East of the river in New York City

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iol travel oct 23 wyhotel

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Screenshot of the Wythe hotel website

New York - The website of the Wythe claims that the hotel “has rooms for artists, friends, brewmasters, musicians, concertgoers, mothers, brothers, grandmothers, bowlers, interns, twins, engineers, chefs and viogniers”. I'm not a grape - I think they mean “vignerons” (winegrowers) - but I do have a brother, and a friend, so I guess I am just about qualified to stay there.

The twee slogan reveals the new hotel's location - Williamsburg, traditionally Brooklyn's hipster heartland - but also does it a disservice. I had never crossed the East River during several trips to Manhattan, assuming I wasn't hip enough. But the place has grown up, and the kid colonisers who made it cool have fled on their fixies elsewhere.

This chic gentrification is relentless, as young developers with beards and liberal arts degrees invest big in condos, stores and restaurants. The Wythe Hotel, in North Williamsburg, arguably seals the sell-out, but also the neighbourhood's rising status as a worthwhile tourist diversion. It opened in May after the £20m transformation of a 100-year-old former cooperage: hop smells still waft from the Brooklyn Brewery across the street. The Wythe is partly the work of Andrew Tarlow, who's credited with kick-starting the change here with his South Williamsburg restaurants Diner and Marlow & Sons.

I started the night on the sixth of eight floors, where Ides, a low-lit, low-key bar, opens on to a roof terrace and where we braved the first drops of a downpour to gawp at King Kong-style views of Manhattan. Inside, we joined curious locals and not exclusively trendy visitors to sip Dark and Stormy cocktails (rum, bitters, lime, ginger beer) as the skyline disappeared behind black clouds.

On the ground floor, it was dinner at Reynards, the least hotel-y hotel restaurant I've eaten in: it's creating a critical buzz thanks to its modern, Southern-inspired food, cooked over a wood fire that makes the stripped-back dining room glow. My lamb shoulder with corn, okra and sweet peppers was as spectacular as the view up top.

A modest reception desk leads to a peaceful library with sky-high windows. Lifts serve a tiny basement gym and 72 rooms. That's it: no spa, no room service, no frills. The decor is industrial-luxe, the artwork urban, but the poured concrete somehow offers warmth, as do the staff.

Sleek and modern, but with smooth edges, the Wythe, like Williamsburg, is more inclusive than I'd imagined, whether or not you cultivate a moustache - or know your grape from your winegrower. It's also a symbol of an evolving, maturing Brooklyn, worth the short hop from Manhattan, for its cocktails alone.

Location

North Williamsburg, over the East River from Manhattan, and five minutes' walk from Bedford Avenue. The Subway station there is just three stops east on the L line from Union Square in the middle of Manhattan and 45 minutes the other way from JFK airport. The avenue itself is a fun strip of second-hand bookstores and coffee shops.

Even closer are the Brooklyn Brewery (tours available); Beacon's Closet, a cavernous vintage clothes shop; and Café Colette for a top brunch, though it would be hard to match Reynards' sausage and egg sandwich, which will stay with me for ever, not least around the hips.

Comfort

The storm had cleared by morning to reveal views through the floor-to-ceiling windows of our Manhattan View King room that would probably cost you $1,000 (about R8 000) a night on the island itself, but goes for about $340 here. A miles-wide belt of skyscrapers centred around the Empire State Building seemed to throw sunlight right back in. My tip: forget the blinds and let the city wake you up.

A king-sized bed lay between the window and the bathroom and there was a high-definition television, an audio jack for guests to link their tunes to the room's speakers and a modestly stocked minibar (but no coffee maker).

Rooms without city views vary in size but not spec, offering Goldie's bath products made in nearby Queen's, heated floors and bare walls, except for one which is brilliantly painted in blue patterns. There are bunk rooms and four-to-six people “band rooms”, which you presumably don't need to play drums to occupy, while two of four lofts on the top floors have private terraces.

Travel Essentials

Wythe Hotel, 80 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, United States (001 718 460 8000; wythehotel.com).

Rooms ****

Value ****

Service ****

Double rooms start at $207, room only. - The Independent

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