Moxy Chelsea: The NYC Jungle Village Where You’ll Be Spending Your Summer
Words and Images: Janet Mercel @starwix
Manhattan’s fabled Flower District is both exotic and weirdly industrial, all narrow sidewalks overflowing with tropical trees and flowering shrubs. This is where the wholesale flower markets sell in bulk to designers, event planners, and the otherwise informed, and if you’re there the busiest part of the day, you (me) are likely to be knocked aside by a frazzled decorator (also me) wielding a glossy-leaved twisted ficus.
The frenetic, jungle-esque city block is the perfect backdrop for the new Moxy Chelsea hotel and its inner sanctum of restaurants, accessed through the airplane hangar doors that, in good weather, are thrown wide open to the whole street and make you feel like you’re walking into the middle of Capri. This, I ended up finding out, is not totally off base.
Chic hotel setting as all-day affair is nothing new, I personally am a notorious squatter once I ensconce myself somewhere appealing, but there’s something particularly inviting about this open-air space, with all its indoor and outdoor nooks, and now I know why: it’s pure, 1000% Italian. The cliche’ of Italian-style in New York can be tricky, but somehow this transcends all that to become the best version of itself. Riviera coastline Italian. Portofino in summer Italian. Tile floored, multi-colored glass on a Mediterranean waterfront Italian, where everything smells of hot bread and Mandarino Di Amalfi. The Italian ultimate.
The Moxy belongs to Tao Group, and its founding partners tapped Francesco Panella after falling hard for his famed Antica Pesa restaurant in Williamsburg. The result is three separate incarnations- Feroce Caffè, Feroce Ristorante and Bar Feroce. The bright turquoise, street-side pastry case of the Caffè grabbed me first, with a counter stacked with almond-laced Torte di Mandorle and a cured ham the size of a beach ball. The Caffè opens at 6:30 AM for espresso and fresh cornetti, (a richer version of a croissant), and is open all day for coffee and sandwiches filled with aged and briny things.
*Bonus: Putnam & Putnam, the delightfully highbrow, whimsical floral designers have installed a shop in the adjacent entrance. Their artfully selected collections, (rings from L.A. based jeweler Legier, Lord Jones CBD gummies and chocolate, Saipua soap and custom P&P Joya candles), and buckets of blooms by the stem make their space a standout on a street full of fresh cut offerings.
The ground and second floors, and the 35th floor bar/club, The Fleur Room, are designed by Rockwell Group, and each space is so well appointed you’d never guess it’s all so new you can still smell the wallpaper paste. The airy front room, with its long marble bar open to the street, is all patinated brass and high ceilings and leads to the clubby main dining room and solarium. Rockwell Group, (along with design firm Yabu Pushelberg), have brought the outdoors in, with crisp black and white upholstered banquettes, ivy covered walls, and the whole ceiling as retractable skylight. (The bocce court on the second-floor garden terrace helps, too.) There are so many moods of loungey space, it’s hard to settle on one. The airy conservatory, sun-soaked by day and moody at night, is all glass on one side and abuts the bar on the other, with brass screens somehow keeping it feeling secluded. There are plenty of enclosed spaces for private meetings, including one room-within-a-room with hidden panels that slide shut for a soundproof party box off the lobby.
Restaurateur Panella, whose family is actually Roman and opened their first Antica Pesa there in 1922, serves up pasta proclaimed to be some of the very best in that city by, (as F. Scott Fitzgerald would say), “people who ought to know.” The goal at Feroce is to source nearly 100% of ingredients from Italy, and Manuel Coccaro, the manager who took me around all afternoon, is as enthusiastic about the pedigree of the menu as are most people of their first born children. He points out, for example, that the Pacchero al Pomodor, Mancini pasta with Piennolo tomatoes, has the GPS coordinates of its semolina flour listed to show its optimal growing location, and he is entirely understanding when I freak right out about the idea of Cacio e Pepe potato chips. (If anyone has had the pleasure of having a tractor wheel of aged Parmesan rolled in front of you, doused in vodka and set on fire while reams of spaghetti are smothered in melting cheese- you understand my enthusiasm.) The pasta I end up eating, alongside a grilled, perfect artichoke, when I return hours later, but the warm octopus I have for lunch had actually been swimming in the Mediterranean not long before it ended up on my plate next to Castelvetrano olives and baby potatoes. Authenticity is a big deal here.
When we do show up for dinner, it is late, the dining room is jammed, and I can see what a destination it’s become in such a short period of time. Manuel, who’s still there, is thrilled to see us. Francesco himself, who I’d never met before, is thrilled to see us. It reminds me of a weekend in Bermuda a few months ago when I wandered into the Little Venice restaurant in the Hamilton district and was inexplicably adopted by the family that runs it. Fed, (most memorably with the aforementioned Cacio e Pepe experience), and looked after, and basically made to feel like a long-lost child. (Emilio- call me!) In the dining room at Feroce, under the so-bad-it’s-good, larger than life vintage L’Ammazzasette sign, drinking a cocktail out of a straw that is an actual piece of pasta, (eco-conscious/genius), I am treated to my first-ever Sgroppino cart dessert: vodka, lemon sorbet and prosecco, frothed together at the table to make the world’s lightest, fizziest digestif, and finally, we are done.
At the very top of the Moxy sits The Fleur Room, its own experience altogether. A soaring, glass-walled box that offers one of the most spectacular sunset views in the city, by night becomes a sultry cocktail bar that’s a straight up Bas Meeuws print come to life. If the name wasn’t clue enough, the homage to the district is everywhere, from the huge roses encased in Lucite tables, to a different floral-printed velvet on every upholstered surface. The combination of the mammoth, cone-bra-looking disco ball, the trippy, botanical-papered, hidden staircase that gets you there, and the fact that more movie premieres, A-list birthday parties, and (ahem) Met Gala afterparties have already happened there than have taken place on West 28th Street in maybe forever, means that if you make yourself at home long enough, you might end up back downstairs at 6:30 in the morning, eating hot pastry and bumping into one of those frazzled decorators buying flowers at dawn. But only if you’re lucky.