Celebrating the Fifth Avenue Hotel’s Launch: An Interview with Founder Alex Ohebshalom
October 4, 2023 by Andy Martell
The Fifth Avenue Hotel is poised to open its doors on October 16th in New York City’s NoMad neighborhood. With visionary design by Martin Brudnizki, evocative art installations, and unique decor, the hotel offers a kaleidoscope of experiences that dazzle the senses and welcome guests into the enchanted world of the Flâneur.
We recently sat down with founder Alex Ohebshalom for his thoughts on the city’s most anticipated new property.
What led you to develop Flâneur Hospitality and select the location for The Fifth Avenue Hotel?
The essence of the flâneur has resonated with me for a long time. I am deeply passionate about bringing this enchanting and enriching concept to life. A flâneur is an observer for whom time slows; a wanderer provoked by curiosity and the pleasure they derive from taking in the world around them. At The Fifth Avenue Hotel, we want to inspire guests to slow down; to discover and explore the riches and hidden treasures of their locales in a stimulating and socially engaging environment. Travelers seeking to escape the homogeny of traditional luxury hospitality will find our brand appealing because being inspired to feel more present is the ultimate luxury.
On the former site of a mansion, once the home of Charlotte Goodridge, a leading figure in Manhattan’s society during the Gilded Age, the hotel is in yet another landmark building—an Italian Renaissance palazzo-style bank designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1907. My family has owned this building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 28th Street for almost five decades, and as NoMad began to transform and elevate as a destination, we decided to restore it, and convert it into a luxury hotel inspired by the Gilded Age.
I worked closely with designer Martin Brudnizki to pay homage to the legacy and lifestyle of those, like Ms. Goodridge, who entertained on Fifth Avenue, creating a residential feel to immerse guests in old-world glamour.
How long have you been working on the hotel’s design and brand concept?
This has been an amazing ten year adventure for me. Many years ago, the hotel was conceived to be a four-star brand. But we started to see NoMad transform in front of our eyes and wanted to tell our own story as part of that change. I encouraged our team to position our brand in a different light. We knew we had the attributes, foundationally, from a real estate perspective, that would allow us to deliver something five-star and truly exceptional. This elegant historic landmarked building has presided over the corner of Fifth Avenue for more than a century. We elevated the brand concept and now are well-suited to become the quintessential and unequivocally ultra-luxe hotel in the city.
Can you describe some challenges that you faced with opening a new hotel in NYC, especially during the pandemic?
With any historic preservation and restoration, there are a lot of hidden and unforeseen challenges. Every time we would take a wall down to the site, we would uncover another surprise. By virtue of honoring the landmark architecture of a 125-year-old building, nothing was straightforward. Our intention was not only to restore this McKim Mead & White building to its original state, but to enhance and optimize it to last another century. This endeavor involved reviving the Mansion with a glass penthouse, refabricating authentic terracotta cornices, installing an all new steel structure, installing new wood-framed windows, and even fitting new 20-foot doors along Fifth Avenue. In addition to the historical aspects, we constructed a contemporary 23-story tower adjacent to the Mansion. Harmoniously merging these two distinct buildings demanded careful thought and intention. We aimed to create a seamless blend where the old and the new complemented each other.
The pandemic, while undoubtedly challenging, underscored the importance of our brand essence. While those two years were painful financially and emotionally for so many of us, it also validated our philosophy and ethos. Our brand encourages guests to slow down and be present, to stay rooted and grounded. During the pandemic, we all had to stay home, slow down, recenter, and recalibrate. We witnessed a profound shift in how people sought emotional and spiritual connection, mirroring our core principles of returning to one’s true essence and finding happiness in the simple, meaningful moments of life. That’s what we’re all about at The Fifth–getting back to your truest, most pure, most rich version of yourself.
What are some destinations and experiences from your travels that inspired the bold and whimsical interiors of The Fifth Avenue Hotel? How did you meet Martin Brudnizki?
I have been incredibly fortunate to have explored so many wonderful destinations such as Nepal, Botswana, Patagonia, and the Faroe Islands. My travels inspired every element of the hotel, from the design and interiors to the culinary and art curation. Of them all, I would say Marrakesh, Laos, and Myanmar had the biggest influence.
Marrakesh, with its vibrant colors and intricate textures, contributed to the rich and eclectic palette, such as the green walls in our guest suites and corridors decorated in ikat fabrics. The interiors are adorned with ornate, bespoke fixtures and furnishings, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a worldly explorer’s home. Laos also left a lasting impression on me. There I felt so connected to the world around me, to nature, and to my fellow travelers. This inspired our approach to cultural programming. The idea was born from the realization that being fully present in the moment allows us to escape the anxieties and pressures of our modern world.
