If you want to see Manhattan inch by thrilling inch, don’t stay at The Out NYC.
This sleek “urban resort” located in Hell’s Kitchen is filled with so many inducements, it’s hard to leave. You want entertainment? Drag bingo is about as much fun as an out-of-towner can have on a rainy Tuesday night without visiting StubHub.
We stayed here in mid-September when the mad crowds had eased. It was the perfect time to experience the city’s first gay hotel.
It’s not surprising that a hotel dedicated to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender travelers would surface in this metropolis of anything goes. What is surprising is that a straight couple can have so much fun.
The location, 42d Street between 10th and 11th avenues, is ideal for this hip hideout. It’s central, yet quietly tucked away on a block that’s just starting to wake up.
Exiting Grand Central Terminal we walked west past the neon lights of Times Square, hot dog carts, and corner delis. Before we hit the Hudson River, the squat hotel appears in a flash of silver and glass. Upon entering the curvy black and white hallway, inspired by Richard Serra sculptures, a team of smiling faces greets you.
Dressed like a mod militia, the chiseled, fashion-shoot-ready staff checked us in quickly. Within minutes we were shaking off the road dust, eating chocolate chip cookies, and sinking into a cushy bed. Things run smooth and fast at The Out NYC and when you are in town for a short period, every second counts.
The first thing you notice at this “straight-friendly” hotel is not the co-ed bathrooms in the common areas, but the staff. Like saints, they appear when you need them, disappear when you don’t, yet somehow you always know they’re there. In all my years of visiting Manhattan, I’ve never felt so welcome.
Developed by independent hoteliers Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner, The Out’s concept feels refreshing. Unlike the boutique hotel motif of the moment, halls are not dim, furniture is not so-hip-it-hurts, and club music doesn’t assault you morning, noon, and night. Yes The Out is cool, but not at the expense of hospitality.
The room configuration is also unique. A quad sleep (think: modern hostel with bunks) is the most economical. Bunks start at $79 a person. There are standard and deluxe suites that are plush and appealing. We stayed in a deluxe room with a glass and mirrored bathroom, illuminated cube nightstands, and no closet. I was told this is largely metaphorical and in keeping with the hotel’s theme. It works.
Many rooms face one of three open courtyards. Ours overlooked the Great Lawn. This AstroTurf-covered expanse is what sets The Out apart from similar hotels trying to capture well-heeled traveling aesthetes.
The courtyards lend light and air to the surroundings — two elements often missing from urban hotels. During our stay the weather was perfect for using these zones as they were meant: lobby, lounge, private park.
So comfortable are these sequestered spaces, they make getting out of The Out a challenge. Dotted with beanbag chairs, lined with mirrors and accented with black-and-white striped curtains, the Great Lawn feels very English, like a slice of Hyde Park.
Around the corner from our room is a bamboo courtyard designed for meditation or a work session. A long wooden table is shrouded by black bamboo. The third courtyard has a sun deck, which leads to a spa atrium. It was tranquil on a Tuesday, but we could see this oasis, marked by a pair of hot tubs, a water wall, and cabanas, turning into Fire Island on warm weekends.
Design devotees will be amused to discover that this stout, three-story building is a remodeled Travel Lodge circa 1957. Much has been debugged. The only hint at its past are the stairwells. Now splashed in bright paint, they still feel retro.
The hotel opened last March and amenities are still being added. Spa services such as manicures, pedicures, and sugaring are scheduled to begin this fall. A big addition is KTCHN. The dining hot spot, which opened this summer, is as rich in design and taste as the rest of the hotel. We made a reservation for 8 p.m.
But before we ate we had to try our hand at drag Bingo. The weekly show at XL Nightclub, a disco bar that gives way to a cabaret, is pure kitsch. To spice up the church basement classic, gender-bender entertainers like “Mr. Showbiz” Murray Hill, dressed in a powder blue polyester suit, entertain the crowd with props and humor.
The Vaudevillian act had the spirited crowd of gay men and single women howling at witty callouts like “here comes our favorite number, N 69,” between cocktails.
When the novelty wore off, we sauntered across the lobby for dinner. Inside the capacious and dimly-lighted dining room scattered with romantic couples here and parties of theatrical men there, we tucked into invigorating bowls of soup.
As sheets of rain washed over 42nd Street, the savory pea soup studded with smoked trout and goat cheese dumplings set the stage for a nourishing meal.
Chef Dale Schnell has created a romantic menu with many opportunities to share. We ordered a whole Amish chicken for two, served in a clay tajine and loaded with Moroccan couscous, parsnips, and carrots. We couldn’t finish the early harvest feast, but savored every bite.
KTCHN is augmented by perfect ’90s rock and a bubbly and knowledgeable staff (our waiter owned his own restaurant in Maryland). Book a room and discover deluxe dining at your doorstep.
There is an element of fun at The Out NYC, which other hospitality chains seem to lack.
On Wednesdays films are shown on the Great Lawn. We wrapped up in blankets with glasses of prosecco to watch “North by Northwest” under the stars. For a while we had the scene all to ourselves. Who knew Midtown could be this quiet?
After a great sleep, I awoke to a bad dream. Where was the coffee?
Even the dinkiest budget hotels provide in-room coffeemakers these days. Not here.
When I groggily stumbled down to the front desk to inquire, the attendant gave me a voucher for breakfast at KTCHN. The bottomless cups served in the white cafeteria-bar area paired with blueberry parfait and a cheese plate soon made up for any missing caffeine. Still, complimentary coffee in the lobby is a necessity in the city that never sleeps.
Fully fueled, we finally made it out of The Out, but can’t wait to check back in.
Kathleen Pierce can be reached at www.kathleen-pierce.com.