Monday, March 14, 2011

Washington Social Diary visits New York

The pre-dawn view from the Sherry-Netherland's room 1111.
by Carol Joynt

Is it okay to bring the word “extravagance” back into the travel conversation?
Maybe in a whisper? After all, it’s still out there, enjoyed by the few but waiting for more of us to hop back on the magic carpet, or at least to hop on and off, on and off. Perhaps we should call the mood of the moment restrained limited hopefulness. In that context, it’s easy to understand the rise of the nearby getaway or “staycation,” which is basically taking a hotel holiday in approximately one’s own region, even area code.

The key to a staycation’s success is finding a hotel that has an array of indulgences under one roof: comfort, entertainment, food, fitness and, yes, extravagance. In so many ways it’s a honeymoon, and it is often literally that for some newlyweds who don’t have the time or desire for a big trip. But in New York it's there for everyone (from anywhere): couples, singles, families. Luxury comes at a price, of course, but take into consideration the spirit of the special occasion or the merit of “I owe it to myself.”

I’ve just returned from sampling three New York’s luxury hotels, each for one night only, each different from the other, and each ideal for a unique getaway. They were The Four Seasons, the literal height of Manhattan glamour; The Sherry-Netherland, with modern amenities wrapped inside old world opulence; and The Surrey, now offering a snug UES spa cleanse getaway. I liked them all and if I had to choose just one it would be difficult. Each has the gift of extravagance—quiet and affordable and not so quiet and affordable. New York has a bounty of great hotels, which makes the city, in addition to so many other superlatives, ideal for an out-of-towner’s getaway or a staycation for the locals.

After dinner in Suite 4107, a bottle of Cranberry Chiller and a plate of sweets.

Completed only a couple of decades ago, this is a young hotel with an old soul, the soul courtesy of architect I.M. Pei. Where it sits on East 57th Street puts it in a hub of equally spectacular skyscrapers—the Edward Larrabee Barnes IBM building, Philip Johnson’s Sony building, to name only two—but The Four Seasons stands out. For one thing, it is the tallest hotel in New York.

The hotel rooms begin on the 31st floor and rise to floor 52 and the Penthouse. That 4300 square foot suite is named after the hotel’s owner, Beanie Baby billionaire Ty Warner, who coerced Pei out of retirement to work with Peter Marino on what is essentially a one of a kind one-bedroom abode, albeit with floor to ceiling 360-degree views of Manhattan, a sky high Zen garden, and the services of a butler and personal trainer, among other perks.

If you have to ask what it costs you probably can’t afford it, but, between us, it's about $36,000 ... a night.

Now let me bring you back to reality and down to the 41st floor, where we stayed in a suite that was on a smaller scale but still quite spectacular, especially for the “shows” that are sunset and sunrise. Suite 4107 was a third the size of the penthouse—and at a smaller price, too ($4150 per night)—but big enough to have its own hallway. The marble on marble bathroom was spacious and the closet about the same size. The blond wood, the lush carpeting, the quiet and the views provided their own kind of Zen. From the bed at night, Manhattan glowed at the tips of our toes.
Views from the 41st Floor of the New York Four Seasons Hotel.
Rooms start at floor 31 and go all the way up to 52, the penthouse suite, which goes for upwards of $35,000 a night. Arriving at Suite 4107 - so vast it had a hallway all its own.
One of only a handful of rooms on the 41st floor.
The bedroom ...
... with a view.
The living room.
Coffee table with reading.
A roll-away in the living room with its own amenities and magnificent view. View from the desk.
The bathroom, which is wall to wall marble with shower and and a bathtub that fills in 60 seconds.
This note warns guests to not ignore the tub, it fills that fast.
Blink and it's filled.
The lobby.
The ceiling.
The front entrance, looking out to East 57th Street.
The steps up to the lobby from the East 58th Street entrance.
The front desk.
The concierge desk.
The art gallery.
The garden dining room, open for breakfast and lunch.
An impressive decorative detail in the garden room.
The basement fitness area.
The Four Seasons Fitness Center is subterranean but well stocked with equipment.
The treatment rooms are adjacent to the work out rooms.
There’s a dining area with a beautiful round table. General room service is available, of course, but it’s also possible to order dinner from the exemplary L’Atelier Robuchon, or the lobby caviar bar, Calvisius Caviar Lounge. Dim the lights, and feast on great food, each other and a view of the Empire State Building, at practically eye level. If that gets boring, order up a movie that’s still in theaters, or visit the 24-hour fitness center, or the spa. But honestly, the view does not get boring, especially if you pack a pair of binoculars.
Caviar on mashed potatoes from Calvisius, the tiny but tempting caviar bar in The Four Seasons' lower lobby.

You check into a room at The Sherry and expect to see ghosts—but in a good way. The ghosts of elegance and a refined way of life surely must prefer this address to all others in Manhattan. It’s Old World, steadfast and historic, luxurious but understated. Consider it the anti-W; there is no mass sameness. Size and details matter. The elevator doors and the numbers on the rooms are hand painted.