The Fifth will provide insider experiences for guests to appreciate the treasures of the neighborhood and the vibrant city of New York. I discovered Martin over 12 years ago when I first stayed at the Soho Beach House Hotel in Miami Beach. I appreciated how vibrant and residential he made a public space feel. The entry lobby, with its center seating and beautiful chandelier, felt very whimsical and almost like a jewel box. The work that he did at Cecconi’s in Miami, was also very special with beautiful trees beautifying the space. I was attracted to his use of color, fabrics, and finishes. I’m so excited to share what we’ve done together at The Fifth. This really is the first-of-its-kind hotel in New York city.
What is your favorite detail in the hotel?
From the Murano hand-blown chandeliers, ruched fabric in our vestibules, and Chinese bar cabinets, there’s a surprise and delight for every guest here. I would say, in terms of a specific space, I am most attracted to The Portrait Bar. The entirety of the room is cladded in fine and locally sourced millwork, with a wood-burning fireplace, and wonderfully curated portraits from all over the world. The portraits bring together a vast cast of characters and merge a myriad of cultures and periods of time. The space is inspiring and encouraging of guests to be more curious–curious in thought, reading, writing, and socializing.
With regards to the guest rooms, I love the mother-of-pearl inlaid bar carts in the Tower. We worked hard on those, like adding reptilian door handles, and they are absolutely beautiful. In the Mansion suites, we custom-designed Chinese oak wood cabinets with a deep red, hand painted artwork on the façade and a vivacious dragon antique artwork on the interior doors. Really, the rooms and suites are an eclectic collection of objects, art and furnishings that create a space resembling the private home of a collector. Our detail brings whimsy and fantasy into the experience to create something really special.
You curated several hundred art pieces for the hotel. Can you describe the art program at the Fifth?
The Fifth Avenue Hotel houses an art collection in which every object has its own story, mixing contemporary works and antiques from all over the world. We worked with both lesser known and beginner artists along with blue chip artists, like Pae White. The art collection is intended to be a modern-day cabinet of curiosity—to spark guests’ imagination and curiosity and challenge their perception of the world around them. Cabinets of curiosity were a means of enlivening the opulent, dimly-lit parties thrown in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. Every object offered an opportunity to tell a story about an adventure. These collections were a place of the imagination.
The Pae White piece, for example, was commissioned for the hotel. It’s a tapestry that hangs in the lobby showing insects swarming around plants—ladybugs, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and crickets. You only observe some of the finer details as you get closer. It challenges one’s sense of perception because it asks the viewer to slow down, observe closely, notice smaller moments, and to consider if tiny insects know more about the workings of our natural world than we do. As guests wander the property, each and every turn provides them with new worlds and ideas to discover. The works of art inspire questions about observation, seeing, and the relationship between the viewer, subject, and artist.
What are some unique guest experiences that your Concierge can arrange? How will guests feel like they are a flâneur?
Our concierge team and personal butlers will create unforgettable experiences. The best restaurants in the city are within our hotel and just outside our door, we have partners in arts and culture, authors and libraries, parks and recreation, wellness and adventure. Our goal is to open a world of discovery for our guests. As an example, I’m excited about our partnership with Fotografiska, the contemporary museum of photography, art and culture. Fotografiska is a renowned destination to discover world-class photography and our Concierge can arrange an exclusive tour of the latest exhibits for our guests with a dedicated guide. We will also have daily art tours of our hotel, where we can take guests through our collection and encourage them to observe and discover hidden treasures in each piece.
At The Fifth, our philosophy is to provide optionality and abundance. We want to understand what each guest is looking for before we offer our version of surprise and delight. It will be a highly curated and bespoke experience. No two stays will be the same!
How do you feel The Fifth Avenue Hotel is positioned differently than other hotels in the city? Which type of guest is it right for?
The Fifth Avenue Hotel can speak to so many types of guests. But it all starts and ends with our philosophy of slowing down, being present, trying new things, expanding the palette, and enriching your life. So we expect to appeal most to the curious, worldly and erudite traveler; one who appreciates design, gastronomy, and attention to detail.
We take great pride in offering a fine-dining experience like no other in the city, thanks to our renowned chef, Andrew Carmellini, who has crafted a signature fine-dining restaurant in a grand space with balcony seating. We also challenged Martin to create an entirely unique design around our brand and ethos. Where else in the city can you say you are staying in a Gilded Age-inspired mansion with a glass penthouse? Our dedication to excellence is evident in every facet of the hotel.
But I think what will truly set us apart from other NYC hotels is our approach and commitment to service. At The Fifth, we will go the extra mile to ensure that every moment of our guests’ stay is memorable and exceptional. We’re really going to blow guests away with an elevated, bespoke and highly curated experience, anticipating people’s needs and leaving a lasting impression of their time in New York.
The Fifth Avenue Hotel
250 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10001
Phone Number: 212-231-9400