Robert De Niro’s Greenwich Hotel sits resplendent—all brick and glass and wrought-iron—between Franklin and North Moore Streets in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood. It looks as if it has been here since the turn of the last century: the handsome cragginess of the façade may be rough-hewn, but it has been carefully crafted to appear this way. The interior displays a gracious incongruity; there is a soft masculinity about it.
It sounds as if I’m describing De Niro himself, who sits down opposite me in the hotel’s guests-only Drawing Room, in a worn leather club chair. De Niro, who has been the driving aesthetic force behind the hotel, settles in and silences his insistent cell phone. “So,” I ask him, “have you been getting in touch with your inner interior decorator?”
He gives me the twofold De Niro look that has served him so well in his vast repertoire of roles, the look that signaled his pained bemusement at Streisand’s seductive stridency playing his in-law in Meet the Fockers, as well as the one Francis Ford Coppola coaxed from him in his most chilling moments as a Corleone: a childlike, lopsided grin combined somehow with the deeply menacing grimace only a grown man can summon. If looks could kill, indeed. Its curdled sweetness makes you sweat.
And then he laughs.
“Yes—completely,” he says. “This is the way I would do my house. Comfort has been behind the choices I’ve made about this hotel. Of course, Ira had a lot to do with the look of the place too.” Ira is Ira Drukier, a partner in the project along with Richard Born of BD Hotels and De Niro’s son Raphael. “I was telling Ira how much I identified with the craftsmen and artisans—we made a point of hiring the best we could find in New York. I related to the way they worked to get that…specialness to something. I totally respect that way of working: taking something very basic and making something quite rare out of it.”
Is he talking about Method acting now, or a design aesthetic?Lee Strasberg, who led the Actors Studio and helped establish the Method in America, could have uttered that last sentence in one of his master classes. Most of the wood used in the hotel is reclaimed, a word that recalls Strasberg’s approach for using an actor’s own emotions to trigger some deeper truth in a performance—though De Niro credits Strasberg’s rival, Stella Adler, for his approach to acting, as well as design. “What Stella would say is that talent is in the choice, so in that regard, my aesthetic is more Adlerian than Strasbergian.” I glance around the Drawing Room. The mirrored glass between the custom-made French doors that connect to the private, Paris-inspired courtyard was salvaged from New York’s Flatiron Building. Antiques and vintage books are everywhere. The huge utilitarian fixtures hanging from the 14-foot ceilings are from a Horn & Hardart Automat—icons of 1950’s New York that were frequented by taxi drivers. The lights now illuminate a room designed by the most famous Taxi Driver of them all.
The best hotels possess the same canny sensuality as the smartest movie stars. Maybe it’s the built-in drama of lobbies that so many celebrities find seductive about hotel life. These spaces are both public and private; they are stages of sorts, places to see and be seen. Yet once guests lock themselves away behind their doors, there is a sense of privacy that borders on anonymity. When a star has the kind of fame that De Niro has had for almost 40 years, this is the most luxurious service a hotel can offer. The security of such cosseted anonymity, in fact, is what causes movie stars to take up residence in a hotel sometimes—from Warren Beatty (a onetime resident of the Beverly Wilshire in L.A.) to Ethan Hawke (who lived in New York’s Chelsea Hotel).
Other cinema legends have taken it one step further and owned the whole property: Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch is in Carmel, California; Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort serves as a ski lodge and backdrop for his Park City film festival; Coppola has three properties in Central America—Turtle Inn and Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize, and La Lancha Resort in Guatemala. And now De Niro has The Greenwich. With 88 rooms, eight floors, and 75,000 square feet, the hotel is a kind of crown jewel among his real estate holdings in TriBeCa, which some have said makes him the neighborhood’s de facto mayor. Those investments include the Tribeca Film Center, as well as Tribeca Cinemas (which has hosted his annual film festival), and Nobu and Tribeca Grill restaurants.