updated 4/15/2005 12:55:27 PM ET 2005-04-15T16:55:27

Ever since the Queens-Midtown Tunnel opened in 1940, Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood has become one of the city's de facto transportation hubs. Once one of the wealthiest areas of the city--J.P. Morgan lived here, as did old New York families such as the Rhinelanders, the Belmonts and the Tiffanys--every day millions of people stream in and out, from Long Island by car and from Westchester and Connecticut by train.

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In becoming such a prominent gateway Murray Hill also sacrificed much of its earlier grandeur. Its wealthiest residents moved out and many businesses headed up or downtown.

Now, however, that is finally changing. As the city's real estate boom makes previously undesirable areas hot again, businesses and homebuyers have returned. The streets around Madison Square Park and Union Square Park are thrumming with money. Investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston is a prominent tenant, and it's in good company, with scores of advertising, public relations, media and technology companies in the neighborhood. Another good sign is the recent sale of the nearby MetLife Building for development into luxury apartments. So is the reopening of the Hotel Roger Williams.

Built in 1928, the hotel, which is located at the corner of Madison Avenue and 31st Street, has just completed a 13-month renovation that upgraded all the guest rooms, added a fitness center and created a sleek, modern lobby.

Owned by the Oceana Group, a small, privately held hotel operator, the Roger Williams is one of several hotels that have either opened or renovated in the area between Union Square and Grand Central Station. The area has spawned smaller hotels, like Morgans, Ian Schrager's pioneering boutique hotel that opened in the 1980s. These new arrivals cater to a younger, more cost-conscious crowd of business and leisure travelers who happily trade larger rooms for a hipper ambience and closer proximity to their next business meeting.

From the streamlined façade with three tall, elegant windows looking out over Madison Avenue to its urbane 190 guest rooms, the hotel manages to use its space economically. Many of the rooms would feel cramped if they were less well-designed.

The larger rooms can comfortably accommodate two plus a visitor, and eighteen rooms have balconies, which is unusual in New York.

One place the Roger doesn't lack space is the long front lobby. On the right, an open staircase leads up to the Mezzanine Lounge, where a light menu of salads, burgers, sandwiches and appetizers is available. On weekday nights, hotel guests and locals can enjoy the music of a jazz trio, while on Saturday evenings the lounge can feel like a club, with a DJ playing music. This summer, the hotel will be launching a wine and cheese tasting menu that will rotate monthly, but we prefer the hotel cocktail, the Jolly Roger Martini, made with pureed apples and vodka.

The hotel has no formal restaurant, but one unusual feature is the morning Breakfast Pantry, which lets guests wander around, reading the provided newspapers and preparing their own breakfast, with a choice of Balthazar croissants and Petrossian salmon.

Free wireless Internet is available, and you can arrange for small meetings of up to ten to be held on-site. Businessmen looking for somewhere to host the entire firm for the annual meeting shouldn't come here. On the other hand, for an important sales pitch or sensitive conference, the small-scale conference suite, with high-tech audiovisual capabilities and catered meals available, might be perfect.

If you prefer Louis XIV furniture and five-star restaurants, the Roger might not be the place for you. But if you can get past the crazy quilts, like live music and don't mind the occasional surprise, it's certainly worth a visit. Rates start at $330 per night for a garden room and run to $500 for a suite.

Forbes Fact

Roger Williams was the co-founder of Rhode Island and the sole founder of the American Baptist Church, which shares the property with the Hotel Roger Williams.

Previously owned by Credit Suisse First Boston, The Roger was bought by privately owned Oceana group in 2003, and an extensive $6 million renovation followed. Every single room was redone, a new fitness center was added and, as of early 2005, the hotel is practically new on the inside. Rafael Viñoly, the architect behind Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Manhattan club Bungalow 8, designed the hotel's first renovation.

© 2012


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