Designed by famed architect Robert AM Stern, the Four Seasons Downtown (center) is the closest luxury hotel to the World Trade Center Memorial, Oculus, and many key downtown Manhattan attractions and landmarks.
The original Four Seasons hotel in New York, on 57th Street, is one of the city’s most iconic, and always a top choice for luxury leisure or business trips. But to many would-be visitors, the newer downtown sibling is an afterthought. I’ve stayed at both, and can assure you that overlooking this gem is a mistake. The Four Seasons New York Downtown just turned three, but earned the coveted Forbes 5-Star award in its inaugural year—a rarity.
Having grown up in the Big Apple, and having once worked in the late World Trade Center, I still tend to recall far downtown Manhattan as the province of stock traders and corporate lawyers and home to empty streets after 5PM. That could not be further from the truth, but it took a recent downtown stay to remind me just how dramatic the change has been.
The Oculus, a $4 billion transit hub, shopping and dining center, sky viewing oculus and design wonder by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is a three minute walk form the hotel.
As I was checking into the Four Seasons, another guest was checking out, obviously a regular. He was chatting with the front desk clerk about why this stay was much different. He comes frequently on business, but this time brought his family. Did they like it?, the clerk inquired. They loved it, he explained. They went to Chinatown, visited the Statue of Liberty, walked around Tribeca and Soho, and basically never left downtown. No Times Square, no Central Park, no Rockefeller Center, no MoMA, Met or Museum of Natural History. And they loved it.
“A lot of foreign visitors think New York city is two streets around Central Park,” General Manager Thomas Carreras told me. Swiss born, Carreras is a foreign visitor of sorts himself, but he has been here since pre-opening and is now all in on the downtown experience. “But this is the real New York, many of the most iconic views, the Brooklyn Bridge, Tribeca—and it all just keeps getting bigger.”
Because the hotel rooms are at the top of the tallest residential tower in lower Manhattan, they have great views.
That is especially true when it comes to food, as the area has become quite the hotspot. The red hot and brand-new Time Out Market, based on the incredibly popular original in Lisbon, is a few minutes’ walk away. So is the downtown Eataly, Le District (the lesser-known but really cool French version of Eataly that includes a hidden gem Michelin-starred restaurant among its many choices), and the main outpost of beloved Nobu is now here, along with high profile eateries by star chefs Danny Meyer, Marc Forgione, Masa Takayama, and the Dead Rabbit, one of the world’s most famous cocktail bars.
It doesn’t hurt that the hotel’s own eatery is a branch of CUT by Wolfgang Puck, the superstar chef’s top tier modern steakhouse concept, following in the footsteps of the beloved CUT locations in Los Angeles, Vegas, London, Singapore and Dubai. It is the only Big Apple eatery by Puck, the original celebrity chef. To be fair, I found it a little rough around the edges and not as impressive as the CUT in Vegas, which I love, but it’s a solid choice if you don’t want to leave the hotel, and has cool bar that draws in locals.
The hotel swimming pool is fabulous, part a full floor gym, spa, locker room and relaxation level.
There are also lots of major attractions within walking distance, including the Brooklyn Bridge, which you can easily walk or bike over from the hotel, the Statue of Liberty, the Staten Island ferry, and the biggest of all, the redeveloped World Trade Center site, just two blocks away. This is one of New York’s top attractions period, and includes the outdoor Memorial, the One World Trade observation deck, and the awesome museum—I absolutely loved it, if you can love something so somber and moving, and it has been rated number one in the entire country, an absolute cannot miss for visitors.
Then there’s the Oculus, the centerpiece of the complex, a combination architectural marvel, upscale shopping and dining center, and transit hub. Connected to the Oculus is Brookfield Place, a luxury shopping mall that offers access to many of the highest end retailers, the names visitors come to New York for, but with easier access and far smaller crowds than their uptown locations. These include Saks, Hermes, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Davidoff, Zegna, and many more in this vein. One of the coolest things here is that Brookfield opens onto a marina lined with bars and restaurants and a uniquely family friendly outdoor park. There are surprisingly very few good waterfront places to eat and drink in Manhattan, especially considering that it is an island, and to be able to walk from the hotel to a waterfront cocktail is a privilege you won’t enjoy uptown.