The ghosts of a Vanderbilt or two may blow through to check on some of the decorative bits that were removed from the family mansion—located on the spot that is now Bergdorf Goodman—and relocated to the Sherry-Netherland when it was built in 1927. The veneer of the elevators came from that mansion.
Initials that speak decades of luxury.
The clock on Fifth is notable and unmistakable. Built in 1927, the "Sherry" exemplified the best possibilities of a residential hotel and, for its fans, still does.
New York, New York: the most central of addresses, with the Plaza hotel on the right, the Sherry-Netherland Hotel on the left, and Bergdorf's and the Pulitzer Fountain in between.
It could be Europe, but it's fundamental New York. Inside the entry way, a Karl Bitter limestone "high relief panel" relocated to the Sherry from the Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion when the hotel opened.
If this revolving door could talk.
The best New York hotel lobbies feel like home rather than a lobby. The Sherry scores big in that regard.
The front desk. From 1928, this hangs in the Sherry-Netherland lobby.
Lobby flowers, a staple.
While the Sherry-Netherland towers over Grand Army Plaza, the architecture is almost delicate, as it climbs, climbs, climbs up to the minaret and widow’s walk atop the 38 floors. The elevators are operated by men in uniforms, who smile and say “hello,” report on the weather and, if you’re fortunate, recite some hotel history.

A discreet brass plaque in the lobby notes the entrance to Doubles, the exclusive subterranean dining and dancing haunt of a privileged membership. Another door leads to Harry Cipriani, a restaurant that on any given night can be as entertaining as a hit on Broadway.
The fun and fashionable Cipriani, just off the lobby.
Returning to "Cip" after a visit to the powder room. The lobby ceiling.
Also off the Sherry's lobby, Doubles, but sorry, unlike Cipriani's, you have to be a member to enter.
A signature of service, a guest is never alone in a Sherry elevator.
All the Sherry elevators are adorned with decorative wood inlays transported from the mansion that is now Bergdorf Goodman.
Upon arrival on the 11th floor.
But here’s the good news: our suite, 1111, with a rate of $1045 a night, was very much in the here and now, with a large living room and bedroom, handsome furnishings, an actually useful kitchen, two full bathrooms, and showers with the kind of water pressure that could put massage therapists out of business. The views are mesmerizing. From the desk it’s possible to ponder Bergdorf’s, as in “should I?” or “shouldn’t I?” And after the sunset it is fun to watch the comings and goings at the glass box that serves as the entrance to the 24-hour Apple store. In the morning, after a workout in the fitness center, watch the “live” happenings of The Early Show on the CBS plaza next door.

This is a suite so grand you might do cartwheels or invite friends over, which is what we did. The friends, not the cartwheels.

We entertained ourselves with delicious room service from Cipriani, delivered by a Cipriani waiter, and caught up with the latest movies on the huge HD TV in the bedroom. With it pouring rain outside, our rooms were the perfect place to stay put and kick back.
Close-up of an elevator door. The door of Suite 1111, brightly hand painted.
Come inside to the living room.
From the desk of 1111, a contemplative view of Bergdorf Goodman.
Wine and cheese in the living room. Room service dessert of creamy pies and cappucino from Harry Cipriani.
The kitchen.
A dining table big enough for a party.
A big cozy bed with big windows and a big TV on the wall at its foot.
The marble bath with tub and a shower with world class water pressure.
Jump in.
The bathroom ceiling, a moody trompe l'oeil of clouds and sky.
With a nod to the modern flow, the Sherry has a full Fitness Center.
While visiting New York, a scale is only for the brave!

I’ve written about the Surrey before and a second visit did not change my opinion: the redo of this venerable UES hotel lifted it up into the same luxury league as the adjacent Mark and Carlyle hotels. It has a contemporary clubby feel that heightens the intimacy and comfort. Three stylish women in the elevator were comparing it to the other two hotels and the Surrey won.

The Surrey, at 76th and Madison, on a beautiful sunny day.
What was different this time was our room, 1405, an “ultra deluxe salon,” meaning it was larger, with a sitting area, fireplace and especially handsome bathroom. It runs in the mid $700s for a night. The tub was so deep it almost qualified as a plunge pool. The beds were so welcoming, soft and strong at the same time, that when we stretched out to relax it turned into an unexpected, and welcomed, nap.

The Surrey has much to offer as a splendid getaway: location, 76th and Madison, adjacent to Central Park, a skip to the boat pond, a skip and a jump to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; food, Café Boulud is off the lobby, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner; and in particular it has a terrific spa.

Helen Yuen does excellent facials and massage and there is a whole menu of other services, including a special room for couples massage.

Starting this month The Surrey has a package that makes for a tempting staycation: a three-day juice cleanse, including spa treatments and a choice of yoga or pilates. There’s a package, too, for those who choose to stay at home, but for guests who want a room—the “staycation” way to roll—the rates start at about $1700 for the three nights. With those beds, and that bathtub, this could be Nirvana for anyone needing to rejuvenate.
The lobby, looking toward the front door.
The Surrey's main entrance at evening.
Inside the bar.
A cozy nook.
Room 1405, with two great beds and a fireplace.
The set up for sleep.
Looking toward the desk. The view from one of the two big windows in 1405.
The Surrey's in-room mini bar.
In the bathroom with deep tub and rain shower. The bathrobes are Pratesi. Fine linens are a Surrey signature.
The Surrey's Fitness Center.
Ice water in the gym. Water for morning walkers and runners in the lobby.
The second floor Spa is the thing.
"Welcome" with a smile.
A massage room for two.
Where clients wait before treatments, and enjoy tea and chocolates after.
Freshly brewed white tea.
The Surrey spa uses exclusively Darphin products.

Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

Visit her at: Follow Carol on Twitter.