Across the street from the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, located within a building nearly as old as the museum’s, is the hidden gem the Historic Blue Moon Hotel. Originally opened in 2006 and reopened last year at the end of August, the Blue Moon Hotel is a unique piece of Manhattan history. The hotel’s owner, Randy Settenbrino, has spent decades preserving the hotel and its storied history by honoring those who once lived there. Untapped New York met up with Settenbrino at the hotel and explored the historic rooms, as well as the housemade foods on the cafe’s menu. You can do the same on our upcoming tour and tasting at the Blue Moon Hotel and Sweet Dreams Cafe!
This after-hours tour and tasting on August 31st is $20 for Untapped New York Insiders and includes a tasting with fresh baked focaccia, handmade mozzarella, housemade pesto sauce, and lemon tiramisu! Not an Insider yet? Not an Insider yet? Become a member today and use code JOINUS for your first month free! As an Insider, you gain access to member-exclusive in-person and virtual experiences as well as our archive of more than 200 on-demand webinars.
Blue Moon Hotel Tour & Tasting
The walls of both the hotel and its downstairs restaurant, the Sweet Dreams Cafe, are lovingly adorned with collages containing small pieces of the past, from old magazine clippings to children’s early twentieth-century homework assignments. Settenbrino has poured his heart and soul into every inch of the hotel and cafe, and it shows in the details from the reused sconces and tiles to the original doorknobs in each door. He has always been an artist, and the hotel is his life’s masterpiece.
Built in 1879 by architect Julius Boekel, who built the First German Baptist Church in New York City, the building has been housing New Yorkers for a very long time. When the original tenement building shut down in the 1930s, however, its rooms and hallways were closed off for seventy years until Settenbrino decided to reopen the time capsule. Inside, he uncovered an abundance of unique relics from the lives of former tenants that had since been forgotten. Settenbrino then carefully pieced together the hotel bit by bit from these discovered treasures, using his artist’s eye to bring new life to the building from floor to ceiling.
By incorporating the found items left behind, Settenbrino has created a museum within his hotel that gives guests and cafe visitors a peek at old New York. “People come here who want to have an experience, and they love art, history, and preservation. And they love New York,” Settenbrino says. “They want to feel like they’re stepping back in time.” This is no exaggeration. Anyone who steps into Settenbrino’s passion project can feel the ghosts of over a century ago come back to life. The walls of the Sweet Dreams Cafe and the hotel hallways are covered with memorabilia including Depression-era Green Stamps, pawn shop tickets, Cosmopolitan clippings, and old advertisements for things like a $4 Babe Ruth mitt or a 9-week long camp stay for just $175.
Memories of the building’s old life are mirrored in the entirety of the current hotel, from the massive planter outside growing new life out of an old bathtub to the old fireplace mantels now bordering the walls around the elevators. Frames made from old wood moldings now house calling cards from between 1895 and 1912 featuring charming vignettes. Every piece of the old tenement building that could possibly be salvaged has been restored and repurposed by the passionate hand of Randy Settenbrino with help from his supportive family.
In fact, the Blue Moon Hotel may have been Settenbrino’s brainchild, but his family has had hands in the hotel from its restoration to the current day. Before the hotel was originally opened, the Settenbrino family was staying there in one room altogether. His children were brought up within the bones of Blue Moon, and are deeply interwoven into the fabric of the hotel and cafe. His daughter (an artist like her father) painted the Van Gogh-esque ceiling of the elevator. His son can be found running back and forth between front-of-house and back-of-house. His children play piano at the cafe on Sundays.
His wife is the brains behind the bakery, making handmade Italian pastries from scratch each day. “When you come in here, there’s a family, and we’re always here. It’s been us from the beginning. The time we have spent together on this project and how we have grown as a family has been invaluable despite the hardships,” Settenbrino explains. The walls of the cafe are decorated with loving portraits done by Settenbrino of his family. It would be difficult to enter Sweet Dreams or Blue Moon and not see the glue and love that hold it together.
The family also grew closer when Blue Moon temporarily leased its grounds to a hostel company that ended up damaging the hotel and many of the relics. Luckily, following the pandemic, Settenbrino and his family were able to come together again to save Blue Moon, putting heart, soul, and nearly all their money into its repair.
Since its post-pandemic reopening, Blue Moon has opened its Sweet Dreams Cafe, located in the hotel lobby. Guests or anyone off the street can come in and grab something quick like a pastry or egg cream, or sit for a bowl of pasta or salad. Sweet Dreams pays homage to Settenbrino’s value for family, as he comes from a Jewish mother and an Italian father. The cafe serves Italian food with a Kosher twist. “What I wanted to do for the restaurant was to try to adapt my Italian culture to cook with the kosher dietary laws,” Settenbrino says. “Kosher is quite limited. A lot of times you’ll eat Kosher because you have no choice and you want to eat out. I didn’t want that. I wanted it to be the kind of place where people come here because they want to eat good food and it just happens to be Kosher.”
Sweet Dreams Cafe serves a variety of Kosher Italian dishes from both the kitchen and the bakery. Up front, customers can find seven different types of biscotti, Sfogliatella made with ricotta and candied oranges, or allspice with chocolate and almonds. For something savory, they have fresh focaccia, handmade ravioli and gnocchi, plant-based bolognese, and meatless Neapolitan meatballs that were Settenbrino’s nonna Karolina’s recipe. Everything from the sauces to the mozzarella is hand-made on-premises, making it some of New York City‘s most authentic home Italian cooking.
Clearly, family and cultural recognition are heavily important to Settenbrino, and that is visible in the food he makes with both his Jewish and Italian roots in mind, as well as his ability to speak both Yiddish and Italian. But at the Blue Moon Hotel the culture of New York City itself is also honored. “More than just thinking about the money that has gone into this project, it’s a memorial to New York, the artists, the architects, the history, the neighborhood,” Settenbrino adds. “People that come here should feel that this is a community and should remember a time when the feeling of having a community was the most important thing. I mean, we as humans all share these common denominators and that should be cherished.”
The Blue Moon Hotel has 22 bedrooms, each equipped with a sink, pots, pans, cutlery, a Kuerig, and a fridge and freezer combo. The rooms’ interiors are of one collective luxurious theme, though each floor has a different theme and each individual room has its own name. All of the rooms and floors are based on people related to New York City like Frank Sinatra and Abbott and Costello. Many of the rooms also have balconies with skyline views, making the hotel a comfortable place to stay in addition to having a rich history.
At 100 Orchard Street, when you stop in the Blue Moon Hotel or the Sweet Dreams Cafe, you are guaranteed a warm familial welcome and a plate of delicious food made with lots of love. Join Untapped New York Insiders for a special visit where we’ll meet Settenbrino and hear all about the hotel’s history, restoration, and current state as he walks us through the various spaces. We’ll then gather in the cafe, after-hours, for a tasting of fresh baked focaccia, handmade mozzarella, housemade pesto sauce, and lemon tiramisu!
Blue Moon Hotel Tour & Tasting
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