The shopping, dining and attractions immediately around the hotel, just within a few minutes stroll, are enough, but then there is all the rest of downtown within further walking range. I walked all over Tribeca, SoHo, The Village and Chinatown from here. On top of that, in terms of access, the hotel is hard to beat: all the major subway lines, uptown, Brooklyn Queens, East or West side, are within two blocks, they are all express stops and both Grand Central and Penn Station are 1-2 stops, a few minutes away. As much as I wanted to cab or Uber I just couldn’t because getting around from here by mass transit is too fast and too easy.
The bottom line is that staying in the area is great, especially if you have been to New York before for pleasure, since you almost certainly stayed further north, so it’s logical to experience a different neighborhood. If you are on business downtown, obviously you want to be here. But either way, if you do decide on Downtown, this is the top pick, it is as simple as that. While the original Four Seasons on 57th is great, it is surrounded by many world class hotels. New York is full of great options from Peninsula, Mandarin, Ritz, Park Hyatt, and lots of swank indies and boutique choices – but none of them are in this neighborhood. If you want to stay at the top choice in the so-called Financial District, it’s the Four Seasons, period.
The state-of-the-art fitness center is especially lavish for a hotel with less than 200 rooms, because many professional sports teams stay here and require a facility like this.
The same goes for Brooklyn, since this is as close as you can get to the trendy bureau without staying there, but the Four Seasons is far superior to anything on the other side of the bridge. That’s why visiting NBA teams and others headed to the Barclay Center routinely stay here, just minutes away. This also explains why the hotel has such an over-equipped, oversized, state of the art fitness center (complete with my beloved Peloton bike), because that is a requirement of the professional athletes and teams who frequent it. I used it daily, and it is connected to the beautiful indoor pool, extensive locker rooms with steam, gorgeous spa, and the latter even has an outdoor relaxation terrace, rare in the city. In fact, the hotel has its own outdoor “pocket park” if al fresco is your scene.
While its monopoly on luxury in the neighborhood is the big draw, it also happens to be a great hotel, situated in a stunning building designed by world famous architect Robert A.M. Stern. It’s less flashy and more intimate than its uptown sibling, with just 189 rooms and suites, the kind of place where the doormen recognize you as you come and go. The lobby is warm, welcoming, easily navigated and full of original commissioned art by leading sculptors and artists from around the world. If there is a signature piece it is Upside Down Skyscraper by Hirotoshi Sawada, which hangs in the spiral staircase near the elevators, a feature that has made the hotel an incredibly popular wedding venue—with just about every bridal party doing a shoot on these stairs.
These stairs are the photo shoot highlight for the many weddings held at the hotel, and also showcase one of its many important pieces of public art, Upside Down Skyscraper by Hirotoshi Sawada, hanging on the left.
The rooms occupy the top of the 82-story building, the tallest residential tower in lower Manhattan, and have some stunning views, including the Oculus. Of course, they have the signature swank bathrooms and walk-in oversized showers you expect from Four Seasons Hotels Resorts, but they are also bigger than most in the city, and every single one still boasts an oversized soaking tub, a disappearing amenity that doesn’t matter to everyone but certainly has its fans. There were several stand out bells and whistles you don’t see often, or maybe ever, even in top urban 5-star properties. These include a full-length, adjustable, 3-sided dressing mirror separate from the spacious dual closets, a great touch. The automated drapes and blackout curtains open and close with one easy touch of a button, bide or upon entering, and the room stays really dark, something many hotels are still struggling with. The modern room had the full litany of global and USB outlets, a good working desk and a great European combo espresso/coffee maker. When I used up all the capsules they didn’t just replace them, they added extras, something I’m frequently shocked most other top hotels do not do.
In the past I’ve written here about how some Four Seasons properties, specially the venerable Georges Cinq in Paris and the Italian properties in Florence and Milan, have really tried to engage with their environments to create a deeper local immersion experience. This hotel has done the same, partnering with many entities, from VIP passes to the One World observatory to local gym and fitness class day passes to personal shoppers and special access to top area restaurants. They offer a variety of customizable two-night “localist” packages showcasing different themes such as wellness, art, culture and gastronomy. This approach, which the hotel continues to build upon and expand its offerings in, totally makes sense, because once they hook you on downtown, you are not going to want to stay anyplace else.