The 11 Howard is a work in progress. Just a few tweaks and it will be there. I’m writing this in late May 2016, having just spent four very pleasant days at this boutique outfit in the heart of Soho, so there is every chance that by the time you visit or read this – or both - the kinks will be ironed, the knots unraveled, the tweaks tweaked.
I’ll get to the relatively minor faults in a moment. But before we get there, let’s run through the many good bits.
First up, location. It might be a cliché to some, but location still really matters, and always will, assuming we don’t all become locked into virtual reality headsets and never leave the house again. 11 Howard sits almost alone, a short walk from Chinatown, Lower Manhattan, Nolita and the financial district, and an even shorter walk from Canal Street metro station.
Inside the main door, the lobby is all brushed steel, long drapes, high ceilings – and really great service. In a country where service is everything, New York was for too long an aberration, a city where the waiter would typically smile with his mouth but not his eyes and take your order with a scowl and a shrug.
But since the millennium the city has changed for the better. You see that at work here, with a reception staff that literally could not have been friendlier or more genuinely helpful. They have the day’s weather report at their fingertips (and are quick with the umbrella when the outlook is less than fair). They loiter with intent, ready to offer a helping hand as and when it’s needed. Here, there are shades of Mandarin Oriental hotels, where staff are always there when needed, but never invade your thoughts unless you have a query.
The rooms are very good indeed. They aren’t vast, particularly on the lower floors (this was once a budget hotel) but upgrade to the Terrace Suite, with its custom art care of Katie Yang, 55-inch TV screen, separate room with king bed, and terrace-so-spacious-it’s-roomier-than-most-Manhattan-apartments, and your view (literally, given the amazing panorama at roof level) may change.
Every room is furnished with the essentials. A good-sized desk, plenty of luggage space, sizeable wardrobe, and a nice bathroom with plenty of upscale creams and unguents. (Though, alas, no bath for us, we’d recommend you request one on booking if you are partial to a soak). The room service was quick and friendly, the staff sending up irons, steamers, and the smaller luxuries as and when they were needed. But the pièce de Résistance surely was the mattress. Over the years I have slept on some truly great – and some really crummy – mattresses. This was by far the best mattress ever, a narcoleptic wonder. Full stop. Period. Have trouble getting to sleep? Stay here. (Oh, and for a hotel in such a busy area, the neighbourhood and the hotel itself are blessedly quiet at night).
11 Howard really comes into its own though as the day progresses. The Library is a great place for afternoon tea and general relaxation, with its whispered conversation as people chat, browse their phones and tablets, or rustle through the pages of the New York Times. Then as the shadows lengthen, a younger, buzzier crowd moves into ‘the blond’, a plush, velvety bar that attracts a proper A-list crowd, from DiCaprio on down.
The kinks – well, they aren’t major, but they are there, at least when we visited. The staff in the blond have, it seems, been chosen for neither their looks nor their ability. (I’m not superficial, but surely one of those boxes should be ticked). Service is slow and often muddled, with drinks being wrongly ordered, wrong delivered, and wrongly billed). And if you want a nice breakfast, it’s best to go around the corner to Balthazar on Spring Street. 11 Howard’s breakfast isn’t just poor, it might as well, with its low-grade coffee, consolation muffin basket and mystery fruit buffet, not exist at all. What the place really needs – and currently lacks - is a really good all-in-one dining space.
Stylebible looks forward to those kinks being ironed out – and to returning to stay again and slumber long. This, for its minor drawbacks, is a very good hotel, perfectly placed and positioned on the map.
Photography: Courtesy of Design Hotels™