The Gramercy Park Hotel — swanky when it was opened a hundred years ago, then kitschy and cheap when it was frequented by basically the entirety of Woodstock’s lineup, then swanky again under owner Aby Rosen — has found itself at the end of another of its eras. Last week, auctioneers sold off everything from the furnishings to the bathrobes as visitors recounted their favorite memories of the beloved New York institution: Remember when Debbie Harry lived there and the rooms had hot plates? Or when Zoë Kravitz launched her jewelry line with Penn Badgley in 2013?
For some GPH die-hards, the demise of the hotel, now rumored to become condos, is not just a disappointment but a travesty. When Rosen, a notorious luxury real-estate tycoon who looks a bit like the Quaker Oats guy if he had been on Gossip Girl, added it to his portfolio in 2003, along with former partner Ian Schrager, he brought in Julian Schnabel to update the dilapidated interiors, pulled up the wall-to-wall carpeting, and hung art from their private collections. The pair transformed the hotel from a seedy, quirky curiosity to the kind of place where celebrities partied, unironically, during Fashion Week and tourists could take in a Damien Hirst lobby installation while waiting to check in. (Rosen’s over–the-top art collection is as talked about as his luxury buildings: His kids’ rooms at his Manhattan townhouse were once described “ridiculous,” with “like, Basquiats on the wall next to a Sopranos pinball machine.”) Rosen bought out Schrager in 2010, and has thus been the face of a drawn-out eviction battle at the hotel between his company, RFR Holding, and the owner of the land the hotel sits on, Solil Management. By now, there is a years-long trail of reports on the Gramercy Park Hotel’s last, ignominious years — so what actually led to the downfall of this storied place where Cuba Gooding Jr. was once seen “being ‘super-friendly’”?
Like nearly every hotel in the city, GPH effectively shut down as the pandemic first took hold in March 2020. And like many, many tenants, it stopped paying rent, according to Solil. (Rosen leased the land for over $5 million a year.) By that December, the landlord sued RFR for eviction, per a notice tacked on the door, if it did not produce the $900,000 it owed. Eventually, as vaccines rolled out and other hotels returned, the Gramercy Park Hotel stayed stubbornly, mysteriously closed. The decision, in addition to potentially baffling Solil, apparently pissed off its restaurateur. Danny Meyer, owner of Maialino, which after 12 years in operation had remained shuttered on the ground floor, tweeted in November of 2021 that he and his staff “continue to wait for the GPH hotel to reopen so that we can get back to cooking for you. We miss you too, share the frustration, and can’t wait for the day we’ll be back.”
That April, Solil sued again, this time to end RFR’s lease entirely and to collect a tab the company said had ballooned to $79.5 million. In that lawsuit, Solil claimed the troubles at GPH had actually started in the summer of 2019, when Rosen tried to renegotiate the lease because, per The Real Deal, he argued “the city’s hotel market dropped so precipitously that it rendered the leasehold ‘worthless’” (no details on why he thought that even before the global pandemic, however). The Real Deal also reported that, per the suit, Rosen had started removing furniture and art from the space — and once the pandemic began, seemingly used the hotel as a private home instead of opening it. Per the suit, he installed his mother in a three-room suite, while also letting it “deteriorate,” repairing the HVAC system with duct tape.
Rosen, who owns huge swaths of midtown office space, has been very public about his concern over the pandemic-driven turn toward remote work. He reportedly tried to reinvigorate the return-to-office momentum himself by letting employees of his real-estate business stay at the GPH for free. (“I told everybody, ‘Guys, you want to stay Tuesday night or Wednesday? Be my guest,’” Rosen told Bloomberg. “‘Breakfast is at nine. Then show up at the office when you feel like it.’”) Meanwhile, as “Page Six” reported, RFR took $6.3 million in pandemic-relief loans.
Rosen and RFR were finally evicted this June. A lawyer for Solil said that Rosen wasn’t giving them access to the hotel to show it to prospective tenants; a spokesperson for RFR only said that, “Due to the impact of COVID and the terms of the lease, the tenant found it was no longer economically feasible to operate the hotel.” And by the end of September, old guests, barflies, and fans were sorting through its lamps and chairs.
Further fueling speculation over the hotel’s demise is the fact that Rosen has a colorful and well-reported history of digging into feuds of various kinds: He fought with his neighbors on Long Island, for example, when he put Damien Hirst’s 30-foot-tall “Virgin Mother” statue, a pregnant woman whose fetus is visible, on his front lawn. He once got into a public fight with author Tom Wolfe over a planned tower on the Upper East Side. In 2014, he reportedly dismissed a historic Picasso tapestry as a “schmatte” when he wanted to remove it from its longtime spot the Seagram Building, which he also owns. Some people, it seems, just don’t like him. The New York Post declared last year that he “ruined celeb-loved Gramercy Park Hotel and got away with it.” (Rosen called the story “lies.”)
Even without the GPH, Rosen remains invested in hundreds of millions of dollars of prime midtown real estate at a time when it hasn’t exactly bounced back: In 2019 he purchased the Chrysler Building for $151 million with an Australian investor, and is about to finish a $200 million renovation of the ground-floor space there, creating a “playground” for tenants with a climbing wall in the basement. Similarly, the Seagram Building’s parking garage has been remade as an “amenity center” with a basketball court. Last year, RFR Holding dropped nearly $300 million on an office building on Fifth Avenue with partner Penske Media, which publishes Rolling Stone and Variety. He is trying to sell a historic building at 281 Park Avenue South for $135 million (the same one that Anna Sorokin, a.k.a. Delvey, tried to lease for her private club).
Whether due to neglect or bad timing, the Gramercy Park Hotel is dead. A friend who attended the sale made off with a pair of velvet pillows; another with a breakfast tray and coffee set. The scene of a landmark being stripped for parts via a line of shoppers that stretched down the block is a reminder that nowhere is safe from the whims of the market — not even the site where Jewel once spontaneously sang “Summertime” for her date Leonardo DiCaprio. But in what may have been an appropriate end for the hotel, it was, at the very least, a scene.