(Bloomberg) -- There’s a lot that’s unprecedented about Aman New York.
For one thing, the 83-suite hotel, which officially opened on Aug. 2—though it was still halfway under construction that week—has commanded years of hype. The new incarnation of the 100-year-old Crown Building at 57th and Fifth is the most hotly anticipated hotel opening the city has experienced in the past decade.
This is, after all, a brand whose expansive resorts command more than $2,000 per night in any destination. So great is the faith in Aman’s ability to raise New York’s already high standards of luxury that locals ponied up $100,000 initiation fees to become founding members of its world-first Aman Club during a pre-opening period. (The sign-up cost has since doubled, not including $15,000 for annual dues.)
Then there are the nightly rates. If it seemed as if the new Ritz-Carlton NoMad, with its maximalist design and José Andrés restaurants, were pushing a limit by charging $1,400 per night for an entry-level room in a patchy neighborhood, Aman is blowing past.
The hotel’s humblest rooms aren’t even sold on their own; at Aman New York, the 340-square-foot studios can be booked only as an adjoining option for $20,000-per-night corner suites as a way to make them bigger.
Instead, premier suites, which make up the bulk of the inventory and measure 815 square feet, are among the only reservations that can currently be booked through the end of the year. Although the hotel says officially that prices for those rooms will start at $3,200 per night, they’re currently going for $4,200 per night for most weeknights and up to $5,500 per night on weekends through the end of 2022.
That’s not because of their size. A similarly proportioned suite at the recently-renovated Carlyle commands less than half the price on the same dates. This is a product of Aman’s cachet and devoted following. The brand appeals to those who value its take on discreet luxury. It tends to fill architecturally important buildings such as summer palaces in Beijing and monumental Venetian palazzos and make them feel like ultra-private residences for the few guests who can call them temporary homes.
“There’s a big difference between us and everybody else,” says Aman’s chairman and chief executive officer, Vlad Doronin, speaking via a video call from Ibiza. “Not only will our clients be willing to pay luxury money for what we’ve built, but they’re also going to feel very happy with the value they’ve received by the time they check out.”
Doronin could say that about himself. He concedes that he’s “spared no expense” and blown his budget—estimated at around $300 million on the hotel alone, though Doronin says acquiring the building and adding residences has brought the total tab closer to $1.45 billion. That’s partially due to challenges that came with building a six-star hotel amid a pandemic and supply chain crisis.
Still, the result is, as he has promised, unlike anything New York has yet seen.
A Vertical Resort
Developing and operating a hotel in Manhattan comes with unique challenges that are largely unfamiliar to Aman. Of its 34 locations, only the Tokyo outpost is in a major metropolis. Building in urban hubs, however, is paramount to Doronin’s expansion strategy. (Bangkok and Miami will be up next.)
Not only can these destinations offer better potential for selling residences, which offset hotel development costs, but they also help the brand attract a younger demographic. Already, Doronin says that Aman’s median guest age has started to shift from fiftysomethings to people in their mid-30s with big tech jobs.
New York has tight and awkward floor plans that go against Aman’s penchant for “generosity of space,” as Doronin puts it. Labor unions also make it costly to operate at the staff-to-guest ratios Aman can afford in, say, Sri Lanka or Vietnam. Yet, Doronin says the only real difference between the New York property and any other Aman site is that the amenities are stacked vertically, rather than sprawled out across rose-hued pavilions, as in Marrakech, Morocco, or in its hyper-minimalist sandstone boxes that frame desert in Utah.
The amenities are indeed exhaustive enough to constitute a proper wellness resort. The rooms fill only six floors of the building; the spa and wellness center occupy three—some 25,000 square feet—and include space for cryotherapy chambers and an indoor pool.
A fully functional medical practice takes up the spa’s entire top floor. It’s where Dr. Robert Graham, a Harvard-trained internist, uses an array of machines to measure inflammation and stress levels throughout your body before prescribing “wellness immersion programs” that consist of such things as acupuncture, intravenous peptide boosts, or hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
More sumptuous (and to this writer’s taste) are two bath houses that are like private spas within the spa.
There, in apartment-like spaces complete with bedrooms and dining areas, small groups or couples can share a half- or full-day experience that revolves around a Moroccan hammam or eastern European banya. Either scrub is followed by dips in hot and cold outdoor plunge pools—set on a private garden terrace with a retractable roof—plus custom lunch menus and add-on massages. Cost: $8,500 for two for the full day. If any equivalent for this exists in New York, it’s in someone’s $40 million Upper East Side townhouse.
