Freehold: The best hotel (lobby) you’ve never stayed in

By Jay Sterkel

If you’re certain that Freehold is only a town in Jersey, and not possibly a buzz worthy cafe meets workspace meets concert venue in Williamsburg, then stop reading. If you know of it but haven’t ventured beyond the coffeeshop, consider this license to walk past reception and into the rest of the space. If you’re in the Freeholder program — the curatorial membership of frequenters and regulars consisting of “a diverse group of growing industry professionals and tastemakers in fashion, marketing, tech, media, music and entertainment fields” — please refer me to your club.

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Freehold has been in South Williamsburg, steps from Wythe Avenue and South 3rd, for just over three years, and everything beyond the coffeeshop has been open for the last two. The establishment prides itself on being like a luxe hotel lobby…without the rooms.

A coffee shop featuring Stumptown beans and more architecture books than you could possibly flip through in one session? Sure. Astroturfed patio area with breezy stroll up bar? Right over there. Open sitting room and bar that converts to dining room promptly at 5pm? You can’t miss it — it’s just past reception. Don’t forget the skee-ball machines in the back where you can laugh as loud as you want without anyone hearing you. Three meals and snacks? Ping Pong? Cocktails? Live music? Comedy nights? Yep. All right here. The only thing you won’t be able to find in this getaway resort is a bedroom to, you know, actually get away.

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During working hours, the space serves as a connection spot for the mid-to-south Williamsburg professional furrowing into an Apple product or the longhand writer looking for a quiet spot. I’m sitting in a lobby with about 30 people on a summer Friday and only one of them doesn’t have a computer in front of them. And for good reason; it’s an ongoing, evolving path of comfortable corners where you can curl into work, reflection, or conversation.

On the topic of the architecture and design: Have you ever wanted to sit inside of a magazine for an afternoon? It’s not that there’s too much to look at, it’s that it’s hard to stop. There is no part of this place that isn’t composed of both larger conversation pieces and carefully chosen minute details; even the game room juxtaposes hoop shot basketball against a line of simple yellow industrial stools along a pane-glass wall. A purple velour couch cordons off a conversation spot not four feet away. The long, dark concrete bar stretches through, featuring bright brass coat hooks and electrical outlets under its lip. The unfinished ceiling hints at the old Williamsburg warehouse that this place used to be. That anyone would leave the giant, comfortable chairs, impossible to climb out of, is a testament to human willpower.

If they wanted to add “gallery” to their repertoire, they easily could. Everything from photography to mural to neon can be found on the abundant walls, leaving indelible impressions and internal glimpses in an almost inexhaustible trove of comfortable corners. There are graffiti pieces all over the space, along with some prints and a (self-assembled) nostalgic black and white photo gallery of rockers, hosts, and other celebrities.

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The details in the food are as deliberate as the interiors, and the result is just as comfortable. Their lunch menu feels like the kind of snacks that mom might make after school, but with a palate for your thirties: An easy toast of beans and cream cheese; whitefish on crisp-toasted pumpernickel with thin, barely-pickled red onions and plenty of coarse salt and za’atar; simple garden salads and Italian subs. Smoothie bowls designed for the late-morning crowd wanting something that’s not quite lunch. The dinner menu includes sturdier fare and something for most every appetite: steak frites, burgers “Impossible” and possible, even vegan entrees such as a whole roasted eggplant or a “buddha’s delight” stir-fry. There’s brunch on the weekends — but look for hollandaise elsewhere. Pancakes appear on most menus, bless their hearts.

Freehold reminds us that good design and careful programming can be more addictive and enthralling than good coffee — which you can find in almost all of its rooms.

Learn more about Freehold by downloading their app.

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And don’t forget to check out our new building at 321 Wythe, just a half a block away!

All Photos by Nicholas Doyle