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SoHo style

In the old days--i.e., the pre-1990s--most well-heeled visitors to New York stayed north of 14th Street. There were few hotels downtown that didn't cater to the backpack or bottle-and-brown-bag crowds.
A headboard large enough for even the most swollen egos.
A headboard large enough for even the most swollen
/ Source: Forbes

In the old days--i.e., the pre-1990s--most well-heeled visitors to New York stayed north of 14th Street. There were few hotels downtown that didn't cater to the backpack or bottle-and-brown-bag crowds.

That has all changed. Today hotels like the Mercer, the SoHo Grand and the Tribeca Grand, not to mention the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, cater to a wide range of guests, from Viennese business travelers and Oscar-winning movie stars (such as Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) to art world impresarios and affluent travelers wanting to be near the area's clubs, shops and restaurants.

These hotels are luxury, full-service destinations--hip, sleek and crammed with beautiful people and fantastic food. These are not conservative, white-glove hotels full of well-dressed grandmothers or well-off Midwesterners. These are places where the action begins the moment you check in and doesn't stop until you leave.

Located down one of the hippest streets in SoHo is the discreet façade of 60 Thompson, a 100-room boutique hotel that opened in 2001 and is the sort of place that seriously lists its lighting designer and fashion consultant on its fact sheet. Depending on the time of day, usually the later the better, the hotel is abuzz with people, although it's not always clear if they're guests or merely scenesters who consider it a regular stop in their rounds of Manhattan's nightlife.

They also may be there to savor the superb cooking of chef Ian Chalermkittichai's inventive, Thai-inspired meals at the quasi-eponymous Kittichai restaurant. Nightly, this serene restaurant is packed with a polyglot crowd attired in the requisite black and enjoying such delights as "Thai tapas," featuring ceviche of divers scallops and marinated monkfish in pandan leaves, as well as starters like chang mai honey-glazed duck and clay pot prawns.

Both guests and locals alike also flock to the hotel's Thom Bar, a plush Deco bar full of overstuffed leather chairs and ponyskin rugs. Like many fashionable bars, though, it is charming only if you can find somewhere to sit, which on weekends and many weeknights can be difficult. Hotels guests may grumble, rightly, that their needs should be served first, particularly if they need to meet a client for a drink.

However, no matter how polite the manager is, the underlying subtext of his apologies is that if you wanted to stay in a hotel where you could have a quiet business drink, there are plenty of less chic hotels uptown that would be happy to accommodate you.

Besides being coolly efficient, the staff is also unsurprisingly good-looking, a seeming requisite these days for employees of boutique hotels. Like the staff, the hotel's interiors are also sexy and streamlined, understated yet stylish.

60 Thompson was designed by Thomas O'Brien, who also designed Giorgio Armani's Manhattan apartment. O'Brien uses a muted color palette of sage green, silver and teakwood. The bedrooms follow a similar color palette and exhibit a subtle Art Deco flair, with suede headboards, streamlined teak furniture and table lamps with bases made from wooden blocks. All rooms come with such amenities as high-speed Internet access, premium cable TV and DVD player, a 25-inch television and robes and sheets by Frette.

The bathrooms have a more industrial look, with dark gray, almost black, marble. Rooms aren't huge--many lack even a desk or bathtub--but are more spacious than what guests would find in the SoHo Grand. The largest room is the duplex Thompson Loft, which is $3,500 a night and features a private roof deck and fireplace.

What the hotel does lack, though, is any real meeting space, which underscores the fact that it really isn't intended for business travelers--or at least business travelers who are used to the kind of services provided by luxury chains such as Four Seasons.

And while such shortcomings, or even the presence of a DJ spinning records in a sound booth behind the reception area, may turn off some people, it will obviously attract many as well. Fortunately, 60 Thompson is not just about style. Thanks to its location and well-trained staff, it's also about substance. Now, if they could only do something about making it easier to find a seat in the bar.

Rates start at $425.

Forbes Fact

SoHo boasts the greatest collection of cast-iron structures in the world, according to the book SoHo, A Guide by Helene Zucker Seeman and Alanna Siegfried (Neal-Schuman Publishers). Approximately 250 cast-iron buildings stand in New York City, and the majority of them are in SoHo.

Cast iron was initially used as a decorative front over a preexisting building. With the addition of modern decorative facades, older industrial buildings were able to attract new commercial clients. Most of these facades were constructed from 1840 to 1880. In addition to the revitalization of older structures, SoHo buildings were later designed to feature the cast iron.