A BlackBook Weekend at the Quite Cultivated New Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC

It’s fascinating to have witnessed the trajectory that certain New York neighborhoods have gone through over the years. Certainly, there are those that manage to retain their basic, or at least 20th century, DNA amidst the flux of inevitable change. But for every Upper East Side, where many streets look the same as they did almost a hundred years ago, there’s a Lower East Side, which has undergone such radical development over the last fifteen years that it’s almost unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t been paying close attention.

In that latter category must also be included the Meatpacking District, the tiny but buzzy square of land at the far west of 14th Street that, over the last two decades, has perfectly encapsulated the good, bad, and ugly, of prime real estate gentrification.

What has come to be known as the MePa, that of luxury boutiques, bottle service nightclubs, and the well-heeled patrons of such (just watch those heels on the cobblestones, please), has only really developed in the post-Millennium. Prior to that, the area had a 150+ year run as a distinctly blue collar hood, focusing on shipping, meat processing, and other labor-intensive travails. In the ’70s and ’80s underground clubs moved in, attracting a heavily gay, and sexually adventurous clientele to places such as the Mineshaft, Spike, Ramrod, Dugout…you get the idea. With the dark empty streets lacking in police presence, cross-dressing prostitutes set up shop, often retiring after a long night to the one restaurant that was not only open, but embraced and nurtured all the fabulous vampires: the now long gone and deeply lamented Florent

But as the Giuliani/Bloomberg gentrifying of the city – which started in the late ’90s and prioritized development over citizenry – ran rampant, it was inevitable that prospectors eyed the warehouses and open streets of the Meatpacking District as potential lifestyle destinations. Straight bars and clubs appeared, with gay friendly stalwarts Mother and Jackie 60 suddenly sharing a zip code with glam spots like Lotus, while model waitresses and celebrity sightings abounded (Leo, Cameron and J-Lo were regulars.)

The first really grand gesture announcing MePa as more than a place to gloriously slum it was the opening of the Gansevoort hotel in 2004. At the time the only proper boutique hotel anywhere near West 14th Street, it followed Soho House, which had opened the year before, in becoming an immediate magnet for adventurous creatives and serious party people. With its fuchsia neon sign and rooftop, the initial incarnation of the Gansevoort seemed to go out of its way in distancing itself from the tough, dark, workaday, personality of the old Meatpacking District, and it soon became a destination for record label and liquor brand parties.

The area was now overwhelmed with weekend revelers staggering between the hotel and the many new clubs in the area, including the house music mecca Cielo, and the decadent Marquee just a few blocks north.

Thankfully, MePa has, over the last few years, entered its adult stage. The staggering girls have grown up and moved along, their replacements having discovered the East Village and Bushwick; an Apple Store moved in; and even the Gansevoort changed, recently revealing a multi-million-dollar renovation that sparkles with sophistication. (Au revoir, neon.) And so were intrigued to do an overnight, and spend some time traversing the area. And standing on our balcony at the hotel surveying the grandeur of Manhattan, we almost felt the same thrill of excitement we had when we moved to New York all those years ago. 

Now, one gets an indefinable lift in the presence of real art; and the life-size Banksy in the Gansevoort lobby immediately signals that this is hotel with cultural cred. The space is divided in two with the reception area subtly tucked away, while in front there’s the cool new Euro style cafe Coffee + Cocktails, the tables of which spill out to the front courtyard. The curated display of art and fashion book and assorted objets throughout the lobby reinforces the new identity. (It’s a fact that no one looked at books in hotels in 2004.)

Our suite was absolute perfection, stylishly appointed in elegant new blue and white color schemes, with views of Chelsea, the Village, and the Hudson River. We took some time to window shop on the streets around the hotel (The Kooples, Rag + Bone, Louboutin, Loro Piana, Zadig + Voltaire, Hanro of Switzerland) before checking out the rooftop pool and having a quick dip. Besides said swimming pool, the rooftop also has a massive bar and dining area and just last month added the stylish omakase sushi restaurant Saishin, with a can’t-miss 12-piece nigiri experience for just $115.

Serendipitously, our stay also coincided with the last week of the extraordinary storefront theater show Seven Deadly Sins. Alas the production is wrapped for now, but it undoubtedly set the stage for more open-air performance and/or cultural events in the MePa – for instance ARTNOIR’s From a Place, Of a Place, premiering August 12. Between our swim and the play we had a quick bite at the C+C patio, where people watching competed for attention with our excellent Arugula + Avocado salad, followed by a pre-show Strong Island Ice Tea next door at Kobrick Coffee Co. The air was dry and balmy, the ideal NYC summer evening, so we took a leisurely stroll around the historic streets, before settling back into the hotel.

Loro Piana

The next day we were up and out early for breakfast at that other grand MePa hotel, the Standard High Line. Built in 2009, it helped usher in the second decade of the area’s growth spurt, and for awhile was the party capital of the West Side. The top floor Boom Boom Room, with its breathtaking views, remains one of the most beautiful bars in the world. But we were on the ground level for a tasty repast of Eggs Norwegian at the always hip Standard Grill, before heading towards the Hudson River to explore the newest arrival to the area, Little Island. This floating park on the bones of an old pier turned out to be a delightful way to escape our much bigger island, while keeping our feet dry on a stroll through undulating gardens and walkways. The amphitheater in the center could turn out to be a very atmospheric performance space.

Back at the Gansevoort for check out, we were temped to get in a last-minute swim, or morning cocktail…but there was work to do. Of course, with COVID having cancelled everyone’s office, finding a comfortable desk to park for a day has become top of the list for many of us. Conveniently, right next door to the Gansevoort is the spacious loft space CSTM HAUS, which offers very affordable memberships, has a Miami outpost, and is looking to expand across the country. As we had to sit in front of the laptop for the afternoon we couldn’t have found a better environment. An added bonus is that it’s right across the hall from one of our favorite galleries, Ivy Brown, a decades long MePa resident and top level spokesperson of the NYC contemporary art world. 

As we ended our day and headed east towards home, it felt like we were leaving a place that we were again reminded how much history we have with – and we’ve had a lot of (sometimes illicit) fun there over the years. This visit may have been one of the better behaved and, well, grownup – but considering the stresses of the last seventeen months, we were actually pretty okay with that.  

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