I have returned from an incredible trip to New York.
Brooklyn to be exact. And if you want to be even more exact than that, Williamsburg. The heart of Williamsburg. This is a place I've never really had a "reason" to visit, but have desperately always wanted to find one. I mean, c'mon, it's Brooklyn. THE Brooklyn. A place I've only ever seen in movies, or replicated on the back lots of Hollywood production facilities. Not only is this huge borough New York City a historical enclave of unique cultures, architecture and landscapes-- it is home to 2.5 million people, all living within just 71 square miles. With so many new faces met, and so many brilliant places discovered, it is impossible for me to fit all of these wonderful experiences into a single, comprehensive article. I've got to slow down, catch my breath, and take things one step at a time. The first step, gentle readers, is the realm of Williamsburg.
I arrived, bleary eyed and desperate for coffee at JFK by 8 o'clock in the morning. I thought it best to get there early, to take advantage of my limited time in the area (4 days)- but when you jump on a plane after having a glass of wine around midnight, fall asleep drooling on yourself and wake up feeling dehydrated with a migraine, you really have to reconsider the benefit of red eye flights. I was sleepy but cheerful, excited but exhausted, curious but cloudy in the head. A 45-minute taxi line awaited me, full of screaming babies and folks who didn't know up from down, but most of us were amicable. We were all, so to speak, headed somewhere.
Climbing into the cab, I was immediately grateful for the cushy seats and air conditioning. The New York area was experiencing a sweltering degree of heat and was loving every second of it. As we drove through Queens and into Brooklyn (an hour and half later thanks to VWE traffic), I noticed the locals were out in droves. Shorts abundant, bare skin, sandals and tank tops with neon sunglasses perched comfortably atop their noses. Pure sunshine was filling the streets and the New Yorkers couldn't have looked any happier. Having come from the East Bay in California (100 degree dry heat), I was personally looking to hide behind the shade of an enormous skyscraper or get a cool Atlantic breeze blown at me instead. Clearly that was not going to happen as we cruised through Williamsburg in search of the hotel, sun 'ablazing, not a cloud in sight.
My first thought when rounding the corner onto Wythe Avenue was, "I love you already." Scruffy brick buildings, urban warehouse boutiques, bicycles lining the streets, fantastic graffiti adorning sheet metal gardens and... stuffed animals hanging from the power lines? Not just a couple. Not just stuffed animals. Sneakers, high heels, umbrellas, bike wheels, balloons and bottles. Brightly painted rubber balls, garish toy teddy bears, pink flamingos, Chinese lanterns and paper stars. All hanging from the sickly power lines that zig-zag the streets of Williamsburg. Not in the "Oh no, turn around, we're in the wrong neighborhood" kind of way. My interpretation of the spectacle was more of a "We love this place, and we're taking what used to be a problem and making things better" kind of way. Street art. Proud street art- a brazen declaration of reclaimed concrete jungle. I was enamoured.
Just eight stories high, the Wythe Hotel stands bold on the northern streets of Williamsburg, with it's historical red brick scrubbed clean, it's lead paneled windows and it's colorful HOTEL sign facing what seems to be a recently explosive creative hotbed. It has a commanding, yet copacetic feeling to it as you approach. It is elegant, yet edgy- chic, without looking out of place. A spiffed up version of it's previous (rather aged) industrial self. What was once an old factory built in 1901 on the Brooklyn waterfront as a cooperage, has been preserved, renovated, and turned into a place where people feel welcome as guests.
In the lobby hangs remnants of the building's past, reminding you that this was once a hard-working factory. I was told by a friendly local that it used to be an old textile company, which would explain the large iron mechanisms still looming over the front desk. It is bright, sleek and simple on the interior of the main lobby, with polished wooden floors and simple wooden furniture. I was late to discover the wonderful early 1900's reading nook that also inhabits the first floor. You can grab a cozy chair, choose a book or a boardgame from their extensive collection and bathe yourself in the light of one of their many large windows.
