A building that stood as the most luxurious hotel in Syracuse, New York for decades was closed and empty for 12 years. Now you can stay in it again as a guest of the beautiful Marriott Syracuse Downtown.
Hotel Syracuse is a reflection of the history of industrial USA in the 20th Century. When the impressive hotel opened in 1924, it was a thing of wonder befitting a powerful city on the Erie Canal. It had 600 guest rooms, grand ballrooms for dances, and courts on the roof for tennis, squash, and handball. Over the years, the hotel hosted several presidents, Elvis, and John Lennon. The Syracuse population peaked in the early 1950s though and although it remained a major university center, the city’s fortunes declined as many factories from companies like GE and Carrier moved overseas or became more automated.
The landmark hotel closed in 2004. It sat empty and forlorn for many years until 4th-generation Syracuse native Ed Riley injected $75 million into restoration and turned it into a showpiece again. Hotel Syracuse reopened as Marriott Syracuse Downtown in August of 2016, as Syracuse itself started showing welcome signs of a lasting turnaround.
Now the glory makes you feel like a Rockefeller when you ascend the stairs and come to the grand lobby with chandeliers, carved wood inlays in the high ceilings, and a mural depicting the city’s history over the check-in desk.
The renovation job here was extremely time-consuming and expensive because of many unwise changes over the decades, including white paint that went over the inlaid wood in many public rooms. In some cases new wood or marble came in, in others there was painstaking stripping work to do. Now the ballrooms gleam like they did in the 1920s and this is a place to once again have a society ball or a big wedding.
This being a modern Marriott though, you won’t be stuck in the past when you get to your room. The renovations brought the guest rooms up to current expectations with ample outlets (USB and regular), smart TVs with your favorite streaming and music services loaded, and strong WiFi signals. Room sizes were expanded beyond the originals too of course, with 261 of them now. All now come with a desk and comfortable work chair, ample closet space, a sitting area, and a good-sized bathroom–many with double vanities. Padded headboards and unique wallpaper add some style.
There are club floor rooms with a lounge for the right elite level members or those willing to pay to upgrade. There are also two levels of suites, including a presidential suite with a grand piano and full living room.
The downtown Syracuse Marriott also goes more modern in its dining and drinking outlets. All of them are on the ground floor, so it’s easy to grab a drink before dinner. Shaughnessy’s is a comfy pub with reclaimed from the basketball court of a nearby sports center. This is the place to catch a game and try a New York State craft beer, including the special Congress beer custom made by a local brewery for this hotel, using a pre-Prohibition recipe.
The Cavalier Room is a stylish and thoroughly modern craft cocktail lounge, with live jazz on some nights. It has bar stools and lounging sofas, the latter set up next to closed-off water spigots and mirrors: this used to be the original hotel’s barber shop.
The main restaurant, Eleven Waters, is named after the 11 Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. It serves all three meals except on Sunday, when there’s a brunch. I only got to try breakfast here because there’s a wide variety of other restaurants and bars within walking distance, but what I had from the ample buffet was excellent.
As in many post-industrial cities, Syracuse is trying to find its way forward in an age where the most successful companies in the world aren’t manufacturing ones and proximity to a waterway or railroad line is no longer a competitive advantage. With a prominent university in town though and a population that is starting to rise again, the signs of renewal are clear and encouraging downtown. Stay at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown before the transformation is complete because right now the rates are far lower than you would expect. They start below $150 most nights, dip below $100 when it’s super-slow, and you can often book the presidential suite for what you’d spend for a Courtyard Marriott room in Manhattan.