New York\'s Library Hotel

By Patrick Seldon Posted on Nature


Book lovers in the Big Apple for business or pleasure now have the perfect place to spend the night (and read). Located on “Library Way” at Madison Avenue and 41st Street, and just down the street from the majestic New York Public Library and Pierpont Morgan, the Library Hotel is one of New York’s more recent (and unusual) luxury boutique hotels.

The unique hotel is the latest creation of one of New York’s leading "indie" boutique hoteliers, Henry Kallan. Kallan also operates Hotel Elysée, the jewel-like Casablanca, and the recently opened Hotel Giraffe. Two more are slated to open in 2003.

Opened in mid-2000 to rave reviews, the intimate 60-room property feels more like a private club for book lovers than it does a hotel. The lobby is wrapped in book-filled mahogany shelves, providing a preview of the hotel’s collection of more than 6,000 books. The wall behind the reception desk is a floor-to-ceiling faux library card catalog, giving check-in the feel of a book check-out at a favorite library.

“Befitting its name, each hotel floor and room is classified by a Dewey Decimal system category of knowledge,” says General Manager Craig Spitzer. The third floor is Social Sciences; the fourth is Language; the fifth is Math and Science; the sixth is Technology; the seventh is The Arts; the eight is Literature; the ninth is History; the 10th is General Knowledge; the 11th is Philosophy; and the 12th is Religion.

Each of the Library’s elegantly appointed guest rooms is decorated with framed art and a library of books that relate to the room’s specific Dewey Decimal theme. “Guests can request a room, based on personal interests, from any of the 60 eclectic themes available on the Room Menu,” according to Adele Gutman, HKHotels Vice President of Marketing (and “Honorary Librarian”).

For instance, book lovers may gravitate to the 10th floor, where room choices include Libraries, Encyclopedic Works, Almanacs, Journalism, Museums, and New Media. Guests with a passion for literature can stay on the eighth floor in the Fiction, The Classics, Fairy Tales, or Erotic Literature room, while visitors looking for even more romance gravitate to the Love room on the 11th floor.  

Choosing a room is almost as fun as staying at the hotel. In fact, the concept has been so popular that the hotel already has many repeat visitors who are striving to stay in all of the rooms eventually. Depending on the number of rooms in which a guest stays, he can earn one of the hotel’s honorary “degrees” in library science, including a “Bachelor’s” (30 rooms), “Master’s” (40 rooms), and “Doctorate” (50 rooms). Repeat guest awards are yet to be determined, but you can bet books will be involved.

The rooms are decorated in rich cream tones, with mahogany doors and cabinetry. Bookshelf fans will appreciate that there’s more than $1 million of mahogany in the hotel. Other touches include granite-topped desks, bonsai trees, plush bathrobes, multiple phone lines with voicemail, dataports, high-speed Internet access, and daily turndown service with bottled spring water and Belgian chocolate.

Though many guests may be tempted to simply stay in their room and read, the pleasures of the book continue throughout the hotel. On the 14th floor, the Poetry Garden provides a charming greenhouse sitting room outfitted with wicker. Outside, there’s a beautiful wrap-around terrace looking straight down Library Way to the New York Public Library. Also located on the 14th floor, the Writer’s Den is a cozy mahogany-paneled sitting room with overstuffed seating, a working fireplace and its own terrace.

Down on the second floor, the book-lined Reading Room is where guests can enjoy complimentary refreshments, including deluxe continental breakfast; cappuccino, coffee, teas and other refreshments throughout the day; and a wine and cheese reception each weekday evening. “Hotel guests are welcome to invite fellow book-loving visitors to join them there at no additional charge,” says Gutman.

Rick Moonen’s Branzini is the hotel’s first-floor Mediterranean restaurant. It’s become a guest and neighborhood favorite, thanks to casual seafood, Mediterranean favorites and affordable prices.

The public spaces mentioned above, along with the 15th floor Executive Inspiration Room (for board meetings of up to 12 participants), have all become extremely popular for literary-themed events, meetings, and more, according to Spitzer. The hotel also provides a business center with computer stations, as well as privileges at a nearby health club.

Adele Gutman took on the enjoyable task of choosing and purchasing the hotel’s book collection. She says, “It took nearly $100,000 and a ton of time at Strand Bookstore, the city’s largest used and rare books dealer. Once all of the books were purchased, 25 to 100 appropriate books were placed in each room and the rest were spread throughout the hotel’s public spaces.”

Gutman says guests have purchased books ($50 for any book) and that there hasn’t been a major theft problem, where books disappear like bathrobes. Although the books aren’t tracked or catalogued by a formal system, hotel employees are aware when books do disappear, and Gutman is constantly updating the collection with books that are appropriate for the various themes in rooms and public spaces. The hotel’s many visiting authors constantly offer donated books, which Gutman says is giving it a nice flow of additional options. Recent guests (and, thus, donated books) have included Amy Tan (The Bonesetter’s Daughter), Dr. Ruth Westheimer (Rekindling Romance for Dummies), Cheryl Jarvis (The Marriage Sabbatical) and Fredric Fekkai (A Year of Style). Other guests recently seen roaming the stacks include James Patterson, John Grisham and Erica Jong.

The hotel’s book collection will also change as rooms are updated. For instance, the Sculpture Room was replaced by the Fashion Design Room, with hand-selected designs by Vera Wang. Fashion design books replaced sculpture books, which made their way to the lobby’s collection.

Gutman, who has more than 20 years experience in the hotel industry, says she’s never worked in such a unique hotel. She was involved as “Honorary Librarian” from the start and, though there was no direct librarian involvement, says she now knows what it must be like to be one. She hand-carried and positioned most of the books in the hotel and says the bruises took weeks to heal.

Gutman says the reaction from their neighbors at the New York Public Library and Pierpont Morgan has been nothing but positive, with many out-of-town guests being referred by the two venerable institutions and the NYPL hosting several events there. Local officials have also been thrilled, since it goes well with the new Library Way and area revitalization.

“Quite simply, this is the perfect place for everybody who loves books,” says Gutman. Her bruises and occupancy rates are the proof.

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