Brooklyn: The Wall Street alternative
The lobby of the 93-room NU Hotel, in downtown Brooklyn. (NU Hotel)
New Yorkers love to tease that Brooklyn is ideal for young people who love ironic eyewear, self-employment and a closet full of skinny jeans. But if the hoteliers flocking to the borough have their way, Kings County will soon swarm with a very different group of trendsetters: the ones wearing suits.
About a dozen hotels have sprouted up on the other side of the East River in the past few years, all hoping to become an alternative for business travellers who work on Wall Street, a dull neighbourhood that closes when the New York Stock Exchange does. Just a seven-minute ride cab ride over the Brooklyn Bridge, many of these new properties are closer to the world's financial hub than rooms in midtown Manhattan, plus they offer better entertainment options for almost half the room price. Since the Hilton Garden Inn opened in 2009, hospitality firm Lodging Econometrics recorded seven new hotels throughout Kings County in 2010. Fourteen more are forecasted by the end of 2013.
While each project varies in size and scope - from the massive 666-room Marriott in downtown Brooklyn, to Hotel Le Jolie (235 Meeker Ave; www.hotellejolie.com), a Williamsburg boutique with 54 Euro-inspired spaces - each one relies on New York's trove of business travellers to meet their bottom line.
"Our social customer comes on the weekends for weddings," said Jennifer Goodman, the sales manager at the 93-room NU Hotel (85 Smith St; www.nuhotelbrooklyn.com), which opened on Smith Street in downtown Brooklyn in 2008. "These businessmen and corporate accounts are integral to the hotel's success, especially during the week." To win these customers (and compete with chain rewards programs), the hotel offers surprise room upgrades to guests who have stayed five times. They will also arrange free drinks for the bar if a client is visiting. For larger groups, Goodman's team will set out coffee and cookies to turn a suite into a complimentary meeting space. And, while scores of Manhattan hotels may offer similar perks, they would be hard-pressed to compete on price. The average nightly rate in Brooklyn was $146 in 2010, according to Smith Travel Research, versus $256 in Manhattan (and $232 for the entire city). "[These hotels] represent a lower price alternative to Manhattan," said John Fox, a Senior Vice President at Colliers PKF Consulting in New York. "That is what generally drives the demand for a room in Brooklyn."
But price is not the only benefit of bunking in the borough. Were Brooklyn still its own city, it would be the fourth largest in the United States, with all the cultural cachet you can expect from a metropolis of 2.5 million. After the city re-zoned Brooklyn's downtown neighbourhoods in 2004, nearly $10 billion in private development funding has culminated in an entertainment hub that rivals Manhattan, with an up-all-night energy centred around the Brooklyn Academy of Music (30 Lafayette Ave; bam.org), an arts pavilion that shows concerts, theatre and other performances. Fresh off his Oscar circuit for The King's Speech, Geoffrey Rush will be playing the lead in The Diary of a Madman, from 11 February through 12 March. (For those more insistent on Broadway, a hidden TKTS booth is just 10 minutes away on foot -a secret paradise for discount tickets sans Times Square's terrible crowds. 1 MetroTech Center; tdf.org).
Nearby, the brownstone blocks of Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope have garnered attention for the award-winning cocktails at bars like the Clover Club (210 Smith Street; www.cloverclubny.com) and the Jake Walk (282 Smith St; www.thejakewalk.com), trendy boutique shopping at stores like Hollander & Lexer (358 Atlantic Ave; hollanderandlexer.net) or Bird (220 Smith St and 316 Fifth Ave; shopbird.com), and Michelin-starred meals at Saul (140 Smith St; saulrestaurant.com) or Brooklyn Fare (200 Schermerhorn St; www.brooklynfare.com), a single table nestled in a grocery store. After earning two stars, the latter is now among the toughest reservations in New York. That wait will hopefully subside by 2012, when the Barclays Center (barclayscenter.com) opens to welcome the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, the borough's first professional team since the beloved Dodgers left in 1957.