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Review: Freehand New York

Oct. 15, 2019
Travel, Vacations & Trip Planning
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New York City hotels are a dime a dozen. I’m less than two hours from the city, so I pop in often to visit with friends, check out an event, see a new exhibit, you name it. When I stay overnight, I have my favorite properties, of course. But when I stay with friends, they often pick a place and I succumb to whatever deal they may have found online.

Such was the case with a stay to the Freehand Hotel.

We were going to check out a concert at Gramercy Theatre, so we wanted a place within walking distance. Turns out Freehand recently opened in the Flatiron District, promising an “artistic community.” A quick search showed Conde Nast Traveler added it to their Hot List. Well, then. Who was I to judge? I was ready to give it a shot.

Background

Housed in the former George Washington Hotel on Lexington Avenue, the Freehand was previously an artist’s haven. Freehand has a relatively new collection of hotels found in Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago that is catering to the world-traveling crowd. These properties are meant to be inexpensive yet chic, provide community yet privacy and be a hotel while breaking the barriers of what a hotel should be.

Freehand used its Bard College neighbors to help create the hotel’s artistic vibe. Fifteen students and alumni worked on original guest room artwork, hand painting the 394 guest rooms and restaurant spaces. The property officially opened to the public in 2018.

Booking

As a new hotel group, Freehand does not yet offer a rewards program. There would be no points booking for this stay. In August, Freehand’s parent company, Sydell — which also manages the uber-trendy NoMad properties — was acquired by MGM Resorts International.

We can speculate that Freehand will be incorporated into the M life Rewards program, which also crosses over into the World of Hyatt, but until talk becomes reality, the only way to earn points is using a rewards credit card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card will give you 2 points per $1 spent for booking a room, spending at the bar and a host of on-site amenities.

» Learn more: Chase Sapphire Preferred review: A must-have for travelers

Booking directly through the Freehand website gets you a lower rate than using Expedia, Travelocity or Orbitz. The Freehand site even shows the price difference between these sites.

There were two of us looking to share a King room. The standard King, at 250 square feet, was $326 per night and the larger 325-square-foot Big King was $355. A Corner King was 50 square feet bigger for $383 per night.

Since we just needed one night, we went cheap. Charging $326 per night on the Chase Sapphire Reserve® earned 3 points per $1 spent — yielding nearly 1,000 points before any additional expenditures.

Transportation and check-in

We were arriving by car. Although the hotel doesn’t offer parking (or valet), there was a parking garage around the corner that provided overnight parking for less than $50.

Check-in was very simple when I arrived. I was the only one, so I received quick service. The lobby is rather small with a shop/cafe and a restaurant that did not open until 5 p.m. It’s a bit European in that the restaurant, Simon + The Whale, closed following its lunch service that ended at 2:30 p.m.

No drinks until 5? This is Manhattan, after all. I asked where I could get a drink while I waited for my friends. Oddly, the mezzanine-level bar and the rooftop bar both would not open until 5:30 and 5, respectively. Here I was at 3 p.m. check-in with nothing to do but head to my room and wait. (Note: The rooftop bar, Broken Shaker, now opens earlier than during my stay; perhaps enough people complained?)

The room

Stepping into my King room, I immediately wished I had splurged on the larger version. The room was very tight. Sparse in decor, but fitting all the needs with a large flat-screen TV and Wi-Fi. The room reminded me of a European style space. A basket of apples hanging from the ceiling in a corner of the room was a nice touch, and the bed was super comfy.

As should be the case at any worthy New York hotel, the windows are soundproof to keep out the constant barrage of car horns and sirens and ensure a good night’s sleep.

Freehand offers more than the standard queen and king rooms. It’s a hostel-style hotel meant to allure younger travels. A three-person room is available with a queen bed topped with an overhead twin. The bunk room has two sets of bunk beds to sleep four people. Both room types look very much like the dorm I lived in at Emerson College — all that is missing is a desk.

Still, there is something for the, dare I say, more sophisticated traveler in the Suite option. These are designed to look like city apartments with shag rugs, IKEA-looking furniture and living space.

Amenities

When the aforementioned Simon + The Whale opened, my friends and I were able to enjoy Freehand’s anchor restaurant, located on the street level with views of the city and windows that open to the street during warmer weather. The restaurant is very much anti-hostel, with a gourmet menu featuring dishes such as Fava Bean Ravioli with pickled onion and mint oil, as well as a late-night snack menu with smoked mussels and chicken liver pate with banana bread.

On the opposite side of the hotel, with the lobby separating the two, is Smile To Go, a coffee shop and lite bites option, perfect for grabbing a croissant in the morning before heading out for the day.

The second floor Studio is a combination of a bar and communal space. You’ll find people on their laptops working alongside friends during the day. The bar and dining option do not begin until 4 p.m., with the exception of brunch on weekends.

For a more refined drink option, grab a cocktail at George Washington Bar, named for the original hotel and located in the former hotel’s library. Another option is the rooftop bar, Broken Shaker. Of course, the rooftop is more than a hotel bar. This is a hip space for city dwellers as well, because who doesn’t love taking in the views of Manhattan, cocktail in hand, from a rooftop?

Room service is available, as well as basics like Wi-Fi and a 24-hour fitness center.

Tip: Use your travel rewards credit card, such as Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, when eating and imbibing, as you’ll earn 2 miles per $1!

» Learn more: Capital One Venture review: Easy earnings, effortless redemptions

The downsides

It was probably just growing pains, but service was hard to come by at the Freehand. Following my solo check-in and disappointment that there was nowhere to grab a drink, I headed out, passing through the lobby that had a line of people attempting to check in. There were only two staffers behind the desk to help. I was thankful I had missed the line but was sadly caught up in it the next morning when attempting to check out.

Wrapping it all up

The hotel is minimalistic, and every moment of my stay felt like I was back in my dorm, sharing a communal space with strangers. Yet this is the allure of Freehand hotels, and I have to say it was pretty nice. No sprawling lobbies, forever-waits for elevators, rooms that look like 500 other rooms across the city — Freehand is very welcome in the sea of choices across the city.

How to maximize your rewards

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