Are there different satisfactions for De Niro in building a hotel and in constructing a character?“It’s similar. Making a movie is a totally collaborative endeavor, and this hotel has been the same thing, really,” he says, alluding to his cast of cohorts in this project, which have included Ian McPheely and Christian Garnett of Grayling Design, Samantha Crasco of BD Hotels, and Mikio Shinagawa, the Japanese designer who was in charge of the hotel’s Shibui Spa, the centerpiece of which is a 250-year-old Japanese house that was shipped over from a village near Kyoto and reassembled around the lantern-lit pool downstairs.
I had asked Crasco, during an earlier tour of the place, to describe De Niro’s and Drukier’s aesthetics. “Bob is a little more classic, and Ira tends a little more toward the modern.” Drukier elaborated: “There is an organic feel to this place as opposed to a slickness, which has a lot to do with Bob. He doesn’t like trendy. He doesn’t like square lines. He likes curves, so to speak.
De Niro is squinting toward the wall in the Drawing Room. “I’m thinking of putting a certain painting of my father’s over there,” he says, telling me he plans to hang several of his father’s works in the hotel.
Robert De Niro Sr. was a well-known Abstract Expressionist who met Virginia Admiral, also an artist, in the summer of 1941 when they were both studying at Hans Hofmann’s studio in Provincetown. They divorced soon after De Niro was born. De Niro’s upbringing was bohemian; during the 1940’s and 50’s his father’s Greenwich Village loft was frequented by other artists of the time, such as Jackson Pollock, and literary figures like Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and Tennessee Williams. He attended the Little Red School House on Bleecker Street, and later—at his mother’s insistence, after he had dropped out of school at 13 and joined a street gang in Little Italy—enrolled in the La Guardia High School of Music & Art, and Performing Arts.
Artistry is part of De Niro’s DNA. So how would his parents—his mother died in 2000, his father in 1993—feel about his becoming a real estate investor in TriBeCa?“I have that side of me as an artist that is unpredictable. But at the same time I have another side that has a lot of common sense about things. While making a movie, both of those sides often come into play.”
And why TriBeCa?Was coming even farther downtown to stake out an identity a way of separating himself from the Village and Little Italy, where his childhood and teenage years were marked by emotional upheavals?Such psychobabble seems to bore him. “I came down here initially during Raging Bull to find a space to set up a gym, and wound up loving the area,” he says.
Some of the neighborhood’s community activists have complained about this new venture, however, because much of the financing for the hotel—which is rumored to have cost upward of $50 million—was secured with $38.9 million of tax-free Liberty Bonds from the New York Liberty Development Corporation. The bonds were created after 9/11 to help get the neighborhood back on its feet, and some residents believe that this money could have been better spent on affordable housing. “I certainly don’t want to upset anyone, but I think this will be a nice addition to the neighborhood and be good for all kinds of businesses,” De Niro says when asked about the controversy. “Look, there’s always going to be somebody to complain about something. But I hope now that it’s finished, people will take pride in its being here. We were very conscious when building this hotel to complement its surroundings and be respectful not only of the neighborhood but also our neighbors.”
“Why didn’t you call this first one De Niro’s Hotel?” I ask. “It’s so identified with you that it’s what people are calling it anyway.”
He blushes a bit at such a suggestion. “I’m the one who wanted to call it The Greenwich,” he says. “I thought it was classic, elegant, and simple.” Forget about earlier allusions to a carefully crafted façade and an incongruous interior. In that one succinct statement about the name of the hotel, the man has just described himself.