I went to Times Square to get healthy.
No, the raggedy Elmos aren’t leading Bikram yoga classes. (I wish.)
Instead, there’s a new hotel that’s obsessed with health and wellness—and it happens to be located in the most hectic neighborhood in the world’s busiest city.
EVEN Hotels Times Square South is the third EVEN hotel under the IHG umbrella (another opens in Brooklyn this spring, with an additional Manhattan location and Seattle, Miami, and Omaha outposts coming soon). The brand caters to athletic travelers, and when I was invited to try it out on a recent staycation, how could I resist? Chaos reigns this time of year. We could all use booster shots of motivation. Plus, the idea of hanging near Times Square, Penn Station, Port Authority, and Madison Square Garden—basically the city’s most stressful underbelly—in order to focus on wellness was far too ironic and intriguing.
During my trek over, Penn Station was its typical dungeon of scuffed walls and overhead lighting that would make even Jennifer Lawrence look demonic. Shoppers burdened with gift bags oozed pre-holiday panic. No one, it seemed, was living their best life.
But, lo and behold! On a stretch of 35th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, I find an oasis. Inside the entrance of the hotel there’s a living green wall of plants and soothing music. It feels both like a welcoming gym and a great place to nap. Cheery front deskers give me a cold towel, ginger- and lime-infused water, and a rubber bracelet that acts as my room key. Maps of nearby running routes sit on the counter.
We’re not in Stressville anymore.
The idea behind EVEN is to help people keep their balance—or create balance out of flop sweat and agita. It seems to be working. Open only a month, this 150-room New York newbie is currently ranked number one of all 469 hotels in the city on TripAdvisor. Yes, that means it trumps The Plaza, The Ritz-Carlton and Mandarin Oriental.
Inside the standard room—spacious by New York standards—there’s more workout gear than exists in most people’s apartments: a core exercise ball, foam roller, yoga mat and block, and a floor-to-ceiling training bar with resistance bands. Instead of bingeing on Bravo, I could watch core and cardio exercise videos specifically created for the hotel. In-room workouts are nirvana for people who hate sweating in front of others, or who prefer to do backward lunges in their underwear. One bonus: the room’s floors are cork, which means you’re not rolling around on questionable, who-knows-what-happened-here carpet.
Now I’m bent over at the waist like a rag doll and wobbling my head back and forth.
“Shake out the bad thoughts,” says fitness trainer Tammy Stokes, who’s an advisor to EVEN Hotels. Right now she’s leading a group in a half-hour class adapted from her West Coast Workout series.
It’s only a few hours into my stay and already I’m jump squatting while thinking about where to buy the best juicer, and wondering why I don’t chiffonade my kale, like they do at the hotel’s restaurant, rather than tearing it to pieces like a hungry hippo?
The 24-hour gym, nay, “fitness studio” features Woodway treadmills (with treads that can incline to precipitously heart-pumping heights) Cybex ellipticals, even a WaterRower. If I wanted to pull a Frank Underwood and do some post-midnightrowing sessions, I could.
After Stokes urges us to do more squats and cross chops and planks, my quivering jelly-like core waves the white flag, and I retire to my room, where I silently weep. Just kidding. I loudly weep.
Is this what becoming balanced feels like?
Later, it’s reward time. Turns out even a wellness-themed hotel puts booze front and center. The Naturally Skinny (aptly named, of course) cocktail with TY KU Citrus is one standout on a long (and creative) menu. The hotel’s restaurant, Cork & Kale, features plenty of healthy flatbread options, meatless sliders and the aforementioned kale salad. But where I could really get into trouble is the peanut butter pie dessert, which might equal more squats than my thighs could handle.
A nice touch for busy (or inebriated) travelers: From 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. the “well-come” island serves complimentary ginger tea to help you relax at bedtime.
Before I drift off to sleep, I wonder what miracles will be wrought by the BeautyRest mattress, eucalyptus linens and soothing blue headboard lights. Would the city be kept at bay? Would I forget about deadlines and Christmas shopping and booking plane tickets?
The answer: kinda. A blackout curtain shielded the city’s glow, but let’s be real. New York stays subdued for no one, and when a few sirens whined on the street at night, there was something soothing knowing that a few blocks away street peddlers were selling their hot dogs, neon billboards remained lit and debauchery—if that’s what one sought—could easily be found.
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Dieter Schmitz, EVEN’s General Manager and Chief Wellness Officer, leads 7 a.m. runs from the hotel to the nearby Hudson River. Leaving EVEN’s oasis and succumbing to the randomness of city streets? Big gamble!
On the brisk 47-degree morning, the hum (and grind and burr and buzz) of the city is startling. Construction sites are the main source of energy, signaling more hotels, more apartments, more life coming soon to the city. But that’s quickly forgotten when we’re on the riverside running path, and the morning’s pink clouds are still flirting with New Jersey’s skyline. Seeing up-and-at-em cyclists and joggers is invigorating. The day’s full of promise. After three miles even swollen black garbage bags start to feel more like a fun obstacle course than a rancid nuisance.
But maybe I was just wearing my wellness goggles.
Back in my hotel room I even flail through a few of the TV workouts. I yank on resistance bands, not realizing my arms would be very upset with me the next day.
If I was staying another night, I’d be able to drop off my workout clothes at the front desk and get them back (complimentary!) washed later that day. Pretty brilliant service seeing as the most veteran road warriors can’t avoid the funk of traveling with dirty workout gear.
On to breakfast. Most of the time in midtown, the only quick “healthy” food available is a sad KIND bar at the corner deli. Not so at Cork & Kale, where the a.m. means salmon boards, steel-cut oatmeal and made-to-order frittatas. Give me all your turkey bacon, your buckwheat waffles, your fresh-squeezed OJ. Here, health is a religion and I am but a minion.
So yeah, it seems I drank the cold-pressed Kool-Aid. Hotels typically mean giving into your basest desires of midnight chicken fingers and mini bars. Here, though, a hotel is more aspirational than indulgent.
Of course, this trip had to end eventually. As I abandoned EVEN’s cocoon for 35th Street, eyeing a store called Spandex World and dodging surly commuters, I found myself thankful for the reminder that a better version of yourself isn’t a fantasy. A reset button can literally be right around the corner. In the middle of the city where you can eat, drink, buy, or do anything you want, EVEN provides the most elusive—and intangible—quality of all: hope for a healthier tomorrow.