Mercer and Chambers, Ira Drukier and Richard Born. Design input came from architect David Rockwell, Grayling Design and Samantha Crasco. There are 13 sprawling suites in all, equipped with saunas, fire-places or skylights - and an exquisite penthouse apartment with its own rooftop garden, hot tub and poetic views of the city skyline will soon be unveiled.

Reluctantly, I put down my cookie and headed to Ago, the hotel's Italian restaurant. Ago turns out excellent pizza and bistecca alla Fiorentina and stellar gelato. Like the hotel, it has some interesting design quirks, including American farmhouse chairs, windows from the Flatiron Building that have been recycled into mirrors, and 90,000 wine corks in the ceiling provided by the Canadian Girl Scouts - who presumably didn't drink the contents of the bottles.

To escape the din of the fooderati, I ventured to the hotel's drawing room for an apéritif. With high ceilings, antique furnishings and mirrored French doors that lead to a courtyard, the space resembles a tiny private club. The fact that only hotel guests are allowed to patronise it reinforces that perception. A level below is the Shibui spa, where a lantern-lit pool and lounge area is housed under a reconstructed 250-year-old Japanese pine and bamboo farmhouse. The day after I check out of The Greenwich - rested and revitalised - I read that De Niro is rolling out plans for a Nobu Hotel in the city's Financial District. Expect a piece of sushi on your pillow.

377 Greenwich St, New York, +1 212 941 8900, Rooms from about $657 per night.

  • Destination:
  • aug 2008
  • Magazine:
  • New York
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