If you’re a millennial living in Manhattan, there’s probably a few things that come to mind when you think of Brooklyn. Handsome, scruffy men in flannel shirts walking their dogs, coffee shops with photo-worthy tiled floors and inconspicuous kinds of nut milk, scattered memories from the Wythe hotel, among others.
If you were living in Manhattan five years ago, Brooklyn to you was probably one-off warehouse parties with now-famous DJs, street art that wasn’t yet masked with crowds snapping Instagram stories, fully-tatted creative types in all black and yet still, the Wythe Hotel.
This storied stay has become a capsule of Williamsburg through its Cinderella-worthy transformation, and as the OG hotel in the area, they surely had some lost-our-shoe-at-midnight stories to unpack. Before getting them on board to tell these stories, I met with Will, Wythe’s Director of Sales who also happens to bear a striking resemblance to Ryan Gosling. I’m not kidding, if you get nothing else from this story, stop by the Wythe Hotel and find Will, you won’t believe it.
The doppelganger was surprisingly open to the experience, and on October 10th, I returned to meet the characters that bring the Wythe to life. Greeted briefly by Annie de Mayo, the Sales Manager, and Lisa, the hotel’s GM, who in their minimalist artsy attire looked like they could’ve just come out of an ad you’d see in Arch Digest, I was checked-in and led to room 301. It was a Brooklyn Queen, which was exactly how I was feeling, and after a quick soak in my gorgeous standalone tub, I was on my way out the door to explore.
THE JACK OF ALL TRADES.
That was not, however, exactly how it happened. Before I made it out I met Jack, the first face you’ll happen upon at the hotel. I was expecting to meet, you know, a doorman, but I didn’t know I would actually be meeting the Jack Early. Yes, the contemporary artist you’ve probably Instagram storied or at least swooned over in galleries near and far, is the very same man greeting you into Wythe’s world.
Jack begins, “Do you know today is my first day back at the hotel after three years? I took a hiatus when I was doing well as an artist.” As we stood there chatting, Jack wistfully maneuvered the door in between fresh-faced guests like only a seasoned people-person could. He lets out a DJ I somewhat recognized and his entourage of equipment, welcomes in a couple who separates from sucking face for just long enough to give him a smile, all the while remaining attentive to me and my curious banter.
I was to learn that, in Jack’s humble words, he’s “had a solo show at Frieze, had an exhibit here in the lobby, and happened to have just left a local gallery.” After discovering that he is also ‘Google-able’ and has his own Artsy page, Jack let me in on some of his other talents, “I was just talking to a guy, he’s sitting at the bar right now. There was this song playing in there called ‘Sugar Man.’ I ran in when I heard it and bonded with this guy. We started talking and as it turns out he’s friends with the guitar player that has also covered a song I wrote that made it to the radio. My song was called ‘It Don’t Rain in Beverly Hills,’ and it made it to the radio! Can you believe it?! And this guy at the bar knew the guy who got my song to the radio, and he’s just sitting there right now.”
We were brought back to reality by one tourist couple, a sweet Thai woman and her studly Australian spouse on the sidewalk.
The Aussie: Sorry to bother you guys but do you know if there are any other breweries here besides Brooklyn Brewery?
Jack: Brewery Lane is a lot of fun but it’s just a bar, although they have a lot of beers on tap.
The Aussie: *lights up* Oh yeah, where is it?!
The Thai: *giggles* That’s all he wants!
Jack: Go down to the street right by the water and take a right, it becomes Franklin Avenue and walk it all the way to Greenpoint Avenue, it’ll take about ten minutes.
The Aussie: Thank you, you saved us a trip to Hell’s Kitchen!
The Thai: Are there any interesting cafes?
Jack: For coffee?
The Thai: Yes, with coffee, but more importantly nice tiles *giggles again*.
Jack: There’s a wonderful place you have to visit called Bakeri, boy is it beautiful on the inside. Make sure you go out back too, I had a mocha espresso there today it was so good, iced.
Me: You guys are the ultimate Brooklyn pair, out for the cute coffee shop and the brewery. You came to the right town.
THE HOPEFUL ROMANTIC.
I had a little time before sunset, which I knew I had to watch at The Ides overlooking the Hudson. I figured I’d go it alone and give my best attempt at making new friends. I found myself a seat at a table that read RESERVED and started Juul-ing next to a sign that said no smoking, only realizing a long while later that this might not be my most inviting look.
I move seats, ‘The Sound of Settling’ plays and three British tourists next to me yell to the skies in excitement of how much they’re enjoying their time, pointing out my moment’s cynicism. So, I down the last drop of my Milan to Minsk drink and head to the sunset frontlines to be in the moment, too. And just like a meet-cute in a movie, I find myself in the way of Eduardo’s sunset picture. Optimism, restored.
