The View From a Re-Opened Hotel: NYC’s Arlo SoHo vs. The Pandemic, Part I

The first thing we noticed upon entering the reception area of the Arlo SoHo hotel on a Friday morning in June, was how almost normal it seemed. Interesting people coming and going, a reception staff brimming with the same vitality as would be expected on a regular day in the life of a trendy New York hotel…but, of course, one couldn’t ignore the masks—especially since we were naturally sporting them as well.

(Slightly muffled) “Checking in, sir?” (Slightly muffled) “Yes, thank you.”

SoHo, as was well-documented, had just suffered badly at the hands of looters, a heartbreaking but philosophically unrelated outgrowth of the peaceful protests of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. But the protest focus had seemed to have turned decisively back to simply the demanding of racial justice—leaving the normally bustling New York neighborhood boarded up and solemnly quiet. (More on that to come.)

Now, surely the shift in media coverage towards America’s racial tensions was perfectly understandable, if not imperative. But it wasn’t hard to remember that we were also still crawling out from under the hardships of a global pandemic—and undoubtedly no industry was hit harder than hospitality, with restaurants and hotels forced to shut down to stop the spread of the virus. For major chains, that is a navigable situation; but smaller, independent businesses took a brutal hit.

Arlo, with just its SoHo and NoMad properties (there’s also a Nautilus by Arlo in Miami), debuted in 2016, and represented a quintessential NYC enterprise—so it made sense for us to get a glimpse of the reality of the post-pandemic re-opening process through their lens.

Not only that, but we already had a well-established affection for the brand. Indeed, at a time when every New York hotel seemed to be sporting some sort of predictable, by-the-numbers nightlife destination, both Arlo hotels had come to be favorites of ours—NoMad for its cool rooftop spot and very international crowd…SoHo for its stylish A.L.B. lobby bar, which was the sort of place you could hang for hours and just not want to leave—especially when sorted with a Hibiscus & Sage Highball plus prosciutto & fig pizza. The Arlo SoHo, in fact, won the 2019 BLLA Lifestyle Hotel of the Year Award—against, as one can imagine, quite a lot of competition.

But there was no forgetting that what the hospitality business has endured vis-a-vis the coronavirus lockdown was and is very real. General managers and receptionists, waiters and chefs were stripped in an instant of their livelihoods—and such livelihoods in New York City tend to be carried out from paycheck to paycheck. So there was something distinctly heroic about the Arlo’s staff seeing once again to their tasks with such enthusiasm and panache…from the gregarious front desk greeting, to the amiable atmosphere at the hotel’s Bodega marketplace, to the cheery, but surely weary maid staff.

In fact, when we needed a TV remote replacement, the seemingly simple exchange made us particularly aware of what they were up against every day to keep guests safe. Every little matter had to be carefully…considered.

But a stark reminder of how far we still had to go in the struggle away from the pandemic, on our first trip out we immediately noticed the tranquility of a Hudson Street corridor that usually thrums with the buzz of the surrounding offices on any given weekday. It was Friday lunchtime, and it was eerily quiet. Though the (very) nearby Trader Joe’s on Spring Street still hummed with shoppers, who were all being directed down the aisles with a military precision by brave TJ operatives. Everyone was trying to do their part.

Back at the hotel, we sat for a bit in the lounge area, until Boy Pablo’s “Losing You” wafting from the soundsystem brought us a genuine smile—we remembered how much we missed that glorious feeling of being in a cool hotel, listening to cool music…and just feeling cool.

So back up in our room, we turned up one of our fave hotel playlists, and settled in to summon that hotel “electricity” we had been completely disconnected from for the last three months. As for those rooms, Arlo, it must be said, has made masterful work of taking small spaces and making them feel/look surprisingly open and sleek, while being incredibly comfy. Cozy beds are smartly tucked into dark wood frames, with a wall of windows looking out onto a handsome brick courtyard of additional rooms (where exhibitionists are free to let it all hang out). Mod glass bathrooms are an especially welcome change from the exhaustingly overdone trend of “rustic-chic” everything.

But as Ben Stiller and Steve Coogan popped up on the widescreen above the bed in the silly box office blockbuster Night at the Museum, we felt oddly riveted, as its 2006 release date represented a time long before the pandemic, before the socio-political divisiveness of the last four years…and even before the economic collapse of 2008—which event yet seems to be haunting us.

The upcoming Part II takes us around the center of SoHo…

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