Let’s face it, Satan’s Circus is a pretty good name for a neighborhood. NoMad, a smaller part of the same area, is no match.
The first was coined in the late 1800s to describe a place that had become the epicenter of Manhattan nightlife, a cocktail of seedy vice, upscale intrigue and glamor consumed in red velvet luxury or basement dives. The latter was proposed in the late 20th century by The New York Times in an attempt to redefine an area of wholesalers, shabby shops and fading skyscrapers.
NoMad (short for North of Madison Square Park) has been on the rise for decades; it never quite came. The closest was the arrival of the NoMad hotel in 2012, impeccably designed by French Empire stylist Jacques Garcia, complemented by an excellent restaurant run by Daniel Humm.
The NoMad hotel fell victim to the pandemic and unexpectedly closed in March 2021, but the same building has now been reinvented as the Ned NoMad, a 167-room hotel and club that attempts to recreate a theatrical version of the neighborhood’s 1920s heyday. revitalize for a global cohort of high net worth members.
The new hotel is an offshoot of the Ned in the City of London, housed in Edwin Lutyens’ impressive former Midland Bank headquarters and managed by the Soho House group. While the Ned’s next venture in New York (a hotel set to open in 2024 in the former American Stock Exchange in Manhattan’s Financial District) hints at symmetry with their London hometown, this outpost looks very different. It’s located on Broadway, one block south of the Ace Hotel, in an imposing corner building that looks like a slice of Paris extruded 10 stories up.
It was built in 1903 by Caroline H Johnston, who commissioned German-American architects Schickel & Ditmars to design a block of offices and warehouses in a neighborhood then dominated by clubs, theaters and brothels. In The New Yorker in 1927 (the same year he published New York gangs), Herbert Asbury described the area as “an area of such utter depravity that shocked reformers called it ‘Satan’s Circus’. As late as 1885, it was estimated that at least half of the buildings were dedicated to some form of sin. 6th Avenue was lined with all-night bars, saloons, and dance halls.
Today, less of it seems to be devoted to sin. But at least there’s something about the Ned NoMad’s interior that looks like they’re a little prone to a revival.
It’s heralded on the street by a branch of Cecconi’s, known to Londoners as the trusty hedge fund art world nexus behind the Royal Academy of Arts. The lobby looks luxurious if squeezed a bit and at the back a pair of curtains hides a club with a touch of Satan’s Circus surrounding it, but which turns out to be members only (who have to pay $5,000 a year plus $1,500 to become a member). – although existing Soho House members get a 50 percent discount). They took pity and let me in, and I sat looking at a good but somewhat dull jazzy Latin outfit. It was less than full, but dark and opulent, just the right amount of space in the opulently lined booths.
My bedroom, oddly enough, was a little less private. There was scaffolding in front of my windows and builders scrambling up and down. The work has now been completed, but during my stay the large free-standing bath by one window was not inviting.
However, in terms of design, the room was almost perfect. Seemingly set sometime in the 1920s, just before Art Deco, the designs (by Soho House’s in-house team) are smart and comfortable. A bathroom behind a damask screen isn’t quite separate (although the toilet is), so the room has a more expansive feel. An antique-looking rug, a kitsch piled-up mini-bar in the travel trunk, an upholstered headboard, and wooden floors made it feel more like an old grand hotel in troubled times than an all-new conceit. Theme, yes, but the theme is seedy decay.
Many of the other amenities, like the club, are bizarrely limited. The rooftop bar is breathtaking, with views of the Empire State Building and the corporate glassiness of the new Ritz-Carlton – but again this is members only.
The old corner dome has been furnished as a private event space, a true pleasure. Members also have exclusive access to the Magic Room (a paneled lounge and event space), the Library (a shared workspace by day, a bar by night) and the Dining Room (a restaurant next to the club on the ground floor). with stained glass windows and parquet floor).
The neighborhood changes almost day by day. It doesn’t quite revert to its previous “satanic” incarnation, but it’s getting more alive. The traffic clearance of bits of Broadway has spawned a wave of pop-ups and eateries. The Ned NoMad has helped inject a jolt of seedy, whiskey-guzzling sass into this once dreary warehouse area.
But it comes at a price: “cozy” double rooms start at about $860 per night, rising to more than $3,400 for the Broadway suite. And even once you’ve paid for it, you’re still barred from the hotel’s coolest social areas by a heavy velvet curtain.
Edwin Heathcote is the FT’s architecture and design critic. He was a guest at the Ned Nomad (daned.com/nomad)
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