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Freehand New York Hotel 3.5

New York City, New York

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Review Summary

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Pros

  • Deeply atmospheric, Instagram-friendly hotel drawing millennial guests
  • Built-in social scene revolving around restaurants, bars, and activities
  • Located near public transportation and loads of conveniences
  • Multiple restaurants covering all meals and snacks in high fashion
  • Two excellent bars, one rooftop with Chrysler Building views
  • Well-equipped gym with street-art mural and Peloton bikes
  • On-site shop selling hipster keepsakes like soaps and sneakers
  • Artwork throughout from Bard College students
  • Concierge, luggage storage, and laundry service
  • Pets allowed for a fee

Cons

  • Mandatory "facilities fee" tacked on to bill
  • Location isn't super close to major NYC landmarks
  • In-room tea /coffee facilities by request only
  • Breakfast isn't included in all rates

Bottom Line

Unapologetically hip, the 394-room Freehand New York is the boutique brand's Big Apple outpost. The property is overloaded with buzzy features aimed squarely at the millennial market including three trendy restaurants, two bars, and a lounge space jam-packed with twenty- and thirtysomethings on their laptops. Rooms are also configured with young travelers in mind, and together with the typical Queen, King, and Suite categories, the hotel offers Bunk and Three's Company units with bunk beds suited to friend groups or the occasional family. But apart from features and rooms, the scene here is a huge reason travelers make the Freehand their home base. The nightlife scene bleeds into morning hours, with travelers and locals circling the hotel's bars. Playful social get togethers, like tarot readings or nude drawing classes gives even more incentive to stay on the premises. Those looking for an equally buzzy hotel could try the Ace

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Scene

A high-design hodgepodge of vintage home decor as a backdrop for a buzzy social scene

Part of a hipster boutique chain that began in Miami, the Freehand has made quite the entrance on the NYC hotel scene. It leans in hard to its decorative theme, which can be best described as a sexy remix of 1970s home decor. Olive-colored ceramic tiles and wood paneling are used repeatedly, all mixed in with clusters of potted plants; stools upholstered in Mexican-blanket fabric; and low-slung, zigzag-printed couches. Although it's a look that feels more reminiscent of California than New York, the Freehand takes great pains to acknowledge its locale, with one hallway lined in old New Yorker covers and various coffee table books on vintage NYC architecture strewn throughout. Another notable design touch is the original artwork of Jean Cocteau-style murals, ceramic sculptures, and paintings provided by Bard College artists. (The hotel offers an "artist in residence" program to students.) All of this is mixed together with vintage flea-market finds and the occasional Tintin figurines or Lego rendition of Washington Square Arch. 

The piped in music reflects this stylistic mashup, too, with a playlist flipping from Curtis Mayfield to the Pixies to Drake. Its an eclectic mix that's appreciated by its guests -- largely millennials. On our stay, we spotted the occasional fashion-forward 50-plus guest or parents with a kid in tow, but they were the exception. Young couples and clusters of friend groups were the norm.

By day, the hoodie-and-baseball-cap crowd generally camps out in the hotel's light and airy lounge space, The Gallery, laptop in hand, or they make their way to the rooftop bar. The latter is decked out in a soft tiki theme, with bouncers wearing Hawaiian shirts, and the outdoor bar space is questionably adorned with Tibetan prayer flags. As night falls, the hotel's ground-floor restaurant, Simon & the Whale, fills out every table, and nightlife kicks off in the GW Bar (a nod to the Freehand's past life as the George Washington Hotel). Other hubs include the hotel's game room (outfitted with Ms. Pac-Man) and the on-site gift shop, stocked with items that speak to its discerning, "woke" consumers buying items like CBD gummy bears or copies of "A Queer History of the United States."

But the true top feature of the hotel is its scene -- fueled by oat milk-laced espressos, bespoke cocktails, and countless selfies. The hotel adopts more of a hostel's approach to hospitality, creating its own social events encouraging guests to mingle. Tarot reading sessions, yoga classes, and nude drawing classes were all on the calendar during our stay along with homey get-togethers to watch sports matches or outings around New York at large. The elevators, lined in corkboard, also speak to this sense of community, with past guests leaving little notes behind, often lamenting their departure or reminding folks to get out the vote.

Location

In the Flatiron District, surrounded by public transportation but set away from major sights

The Freehand is right on the eastern edge of the Flatiron District on Lexington Avenue. This avenue is a major thoroughfare for Manhattan's Eastside, and it's surrounded by conveniences including a Starbucks up the block and a local dumpling joint on the corner. Public transportation is also close at hand: NYC's bike-share program, CityBike, has bicycles docked one block north, and the closest subway (the 6 train) is two blocks away to the west. Another subway stop is just two blocks farther.

The Flatiron District has drawn a cluster of other fashionable boutique hotels, such as the Ace Hotel and the Nomad, both reached in around 10 minutes on foot. Each hotel has its own social scene, making it fun to hop between the three. Quaint, leafy Madison Square Park is also a five-minute walk away and Eataly, the sprawling Italian food market, is merely eight minutes on foot. Korea Town, a 15-minute walk to the north, offers more delicious eats. 

