Marriott Syracuse Downtown: The Finger Lakes Region’s New Grand Hotel
Restored to its original grandeur, The Marriott Syracuse Downtown now stands as a symbol of rebirth for multiple generations of Syracusans. Onetime newlyweds who stayed in a room during their honeymoon in 1965 can now do the same for their grandchildren’s wedding. Former employees who made careers here only to see the property boarded up and abandoned can now visit and experience the hotel in better shape than when they left it.
Restoration of the former Hotel Syracuse began in 2014; at the time there was no electricity and only one functioning toilet in the derelict shell of the 600-room, three-tower hotel. Many original ornate flourishes were discovered behind ceiling tile and partition walls and refurbished. Approximately 1,000 construction workers and artisans, up to 500 per shift, often worked double time to completely remodel the hotel within two years. The room count was reduced by more than half to reconfigure cramped spaces that no longer matched modern guest expectations. The new accommodations’ only enduring attribute is the “servidor,” a casket-lid‒shaped locking compartment in the room door once used by guests to leave their laundry to be cleaned.
The Marriott Syracuse Downtown’s grand lobby features original terrazzo flooring, soaring 20-foot ceilings and columns, and a 40-foot mural above the front desk depicting key events of Syracuse’s first 100 years. Decades’ worth of accumulated tobacco smoke and coal dust were removed from the mural, revealing its original 1949 luster. Just as it did for the hotel’s initial opening in 1924, the locally based furniture maker Stickley outfitted the lobby and guest rooms.
A highlight of staying here is descending into the lower lobby connecting all three on-site restaurants, which also accessible via outside entrances and street level patio seating.
Named after the region’s renowned Finger Lakes, Eleven Waters, the hotel’s signature dining venue, is a French style bistro with an upstate flair. The dining room is flooded with natural light and bright modernist furnishings, while tables are set with artisan water glasses crafted from recycled wine bottles. Breakfasts include a full buffet or signature dishes like a Syracuse Skillet made with local Gianelli sausage, Utica greens, and mozzarella and romano cheeses. Offerings later in the day can range from Hosmer chardonnay mussels and frites in an Onondaga County butter and roasted garlic sauce to Hudson Valley duck tacos and cassoulets.
Recently inducted into the American Academy of Chefs Culinary Hall of Fame, executive chef Tom Kiernan bases his preparations on Central New York farm fresh ingredients and local wines. “Every entree at Eleven Waters is created with a Finger Lakes wine pairing in mind,” Kiernan says. Varietals like Glenora chardonnay and Hazlitt riesling flow on tap directly from the cask for a better tasting eco-friendly glass. What was once the hotel’s onsite barbershop is now a bar serving up local craft beers from Ithaca Beer Company and Middle Ages Brewing, while cocktails like the Clean Shave and the Beehive Mule use local micro distilled liquors like Knapp Distillery vodka. Blue velvet settees and taupe leather club chairs add a modern touch to the original mirrors, tiled flooring, and chrome water fixtures that remain to this day.
Shaughnessy’s Sports Pub is another can’t-miss option where comfort dishes like shepherd’s pie and overstuffed Reubens are served at the bar and surrounding dining area with a basketball court floor once used by the Syracuse Nationals, an original NBA team, that was reinstalled here.
The official hotel for Onondaga County Convention Center (OnCenter), just a block away, Marriott Syracuse Downtown is also within walking distance to the Onondaga Creek Walk that winds along the river, passing by Armory Square’s vintage music shop The Sound Garden, Empire City Brewery, and Kubal Coffee Roasters, across the street from the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. headquarters, widely considered the boldest Art Deco building in the United States. Continuing along the walk brings you past other historic sites like Inner Harbor and an old salt works, reaching its terminus on the shores of Onondaga Lake.