News & Politics

“I Hear Q-Tip D.J.’s Here on Fridays”: The Ace Hotel Story


This post is basically going to write itself, but hoo boy, Matt Gross’ breathless feature on the Ace Hotel in the Times Styles section this weekend is a doozy. It’s a portrait of arch-hipness that is so complete and detailed as to be an achievement in its field. There’s a lot to unpack here.

If you’re going to write a lede like this, you might as well take it all the way:

WALK into the Ace Hotel, on the corner of Broadway and 29th Street, at any given time, and here is what you may find: The band Jác might be playing in one corner of the vast lobby, their horn-and-accordion tunes bouncing off the century-old mosaic floor, the dark wood paneling, the 17 1/2-foot white columns. In one of the red-suede sofa nooks, under a huge American flag bought at the Brimfield Antique Show, a motley crew of friends from Washington — a women’s-wear designer, a tour guide, a defense contractor — might be striking up a conversation with the British pop-soul singer Edei.

The question is – the questions are, really – what is “Jác”? What is the Brimfield Antique Show? What is an Edei?

But the endless, punishing hipness is only beginning.

The Ace is not really “hip,” actually, according to owner Alex Calderwood: “We’re not trying to be a quote-unquote hip hotel, per se,” he told Gross. Oh really?

That claim is easily debunked.

Exhibit A: You can just hang out here in a way you never could at a W Hotel, the embodiment of an earlier hotel-as-nightclub era. It’s the hotel as hipster mall.

Hipster. Mall. Hipster mall. Mall hipster. HIPSTER MALL.

Exhibit B: Unlike, say, Soho House or the Standard, there’s no sense of exclusivity; you don’t derive status from membership, you get it by deciding to go in the first place. It’s almost Calvinist.

Tenth-grade European history class came to the rescue in that graf, eh?

Exhibit C: One couple told me the Ace was too hip for them, but they loved the pickle-backs. “This would be a shot of whiskey chased by a shot of pickle juice,” the young man said, observing the lobby scene with disdain. “And the pickle juice here is house-made, therefore it is the best pickle juice.”

That thing exists, it seems: a shot of whiskey chased by pickle juice. Second, the pickle juice is house-made; and thus, the best. Third, it is possible for pickle juice to be good.

Exhibit D: Mr. Calderwood is the face of the Ace Hotel Group, a chain that began in Seattle, expanded to Portland, Ore., and, in the last year and a half, opened ambitious new properties in Palm Springs, Calif., and this Manhattan neighborhood (so overlooked that it doesn’t even have a name –perhaps the coolest thing about it).

This is where the Ace Hotel is. It is by no stretch of the imagination a cool part of town, which means that actually it is cool, because there’s a scientific process in which uncool things become cool, through a sort of mysterious alchemy.

The best part of this is a chirpy quote from “Internet gadfly” Choire Sicha, who gets it: “You go because it has good backdrops to get photographed against,” he said.

Full disclosure: I have been photographed against a backdrop at the Ace Hotel. Now is as good an opportunity as ever to admit publicly that I once attended a party in a room at the Ace, full of drunk college students making screwdrivers out of Tropicana and Georgi and listening to Aaliyah. It was hip. Really, really hip. But not quote-unquote hip, per se.


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