Many Hideaway Report readers share my high regard for the London-based Firmdale Hotels group. Each of its eight boutique properties in the British capital possesses a distinctive flair, chiefly the result of co-owner Kit Kemp’s exceptionally creative, contemporary-English interior design. (My particular favorite is the Covent Garden Hotel.) Firmdale’s first overseas venture, the Crosby Street Hotel, opened in 2009 in New York’s SoHo district. It has now been joined by a sister property, The Whitby Hotel, housed within a purpose-built structure that boasts a choice Midtown location, just off Fifth Avenue on West 56th Street, three blocks from Central Park and close to high-end shopping (Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, Tiffany, Cartier), the Theater District and the Museum of Modern Art.
Walking into the lobby, Kemp’s carefree, joyful design sense was immediately in evidence. And the effusive greeting we received was also typical of the friendly and efficient service that we have come to expect at other Firmdale properties. The Whitby’s 86 rooms, spread across 16 floors, have all been individually designed and are decorated with an astonishing range of furniture, textiles and artwork. As at the Crosby Street Hotel, the accommodations have floor-to-ceiling mullioned windows, which look out onto the cityscape and flood the space with light. (Several suites on higher floors offer expansive terraces, as well as living rooms with sofas and fireplaces.) Our bedroom came with subtly striped gray wallpaper, punctuated by a headboard done in bright-green fabric, which was complemented by the vibrant upholstery on the two reading chairs set beside the window.
At Firmdale hotels, you can always count on a desk equipped with numerous electrical outlets. And you will also find a Tivoli radio, which produces extraordinary sound for its size. Our spacious bath provided dual vanities and a large walk-in shower and was clad in speckled white and black marble. The marble was familiar from other Firmdale properties, as were the signature RikRak bath products created by Kemp herself. In the evenings, printed information about current exhibitions and attractions is left in each room; this struck me as a particularly nice touch.
Downstairs, The Whitby Bar & Restaurant is a colorful space with high ceilings, a 30-foot pewter bar top and upholstered banquettes. Warehouse-style windows and doors lead to a sunny orangery. Service at the bar is crisp and matched by that in the restaurant. There we enjoyed a prosciutto and watermelon salad, with heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese and elderflower-ginger dressing, and grilled octopus with chimichurri and crispy fingerlings. Our appetizers were followed by a pork chop Milanese with a gribiche sauce (made with hard-boiled egg yolks, mustard and grapeseed oil), and seared scallops, with blue crab, spring onion and a spiced mushroom broth.
Elsewhere, a comfortable, book-lined drawing room (with 2,500 volumes) makes a fine retreat during the day or an agreeable venue for an evening cocktail. And as at all Firmdale properties, a well-stocked honor bar is at a guest’s disposal. We discovered a 130-seat screening room downstairs and three private event spaces. One floor below is the well-equipped 24-hour gym.
Paradoxically, Firmdale has hit on a formula that never seems formulaic. The Whitby is very much its own place, but it has all the wonderful attributes — exceptional location; imaginative and eclectic design; helpful, well-mannered staff; a buzzing bar and congenial restaurant — that make staying at a Firmdale hotel such a reliable and conspicuous pleasure.
Artful design; atmospheric restaurant; delightful staff; remarkably tranquil atmosphere (given the hotel’s Midtown location)
The entrance is surprisingly low-key, to the point that we almost missed it.
In the best English tradition, the hotel offers a splendid afternoon tea.