Eduardo is Italian, from Florence, and also happens to be here alone. To give you an idea of how much he embodied the quintessential representation of a romantic Italian, he would redirect our conversations to say things like (read the following in your best Italian accent), “Rome is like a mother, it’s a great beauty. But she’s also a bitch. She seduces you and you spend all your time trying to impress her. And she doesn’t make you feel special,” and things like “We are someone, no one, and a thousand people at the same time.” Neither of which I entirely understood, but all of which I was more than happy to listen to.
I ask about his spoken poetry (I was definitely not the first female to hear these words) and he admits he wants to be a writer, and that that’s what he studied. But quite unromantically, romantic Eduardo coyly includes that he is currently an eyewear salesman for the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, is on holiday visiting his uncle who lives here, and frequents places like Lavo and Catch while he’s in town. I figured maybe our meet-cute wouldn’t end in a happily ever after, after all, but if anything, I now knew not to give all of myself to Rome the next time I’m in town.
THE SOMMELIER AND SARAH.
All of Eduardo’s romantic Italian slurs left me with an appetite, and just in time, I was joined by my knows-everything-about-me-best-friend Sarah. She’s cute, petite, and says things like tragic and chic. She briefly met Eduardo, gave her best let’s-get-out-of-here gesture, and six floors down things were looking up with our own corner table at Reynard.
First item on the evening’s menu? Our usual discussion about the impossible nature of the basics: a nice, normal guy. We were taught quickly not to judge the night’s menu by its cover, because it was at that exact point we met Basile, the sexy French sommelier who would end up serving more wine that night. Life is funny like that, isn’t it?
Before he came to our table, me and Sarah chat about his scruffy yet put together good looks. Handsome, check. He approaches our table, introduces himself as the Wine Director, tells us a little about his last three years here, and reveals his appropriately bruting French accent. Check, check.
After what was the best creamy burrata and sun tomatoes I honestly have ever had, we were joined by Erin, the baby-making-music obsessed graphic designer and Chleo, the up-all-night-music obsessed nomad on her way to Berlin, for the main course. Next item on the menu: collectively find out if he’s single. Now while this was probably inappropriate, we were already a couple of glasses deep before Basile, and now we were in no position to compose ourselves from overt flirtations. And by the end of dessert, Basile and Sarah had a clear something-something going on.
We invite him to come for more drinks at Achilles’ Heel to gage if this something-something, could turn into a little something more. He giggles and politely declines, but we weren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. So in a bold power move, Sarah pulls out a card for a free coffee she has at Two Hands, and leaves a short but simple “Call me, let’s go for Free Coffee.”
Three hours later, her phone lights up: “You left something behind…”
THE ART AND THE ARTIST.
A few sips of my night-cap later I found myself in bed asleep with the love of my TV life, an episode of Sex and The City. I woke up the next morning in my lush made-for-a-queen bed and snacks I had half consumed from the mini-bar sprinkled around me. Hungover Samantha Jones inspired hungover Natalie to get back out there, so I went downstairs to meet Kimia, the Wythe’s former front desk, now curator, and an artist in her own right.
The brunette beauty with the big smile started by telling me the magic of how she scores the area’s most coveted artists, “All of our artists are Brooklyn-based and many have studios just down the street from us, so finding them has always been an organic process. I’m also a painter, so my own art practice has opened doors to bring them in.”
Kimia, who now shows her colorful works on paper all over town, has been in-the-know with emerging talent since her very first day six years ago. The art world, one in which I used to dabble, is notorious for an anything-goes reality, so naturally, I wanted to know the curator’s take on the craziness that it brings.
“One artist I was interested in working with had designed a bed with a beehive built in the bottom. The idea was to set the bed up inside a hotel room with the hive included and open it up for reservations. We didn’t end up doing the project for obvious safety reasons, but the idea is one of my all-time favorites,” Kimia gushes.
Her flare for art extends far beyond the eccentricities within the walls of Wythe Hotel, however, and as someone who wants to at least seem like they know what’s in in the New York art scene, I simply had to ask: “what galleries do you frequent?”
“In Williamsburg, I love the programming at The Journal Gallery and 106 Green. In Manhattan my favorites are Canada, Shrine, 56 Henry, and TURN Gallery on the Lower East Side, and Cheim and Read, Galerie Lelong, and David Zwirner in Chelsea. Ceysson & Bénétière uptown is also home to some of my favorite artists and exhibitions,” she shares. I nodded my head like a kid in class in the hopes that Kimia would think I was as art savvy as she was, but I’m pretty sure we both knew, I had absolutely no idea what I was nodding about.
THE WIZARD OF WYTHE.
