Fodor's Expert Review Life Hotel

19 W. 31st St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, New York, New York, 10001, USA See on Map

Julie Baumgardner

A rather monumental place of New York history—this 1895 Carrère and Hastings (of New York Public Library fame) building was once home to the offices and residences of Life magazine and its bold-faced staffers (like Norman Rockwell, Charles Gibson, and John Ames Mitchell). But after the offices were moved in 1936, the building became a dreary two-star sap. However, now the Life Hotel has reanimated the building’s history into a delightful 98-room boutique hotel that also touts the return of BR Guest founder Stephen Hanson’s latest restaurant du jour, Henry, as well as a basement-level speakeasy Gibson + Luce (all named after none other than Life magazine magnate Henry Luce). On an uninviting block of no-mans-land (is it Nomad? Is it Koreatown? Who knows!), the Life Hotel breathes life into this rapidly developing stretch of Broadway with a refined casual approach to hospitality at an accessible price point. Or in the words of the hotel, “4-star hotel with 3-star prices.”


In homage to the archeological aspects of renovating the rooms (oh the beams, bottles and concrete found), designer Tara Oxley referenced the furnishings and curated art to the building’s previous life. Wright iron bed frames, brass lighting fixtures, thin flat screens, mid-century desks against a crisp white background gives these spacious rooms a clean airy feeling—quite the contrast to the gritty outside the window. Eco-friendly linens wrap Siemens Beautyrest mattresses. It’s a simple, stylish Instagram-ready room. Also, you can text the concierge with whatever query you may have.

YOU SHOULD KNOW Certain corners of the hotel can be turned into two or three bedroom suites, perfect for groups traveling together.


Subway tiles and brass fixtures (even the rain shower) have a classy edge to this 1920s classic aesthetic. Even the doors hark back to the era. The white-on-white certainly keeps the place look clean.

YOU SHOULD KNOW The hotel has a best-in-class filtered water system for both bathing and drinking. Blown glass jugs are left in each room.


The hotel’s reception is purposely receded behind the restaurant Henry. Walking in, to the right is the bar and the left, the dining hall, right in the middle of the action. But behind the warmly lit, wood-oven toasted restaurant is a discreet desk to check-in.


A small but sturdy fitness center has a few cardio machines and a tower of weights.


Henry, named after Life magazine’s Henry Luce, is Stephen Hanson’s return to the restaurant world with his BR Guest co-founder Michael Vignola’s reinterpreted Italian and American classics, from wood-oven pizzas to roasted meats to rave reviews from hardened New York food critics. Unlike many new concepts opening up in the area, the menu is also reasonably priced. Room Service will also be provided by the Henry kitchen


The bar at Henry, which occupies its own separate space from the restaurant, has the look of grandpa’s favorite drinking den brought into the 21st century. The bar itself has is full stocked with small-batch spirits and an interesting wine list from unique regions of the world (at a fair price), and offers a special bar menu from the kitchen. It’s angling to be both a destination and a local hang, and it has all the ingredients to take off.


Getting Around

Steps from Herald Square, home to 1/2/3, B/D and N/Q/R/W lines and Penn Station, the city’s main hub for Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and the Long Island Rail Road.


The Penn Station area is a bit of a culinary wasteland, but luckily Koreatown on 32nd Street is a savior in a sea of bad diner food. Kang Ho Dong (5 min walk) and Jongro (5 min walk) are the top winners around here for authentic festive fare, but if you’re well versed in Gochujang and Bulgogi want more of a dining experience, try Atoboy (7 min walk), refined Korean small-plates in an industrially chic setting.


Bar around here serve mostly a functional purpose: drink off the day. Some bars even have the NJT and LIRR schedules posted in large TV screens for their largely commuter clientele. However, the area on Broadway known as Nomad has ushered in tremendously chic hotels, such as the Nomad (7-min) and the Ace (7 min), and both their drinking establishments, the Nomad Bar and the Breslin offer the utmost sophisticated cocktails and savory snacks without the fuss of dining in their proprietary luxurious restaurants.


The Life Hotel is a New York hotel run by New Yorkers. Within its Beaux Arts universe, style and quality are offered at a fair price. It’s cute, chic and certainly the sort of place that looks good in a feed. The sorts of amenities fit a modern urban professional’s lifestyle but executed in a way that’s neither precious nor belabored. It feels real. A vibe that certain honors the history within these walls.


Historical, Pet Friendly
98 rooms
Breakfast Yes
Lunch Yes
Dinner Yes
Bar Yes
Cafe Yes
Room Service Yes


Phones: 212-615-9900

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