By Rich Beattie
March 06, 2012

It’s no surprise that watching a sunset in Manhattan (drink in hand, of course) is as elusive as finding street parking. But the island’s west side is lined with buildings that look out over the Hudson River—why haven’t more places taken advantage of this great view?

Fortunately, someone’s doing just that. One of Hilton’s luxury brands, the Conrad, is opening soon in NYC’s Financial District and will feature an outdoor bar on the 16th floor (pictured, above)—ideal for sunset gazing. Oh yeah, and they’re doing other cool stuff, too. The place used to be an Embassy Suites, and while I appreciate ES’s big rooms and free hot breakfast, accumulating stars isn’t their focus. So I was excited to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the transformation.

And, well, wow. The Conrad hasn’t changed the bones of the building (other free-breakfast fans will recognize ES’s central atrium structure), but it feels completely different, an effect aided by artwork. Lots of artwork. Like, artwork on steroids. Some 2,000 pieces fill the hotel.

So, fittingly, artwork is the first thing you’ll see when you walk in. A series of huge angular steel tubes—Monica Ponce De Leon’s sculpture, “Veils”—dangle dramatically from the skylit ceiling. (The workers crawling around on them when I was there will presumably not be part of the final installation.) But it’s also hard to miss Sol LeWitt’s work, “Loopy Doopy Blue and Purple 1999”—it’s 13 stories high. The painting was already hanging on the atrium wall, but new lighting is giving it a second life. There’s also artwork in the rooms, conference space, restaurant—you get the idea.

That restaurant, Atrio, was a work in progress, but it’s shaping up to be a cool space, and Executive Chef Anthony Zamora comes from the Four Seasons New York, so we’re hoping for great things. You’ll also find three (!) Danny Meyer restaurants in the neighborhood.

In the rooms, the “suites” part of Embassy Suites turned out to be very useful: Conrad didn’t have to gut the place to create (on average) 430-square-foot rooms—though now of course they’ll be decked out with higher-end stuff. And since it was a residential designer, Jill Greaves, who was responsible for the new look, you may even feel right at home. Actually, the hotel’s opening weekend rates will be only $219, so living here would be less expensive than some New York apartments.

My own apartment isn’t far away, so it’s that 16th-floor outdoor bar (pictured, top) I’m most excited about. When the Conrad New York opens in the next month or so, come look for me there—at sunset, of course.

Rich Beattie is the digital executive editor at Travel + Leisure