A Celebration of the Past, Present and Future at Renaissance New York Harlem HotelBy Adrienne Jordan
Quintessential Harlem evokes the storied jazz musicians, singers, writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance — a revolution in African American culture and the arts in the 1920s and 1930s. And this New York City neighborhood, where Josephine Baker once sang to intimate audiences in smoky parlors and Louis Armstrong belted out notes you could feel deep in your core in jazz clubs, was at the center of it all.
Today, situated impactfully above the restored historic facade and lobby of the Victoria Theater on 125th Street, you’ll find the Renaissance New York Harlem Hotel, a stunning space that weaves together the old Harlem and the new.
To stay or dine at the Renaissance New York Harlem Hotel means connecting with the storytelling that courses throughout the design of the property. “Beyond the historical significance of the site, we want guests to experience present-day Harlem: one of the most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods of NYC, and a thriving capital of contemporary Black culture,” says Martin Ablaza, global design director at Marriott International.
With architecture by Aufgang Architects and interiors conceptualized by AJC Design — under the guidance of the Global Design Team at Marriott International — the hotel celebrates Harlem’s past, present and future.
A History Preserved
The Victoria Building in which the Renaissance New York Harlem Hotel sits began its life as a vaudeville venue in 1917 and then operated as a cinema before falling into disuse. Today, a first glimpse of the hotel’s exterior reflects the building’s roots: the preserved historic facade and brightly lit marquee.
As you move toward the entrance under the gilded marquee, you’ll appreciate the shining gold of the restored ticket booth before stepping into the ground-floor lobby, which instantly transports you to the glamour of the Jazz Age. Designed in 1917 by Thomas Lamb, an architect who built hundreds of theaters, the lobby and its grand marble staircase have been returned to their former glory.
Visitors who want to learn more about the building’s many lives are in luck: TVs on the mezzanine level play a slideshow about not only the history of the Victoria Theater, but also the work that went into its restoration and rebirth as this stunning hotel.
A Sleek and Welcoming Space
After you’ve taken in the sights of the ground-floor lobby, take the elevator up to the fifth floor, which includes a check-in lobby, library lounge and the hotel’s bar and restaurant. You’ll spot black-and-white photographs of Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway inside the elevator.
Once the doors open, you’ll be greeted by a giant, customized, colorful portrait of Billie Holiday near the check-in desk, as well as The Victoria restaurant, dramatic in black, white and gold under a soaring double-height ceiling. With an elegant marble bar running along the back wall, the bold, sleek space feels modern yet nods to eras past.
The Victoria’s menu, created by Executive Chef Bobby Bouyer, delights the palate, drawing inspiration from Harlem’s rich past while leveraging classic cooking techniques and celebrating the flavors of the Southern Gulf Coast. Guests can order dishes like shrimp and grits, jambalaya and fried chicken, as well as sophisticated cocktail and wine menus.
To the side of the fifth-floor bar, wooden stairs with gold accents and a wrought-iron banister rise to the mezzanine lounge above. The first names of Harlem Renaissance legends, including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb, glow from the stairs’ risers. In the mezzanine lounge at the top of the stairs, art-deco–inspired rich wood paneling and vibrant blue leather banquettes line the walls beneath softly glowing lights. Pick a record from a collection inspired by Harlem’s musical legacy and spin it on one of the built-in record players or listen to a DJ spin from the built-in booth.
It’s All in the Design Details
“Having a hotel located in the epicenter of Black culture meant that this was an opportunity to highlight the work of emerging Black talent and support Black-owned businesses,” says Ablaza. For the project, the design team sought out the expertise of local talent. Through styling the public spaces on the fifth floor, interior designer Carlita Alexander has told the story of present-day Harlem with thoughtfully selected art, artifacts, furniture and books.
“As a New York City–based African American interior designer, I enjoyed capturing the gilded spirit of this era,” says Alexander. “From brass cymbals to insightful anthologies, features throughout were designed to reflect the aspirational qualities of music, art, literature and science from this enlightened generation.”
Keep an eye out for the fifth-floor-lobby pillows decorated with images from iconic performances at the Apollo Theater. And in the library lounge, you can also browse through books that celebrate the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance and look up at the ceiling to appreciate the majestic, gold-toned map of New York City.
“There are discovery elements sprinkled throughout the library lounge,” says Ablaza. “In the communal table you’ll see an inset shadowbox display featuring local designer Sheila Bridges’ Harlem Toile layered under a preserved floral installation by Joi Blooms, and a vignette on the bookshelf inspired by the journals of Benjamin Banneker.”
In the library lounge, you’ll also find commissioned artwork by Brooklyn-based Black artist Ashley Buttercup. “I had the opportunity to paint [eight] portraits of several iconic Harlem Renaissance luminaries: Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, A’Lelia Walker, Gladys Bentley, Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith [and] Zora Neale Hurston,” says Buttercup. “I used black gouache and gold acrylic paint [on] 8-by-10-inch paper.”
The Guest Rooms
When it’s time to settle in for the night in a guest room, studio or suite, guests are greeted with sweeping views of Harlem and Central Park, sophisticated furnishings and plush bedding.
The rooms and suites also feature various design touches referencing the Harlem Renaissance, like the quotes from a Langston Hughes poem that adorn the bedroom mirrors and ’20s-era touches like jazz-inspired bedside speakers shaped like gramophones.
At Renaissance New York Harlem Hotel, it’s all in the details — inside and out — that bring this history of Harlem to life in a location that puts the very best of the neighborhood, and the city, at your feet.