If you ask any fashionable Londoner what hotel he or she considers the chicest, inevitably the answer will include names like Charlotte Street, Soho Hotel and Haymarket. The three are part of the five-property Firmdale Hotels, which operates one of the most popular and successful boutique hotel brands in U.K. hospitality. The company is in the process of expanding with its first North American outpost, Crosby Street Hotel in New York's Soho. Slated to open in early 2009, we take a closer look at what makes this chain so popular on the other side of the pond. And what to expect from the new New York hotspot. First impressions Five Firmdale Hotels are scattered throughout London with an emphasis on the city's media centers. Everyone seems to have a different favorite, with quieter travelers gravitating to the Covent Garden Hotel with its bookworm-theme lobby and wood-paneled décor. Showier travelers and star-gazers tend to prefer Charlotte Street Hotel or Soho Hotel with their lively lobby lounges and celebrity clientele like Scarlett Johansson that call the hotels home while shooting in London or on the West End stage. Haymarket is the newest of the hotels, located in the former European headquarters of American Express with a more subdued lobby and basement pool with glittery sky. Scene from a lobby Firmdale owners Tim and Kit Kemp believe that "hotels should be living things, not stuffy institutions." Thus each hotel sports a different lobby scene that inevitably goes on to become a certified city hotspot. Each is outfitted with an on-site eatery and adjacent lounge never more than a few long-steps from the lobby. Bright and airy, the signature spaces are defined by high ceilings, wood floors with heavy patina and oversize industrial windows that overlook the surrounding neighborhood even if the views or weather are hardly optimal. The décor is contemporary English in a mix of modern and antique furnishing.