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A Shot in the Park


It could be argued that, the launch of Morgans on Madison Avenue in 1986, Ian Schrager started the boutique hotel ball rolling. Schrager no longer runs the Morgan Hotel Group, but his interest in creating ground-breaking hotels remains as keen as ever. His latest finished project is a revamp of Gramercy Park. Overlooking one of Manhattan's rare green spaces, the old hotel was an institution, and the bar was one of those haunts where celebs would chew the fat alongside eccentric old ladies nursing martinis. Charm, however, can only go so far and the hotel, alas, looked (and smelt) like the inside of your grandmother's handbag.

So the grande dame was given a makeover, with the help of Schrager's buddy, artist Julian Schnabel, and collaborators Michael Overington and Anda Andrei. The old ladies have gone - and a rocking casbah look has come in - but the new Gramercy promises to be as eclectic a meeting spot as ever. Even Schrager's harshest critics will concede that his true genius is in creating a buzz, usually centred on his hotels' bars. Gramercy Park's Rose and Jade bars are both dripping with 20th century art by the likes of Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Damien Hirst and Schnabel (also behind the custom furnishings). The menu is a 'best of' from the city's superchefs (Tom Colicchio, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa) and the cocktails hark back to a golden age of mixing. Of course, no Schrager hotel is complete without a name restaurant. In this case, it is Park Chinois, specialising in northern Chinese with a French sensibility - the brainchild of Alan Yau, who earned a Michelin star at London's Hakkasan.

Upstairs, the palette is Raphael-inspired, though more pop than papal. Happily, bedroom sizes are more generous than those of the coffin-like rooms at Schrager's former property, the Hudson. The Gramercy development also features 23 condos designed by John Pawson, mostly pre-sold and each with a rarer-than-hens'-teeth key to the park gardens. Pawson is also working of Schrager's most recent project in Miami's South Beach. Having purchased the old Riande Continental on Collins Avenue, Schrager promises to reinvent the budget boutique - with a 'monastic' twist. We can't wait. * Gramercy Park Hotel, 2 Lexington Avenue, New York, tel: 1.212.920 3300, www.gramercyparkhotel.com. Room rate: from$525