Thursday, December 1, 2011

No Holds Barred

View of the reservoir and LaGuardia Airport in the distance, all from my window atop The Carlyle Hotel.
Blowing it in New York
by Blair Sabol

I was ready to blow it all. I came to NYC a week before Thanksgiving. It was a high roller time slot. No discounted hotel deals and no real store sales. It was not pay or play. It was pay to play. I took a deep breath. I booked a room at The Carlyle Hotel because I wanted to go for broke and at least do it in the height of elegance .

Sadly most five star hotels of late have all dipped into The W mindset; teched up chilly decor, rude service (or no service) and a super young Facebook clientele. I've been told that if you want a real hotel experience you must go to Asia or India where hotels are old palaces. Then there's Vegas with suites on steroids; gorgeous silk bedding, mini bars on magical sensors, jacuzzis in every living room, and personal pole dancing bars in bedrooms.

Wet smashed leaves marking the end of Fall.
But I am not going to the Far East or Vegas for a stylish hit of class, no matter how often Elton or Cher are appearing live. It seems that every hotel in NYC (even the 10th Avenue fleabags) start at $300 a night (where do the hookers stay anymore?) and end up $500 with all the city tax system. Even the hip "rooming house hostels" downtown (The Jane Hotel with a bathroom down the hall)is listed at $90, but ends up to be over $175 after final tabulation.

I wish I could stay with my Manhattan friends, but frankly I am too old and have severe "boundary issues" (too much luggage) and suffer from personal "porous borders." Besides I believe nobody really wants house guests … EVER!!!! Every year I come to town at this same time and stay on the Upper East Side. Though I realize hotels are happening downtown … it's not my "neighb." And uptown locations have proved challenging.

For the most part the rooms are closets and over teched up. Upon last year's visit I had to call the front desk nightly to instruct me on the wall iPad-ed system of toilet flush, lighting system, thermostat control, and curtain closures. It was a nightmare. I have been insulted by most lobby bars dedicated to the neighborhood "cougars" and drunken C-list rock stars.

Over the years I have missed the Woody Allen-esque Thanksgiving feeling ("Hannah and Her Sisters" or "Everyone Says I Love you") of festive settings at various chic Manhattan hotels. But even Allen has bolted to Paris where many people have told me you must be for Christmas and New Years.

But NYC owns the Fall season. So I chose to fiscally bottom out at The Carlyle where I believe I got a bang for my sorry buck. And, This was not a "comped" columnist assignment. The Carlyle is way above "comping." They don't need to. The Carlyle is infamous and truthfully ... quirky (like their guests). Some of the rooms are too dark and face air shafts while others are too small and can resemble a chic spinster's single room from Edith Wharton's House of Mirth.
The Holy Grail of hotels.
The Carlyle Hotel Tower. I was fourth floor down from the tippy top. A slight drop down to Park Avenue, from my room.
But my luck won out and I landed on a corner room (high in the sky on the 31st floor) in "the tower." I had 4 windows with views of the reservoir, Park Avenue, the East River and LaGuardia's takeoffs and landings.

My small mirrored bathroom only reflected the clouds. I was "above the material." My chest of drawers was old gilded French Provincial, the phone and lights had real buttons and on/off switches, I could operate the TV remote, the radio was preset to classical WQXR.
Carlyle room decor of old fashioned chest of drawers.
A Carlyle view from the 31st floor.
Morning views from my bathroom window.
A view of the sky from my Carlyle Hotel bathtub.
I was instantly and happily transported to another era in better times. The room and every hallway had the aroma of dignity which came from their popular privately labeled lemon soap. (I stole 6 bars). When I checked in at the front desk there was no baby carriage gridlock, no edgy men wearing baseball caps on backwards, flip-flops or cargo pants, no women in blinged-up yoga pants and hoodies. Everyone seemed to be art dealers from Budapest or "money movers" from Berlin. Elegant understatement and hushed tones prevailed.

No pro basketball players ricocheting down the hallways with bottles of Cristal. No Lady Gaga entourages clustering by the elevators. In fact every time I got on the elevators I had the most intriguing interactions with the other guests or the elevator operators. One handsome European woman instructed me to stop buying jewelry and go for huge scarves instead. She was swaddled in an Rajasthan oversized couch throw and looked stunning. 
Old fashion touch tone phone by my bed. The Carlyle Hotel soap. THE smell of class.
There was real guest decorum here. No one got on the elevators checking their Blackberries or zoning out on their iPods. Elevator man Pablo taught me "elevator etiquette." He insisted I wait 15 seconds after the doors open to prevent instant collision. The outgoing passengers have the right of way. Who knew? The Carlyle does.

My personal night and day maids (Remeka) actually cared about my needs and checked with me daily to see how I was "really feeling." Talk about a "personal assistant." They were never invasive and I hardly ever saw a huge sloppy housekeeping cart outside my door. They just magically appeared or disappeared and automatically knew my comings and goings. That was an art. It dawned on me that I must have been" hotel abused" for way too long (although I adore and am seriously loyal to The Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel and at times The Peninsula in Beverly Hills … but that's another story).

