Harlem Gets Its First Hotel in 40 Years

First Hotel in 40 Years Opens in HarlemPlayScott Mayerowitz/ABC News
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Visitors to New York love to stay by the big lights of Times Square, the hip streets of SoHo or the business centers of midtown. Now one hotel is looking to buck that trend.

In a few days, a new Aloft boutique hotel will open in Harlem, just around the corner from the famed Apollo Theater.

The hotel is edgier and hipper those most hotels. It's also the first new major hotel to open in Harlem in more than 40 years.

SLIDESHOW: A Look at Harlem's New Hotel

For travelers, the hotel offers a new, modern space at 10 to 15 percent cheaper prices than comparable midtown hotels. While Harlem has had an incredible renaissance -- red, double-decker tour buses now swarm the area's main drag, 125th Street -- there is still a grittier side to the neighborhood.

While the Apollo Theater and several churches with beautiful gospel music all are within a block or two of the Aloft, there are plenty of tattoo and body piercing stores and men walking the streets with sandwich boards for pawn shops announcing that "We Buy Gold Diamonds & Watches."

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Hey, this is New York, after all; there are a handful of adult peep shows still in business near some pretty posh Times Square establishments.

"This place is vibrant; lots of things going on," Aloft's general manager, Daniel Fevre, told ABC News while standing outside the Apollo.

Aloft is Starwood hotels' relatively new affordable but chic chain. It's basically a W hotel but with more self-service. There is a pool table near the lobby bar. Music is pumped through the first floor and the outdoor courtyard. Bright colors are everywhere, and the hotel tries to be whimsical with names and services. For instance, there is no housekeeping, just "refresh."

New York Hotel: Harlem's First Lodging in Decades

The Harlem property isn't just the first new major hotel there in 40 years, it's also the first Aloft to break into the New York market.

The last major Harlem hotel was the old Hotel Theresa, which closed in 1967. The landmarked building, around the corner, now is an office building.

The Theresa was a temporary home for many prominent African-Americans in an age when they weren't welcome at hotels elsewhere. Duke Ellington, Muhammad Ali, Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles and Little Richard all stayed at the Theresa. So did Fidel Castro for a1960 United Nations meeting after having a dispute with the management of his midtown hotel.

Will the Aloft draw such prestigious guests? Probably not. Fevre said the hotel is targeting the younger, Generation Y audience.

It also could lead to a further transformation of the neighborhood. Directly across the street is the Magic Theaters, a groundbreaking movie complex developed by basketball legend Magic Johnson in 1994. That building now houses a gym, Old Navy and other stores. The 124-room Aloft, which opens Nov. 11, will be capped off with six stories of luxury condos.

Prices at the hotel won't be cheap, but are a discount compared to other Manhattan hotels. Through the end of the year, the hotel will offer rooms for $239 a night. Rates in 2011 are expected to range from $199 to $325 a night, depending on the season, Fevre said.

Don't expect fancy room service there. Like other Aloft hotels, grab-and-go meals will be sold in the lobby near the reception desk, a round space that feels more like an airport information kiosk than a front desk.

Some members of Starwood's loyalty program won't even have to stop by the front desk. Their membership card will be embedded with a radio-frequency chip allowing them to go straight to their pre-assigned room. It will be the first Starwood hotel to open with the system.

The room interiors carry over a bit of that sleek appeal. Bathrooms feature high-end bath products, but there's no stealing little bottles of shampoo and conditioner -- the hotel has more of an industrial dispenser inside its showers.

Besides free wi-fi, rooms come with a high-tech box that connects iPods, cameras and other devices directly to the flat screen TV. Night stand clocks are old-fashioned style with analog faces.

Despite all the sleek, modern edges, the Aloft does pay homage to the surrounding neighborhood. Besides selling Scope, NyQuil, Advil and Colgate at the front desk, the hotel offers a cookbook from Marcus Samuelsson and his new Red Rooster restaurant nearby, copies of The Harlem Reader and Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook.