A sculpture by Erwin Wurm called “Big Box Man” will grace The Standard’s front plaza until November. Photo courtesy of The Standard
BY EILEEN STUKANE | The Standard has fashioned itself as a center of invention, a place to meet any mood any time. While 337 rooms on 18 floors make this free-standing, concrete-and-glass creation that reigns over the High Line a hotel, the Meatpacking District’s Standard at Washington and W. 13th Sts. (not to be confused with the latest Standard in the East Village) has evolved into both anchor and launchpad for the area.
Start with what’s on the street. Visitors and locals alike can begin a day stepping from sidewalk to a floor of 480,000 pennies in the Standard Grill, slipping into a booth, and having a 7 a.m. stack of pancakes.
Outdoor seating for The Standard Grill spills into a vine-covered area that separates it from The Standard Plaza, a new summer restaurant with dining al fresco until Sept. 30, when it will likely revert to the ice-skating rink it was last winter.
“The Standard is committed to this community,” said Lauren Danziger, executive director of the Meatpacking District Improvement Association. “It engages with the community, whether it’s an Easter petting zoo or an ice-skating rink that is open to the public. It welcomes everybody.”
The Standard Plaza opens as a brunch spot at 11:30 a.m. and goes until midnight, Sunday through Thursday, and until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Here chef Seamus Mullen (of Boqueria and Tertulia) specializes in Mediterranean, especially Spanish-influenced, cuisine, using fresh herbs and produce from The Locusts, the Upstate Staatsburg farm of The Standard’s creator, hotelier Andre Balazs. The menu of large and small plates has offerings from a wood-burning grill and an outdoor oven. Grilled shrimp, grilled bread with tomatoes, or grilled swordfish with summer squash can be accompanied by a delicious sangria. This is all before setting foot inside The Standard Hotel itself.
“Openness” is key, said Daniela Maerky, marketing coordinator of The Standard. The golden-yellow revolving front door is opaque except for the clear “O”’s at eye level. The inside/outness of The Standard became apparent to the West Village while the hotel was still under construction. Several floors were available to guests before the hotel’s official opening in 2009. Every room of The Standard boasts floor-to-ceiling windows of a nonreflective glass so crystal clear it seems as if it is not even there.
The spectacular Hudson River and city views no matter what room you are in — the building itself is narrow, only the width of two rooms and a corridor — caused people inside to stand at the glass agape. Soon those insiders were engaged in naked activities at the glass. Men and men, men and women, women and women gave outsiders, the meatpackers, those walking the High Line in its early days, a lot to see. New York City’s voyeurs had no complaints and The Standard Hotel’s reputation as an anything-goes, hip, exhibitionistic venue could not be debated.
Today more curtains are pulled across the glass and there’s more talk about what goes on in The Standard’s nightclub, LeBain, than in its windows, but one feels the pull to be anything but “standard” at The Standard, which reminds us of its contrarian ways in its upside-down, backward logo.
Spacious rooms offer free-standing bathtubs and glass-walled showers without walled-in bath “rooms.” Toilets have doors but they also face floor-to-ceiling windows and it’s your choice whether to pull the curtain or not. You also will find a black bathrobe in the closet.
Whether you are a hotel guest or not, starting at 2 o’clock in the afternoon until about 11 p.m., you can take an elevator to the 18th floor while watching Marco Brambilla’s video installation “Civilization” pull you into the experience of ascending to heaven or descending into hell. Exit the elevator and walk through the golden doors of The Top of the Standard (formerly the Boom Boom Room, but a copyright dispute resulted in a name change). The Top of the Standard, and the nightclub LeBain, both on the18th floor, are such exceptional nightspots that Madison Moore, a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University who taught a class last fall called “The History and Culture of Night Life,” brought his students to both venues to observe the architecture and understand the flow of these spaces.
“What’s great about The Top of the Standard is that you can take anyone up there and they will be wowed, whether it’s 2 o’clock in the morning or 2 in the afternoon,” Moore said. “The view is wonderful, as is the architecture.”
The golden-blonde wood “tree” that emanates from the floor of the bar and reaches up to the ceiling, spreading beams, like branches, across the bar is the centerpiece of the room itself, but the real focus of attention is the view. Again, those special, floor-to-ceiling glass windows bring the sunset above the Hudson River from far down the Jersey coastline, past the Statue of Liberty, along the piers, and right into your Lady Lavender cocktail. Turn your head and through the windows behind you, the Empire State Building is glistening. The Top of the Standard, which also has live music, becomes a private club at 11 p.m., but until then anyone can sink into the vanilla leather banquettes.
“I love the old Hollywood feel, so creamy, as if you could eat it when you walk in,” said Moore.
Across from the Top of the Standard is LeBain, as dark as the Top is light. Black leather banquettes, black vinyl floor, a diamond-shaped, 4-foot-deep jacuzzi with an overhead swing nearby. Early in the evening, before the true devotees of the night appear, anyone can walk through LeBain, make a right and go up the staircase transformed into a painted passage filled with graffiti-like images of man and nature by the artist Lady Aiko.
Outdoors starting at 2 p.m. on the rooftop in summertime, one of the specialties of the open-air bar, a cucumber lemonade (really a vodka cocktail) can be enjoyed on a circular, pink-covered waterbed, or sitting at one of the tables. The incomparable view of river and sky can take one’s breath away. Hungry? Have a Nutella crepe or sample another offering from the crepe shack.
Doorperson approval is needed for the parties that begin at LeBain about 11 p.m. Among other attractions, the popular On Top parties of Susanne Bartsch on Tuesday nights bring out the outrageous in people, the latex, leather-wearing, the club kids, the cross-dressers, the scenesters, all want to be there for the underground music, the electricity of the moment. Swimwear can be purchased in a vending machine but people may wear nothing at all in the jacuzzi. Party nights at LeBain are hot nights for those “on the list” and those who are granted entry to be among them.
For continuing into the night without doorperson approval (until 2 a.m. on Thursday and Friday, until 1 a.m. other days), the Biergarten rocks. It’s hard to believe that so much energy and hard-driving ping-pong can come from serving only three kinds of German beer. The Biergarten is a year-round outdoor, open-air space on the street level with a ceiling that is the steel structure of the High Line.
The Standard is a world unto itself that has set a standard of creativity for the Meatpacking District.
“I think The Standard is at the top of its game, always reinventing itself, and I think it is a reflection of the neighborhood, which is always reinventing itself, whether it be food, nightlife, landmarking,” said Danziger.
To find The Standard Hotel on the corner of Washington and W. 13th Sts., look for Austrian artist Erwin Wurm’s amusing, aluminum/pink-enamel “Big Kastenmann” (or “Big Box Man”) an 18-foot-tall, 1.6-ton, headless suit that will be out in front of the hotel until November.
In the virtual world, you can find out what’s happening at The Standard on Facebook and Twitter.