Vital in Manhattan’s Essex Crossing Showcases Climbing Gyms’ Rise

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In a city known for striving, it’s somewhat predictable that New Yorkers are hankering for a plywood wall to scale in their free time.

Vital Climbing Gym is happy to indulge the growing urge to climb. The chain will soon open its fourth location in the city underneath 182 Broome Street at Essex Crossing, the 1.9 million-square-foot urban renewal project being developed across nine sites in the Lower East Side by Taconic Partners, L+M Development Partners, BFC Partners, The Prusik Group and Goldman Sachs Asset Management’s Urban Investment Group.

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Co-founders David Sacher and Nam Phan inked a lease for the 45,000-square-foot space last year after the developers’ plans to turn the ground floor and lower level of the 263-unit apartment building into a food hall failed to pan out.

Two men leaning on a railing in T-Shirts.
Vital Co-founders Nam Phan, at left, and David Sacher. Jim Sewastynowicz

“In New York City, it’s quite difficult to find space large and affordable in the right location, with tall enough ceilings,” Sacher said. “And so it makes it quite difficult, and we’re quite motivated to be opening here.”

The 19-story residential tower known as The Artisan was designed by Handel Architects, and the firm left a cavernous space at its base well suited for Vital’s purposes. The 14-year-old Vital will turn it into a combined bouldering gym and coworking space that Phan and Sacher hope will be conducive to social interaction.

The gym’s atrium-like entrance ties the whole space together, with a concrete industrial staircase leading up the south side of the building to a café that will be open to the public.

This area is surrounded by an interior terrace known as the Broome Street Garden. It’s filled with impressively large fiddle-leaf fig trees and other tropical fare. It would feel appropriate to see a family of monkeys hanging around the plantings, Phan suggested, only half joking.

The rock climbers will get down to business on the lower level, where members descend into a canyon of a half dozen 16-foot, black-stained birch plywood bouldering walls forming an S-shaped labyrinth, with handholds that the gym’s owners plan to rearrange into fresh problems on a daily basis.

“This is a new aesthetic for us,” Sacher said. “It looks really clean. In a lot of gyms, we do yellows, reds, greens and crazy zigzags. But we wanted to do something a little simpler.”

It’s common to tumble to the ground while bouldering, so the gym has ample padding throughout to create soft landings. Vital’s founders hope to make the gym welcoming to experienced climbers and novices alike. To be more beginner-friendly, Vital eschewed the “dark, dusty” sea of bouldering walls that used to be found at climbing gyms and is building a yoga and cycle studio in the space, plus an area filled with fitness equipment like you’d see at any gym, Phan said.

“Climbing gyms became popular at the same time the boutique fitness concept became popular,” Phan said. “Like the SoulCycles of the world, the Barry’s and CrossFit.”

But for members who pay a fee of $145 per month, Vital’s founders wanted to create something special. It will be a space where people can both work and play, according to Phan and Sacher.

Abigail Nehring can be reached at anehring@commercialobserver.com