Celebrity Skin: Living it up at the Greenwich Hotel, Varia Karipoff takes a bite of the Big Apple. 

There are some truths you won’t know about New York City until you go. In a city where so many of the streets and buildings are familiar from film and television, NYC still has the goods, like a muse, to disconcert, demand your attention and inspire you. I was surprised to find that despite the millions of blinking city lights, stars can be seen in the sky over Manhattan. I saw them from the balcony of the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, glowing faintly yet comfortingly. My other realisation was that A-listers are just people (more on this in a minute). And there was also the hard-learned fact that unless you are into bikram yoga it’s best to give the sweaty subway a miss in summer and catch a cab instead.

I’ll start with the subway. It was as hot as Hades down there. Carrying luggage in my arms for speed and ease of access on staircases was about as comfortable as childbirth. I arrived at my destination an hour later missing a litre of body fluid and a significant amount of dignity. (The return cab fare for the 12-minute ride from Greenwich Hotel to East Village was a paltry $7 — you live and learn.) The concierge at the Greenwich Hotel was, gratefully, unperturbed by my dishevelled appearance. By now, a rambling tide of words cascaded forth from my mouth; hot and bothered was I.

The bright young concierge showed me to my room after a sweeping tour of Robert De Niro’s hotel. The screen legend and hotelier has a great love for Tribeca and has funnelled his energy and chutzpah into revitalising it since 9/11. The dual projects born of his passion, the boutique Greenwich Hotel and the Italian eatery Locanda Verde next door, give the downtown address a stamp of credibility and cool. ‘If Tribeca is good enough for De Niro…’ And certainly, the celebrities have given it their private patronage. The courtyard of the hotel is a place where celebrities and the rest can have relaxed, discreet dinners unharried. The dishes are robust, uncluttered and modestly priced.

My run-in with a celebrity happened soon after I got into my swell room. The room, like all 88, is individually decorated, giving it a dose of reality without wankery (much like the staff). Ranging from suites to extraordinary two-storey 20-square loft-style penthouses, the rooms at Greenwich are all about comfort, class and handmade style.

The artful blend of antiques, together with the best quality modern fittings, give the rooms the atmosphere of a chic home. Beautiful soft afternoon light comes in from the balcony’s French doors. The focus throughout is on handmade quality: in the perfectly imperfect yellow Moroccan tiles in the bathroom or, in other rooms, the hand-carved marble baths. I was very pleased with the blue leather headboard on the masculine carved oak bed in my room. In the large bathroom, a marble vanity and walk-in rain shower preside. To complete the experience, New York boutique bath products Red Flower are supplied. I am in love with Red Flower – the products are enriched with botanicals and smell luxurious on the skin, like a field of wildflowers in bloom. The solid wooden doors to each room are rustically unpolished and solid, in the morning a New York Times awaits on the other side. Walking down the softly Mexican themed fourth floor corridor, there was the scent of new wood.

Shibui spa should be your first port of call at the Greenwich, offering a Japanese relaxation menu. Low-lit and with 300-year-old Japanese beams buttressing the ceiling, the Shibui pool is a world away from the heat and noise of NYC’s streets. I wasn’t the only one seeking refuge there; so was Matthew McConaughey, whose Texan drawl is every bit as charming in the flesh. Braving it, I quickly discarded the Japanese-style pool robe revealing a tiny monokini decorated with a forest of toucans. The weather may have democratised us but so did the hotel. I was a guest there, just like him.

Downstairs, the drawing room is somewhere between a gentleman’s club and a glamorous Upper East Side home. There are club chairs, coloured lamps, exposed wooden beams and a glorious warmth from the tones of pink and green that draw your eye around the room, much as a fine painting does. Having a whisky cocktail here or in the candlelit courtyard is a must. There are also several very neat bars in skulking or strutting distance. I recommend the very Bauhaus and moody Smith & Mills, literally 30 metres from the front door of the Greenwich and serving meals and drinks well into the wee hours. The Greenwich is also well located for Soho and Chelsea shopping and for seeing the financial capital of the world go through its daily highs and lows. Check out the financial district in the shadow of the new WTC tower. Tribeca is a world away from the garish neon and crowds of midtown, with many of the streets cobble-stoned. The industrial patina may have been scrubbed off to make way for upscale residences but something of its heart remains. It still has true grit.

A great hotel is always a labour of love, an expression of somebody’s desire for excellence. What the Greenwich gets right is looks and personality: a sign of good genes – the exterior architecture and location, and a good upbringing – the vision, the right style and the service.

377 Greenwich Street, New York, NY

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