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.
With all this activity clustered downtown, it is wise to choose one of the hotels on or around Atlantic Avenue. Just three blocks north from there is Brooklyn's first Sheraton (228 Duffield St; www.sheraton.com/Brooklyn), built last March, a traditional 321-room, 25-floor hotel that features all the business amenities many Manhattan-dwellers would expect: a business centre with ethernet and printing services, three meeting spaces for the company to rent and a handful of comfortable, restaurants and lounges for eating and drinking on-site once a long work day ends.
For a more Brooklyn-oriented experience, stick to a boutique. On a spare stretch of Fourth Avenue, Park Slope's Hotel Le Bleu (370 Fourth Ave; www.hotellebleu.com) was the borough's first when it opened in 2007. In the beginning, it attracted European tourists who followed the neighbourhood's buzz and enjoyed the 20-minute subway ride to Manhattan. Now, one quarter of the hotel's rooms are occupied by business travellers - thanks in part to free parking, complimentary breakfast, wireless internet and the hotel's 24-hour business centre. "Many of the guests are small business entrepreneurs or tech-y types who leave early in the morning in suits and return to explore Brooklyn in the late afternoon," said Dev Dugal, Vice President at Globiwest, the hotel's management company.
Meanwhile, the hotel's sister property, Le Jolie, has drawn a different kind of corporate guest. Next to a highway in Williamsburg - a North Brooklyn neighbourhood associated with oft-mocked hipster culture - the hotel has housed bands including the Neville Brothers and travellers in town to do business with the Brooklyn Brewery (79 North 11th St; www.brooklynbrewery.com). While the neighbourhood is farther from Wall Street, traders are still clamouring for reservations at Peter Luger (178 Broadway; peterluger.com), a 124-year-old steakhouse just blocks from the Williamsburg Bridge. There, the lesser-known aged hamburger with bacon (available only at lunch) merits a trip with the boss, even if the shabby dining room has not quite withstood the test of time.
To compete with these properties, nearly half of the new hotels under construction are expected to be boutique in nature, many being built by major hotel chains. When Starwood's 176-room Aloft Hotel opens in downtown Brooklyn this March (216 Duffield St; 718-256-3833), for instance, it aims to attract young entrepreneurs with free snacks, open communal spaces and a meeting centre equipped with top-line technology. Like the independents before them, each hopes that infusing Brooklyn with never-before-seen amenities will be enough to persuade businesses right over the bridge. But if that does not work, perhaps something else will: the beautiful, unobstructed, skyline view.