It’s always a treat to find a value-priced hotel in Manhattan, and finding the big-personality Freehand Hotel in the Flatiron District was an unexpected surprise. Funky and without pretensions, we made ourselves at home in this hipster-ish enclave just a couple blocks from Baruch College.
The Freehand comes with a creative’s pedigree – in its former life as the George Washington Hotel is was a haven for artists, writers, and musicians.- and incorporates this into its design esthetic and little touches found around the hotel and rooms. I felt right at home, wondering if I could move in for a couple month and channel some of that creativity into writing the next Great American Novel.
The lobby sprawls between two of the hotel’s dining choices – Simon & the Whale, a neighborhood restaurant focusing on American-style food with some special touches, and Smile to Go, a cafe offering pastries and Mediterranean-inspired dishes for table-dining or to-go. The lobby is busy and full of people, it’s more of a hangout place than a meet-up place, and it can get noisy.
Rooms are average-sized by major city standards, although may be considered small if you’re not accustomed to city stays, and paying close attention to the type of room you are booking can eliminate disappointment. Studio rooms snugly accommodate one person, but I think are a little too snug for two people, and suites give a couple room to spawl. There are even bunkbed rooms to accommodate a party of three or four, perfect for a family getaway or for groups that don’t mind a lot of togetherness.
We booked a Big King room as we like a little extra room and were happy with that choice. It was well laid out with a king-size bed, seating area, and work desk. A hanging basic of apples invited us to “eat me” and there were an assortment of books if we wanted to pick up something to read. Wifi was strong and fast, something not often found in hotels, creating an environment where I could have worked more than I played.
One downside to the room, though, is that storage space is minimal. Instead of unpacking and putting our clothes away, we had to use our suitcases for clothes storage, taking up precious floor space we would have preferred to have free. Not a problem for a quick night or two, but annoying for our longer stay.
Bathrooms are stocked with eco-friendly Argan products, and although not large enough for two people to get ready, you can slip on the plushy provide robes and get ready in the room.
The hotel is full of art, from the doodles and drawings on the room walls to the more magnificent pieces in the public area. It’s all part of a partnership with Bard College that commissioned students and alumni to create one-of-a-kind murals for each of the guest rooms, along with the sculpture and larger pieces in the public space. The partnership continues with the hotel offering artists-in-residence fellowship programs at the hotel. This not only provides a way for the fellows to live, work, and exhibit at the hotel but is also a way of honoring its creative history. Look around you, up and down, art is all around you.
Full of nooks and crannies befitting a historic hotel, there are plenty of places to have a drink, sit for a spell, or spread out and work.
The George Washington Bar is located on the Mezzanine floor and was always full of people. Studio is on the Second floor, and while similarly busy, we managed to find a table for a nightcap.
My favorite, however, was Broken Shaker, the rooftop bar. Even though the weather was windy and bitterly cold, we headed up for a view of the city. With a reputation for its handcrafted cocktail menu, Broken Shaker is a James Beard Award finalist and winner of Tales of the Cocktail’s Best American Hotel Bar. We tried to elbow our way to the bar but were unsuccessful, so instead, we settled for stepping outdoor to enjoy a look at the city that never sleeps.
While I’m never bored in New York City, if you find yourself looking about for something to do, Freehand offers a selection of classes, speakers, and special events. From a simple gathering for Happy Hour to a Calligraphy class, from a meditation class to live entertainment, there is likely something that will catch your eye. Additional charges may apply.
Freehand is endearing and energetic, yet full of quirks. We thought it was perfect for a business stay in the city, offering great value in a very expensive city.
Freehand is located at 23 Lexington in New York City. Rates start around $154/night based on double occupancy. If you’re staying longer than two nights, there are a variety of packages and promotions that can help you save even more. You can also check rates on Priceline or Expedia for deals as well.