Hotel and jail — perfect together

Hotel and jail — perfect together
The Brooklyn Paper / Jeff Bachner

No location is too unlikely for a new hotel in Brooklyn, not the manufacturing district around the Gowanus Canal and, now, not even a lot next to the soon-to-reopen Brooklyn House of Detention.

The Nu Hotel, the second boutique operation to open in the borough in a year, stands next to the inactive jail on Atlantic Avenue in a juxtaposition that few people would have ever imagined possible years ago.

Guests in the 93-room hotel, which takes up three floors in an otherwise luxury condo building at the corner of Smith Street, have been surprised, but not troubled, by the lockup, which doesn’t house inmates now, but is an ominous sight to behold.

“We just figured out it was a jail yesterday. I was wondering what’s all that barbed wire on top of that building,” said Cassie Richardson, visiting Brooklyn from Florida. “It makes sense because we’re right by all the courthouses. This is still a nice hotel so it doesn’t bother me.”

For others, the House of D, forms a pleasing mishmash on the block between Smith Street and Boerum Place.

“Where else are you going to find a hotel across from a clothing store, a restaurant, a bail bonds place and a jail?” asked Sean McCall. “That’s one of those diverse things you got to love about Brooklyn.”

External contradictions give way to an eclectic interior in the Nu Hotel, which joins Fourth Avenue’s Hotel Le Bleu in the boutique inn game. An artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat hangs on a wall, blackboards line the bathroom for notes to self and staff (“Extra 300-thread count pillows tonight, please!”), and stenciled quotations from celebrity Brooklynites are potential conversation starters, like this Henry Miller epigram: “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.”

Since the hotel’s “soft” opening on July 7, room’s have been going for $199, so many guests have been using the Nu as a launch pad to Manhattan, but the hotel’s general manager encourages visitors to give Brooklyn a fair shake, too.

“People are going to say Brooklyn is not a destination location — I think it is,” said Bertrand Nelson, whose megawatt smile is as much a show of hospitality as his hotel’s thick terry-cloth bathrobes. He’s been encouraging patrons, both business and leisure travelers, to venture down Smith Street and Atlantic Avenue or over to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Local businesses certainly hope they get some of that runoff from travelers in the area.

“Hopefully, it will bring tourists to Atlantic Avenue,” said the boulevard’s chief advocate, Sandy Balboza. “We have restaurants and shopping with a local flavor.”

The opening of the Nu Hotel comes amid a hospitality boom in Brooklyn. There are already three new hotels operating near the toxic Gowanus Canal with at least five more on the way.

Be his guest! General Manager Bertrand Nelson poses in the lobby of the new Nu Hotel on Smith Street — right next to the soon-to-reopen Brooklyn House of Detention.
The Brooklyn Paper / Jeff Bachner