by Jenni Avins
, Aesthetic adventurer
Hearing a key in the door, I wake with a start. Then I remember where we are, and settle back into bed. The Mercer is only a bridge from my Brooklyn apartment, but this SoHo loft suite might as well be another world. In my New York City, an afternoon nap in the summertime would be unheard of – too hot, too loud, too busy. But here, in this silent spaciousness, it just, well, happens...
Hearing a key in the door, I wake with a start. Then I remember where we are, and settle back into bed. The Mercer is only a bridge from my Brooklyn apartment, but this SoHo loft suite might as well be another world. In my New York City, an afternoon nap in the summertime would be unheard of – too hot, too loud, too busy. But here, in this silent spaciousness, it just, well, happens.
Only two hours before, a blue-shirted bellboy had opened the door to the Mercer’s red-brick Romanesque-revival exterior, inviting me into this parallel universe – across the street from Prada, no less. As I unpacked into a closet the size of some boutique hotels’ bedrooms, I imagined myself taking up residence in a Sofia Coppola film like Somewhere, shot at the Mercer’s glamorous West Coast counterpart, the Château Marmont in Los Angeles.
The Mercer’s design perfectly followed script. A window arched across one wall, framing – and lighting – a sitting area with a sage-coloured couch in the room’s centre. At one end, on the dining table, a bottle of pinot noir and a handwritten note welcoming us. At the other, a plush bed beckoned, covered in shades of celery and white. The plan had been to await Mr Smith’s arrival from work in the lobby, curled up with a tome from the hotel’s collection of art books. But leaving this luxury seemed ludicrous. Instead, I filled the vast granite bathtub with bubbles. Now as Mr Smith walks in and puts down his briefcase, whispering ‘wow’, I can barely remember crawling into bed. But here I am.
As we have movie tickets booked, while Mr Smith gets his bearings, I slip into a sundress. Abandoning our cinematic set, we walk to the Film Forum. Then, after watching David Bowie The Man Who Fell to Earth, rather than ducking into one of the neighbourhood’s many eateries for dinner, we retire to our suite and call the Mercer Kitchen. Even with star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the helm, the restaurant is more often mentioned for its celebrity sightings. When room service brings the stellar cuisine I’m almost pleasantly surprised; yet so delicious is my burrata and spicy arugula I probably would not have noticed if Stephen Dorff had trotted through our boudoir.
Self-improvement is on the agenda by next morning. It’s Equinox for him, the sleek gym open to the Mercer’s guests, and Spa Belles, a nearby nail salon, for me. Just as my glossy red nails feel dry enough to go, Mr Smith appears in the window, grinning widely in a new pair of Wayfarer sunglasses. Linking arms, we head for brunch at one of Manhattan’s most beloved modern classics, Balthazar.
Inside Keith McNally’s sprawling Paris-style brasserie, families with tiered trays of shellfish laugh loudly in wooden booths, couples canoodle at the zinc bar, and black-tied waiters potter about like distinguished penguins. After a mimosa and half a dozen oysters, we decide we make terrific tourists. Mr Smith floats the idea of a fanny pack (‘bumbags’ to you Brits), which I shoot down in favour of a new calfskin Dopp kit from Il Bisonte or Jack Spade, both nearby. He shakes his head over eggs Benedict, which he deems, ‘perfect’.
After lunch, we stroll through NoLita, the narrow-streeted enclave of boutiques and restaurants betwixt SoHo and LES. As we wander through the afternoon, we eavesdrop on a walking tour of the area’s mafia-tinged history, and come upon St Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Mott Street. The gates are open, and we discretely follow a gaggle of children and their chaperones inside.
Radiant stained-glass windows light the chapel; it is silent, aside from the whir of an electric fan, and children shuffling up the aisle. The moment we sit on a pew, small voices begin to sing. Soon, the soaring cathedral is filled with song. We have happened upon a visiting boys’ choir in rehearsal. Satisfied with their sound-check, they file out of the cathedral, and so do we.
At McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore, we pick up a New Yorker to get the skinny on SoHo’s art shows. In the Seventies and Eighties, intrepid artists occupied the neighbourhood’s lofts. In spite of gentrification, a handful have held onto their spaces. We’ve ogled amazing works by emerging talents on Wooster Street, but today have no such luck: the Drawing Center is closed, and Team Gallery on Grand Street is between exhibitions. So, we sidle between flagship stores. Mr Smith approves of a flowered dress at Opening Ceremony and I give my stamp to a pair of crisp blue trousers for him at APC.
Once the shops have closed, we collapse into that comfy queen-size bed. We stay longer than intended, but no matter – we’ll dine at the original Blue Ribbon, a SoHo staple that serves into the wee hours. On our way out, we stop for an appetiser at the Mercer Kitchen. The basement-level bar – all exposed brick and gleaming glass – is slammed, so instead we settle in the lobby, where votives flicker between soft flax-coloured chairs.
Communal areas are filled with an easy, laid-back atmosphere that’s more in line with cosy domesticity than edgy city scene, and interior designer Christian Liaigre’s colour scheme – neutral tones of ivory white and mushroom brown permeated with splashes of citrus – manages to both soothe and caress the eye while staying at the forefront of design. Here, we order a crostini that comes spread with warm aioli and sweet flakes of crab. ‘It’s like a lobster roll,’ says Mr Smith. ‘A swanky SoHo take on lobster roll.’
Down the street, at Blue Ribbon on Sullivan Street, we share the restaurant’s renowned fried chicken, and chat over well-chilled martinis with the Brazilian bankers seated beside us. They depart to dance in the Meatpacking District, and we head to the red-check tables of Fanelli’s, a former speakeasy, for a final nightcap.
Lox, eggs, and the Mercer’s homemade thyme-infused lemonade takes the edge off having to face Sunday morning. I take a sip of soda, lean back and sigh: ‘I don’t want to go home.’ Mr Smith looks at us in our subterranean banquette, spread out with The New York Times and smiles. ‘Looks like we are home.’