That said, most of New York's major attractions aren't accessible on foot. The Chrysler Building is a bit of a schlep at 20 minutes on foot. Cultural institutions like The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art are 20 and 27 minutes by subway, respectively. Reaching the base of Central Park is a 20-minute ride on the subway. Getting to Times Square is about 11 minutes on the subway. And reaching Battery Park City, the launching point for ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island is a 35-minute subway ride. 

Freehand guests eager to hit the scene in Brooklyn will need to take the subway as well. It's a 36-minute ride to reach the sleek, see-and-be-seen neighborhood of Williamsburg, or 45 minutes to reach Bushwick, a scrappier, party-down neighborhood of young artists.

John F. Kennedy International Airport can be reached in a little over an hour by public transit or about 40 minutes by taxi. 

Rooms

From Studios to Bunk Rooms, all with free Wi-Fi and artsy touches

The flamboyantly hip design found in public spaces continues in rooms. Blond-wood platform beds, desks, and wardrobes are frequently embellished with ceramic pendant lights, woven wall-hangings, and more murals and artwork by Bard College students. Rooms come adorned with hanging baskets holding red apples for the taking and bottles of water. Several are adorned with tiny potted succulents. Copies of the New Yorker and coffee table books of NYC landmarks are also strewn about. Olive-colored tiles and wood paneling make another appearance in the bathrooms, giving them a bit of a '70s sauna feel. But one thing isn't as stylish -- the views from many of the units. Our room overlooked an industrial breezeway from one window and a construction site from another. (Those lacking views can always compensate by heading to the rooftop bar.)

Room categories cater to a variety of guests. Traditional categories run up in size from Queen to King to Studio. Entry-level Queens are rightly described as "cozy," with little more than a narrow strip of space to move around the bed. Bathrooms can be equally snug with small sink basins topped with a narrow wooden ledge plus a slim shower stall. But space is used effectively. Kings add much more elbow room with a bit more space to lounge, and Suites add even more, with small dining tables and split living room/bedroom areas. Less traditional options include the Bunk Rooms, which come furnished with four twin beds stacked in bunked pairs -- perfect for friend groups. The Three's Company units are another rarity -- a queen bed straddled by an overhead twin bed, giving families a place to hunker down together or duos with a plus one to share accommodations. Other options include a Small Twin Room, with just enough room for a solo traveler, or, on the flip side, a Family Executive Suite with room for six. Several room categories are available as accessible ADA-compliant options. Be warned: Rooms by the elevator can pick up the hallway noise of dinging and people coming and going well into the night. Pack earplugs.

Standard amenities across all categories are quite modern and up-to-date including smart TVs, free Wi-Fi, AC, phones, safes, bluetooth-enabled retro-looking radios, and multiple USB chargers. Other comforts include bathrobes, mini-fridges, hairdryers, clothes steamers, and mini Argan toiletries. On the down side, tea and coffee facilities aren't set out in rooms, although the front desk staff will provide electric kettles to guests that request them. 

Features

Multiple drinking and dining spots, all deeply atmospheric

Features are where the Freehand really shines. This property is jam-packed with various public lounge spots and on-site eateries. Starting from the ground up, the lobby forks off into Simon & the Whale, the hotel's upscale, trendy-as-all-get-out restaurant. Goodies like smoked mussels or gouda croquettes are served into the evening, and weekend brunch with caramel-coconut pastries is an event onto itself. The other side of the lobby gives a side entrance to Smile to Go, a grab-and-go counter with items like prosciutto and brie sandwiches best described as a stylish Dig Inn. This also acts as the hotel's coffee pitstop. One level up, the elevator opens up to The Gallery, the hotel's airy work/lounge space. To one side is the Studio, serving all meals and snacks like marinated feta or spinach yogurt dip. It's especially helpful as a lunch spot. To the other side is the entrance to the GW Bar, which opens in the evening. This dark and moody spot serves up adult cocktails with vintage flair. Those looking for a daytime drinks can exit the hotel and walk around the corner for elevator access to the Broken Shaker, the hotel's playful rooftop bar. The space here has both indoor and outdoor bars, plenty of patio furniture for lounging, and loads of plastic flamingo swizzle sticks to go around. Room service is also available daily, but note that breakfast isn't included in all room rates.

Also on the premises is the ground-floor gift shop that's got plenty of upscale munchies (kombucha or Mexican coke, for example) plus other hipster trappings like organic apple-flavored toothpaste or necklaces with turntable charms. The mezzanine level also holds a little game room stocked up with retro board games (Clue and Candy Land among them) plus shuffleboard and a handful of free arcade games like Ms. Pacman.

In the basement, guest will find the Freehand's gym, complete with a street-art mural. The standout feature here is the pair of Peloton bikes that allow guests to virtually join a spin class. But TV-mounted treadmills, steppers, plus plenty of free weights, and other machines cover all the bases of the typical hotel gym. 

The social scene is a feature in and of itself, which the property fosters with in-house activities. Anything from tarot readings to nude life drawing classes can be on the calendar; check flyers in the lobby, in the elevators, and on the hotel's Facebook page. Other service on hand include concierge, luggage storage, and laundry service (off site). Pets are welcome for an additional fee.

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Address

23 Lexington Ave, New York City, New York 10010-3790, United States