I had been at the Wythe for less than 24 hours yet had already found fabulous artists, met a slew of gorgeous European men and enjoyed ample fine fare. Oh my! I had to wonder, who is the man behind the curtain making all of this possible? Is he an otherworldly wizard in his Land of Wythe, or is he too a mere mortal just like you and I?
I would learn that Peter Lawrence was somewhere in the middle. The born and bred Australian owner, which didn’t surprise me in the slightest seeing as most cool things in New York are created by Australians, apparently can be found on the daily in the corner of Reynard. He spends his days sipping tea between meetings, making the staff’s eccentric ideas come to life, reading the occasional book (right now, Factfulness by Hans Rosling), and showing the ropes to his kids.
I snagged a seat next to the hospitality entrepreneur and listened as his journey down his very own yellow brick road unfolded in front of me: “The real story starts when my grandmother took me to a place called The Melbourne Club. It’s this sort of stodgy, English restaurant where the waiters wear tuxedos. It was the fanciest place I’d ever been. The menu was all food I’d never heard of, and I asked my grandma if I could just get a hamburger, so she asked the waiter and it was delivered. About a minute later the chef came out and checked if my hamburger was satisfactory or not. I was just like this is fantastic, how long has this been going on, how has no one told me that this is how the world works. So yeah, I definitely got the bug there.”
From there, Peter found his way to New York in ‘94, where he had little bars and restaurants scattered around, even a couple in Brooklyn. Peter continued, “Jed, my real estate developer, my fairy godmother, was my landlord at one of my restaurants in Dumbo. That business was closing up and I was looking at what to do next. In a moment I’ll always remember Jed asked me: ‘if you could do anything, what would you do?’ I said I’d like to have a hotel in Brooklyn that feels like it belongs in Brooklyn. At that time, I was thinking of a little townhouse somewhere, 12 rooms, just me and a housekeeper.
Jed’s idea of scale is usually larger than most people’s. We found our building and we really just fell in love. They’ll never build a building like this anywhere in the world ever again. It was that idea of stewardship, I guess, as well as knowing that if we put a hotel inside the building it would immediately have charm even if we did a terrible job, the bones have all these amazing stories that line up with those of Brooklyn.”
Peter’s fairytale story with his fairy godmother Jed, however, wasn’t all palace balls and magic slippers. Peter shares, “I spent the next two years educating myself. I went to work for Sean MacPherson and Eric Good at one of their properties. I worked as a housekeeper and I ran their housekeeping department, I worked at their front desk and ran their front desk. I went to the best version of New York City hotel school available: real life.”
Six years ago, Peter took his real-life experience and opened the doors to Williamsburg’s very own Oz, the Wythe Hotel. The first guests, he admits, “Was the three partners. Our wives and all the kids came and stayed on the first night. We were the first people that stayed in the hotel. My kids used to come after that and be so upset that they couldn’t just go into whatever room they wanted to because now there were guests.” Casual, I thought, it must be nice to be the kid of a guy who just opened the hottest new hotel. I pried a little further:
Me: Do you think your kids know how cool it is that their dad owns this hotel?
Peter: A little bit, a little bit. They’re pretty savvy, like they know they get special treatment when they walk into the restaurant. My daughter discovered oysters here, she’s pretty adventurous but was like they’re grey and weird. One of the chefs took her back and they opened one together and did the whole thing.
Me: Do you think you’ll take them back to Australia?
Peter: My wife is from Oklahoma, my kids are born and raised in Brooklyn. I met my wife at work in ‘95 maybe ‘96, she came and worked at one of the little restaurants that I had. We became friends and then the boss started dating the, you know, one of those but a successful version! Anyways, my life is here now.
And life here for Peter, well let’s just say it’s not too unlike Oz. From art to politics, his world from inside the Wythe Hotel gives Peter a chance to indulge New York in all its forms. In art, he describes how, “Every three months they take the beds out of select rooms and have a couple hundred people come to see the new artworks like a mini gallery night. We did one with this great artist Chuck Webster, my daughter was there and she carries a little notebook around and they sat together and he drew something in it. And then, of course, she drew something on top of it. He was so sweet he was like you made it so much better!”
In activism, he remembers, “Before the election, we found this great artist that was making New York City street signs that looked like parking signs that they said things like ‘No Trump Anytime.’ We bought a couple and put them on the street, it really created a response from people, some taking pictures and a couple who got really upset looking around for who to yell at. Pretty quickly someone called the city and they were taken down. To stay connected we have to be a reflection of what’s happening within our community.”
“I would argue in many ways, although that sort of creative risk-taking and ability to try stuff without worrying about whether it’s going to be successful or well received or make money is still alive and well in corners of Brooklyn in a way that’s just not possible for that to happen in Manhattan anymore,” Peter concludes.
Every once in a while, a group of seemingly ordinary people in the middle of an otherwise ordinary town, give us an extraordinary hotel fairytale.