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A N.Y. City hotel that needs to overcome cliches

Blame it on the W's and the Kimptons of the world. Those chains' ascendancy has led to a hotel genre I call cookie-cutter boutique. Its trappings: original (but uninspired) artwork, fresh (but uninspired) floral arrangements, colorful (but uninspired) lighting.

At the Hotel Chandler in midtown Manhattan, that translates to photographs of buildings and statues in my room, lots of orange lilies in the lobby and blue-glass and brushed-steel sconces on the walls.

It might not have the most unique decor, but the Chandler has some other qualities going for it. For one thing, there's the location: on Murray Hill, walking distance from Penn Station, Madison Square Park, Union Square and surrounds. For another, there's the price: starting at under $200 for a 200-square-foot room. With that in mind, how much originality can you expect?

Besides, things become cliches for a reason. Frette linens and robes and spalike (cliche) bathrooms are de rigeur for these types of hotels, and I was more than fine with that here. My room's shower, clad in white subway tiles on the walls and little blue square ones on the floor, featured one of those rain-type sprays that was more powerful than anything I've experienced outside a real spa. And Aveda toiletries smell pretty darn refreshing.

The room was well-equipped, with a desk built into a media center, armoires on either side (providing more storage than most hotel rooms of this size I've been in) and a little sitting area of two scallop-backed velvet chairs around a teensy table. The WiFi was free (if temperamental), and the iron worked. And the fitness center was respectable, if too small for more than a few people to work out at once.

Still, there was a feeling of just-good-enough when it came to the service, as I learned at check-in. I was harried from a delayed BoltBus trip that had me rushing to drop bags and change clothes before hitting Broadway for a show. When I asked the perfectly pleasant front-desk clerk about printing out my theater tickets, she said, "Absolutely. We have a computer in the library connected to a printer. Feel free to use it. If it doesn't work, check the paper. It runs out of paper all the time. Just let me know."

Which, of course, is exactly what happened. When I shuffled back and she handed me a mere 10 sheets to put in the printer, I knew I had cracked the code to this puzzler. Why hadn't she?

Likewise, I initially assumed that the fitness center's "Finnish sauna" was out of service because the door was open and it was stone-cold. The next day, when I asked a janitor about it in between my sets, he said that I could call the front desk 15 minutes in advance and they would turn it on.

Without a sign saying that, though, I'll bet that most people make the same assumption I did.

It's that kind of attention that could help the Chandler overcome its cliches and become, if not unique, then at least a little more satisfying.


If you go

Hotel Chandler, 12 E. 31st St., New York; (866) 627-7847;

The hotel has 115 rooms, starting at $160 on upcoming weekends, plus suites.

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