Uber popular and trendy hostel/hotel Freehand is taking over the George Washington Hotel in Gramercy, and the crew is bringing in West Village hitmaker Gabe Stulman to open a restaurant. Judging by the team’s previous successes, this could be a big deal for the neighborhood. Freehand is owned by Sydell Group, the same company behind the trendsetting Nomad hotel, and the first Freehand location in Miami quickly became a hot spot there, in part due to a location of renowned cocktail bar Broken Shaker. Stulman’s been cranking out solid local restaurants like Perla and Fedora for years, but this is the first time he’ll be working with a hotel and opening a restaurant outside of the West Village/Chelsea zone.
The new Freehand in New York, on Lexington between 23rd and 24th streets, will be the fourth and biggest location of the hotel chain yet, with an anticipated opening of fall 2017. It’s got about 380 rooms, and unlike a typical hotel, Freehand rooms offer bunk beds like in a hostel — a hotel/hostel blend that’s intended to attract groups of people or families traveling together. It’s a lower price point than a typical hotel and aims to foster the freewheeling social atmosphere of hostels.
As such, expect a few dishes on Stulman’s menu that will be affordable and shareable, says Sydell CEO Andrew Zobler. Stulman’s restaurant, with a to-be-determined name, will take over about 3,000-square-feet on the ground floor at the corner of at 23rd Street. "Big picture, what you should expect, is a restaurant that has a lot of the same spirit and quirkiness that you get in his restaurants in the Village," Zobler says. No info’s available yet on the exact menu, though Stulman says in a written statement that he’s been interested in working with Sydell for a while now. "Their properties are not just beautiful and sharply rendered, they deliver the kind of vivid, thoughtful experiences to their guests that inspire me as a restaurateur," he says.
Stulman will also will be running the food and beverage on the second floor of the hotel, in collaboration with Sydell. The entire floor will be a lobby-bar-dining room hybrid, similar to what happens in the Ace lobby, Zobler says. "Spaces flow into each other," he says. "People can hang out, and we hope it will be active all day long." The team will be maintaining some original details on that floor of the hotel, which was first built in 1928 and has been everything from a brothel to a dorm. It’s being designed by highly influential firm Roman and Williams.
Other food and beverage will be on board at Freehand, too. The team behind The Smile will be offering food on the site, in a to-go version of the popular Noho cafe on the ground floor. And the 17-floor hotel will also be home to a rooftop bar, though it’s not yet for sure who will be running it. But a New York outpost of Freehand Miami's cocktail bar king Broken Shaker, which has been nominated for two James Beard Awards and has outposts in other Freehands, is not out of the question, Zobler says.
Sydell Group always wanted to open a Freehand in New York. They just weren’t sure the hostel/hotel hybrid model would work, which is why they launched in Miami and then Chicago first, Zobler says. It did, and soon, they’ll also open in LA. "I do think that probably the bar is particularly high for us, having basically done two hotels that are pretty well loved in New York," Zobler says. "We’re kind of picky in terms of trying to find a project that could hold their own next to those projects. I think we found that in Freehand." Stay tuned for more information in the next year as they gear up for opening.