The bed was crafted by Greeks. Credit Scandinavians for the duvet cover.
The mattress comes with buzzwords including “charcoal,” “horsehair,” “coconut,” and “seaweed.” The bed I am looking at is displayed in a showcase room at a newly constructed luxury hotel along the Hudson River, the first ever by luxury fitness club operator Equinox.
Equinox’s so-called proprietary sleep system sounds preposterous, but when I touch the duvet, it is alluringly comfortable and serene. And that’s the general gist of my tour of the first Equinox-branded hotel. It seesaws between over-the-top alignment with the Equinox brand and undeniable enticement.
The Equinox Hotel promises to give guests the same experience its gym provides: “the ultimate high-performance luxury lifestyle.” Located in the newly developed Hudson Yards neighborhood along the west side of Manhattan, the hotel has 212 guest rooms, 48 suites, and a 60,000-square-foot Equinox Fitness Club housing indoor and outdoor pools, an 8,000-square-foot terrace, and a spa with cryotherapy and an infrared sauna.
Equinox has had great success getting city dwellers to pay well north of $200 per month for a gym membership. Now it hopes brand loyalists across the globe, as well as travelers who aren’t fitness-obsessed, will pay $700 or more per night to stay at a swanky hotel. It’s perhaps the biggest test yet of the brand’s appeal.
When I first heard Equinox was opening a hotel in New York, I envisioned a small-scale gym in a fancy hotel room. Perhaps there would be a SoulCycle bike or a “smart” mirror that would entice guests to take virtual yoga and barre classes.
But that’s too obvious, says Christopher Norton, chief executive officer of Equinox’s hotel business.
“We don’t want people to exercise in the room—that belongs in the gym,” says Norton. Sure, there’s a yoga mat in the closet, along with a mini foam roller and other fitness accessories. But Equinox wants to separate certain sensory experiences.
The hotel property adheres to Equinox’s broader brand pillars: movement, nutrition, and regeneration. For optimal sleep, Norton suggests activating the “dark, quiet, and cool” feature on the in-room iPad. Within 20 seconds, the shades will drop, the temperature will cool to 66 degrees, and all the lights will turn off.
Restaurateur Stephen Starr assists with the nutrition component, serving Mid-Atlantic cuisine at the Electric Lemon restaurant, while the minibar is stocked with organic gummy bears, crispy almond Brussels sprouts, and other snacks. There’s no desk in the room, as Norton says guests don’t use them anymore, and virtually no paper in a nod toward sustainability.
Founded in 1991, Equinox operates 100 full-service clubs globally and owns SoulCycle, Pure Yoga, and Blink Fitness. But Equinox clearly has aspirations to test the brand beyond fitness. Since just last year, the company has announced a WeWork–style work-space initiative for its clubs, a fitness-focused talent management agency, and a luxury travel service.
Hotels may be Equinox’s most lofty initiative yet. With the first Equinox Hotel now open, the company has outlined aspirations to bring the concept to Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and Houston.
The move comes amid boom times for the hospitality sector. From 2009 to 2017, U.S. hotel gross bookings surged from $116 billion to $185 billion, and demand for the sector outpaced growth for airlines, restaurants, and cruise ships, according to a 2019 hospitality and travel report by Deloitte. Hospitality is so hot that brands like Restoration Hardware, West Elm, and even fast-food purveyor Taco Bell have jumped in.
Equinox had thought about opening a hotel before the recession, but cooled to the idea when businesses and consumers cut back on their travel spending. Lately though, a greater societal focus on health and wellness inspired Equinox to revive the concept.
“We are already in the hospitality business—we already serve our members and their needs on a daily basis,” says Harvey Spevak, executive chairman and managing partner at Equinox. “Our members are saying, ‘We love Equinox, we love the experience, give us more.’”
While on a tour with Norton, I found myself slightly disoriented when we entered the Equinox Fitness Club. The hotel wasn’t even open to the public, and yet the club was filled with toned and tanned New Yorkers. “Wildstar,” by Italian artist Giorgio Moroder, pulsated as we walked beside the glistening interior pool. A yoga class we passed was full, and soon we were standing on the outdoor terrace, which provides a sweeping, breathtaking view of the Hudson River and downtown New York.
And at this point, my mind lingered on the hotel gyms I’ve visited over the past decade. Often dark, with few fellow guests—basically the antithesis of what I was seeing at Equinox. Guests at the hotel become club members for the duration of their stays. There’s even a large screen behind the concierge that lists upcoming Equinox fitness classes.
“They can’t replicate this,” says Norton of his competition. “You aren’t on a treadmill in a dark room.”
So while their rooms don’t contain gyms, Equinox Hotels will feature fitness centers that serve travelers as well as locals. But the price of that monthly gym membership is already tough for many New Yorkers to stomach, and staying at a hotel for $700 per night may be out of reach for even the most hard-core fitness lovers.
Norton admits that the pricing sits in the luxury end of the sector, a world he knows well. Prior to joining Equinox in 2016, he spent 28 years working for Four Seasons, overseeing global hotel operations.
In New York City, the Equinox Hotel is priced under the Mandarin Oriental and the Four Seasons, which each charge roughly $1,000 per night. But rooms at The Standard, the Beekman, and the Conrad cost hundreds of dollars less, and the Mandarin and Four Seasons represent more established brands when it comes to luxury hospitality. What’s to prevent a traveler from booking a room at the Beekman and using some of their savings for a $40 SoulCycle class?
Equinox says it has integrated the wellness experience in a way that rivals can’t match.
“I believe our type of customer lives a certain lifestyle, a high-performance lifestyle,” says Norton. “They want it all. And the idea is, we will help [them] in a way that no one else can.”
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