Even the gym holds surprises: It includes a high-intensity Technogym treadmill called the Skillmill, a $17,000 VacuTherm stair stepper that seems to have been crossed with a sauna—it’s wrapped in infrared heat elements to make you sweat more—and Jetsons-esque benches with knobby, white infrared rollers for lymphatic drainage.
“We wanted it to be fun and to give people something they’ve never seen before,” says Yuki Kiyono, global head of wellness and spa for Aman.
The spa will eventually be opened to non-guests, with two-hour signature treatments starting at $785. So will Aman New York’s two restaurants off a 14th floor, double-height lobby: Arva and Nama will serve Italian and Japanese fare, respectively. For now, though, they’ll all be in a soft-opening mode limited to club members and those spending the night.
There’s also a sprawling, 7,000-square-foot terrace bar off the lobby that’s wrapped like an elaborate jewelry box in latticed metal sheeting and bamboo slats, all concealing retractable glass panels to enclose the space on cold or rainy days. Adorned with fire pits, Japanese trees, and reflective water features, it’s bound to become an impossibly hot ticket for after-work drinks. Impossibly hot, that is, because Aman is bound to let only so many people in who aren’t paying the full overnight rates.
The point, after all, is not to bring in locals, as most city hotels in the world try to do, but to keep enough people out that the vibe remains exclusive and private. Even the neighbors on Billionaire’s Row will find that their best chance of getting in is by signing up for that $200,000 club initiation fee.
One space is already open to the public: a subterranean jazz club with programming curated by trumpeter Brian Newman, the bandleader for Lady Gaga’s Las Vegas show, among other accolades. This is an intimate but glitzy space, with a sound system so rarified that the only other public New York venue that claims to have it is Jazz at Lincoln Center.
A few areas will be limited to club members, meaning that even if you pay $20,000 for that corner suite, you still won’t be allowed in. These include a small cigar lounge tucked behind a secret door in the lobby and a private wine library that will stock obscure labels.
All About the Details
For overnight guests, the less sexy details actually set Aman New York apart. As someone who has spent extensive time in the city’s most lavish hotels, the single thing that imparted the greatest sense of luxury to me, as I walked this property, is the way the architects rejiggered the historic Crown Building—not the way that they restored its ornamental exterior panels with pounds of liquid gold but how they widened its corridors and stretched its ceilings to create wide-open spaciousness in a city desperately lacking in elbow room.
Also conveying that sweeping sense of space are heavy, 10-foot-tall doors for each suite, behind which are walls that have been obsessively soundproofed. Simon Kopec, the hotel’s director of marketing, tells me the staff run sound checks to measure street noise, which typically come in at merely nine decibels. (A whisper clocks in at 25.) It really is pin-drop quiet, except when an ambulance crosses Fifth Avenue.
Each suite has been retrofitted to have a functional fireplace, a large soaking tub, heated bathroom floor, and either a steam or rain shower—adding to the urban oasis vibes. Everything feels expensive down to the hangers in the leather-backed closets, which match the wood trim elsewhere in the rooms. Pivoting partition walls resembling shoji screens create privacy around the bed, or yield a more open floor plan between the living and sleeping spaces. Overall, the design leans heavily on the company’s Asian roots, with Japanese murals of pine trees and monochromatic furnishings that bring to mind nature’s elements.
Sense of place? You’re at an Aman. New York is just visible from all those expansive windows.
“We didn’t cut any corners,” Doronin says. “We had more challenges than I’ve ever experienced in a project, and I’ve built some 80 buildings—around 82 million square feet of space,” he continues, referring to both the construction halts during pandemic lockdowns and the subsequent supply chain crisis. “But we didn’t make any compromises here.”
What It’s Worth
Doronin says that while New York is a destination that will help Aman enhance its market share—the brand’s audience is currently only 37% American, for instance—the hotel has primarily sold out its 2022 inventory to so-called “Amanjunkies,” a caste of loyal followers who collect stays at Aman hotels the way 1980s schoolboys collected baseball cards. In fact, Doronin says 85% of his guests become repeat visitors; few hotel brands can compete with that number, even when they offer point-earning multipliers and free nights, which would be unthinkable in Doronin’s world.
By pairing Aman New York’s suites with condos—22 units in total, ranging from around $5.9 million to $75 million—and adding a membership club model, Doronin has expanded Aman’s universe. Now it’s not just vacations; it’s a lifestyle. “This opening is a major milestone for our brand,” he says.
That explains why Doronin invested heavily in making Aman New York such a gem—and why he trusts that consumers will pony up accordingly. “My financial advisers kept asking what I was thinking, creating something like a double-height lobby. That space could have been worth an extra $60 million in apartments. But I didn’t listen to them,” he says, beaming. “This product is too important for the brand.”
(Adds total project budget in ninth paragraph.)
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