Revival & Renaissance: Rediscovering the Greatness of Midtown with Renaissance Hotel 57
They assemble from across the five boroughs. Writers, songwriters, artists, producers and music nerds, meeting once a week in the Village, usually in hotels, restaurants, bars, occasionally a studio–a new location every time. Under the moniker Folk Revival, they meet to discuss and critique rap albums, sharing their reviews across social media. Up until a few weeks ago, although I didn’t know them personally, I followed their reviews and interacted with them on Twitter (and, because we were following some of the same NYC musicians, had a feeling they knew me or were familiar with my music). Finally, last week, they invited me to attend a meeting, and asked me to pick the location for the meeting. Somewhere that would be convenient for all of us. I suggested the Renaissance Hotel on East 57th, an apt central location for a group of people heading into Manhattan from ten different neighborhoods via ten different subway lines.
I had a late session that day (my studio is in midtown), and I had an early meeting with my publisher the next morning (also in midtown), so rather than bounce back and forth across the island between studios, meetings and more meetings, I booked a room for the night so I could wake up in the morning and seamlessly transition between the three. I also anticipated a night of drinking, and I didn’t expect our discussions ending earlier than 3 a.m. — a room near my morning appointment made the most sense.
More than just a satisfying location, Renaissance Hotel 57 catered to the vibe of musicians gathering to discuss a rap album. We all found each other in the dimly lit hotel lobby and got acquainted in the attached restaurant, Frederick Lesort and Antoine Blech’s collaborative effort Opia Restaurant & Lounge. The musicians and producers in our crew–all too familiar with life on the road, some of them in fact in-between tour stops that night–felt right at home with Opia’s young, hip crowd, what appeared to be a mixture of locals looking for a trendy date spot for the night and non-New Yorker, cosmopolitan hotel guests grabbing a few drinks before back-to-back meetings or conference calls. Possibly in anticipation of that mix, Opia’s menu offered a diverse blend of international dishes: foie gras, escargots, calamari, sushi, and romantic French and Italian wine. The restaurant’s low-light, lounge aesthetic mixed with plush, cushion-stuffed wraparound benches at each table could have seduced us to sleep, but we had work to do, so a dessert of espressos, espresso mousse and espresso martinis kept the energy levels high enough for a night of music critique.
After dinner, a group of about ten of us went upstairs to play that week’s album. My room was equipped with everything we needed: a speaker system to connect to our phones, and a balcony overlooking Lexington, perfect for periodic cigarette breaks when over-analyzing demanded fresh air. When we needed to switch up scenery, we shot back downstairs to the hotel bar for nightcaps and some more of Opia’s gentle ambience. The late-night bartenders were friendly, conversational, curious as to the cause of our intense debates. Intrigued by the Folk Revival undertaking, they poured out a few rounds on the house.
Discussions led us past sunrise. Some of the Folk Revival guys headed home, the rest of us sprawled out on the room’s bed and sofa and rested our eyes for a few hours before hitting the neighborhood in search of brunch. Living in the LES, I wasn’t too familiar with what restaurants the east 50s had to offer. I’m glad, however, the Renaissance dropped me off on an uncharted city block because a conversation with the bartender the night before sent us in the direction of The Smith on 51st, where smoked salmon and Bloody Marys shot some life back into my body before my 10 o’clock. Along the way, because of another recommendation, this one by the Renaissance Hotel’s concierge, we stopped by the window display of a gallery of ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian art and architecture, a Manhattan gem I never knew existed. One of the Folk Revival girls, of Egyptian descent, was ecstatic and insisted we stop in and browse (little did that concierge know his rec was helping me rack up some extra points with this girl). While I’m usually running late for meetings at my publisher’s office (musician’s time), centering my schedule around the Renaissance Hotel uptown rather than heading back to the LES bought me a little extra time to explore Ancient Egypt.
I’d like to think I held my own that night and the following morning in the Folk Revival discussion. And I’d like to think I picked the perfect meeting place. Considering that we arrived at the hotel at 9 p.m., and everyone hung around until 5 a.m., I’d say everyone would agree.
Hanging with the Folk Revival guys in person gave me the chance to ask them the meaning behind their name. They explained that since they originally started as musicians meeting up in Greenwich Village, the “folk” component of the moniker was an homage to another group of musicians who, fifty years earlier, also made the Village their home: Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk and the rest of the 1960s NYC folk singer scene. It conjured up images of Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin checking into the Chelsea or New Yorker, taking meetings with A&Rs and label heads in their hotel rooms because armchairs and beds seemed a more fitting setting to talk about art than a desk in a corner office. (Cohen was offered his first record deal with Columbia when he invited John Hammond, the A&R who signed Dylan, back to his hotel room to play him songs.) My night on 57th was a reminder that hotel rooms like the one I checked into at the Renaissance were still the more appropriate “boardroom” for the atypical 9-to-5er …or 5-to-9er.
The second component of the name, “revival,” they went on to explain, was just another reference to the 1960s, with an emphasis on the “second coming” of a previous era of important music culture. Before they settled on “revival,” however, they had considered similar words, such as resurrection, rebirth, and renaissance. I don’t think I could have picked a more relevant place to meet.
Kinetics is a songwriter based in NYC who has co-written songs for B.o.B, Eminem and Melanie Martinez. For more on the artists mentioned in this article, follow @kineticsmusic & @folkrevivalnyc.