Catering to Romance, by the Hour
Inside the lobby, the concierge sits behind a pane of bulletproof glass. A vending machine displays boxes
of condoms and bottles of lubricant beside packs of Oreos and Skittles. Every so often, luggageless
couples inquire about a room.
This is the Liberty Inn, the last of the meatpacking district’s hourly-rate hotels; in 2008, New York
magazine called it “unabashedly the place to go for some afternoon delight.” Robert Boyd, who has
managed the establishment since 1977, prefers the term “romance hotel.”
“We take in your everyday business and travel clientele,” he said. “But we focus on couples looking for a
romantic moment, if you will.”
Such couples tend to behave a bit awkwardly at first: stifling giggles and carefully avoiding eye contact
with others as they wait in the lobby or the Bar and Cafe — a six-stool niche the size of a master
Overnights are available for $180, but short stays are more popular. Visitors can rent a room for two
hours for $60, or three hours for $70. Because of the small number of units — 30 — and the rapid
turnover, which keeps the housekeeping staff on its toes, no reservations are taken.
During a visit on a recent Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Boyd showed off one of the Romantic Interlude
Rooms, which go for an extra $15. These have two-person whirlpool tubs, dramatic wall and ceiling
mirrors, nude-themed artwork and neon mood lighting.
“A lot of hourly-rate hotels in Manhattan have been bought by developers and turned into better hotels or
apartment complexes,” Mr. Boyd said. The Liberty, at 51 10th Avenue, has survived partly because the
management owns the building, but also because Mr. Boyd has always made a commitment to civility.
That has been no easy task. Until 1986, the hotel shared its first floor with the Anvil, a gay club known for
its live sex shows. Transvestite prostitutes crowded the streets at night.
“The ’80s and ’90s were terrible around here,” Mr. Boyd said. “It was difficult to attract a regular clientele.”
Today the Liberty stands half a block from designer boutiques and the High Line elevated park. The
management is adapting to the area’s new demographics by updating the décor.
On the third floor, carpenters were installing varnished floorboards in place of the carpet. (“It’s the most
sanitary way to go,” Mr. Boyd whispered.) Management plans to replace the floral bedspreads with duvet
covers, and the nude paintings with something “more current,” Mr. Boyd said.
The hotel is impeccably clean. West-facing windows — soundproofed against West Side Highway traffic
— offer unobstructed views of the Hudson River. “We watched the fireworks from the roof on the Fourth
of July,” Mr. Boyd said, gazing out toward New Jersey.
No need for advertising; word-of-mouth and the buzz from blogs bring in plenty of couples. For
Valentine’s Day the marketing campaign was low key.
“We don’t have to do much,” Mr. Boyd said. “It’s always our busiest day of the year.”