A Spectrum of Creative Collaboration: Untitled Freeman Alley Hotel
Written by Leigh Pennington
“The Lower East Side is the center of the universe, it’s where it all happens. This is where you need to be,” says Drinan.
Hotel stays these days seem to be a competition for who can throw the most bells and whistles into one establishment. Very rarely do you come across an establishment of the hospitality industry that seeks to go beyond merely impressing its out of town visitors with products, services, and over the top interior decorating. For Gadi Peleg and Peter Drinan, the de facto operators of Untitled, it was of greater importance to prioritize and incorporate one of New York’s most esteemed characteristics into the fabric of the Untitled 3 Freeman Alley Hotel; as a place of creative expression and influence.
There is no better organic expression of New York’s artistic spirit than via street art and graffiti.
There is no better organic expression of New York’s artistic spirit than via street art and graffiti. Freeman’s Alley, located in the Lower East Side, is one such locale that has always welcomed the free flow adornment of countless street and graffiti artists. Works by Stikki Peaches, Wrdsmth, Erre, Clown Soldier and many others add to this quintessential piece of New York culture.
Peleg recalled his first time encountering graffiti in the early 80s and its deep impression and confirmation of New York’s singular spirit. The alley represented the endless possibilities and vibrancy that he sought when first coming to New York from the suburbs of Tel Aviv. He recalls moving to the city as a young man and falling, “deeply in love with New York City, almost immediately. I love the grit of New York…There was so much going on in the city. Then in the 1980s. You’d walk down the street, and there were people playing three card monte, and graffiti everywhere and it was dangerous and exciting.”
Like a lot of children of the 80s Peleg’s first concern when moving to New York was chasing his fortune. “We were the ‘greed is good’ generation,” he says, “so I went and worked at various hedge funds and tried to do all of that, and while it was financially good, I never found it fulfilling, and always had a love and a passion for hospitality.”
When the Great Crash of 08′ came around, Peleg took a step back to reconsider the direction and purpose of his life. “I felt that there was a deeper meaning. That I could dedicate my life to something that’s more interesting. Hospitality felt like the right avenue for me.”
After his first venture into the world of hospitality founding Bread’s Bakery, Peleg discovered a love and passion for the pursuit of good hospitality. After the discovery of an empty hotel property located at the end of Freeman alley, he recalled that “so many things connected so beautifully, that I knew we’d have to get involved… Our timing was good. I happened to stay in New York the entire pandemic. It was a nice time to explore New York. You go down different streets and find lots of interesting architecture and interesting opportunities, restaurants, and cafes. During the pandemic you found things that were naked without anybody in them.”
The stark calm nature of the city brought about by the pandemic became the kindling for Peleg’s next passion project.
The stark calm nature of the city brought about by the pandemic became the kindling for Peleg’s next passion project. He recounted, “It seemed like a good time to get involved in something and luckily enough, I met Peter right around that time.”
Peter Drinan has a history in the hospitality industry that spans across multiple countries. Born and raised in Bay Ridge, after college, he moved to San Francisco and started staging at a restaurant. He also began to cook professionally, and traveled to learn new languages, spending a decade in South America. During those ten years he cooked in several kitchens, opened restaurants, bars, hotels, and had a band that toured around South America.
Upon returning to New York, Drinan came to the hotel to interview for a position as the Chief of Staff. Peleg knew instantly that he had found his right hand man and partner. He recalled, “Peter had some experience with hotels and also because of his love of art and just because he’s cool.” He offered Drinan a more substantial role in aiding the manifestation of his artistic oasis.
Peleg and Drinan wanted the hospitality experience of Untitled for both out of town visitors and the surrounding community to be intrinsically connected to the history and culture of the Lower East Side.
Peleg and Drinan wanted the hospitality experience of Untitled for both out of town visitors and the surrounding community to be intrinsically connected to the history and culture of the Lower East Side. Drinan expounded on this idea explaining that, “one thing that is really interesting to think about is hospitality in a setting like this, in this neighborhood, you know, juxtaposed with traditional hotels that cater to traditional travelers. We have taken it upon ourselves to craft an experience for the discerning traveler who wants and needs to stay in this neighborhood and may need some help connecting right off the bat. One of the most satisfying things is to watch a guest get off a late flight, walk down the alley, when it’s dusk or dark already, wonder where they are, and then they walk into this incredible oasis that is geared towards design and art. It’s really impactful.”