Inside of the Wythe Hotel you will find, discreetly so, a lovely restaurant & bar by the name of Reynard's. There are no signs, no markings really of any kind. Just a handful of tasteful cafe tables and an extremely large turn-of-the-century wooden bar. You will find no bells and whistles at Reynards, just a refined menu that includes locally sourced fruits and vegetables, hearty soups and delicious European inspired protein dishes- all presented in a sophisticated display of special touches. Upon my arrival that day, I was parched and needed sustenance, so I walked in, sat myself down and was politely looked after for breakfast. I ordered their Poached Egg with Ham, Frisee and Toast... It was delightfully good. The eggs were cooked perfectly, the smoky ham was impressive as a substitute for plain-old-bacon and the frisee had the most interesting flavor and texture. I loved the pairing. And the toast. Oh, the toast. I ate the toast everyday there after, a thick, grilled buttered toast with a hint of savory. Divine.
I also treated myself to one of their well-known Bloody Mary's. A girl needs a little kick in morning, especially after a long flight. I will honestly say, it was one of the best I've ever tasted in my life, and believe me, I've tasted plenty. Reynard's makes them using completely fresh ingredients- we're talking chunks of fresh horseradish, creamy tomato juice, hand-brined olives and gherkin pickles and the perfect dash of spices. Again, I enjoyed this classic tall glass of yum every morning of my stay. It will be haunting me until I return to Williamsburg again one day (hopefully sooner than later!).
Over the next few days, I did indeed eat again at Reynard's. I stopped by for a late lunch snack one afternoon after wandering the big city streets. It was really just a time-killer and a reason to chat with more of the staff until the hubbs was off duty from his huge Bordeaux tasting on the 8th floor. I decided to try their Smoked Tomato Soup and a bowl of the Wood-Roasted Olives. The soup was creamy and smooth, with the slightest smoky flavor and a salty bite. The olives arrived warm and shiny, with bits of rosemary and thyme that melted in your mouth.
All-in-all, I'd say Reynard's is a welcome accompaniment to the Wythe Hotel. The staff is warm, polite and helpful. The food is simplistic, yet original and the setting is a cozy mix of old European style and new-urban trendy. They serve brunch, lunch and dinner and according to them, the "bar is always open." Take a load off and enjoy some of their classically prepared drinks such as the Salty Dog, Rusty Nail or the Tom Collins or enjoy one of their many exotic aperitifs sidled up to the robust bar. You won't be disappointed. And if you get a chance, look up the origin of the name Reynard- I was fascinated at the extent of the story behind this fantastic fox creature who's namesake graces the menu...
Near the end of my first day I was finally able to actually check-in to the hotel and get comfortable in our room. We were granted Brooklyn view queen accommodations that were on the 3rd floor overlooking the Brooklyn Bowl and the Brooklyn Brewery, both of which put on spectacular displays of nightlife every evening. Our room was beautiful and comfortable and served it's purpose for our stay. My only advice to readers would be that in general, the Wythe Hotel is not for the faint of heart. A lot goes on in Williamsburg, especially at night, and most guests of the hotel are right out there with the crowds of people in the middle of the scene. While we enjoyed the hotel immensely, I would have to say it is no place for a patron looking to hide away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Wythe Avenue is hustling and bustling until the wee hours, in all of it's glory- and the Wythe Hotel is smack-dab in the middle of it. Expect a rollicking good time.
Oh! And if good times are what you live for, look no further than the Wythe- on any given evening, catch the elevator to the 6th floor of the hotel to enjoy the amazing view and funky hotspot bar that is known as The Ides. This place is jumping seven nights a week, with live dj's, great drinks and even more entertaining people watching. Arrive early, because a line forms first thing in the early evening and more than likely you'll be stuck standing in it. Patience pays off once those elevator doors open into a virtual Brooklyn bash overlooking all of Manhatten. Enjoy.
This was all just the first day of my adventures- there's so much more to share, it's unbelievable. Beyond this block of Williamsburg lies 5 more restaurant experiences, wandering the Big Apple, Bedford Avenue treats, a walk by the waterfront and an exquisite rooftop party thrown by none other than the awesome Creative Feed crew and the good people of the Bordeaux Council. Stay tuned for more stories!
Wythe Hotel Info:
80 Wythe Ave. at N. 11th Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY 11249
P:718-460-8000 F:718-460-8001 firstname.lastname@example.org
*room photos courtesy of Wythe Hotel