Hard Rock Hotel, Times Square, New York City, USA
Globally renowned hospitality group, Hard Rock International, are famed for putting on a show, and this is not one to miss. Jess Miles travels to the city that never sleeps to experience the brand’s debut hotel in New York first-hand.
New York is a destination so synonymous with music, almost every corner of the city has a story and a song written about it. The same could be said for Hard Rock International, arguably one of the most globally recognised brands built upon its association with music. So, upon hearing that Hard Rock were opening – as in for the first time ever, and not reopening – a new hotel just off the iconic Times Square, I had to go stateside and see it to believe it wasn’t there all along.
From just one quirky American diner in an old Rolls Royce dealership in the heart of London, the Hard Rock brand has long moved forward since its under-the-radar beginnings in 1971. Fast forward to today, the highly anticipated Manhattan property adds to an expanding portfolio of 27 distinctive hotels and nine hotel and casinos across the globe in top locations. Whilst you could still possibly grab a mega-sized portion of chilli nachos from one of the many cafés (a very fond, but distant childhood memory of mine from the nineties), the brand’s hotel offerings showcase an elevated guest experience that brings together world-class entertainment, elite dining, and sleek interiors.
Just around the corner from both Radio City Music Hall and Broadway, in an area steeped in musical history, sits the new Hard Rock Hotel Times Square. The immediate location – the block of 48th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues of Midtown Manhattan – offers a particularly apt setting for the property which is perfectly positioned upon the strip historically known as Music Row. With a gritty yet humble rock and roll vibe, the street formerly lined with vintage instrument and sheet music stores which came to life between the 1930s and 40s, was once a mecca for New York musicians both big and small.
Though gone are the days of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, or Pete Townshend picking up supplies between gigs from West 48th Street, Hard Rock enlisted SLCE Architects and award-winning Jeffrey Beers International (JBI) to make sure that the design of the new premises sang the stories of the streets where it lies. Tapping into the contemporary buzz of New York City whilst paying homage to the area’s rich past, JBI have managed to design a modern take on a bygone era of music when jazz clubs, speakeasies and dinner-theatre performances were all the rage. Though each aspect of the hotel has a different atmosphere, a timeless palette of rich indigo, mahogany, warm gold, with hints of crimson and deep greens colour the property throughout.
From the moment Eric Clapton asked to hang his guitar over his regular bar stool “to mark his spot” in the original London café, memorabilia and artefacts have always taken pride of place in the many embodiments of Hard Rock, becoming a signature design feature for the brand. Whilst the New York City hotel is no different with a truly fascinating collection, music in all its forms was the main inspiration for the interior vision. As I start to make my way around the hotel, I begin to realise that each space reveals a design or sculptural reference to either musical instruments, or to music notes and sounds waves – if only you look a little deeper.
There’s no doubt about it – Hard Rock certainly looks to make an entrance with its New York debut. Upon setting foot through the street level entryway, you’re instantly stunned by the grand circular glass staircase that wraps itself around the impressive rotunda-like lobby. Ambient lighting paired with bronze tinted mirrorwork accentuate the curvature of the space, making for a rather opulent setting. Patterned to look like a soundwave, the polished stone flooring radiates out from a centre stage podium where a yellow gown worn by ‘Empire State of Mind’ singer Alicia Keys is lit up by a transitioning colour ring light display. Though the whole lobby appears to be designed to showcase this particular dress, I’m told that it will be rotated with other elegant artifacts from contemporary women in music – which I’m sure will look just as spectacular. Tucked away to the side of the lobby you’ll find the first of three restaurants, NYY Steak (in partnership with the New York Yankees), which offers a fine dining experience serving heritage-sourced steaks and local market seafood.
Leaving the lobby, brass-toned cords mimicking the strings of a guitar are pulled taut from the ground up to the seemingly never-ending triple height ceiling, luring me up the staircase onto the second-floor atrium. Overlooking the ground floor, the Sessions Restaurant and Bar acts as the heart of the hotel, showcasing the main collection of memorabilia and serving delectable day and night fare. Every evening, guests can drink and dine to the sounds of live, unplugged musical performances. To one side of the space, you’ll find an open-air terrace sunken in the towering cityscape above, whilst tucked away in the opposing corner you’ll find the main reception area.
Leading away from the atrium the elevator lobby awaits, taking you up to one of the 32 guest levels which each honour one legendary artist and exhibit their iconic outfits or instruments. Onward to where I’ll rest my head for the stay, I’m pleasantly surprised at how spacious the guestrooms feel considering that mine is one of 446 on what feels like a prime nook of the city. Perhaps the floor-to-ceiling windows casting across one whole side of the space, overlooking the bustling streetscape has something to do with it.
Back in the room, the rich deep blue tones and gold accents feel calming yet match the vibrancy of the city as night falls. The well organised layout serves many types of travellers with a small lounge to recoup, and a dining area that doubles up as a remote working space cleverly placed (and purposely so I’m told) to provide a clean backdrop for video calls. A spacious bathroom come dressing area is adorned with brushed gold Kohler fittings, complete with a very nicely lit mirror that makes the most jet-lagged of faces look rejuvenated – the perfect spot to refresh and get ready for a glitzy night in the city. The musical theme of course flows into the rooms too, with a backlit sculptural artwork in the form of a soundwave above the headboard providing a nice centrepiece to the space. A small guitar icon embroidered onto the corner of one of the pillows is a nice subtle detail that reminds you exactly where you are.
Glad rags on, I head up to the 34th floor to the rooftop bar and lounge, RT60 – the name inspired by Reverberation Time, the formula for how long it takes sound to reverberate in a room. Emerald velvet booths dressed with sheepskin cushions, teak wood detailing, and ambient cabaret lighting set before a DJ booth create a glamorous and exclusive setting. However, non guests are also welcomed to drink and dine here by reservation. Either side of the main bar area, the space opens out on to two terraces, each offering incredible views over either Times Square or the surrounding Midtown skyline – each looking particularly spectacular as the sun goes down and the city lights up.
Atop RT60, sits the hotel’s most prized jewel, The Rockstar Suite, a bi-level glass enclosed penthouse with all round city views. On its first level, the suite features an open plan living and dining area with a bar and butler pantry, and an expansive private terrace perfect for entertaining from day to night. Guests can retreat upstairs to a suave bedroom area complete with a walk in closet, and sleek bathroom donned by a statement red free-standing bathtub.
Offering the most luxurious of stays for just two people this option does seem to be geared toward the A-list clientele that will make use of the integrated state-of-the-art performance studio, Audacy Live, or appear on stage in the hotel’s exclusive subterranean entertainment space, The Venue on Music Row. The latter space – designed with an old school speakeasy style in mind, but with added glamour – hosted around 400 guests at the launch event with performances from world renowned artists such as John Legend, Nas, and Busta Rhymes christening the stage.
For a rockstar experience without the expense of the suite, guests staying in any of the room types can request a Fender guitar delivered to their room with over-ear headphones and an amplifier. Or for the novice musicians out there, you can have a turntable and a curated collection of vinyl chosen by Hard Rock’s team of music experts arrive at your door.
Whilst Music Row as it was once known is no more, Hard Rock has arrived and is set on breathing new life into West 48th Street’s old melody by remixing it to a new beat.