Drinan and Peleg are both lovers and patrons of the arts. For Peleg the alley captured a portion of his young adulthood, “as somebody who grew up in New York of the 1980s, where street art was really so prominent, I still remember the subways full of color. To me, it was just so special, it felt like a little bit of my childhood was still saved in this alley. I wanted to do something which wouldn’t squash it, but rather would amplify the wonderfulness of the alley and what it stood for.”
A great deal of the guest experience that Peleg and Drinan designed is geared towards people who grew up in the 80s and 90s, surrounded by punk and hip hop as the bedrock of their cultural awareness. “We are within a stone’s throw of some of where some of the biggest and most interesting trends of music have started,” says Peleg. “You can’t argue with the incredible impact that Hilly Kristal had when he opened CBGBs, a block or two away north of here, right on the Bowery. What an explosion and what a cultural movement that was and, and of course, hip hop. It all had such a huge impact.”
A great deal of the guest experience that Peleg and Drinan designed is geared towards people who grew up in the 80s and 90s, surrounded by punk and hip hop as the bedrock of their cultural awareness.
This musical heritage of the neighborhood can be found reverberating throughout the hotel. In the large communal work space, the face of Jazz and R&B icon Amy Winehouse watches over, created by renowned artist Stikki Peaches. Another of Stikki Peaches’ wheatpaste and tattoo inspired works can be found in the hotel’s rooftop lounge, a tribute to one of Peleg’s favorite musicians, Debbie Harris, more commonly known as Blondie.
The rooftop lounge was designed to evoke a singular New York feeling of pushing “through garbage cans to get to these jewel boxes that were hidden behind,” says Peleg. “There’s something romantic about that. It probably starts from the hidden speakeasies of you know, during prohibition. So I really wanted the rooftop to be a little jewel box.” The lounge also takes inspiration from tiki bar culture, but filters it through a Lower East Side lens. Cocktails are served in a number of street art inspired glasses, including the Rosenwach Water Tower and spray cans. “Tiki as seen through the eyes of New York without a lot of the kitsch that comes with it,” describes Peleg.
Both Peleg and Drinan are musicians in their own right and felt it was necessary when creating the thesis and intention of their hotel to remain honest to what they themselves would want out of a hotel experience. There is something about travel, particularly traveling to New York, which inspires one to generate expression. The communal work space is geared and ready for any and all inspirations. There are sketchbooks, guitars, professional cameras and recording devices, canvases, all sorts of visual art supplies, any tool that one might use to meet their innovative needs.
There is something about travel, particularly traveling to New York, which inspires one to generate expression.
Peleg explains, “it’s still nice to be able to have creative outlets. Even if you’re an attorney, you still have to think of creative solutions to problems. Coming to a place where there are other creative outlets, I just think it gets all that flowing and moving. All of a sudden solutions to even issues that have nothing to do with art may come about.”
However, the Untitled 3 Freeman Alley Hotel is not only meant to be a space for out of town visitors. It also seeks to build continuous and prosperous relationships with the various artistic communities in New York. “We are trying to foster and empower people in the community to come be a part of the project,” says Drinan. Saturday mornings pianist Kristopher Hull graces the work space with Chopin, street art walking tours are offered by neighborhood stalwart Zui, and a collaboration with a spray paint brand that will sponsor all of the artists who come to paint on the alley. The hotel continues to “empower people to do their art there (the alley),” says Drinan, “if people come and add on top of it. That’s the way it should work.”
“The Lower East Side is the center of the universe, it’s where it all happens. This is where you need to be,” says Drinan. The Untitled 3 Freeman Alley Hotel is a luxury experience that is off the beaten path. “For those people who found New York inspiring and who are inspired by the art that was created here, the poetry that was written here, the songs that were written here…It’s the luxury of being able to be in the center of a place that spawned so much in the way of art. If that’s what you’re attracted to, you’re not going to find a better spot.”
The name “Untitled” has a distinct connection to the art world. The unfinished yet open connotation of the name allows those who step down the vibrant and enhanced walls of Freeman Alley and into the stimulating environment of the hotel to “fill in the blank as to what you want it to be,” says Drinan. The hotel is a physical monument to the age-old idea that is New York, a space free of artistic or innovative restrictions.
Leigh Pennington – Hailing from Richmond Virginia, Leigh Pennington has lived, worked and studied around the world. She earned her BA in Anthropology, Art History, and Religion from Concordia University in Montreal. Last year she moved to New York to pursue a Masters in Oral History at Columbia University. Prior to moving back to the US she earned her first Masters from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Jewish Studies. Currently Leigh works as a freelance culture content writer as well as an Op-Ed editor for the Times of Israel. Her writing has been published in major news and opinion media such as Quebec Heritage News, Tablet Magazine and Lilith Magazine.