Photos Brian Ferry
In the lobby of Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel recently, a small gang of elaborate haircuts stumbled toward an afternoon breakfast as a prim older couple self-consciously waited on their grown child to appear and legitimize them. In the hotel’s new restaurant, Reynards, suits and beards alike enjoyed mid-day cocktails while a woman with a little paisley cape spoke with an indeterminate accent to a gorgeous concierge with a fro.
All were gathered for the opening week of a much-hyped destination that has three masterminds, countless craftspeople and nearly five years of planning and renovating behind it.
Peter Lawrence, a charming Australian hotelier and veteran of the night-club business, teamed up with his friend Jed Walentas, the well-known real estate developer, to turn a 111-year-old former factory and warehouse into a 72-room hotel featuring a restaurant by Andrew Tarlow (of Diner fame), outdoor dining, tons of original art, private event spaces, a screening room, and a bar with striking views of the city and a wrap-around terrace.
The renovation process hit a financial roadblock in 2008 (like pretty much everything else in America that involved money) shortly after the purchase of the building. But Lawrence took the delay as an opportunity to educate himself on the actual planning, building and launch of a new hotel—something he’d only dreamed of before. Once the renovations commenced and a timeline was set, they actually hit their opening date, which surprised Lawrence. “This has to be one of the only times a new hotel opened when they said they would,” he boasted while showing off a room with radiant-heating concrete floors, vintage mirrors, and beautiful tile work in the bathrooms. Admittedly, the sixth-floor bar, theater and a few of the guest rooms weren’t yet done, but for the most part the Wythe was up and running.
What Lawrence said he loved the most about this location during the building phase was how easy it was to recruit local artists to fill the place with original work. The most striking piece is probably the four-story HOTEL sign running down the corner of the building, which was built by Tom Fruin from recycled tin signs.