Brazil’s Fasano Hotel Arrives in NYC. And Not Much of It Makes Sense
(Bloomberg) -- The Fasano flagship in São Paulo is an unforgettable hotel. Its entryway, just off the luxury retail corridor of Rua Oscar Freire, is completely sheathed in up-lit wood paneling that shimmers like gold. Inside, masculine leather chairs and a geometric lattice ceiling create a uniquely Brazilian expression of mid-century design. Bossa Nova plays in the bar where dressed-up mixologists shake caipirinhas with stylish swagger. It’s no wonder that decades into its existence, Fasano’s glamorous reputation remains untouchable in Brazil.
Now all of that is coming to New York, where the brand has opened its first North American outpost. But chances are, you won’t be able to see any of it for yourself.
Here, in a genteel mid-rise on Fifth Avenue between 62nd and 63rd streets, Fasano is ditching its winning formula. There are no towering golden letters proclaiming that you have arrived. Silent is any chatter from executives striking deals and shoppers comparing their five-figure hauls. Gone are the passersby waltzing in for a quick drink before dinner. And no, it’s not because of Covid-19.
Instead, the entryway bears a discreet numeric address on a traditional residential awning (815 Fifth Avenue), blending in with the luxury co-ops, including a former Rockefeller apartment, on either side. The lobby is minimalist, with space for just two tobacco-leather armchairs across from a marble-topped check-in desk. And the only people allowed in are members of an exclusive new Fasano club, hand-picked by the brand’s corporate team and an army of public relations experts.
Fasano Fifth Avenue is such a radical departure from the brand’s roots, it might not even be considered a hotel at all. The 14-story building’s certificate of occupancy (PDF) allows for residential condominiums and non-transient hotel use, according to NYC Building Code 2014, limiting Fasano’s legal ability to make its accommodations available for bookings of less than 30 days.
The Most Exclusive Hotel in New York
In order to stay in any of the hotel’s seven clubhouse suites and four apartment-like duplexes, all designed by French architect Thierry Despont, you have to either be a Fasano club member or be invited by one.
A fact sheet and press release provided by the company in December had it operating as a standard hotel, with starting rates from $1,000 a night. On a tour of the property in mid-February, general manager Andrea Natal—formerly of the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro—said that clubhouse suites with Central Park views will cost roughly $7,000 on a nightly basis during the soft opening. (That’s seven times as expensive as a one-bedroom suite at the Mark, a famously pricey luxury hotel nearby.)
Later, when asked how those rates would legally comply with the building’s certificate of occupancy, Neto offered the following statement: “Our property is a private club that complies with zoning laws. It is a private membership club, by invitation only. Any information about membership and the usage of the building is going to be determined when membership is registered.”
$100,000 per Month
New York City zoning laws that distinguish transient hotels from non-transient apartment hotels and residences were created as part of an effort to regulate home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb, and are taken seriously by city officials. If Fasano intends to do business as a traditional hotel, renting its rooms nightly, New York-based real estate attorney Pierre Dabbas says: “They’d be looking at substantial fines or penalties—and could potentially be shut down.”
Dabbas calls Fasano’s approach “unorthodox, at best.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he says, “but perhaps they’re testing out the waters and proving viability before going through the timely and costly process of changing the certificate of occupancy.” Fasano chairman Neto declined to comment on whether the strategy is to gauge the viability of making its new outpost a super high-end hotel, but added that the company is not pursuing rezoning at this time.
Prices are listed “by request” online. Pressed for a figure, Fasano reps eventually quoted Bloomberg a soft opening rate of $100,000 a month for a duplex.
That same eye-watering price can buy you monthly rights to a furnished five-bedroom penthouse in Chelsea with full concierge and floristry service—and budget to spare. It doesn’t even cost six figures to get a sprawling top-floor unit a few blocks further up Fifth with a wraparound terrace and personal sauna.
For what it’s worth, the rooms are sumptuous. The duplexes make for beautiful three-bedroom apartments of approximately 3,600 square-feet and even have a washer/dryer.
Ten-foot walls are sheathed in taupe Loro Piana cashmere, oak floors feature a wide herringbone detail, and the furnishings—which vary from room to room and include midcentury pieces from owner Rogerio Fasano’s personal collection—are mostly made of wood as a subtle nod to the Amazon region. West-facing rooms have views into the Central Park Zoo (you can view the sea lions while sipping coffee) while eastern exposures mostly peer onto tony Upper East side streets. (A few overlook a modest, as-of-yet lackluster courtyard.)
Still, none of the clubhouse suites are designed as long-term residences. Each is a single room. Kitchenettes include a minibar fridge with little space to deposit personal purchases; a two-burner electric stove means guests could conceivably make quick meals and enjoy them on a coffee table or in bed. Without even a door to separate sleeping from the sitting area, the larger ones are glorified studios; the smaller ones are your typical New York hotel room, with little space to lay out your luggage.
Beyond the 11 suites at Fasano Fifth Avenue, there’s not much to see. On the fifth floor, a fitness center with two treadmills and a stationery bike connects to a small outdoor terrace where Natal, the general manager, intends to add a gazebo for outdoor spa treatments. And downstairs, the all-day dining concept Baretto New York—where the menu will skew Italian—offers seven lounge-like tables hidden behind an inconspicuous, jet-black door. A private owner’s triplex fills the top floors.
“The [amount of] space will be our big challenge,” says Natal, who is accustomed to large resorts. She says she will “work magic,” perhaps removing a single table at Baretto to create space for live music, and adding a few tables to an as-yet-unused outdoor space off the dining room. (Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the restaurant will not open until at least May.)
It’s a confusing business plan, given the hospitality and private club landscape in New York.
Never mind the other problem: The $150 million new-build project is finished and ready to go, but lacking in members to fill it.
Joining the Club
“Everyone is suggesting names” of people to invite, says Natal, including owner Rogerio Fasano and multiple public relations agencies. Membership is expected to be one-third Brazilian, one-third from New York, and one-third that’s otherwise American. Among the latter two groups, there will be a focus on Brazilian expats.
“Brazilians will love to come here, and they will be the majority of our clientele,” says Natal. Beyond that, the company hasn’t been able to identify a clear demographic or target audience it’s seeking.
Membership clubs have become a smart business strategy, given that dues generate stable income and provide resiliency in tumultuous times. But for at least the first year, Fasano Fifth Avenue membership will be extended free-of-charge—and it may never cost a penny. “We are not looking for membership fees,” says Neto, adding that the hotel will drive revenues.
It’s unclear what the annual dues will be at Aman New York when it opens with its own membership club this spring. Members there will be allowed into a range of common spaces, including a 25,000-square foot spa and jazz club. (Aman will also make money off condo sales and hotel rooms that are available to the general public.) At Fasano, however, there don’t seem to be many membership perks beyond access to the rooms or the small restaurant.
Neto mentions package-receiving and luggage-forwarding services and frames enjoyment of the Fasano Fifth Avenue in bare-bones terms: “The concept is that you will be able to join some events and invite people to have lunch or dinner,” he says.
Whatever Fasano Fifth Avenue ultimately turns out to be, Neto is bullish on wanting to extend it well beyond New York, “in cities like London, Paris, Miami, or Los Angeles.”
For members of the public intent on seeing what the fuss is about, the clubhouse will eventually be complemented by a second facility at 280 Park Ave., at 49th St., the former Four Seasons restaurant space.
That venue will more closely resemble Fasano’s bread and butter, with sexy interiors and plenty of people-watching potential. It will also be a space in which the company can engage its newfound members with priority reservations and, according to the company, bring Brazilian traditions like Carnaval to life.
In the meantime, Natal says that by starting slow, the venture will have “time to make sure everything is in order.”
If a hotel soft opening typically lasts a month or two, it may last longer here, given the company’s emphasis on Brazilian patronage. A representative for the hotel says it will formally open in May, but that may be a technical point more than a practical one until traffic from Brazil can lift off. The U.S. will need to approve tourism from all countries on some kind of vaccine passport, or borders will need to reopen with Brazil, and neither is on the immediate horizon. Otherwise Brazilian travelers will be stuck with a back-door approach, entering the U.S. by first quarantining for two weeks in another, less-virulent country, such as Mexico.
Given the realities of work-from-anywhere, it may be a reasonable prospect—however costly—for Fasano’s target audience. As Natal puts it, “We’re not going to build this for the public.”
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