The Carlyle reminded me of what real service, elegance, and impeccability is suppose to be. Nowadays I don't travel as much or stay as long so I want and now need the hotel to set the trip intent. I want it to provide a terrific backdrop for every visit. After all a good hotel can save a lousy trip.
Pablo the gloved elevator man, who taught me "elevator etiquette" and piloted me down every morning from the "high in the sky" 31st floor. My maid and confidante Remeka, ready to serve.
Many of my pals questioned my Carlyle choice. "That overpriced grande dame of an institution?" Hey … that is what I hope to become … an overpriced grande dame. I am already an old handbag, at least let me follow in Elaine Stritch's shoes (she lives and performs there). The Carlyle delivered. I was coddled and cajoled (who cares if it was all an act) and not in an ostentatious way. The property still flies under the radar. The comfy textured sofas in their outer lobby "salon"(bar) are still iconic, its dining room has high "secret meeting" history, and of course there is the infamous Bemelman's bar. This isn't about pop glamour. This is about real grace.

I was treated with such high regard by everyone (even my genteel wake-up call operator insisted on giving me appropriate wardrobe tips for the day's weather). My last day the head of "shipping and packing" Deopaul Ramratan came to my room to personally deliver a package and to see if I needed his incredible"origami skills" in packing up my luggage. And I wasn't even in Daphne Guinness or Bernard Levy's stratosphere. I had heard that director Ron Howard loved the hotel so much he named his oldest son Carlyle. In the end … my visit was such a religious experience that it was my honor to go broke in front of the check-out "cashier" Victoria Capalbo. She delivered the final bill with authentic hope and good cheer. Who could quibble? Who would dare?
Tiny, understated soundless hall rooms. King of Carlyle Hotel package and shipping Deopaul Ramratan.
By the way I hear The Carlyle concierges are true stars in their own right. There is nothing they can't score … with class of course. And if THEY can't get it done for you NOBODY in the entire city can. It was remarkable that every guest I met seemed passionate and loyal about their Carlyle visits. Obviously it is a private club. No one seemed to take it for granted. It was a safe exclusive haven. If not the last. I think God stays there under an assumed name. Or maybe God is Bobby Short who is memorialized with a portrait outside Bemelman's and a street plaque on 76th street.

Oil painting shrine of Bobby Short in Carlyle lobby.
Not long ago I had heard of a wealthy matron checking into The Carlyle to spend her final dying days. Actually it was the family of Marie Dennett McDill. They decided to have her stay there when they knew she was terminal and she adored staying there so much. "It wasn't a search for extravagance, but a search for comfort. It wasn't the inexpensive option but it was the greatest comfort we could afford. So of course we would do that for her," said her incredible son Thomas Gardner. What a hospice!!! But who wouldn't want to live and die at The Carlyle. Some people check into hotels to have an affair. I checked in and had an affair WITH the hotel.

Meanwhile everywhere I went during my brief stay I kept meeting women who were mourning the recent loss of Evelyn Lauder. These women were from all walks of life and didn't personally know her. Ironically each one had been helped by her indirect assistance at getting to the right breast cancer doctor. I was moved at how Lauder had touched so many different lives with such hidden power. She was much more than a philanthropic legend. She truly walked her talk.

On the other hand everyone I spoke to complained about Mayor Bloomberg. I was surprised at how fast his sun had set. All the cabbies told me and I listened to them since they are the city's prophets. Once I arrived at the Carlyle I decided to play out the whole deluxe stay on an over-the- top scale. I ordered sedans when I could, I ate with my wonderful NYSD editor "DPC" at Swifty's and Michael's and was taken to La Grenouille for dinner (talk about another holier than thou experience ).
The plaque on 76th Street outside the Carlyle Hotel.
I got friends and relatives to treat me to "Follies" and "Seminar" since I knew the serious expense of the theatre. I bypassed the number one show and entertainer of the moment Hugh Jackman as I heard it was $1000. a seat. Naturally he is sold out. My terrific uncle Herb Siegel went opening night and surprisingly Hugh pulled him up onstage to dance. My normally shy and reserved Uncle still hasn't recovered. He even got a rave mention in Liz Smith's column. I think it changed his life.

Mid-trip a dear editor friend of mine verbally attacked me for acting "too 1 percent-y" and not going to visit Zuccotti Park to see and partake of that "important cultural statement." I explained that I had had a tough year and was intentionally having an "anti Wall Street Occupation" trip … and proud of it. Twitterized demonstrations of bongo drums, hookups and outbreaks of lung viruses simply didn't grab me as a "must see." She insisted I was buying into the "whole Fox News media image" and maybe I was.
The New York Times's Susin Fair and Decades owner Cameron Silver at Pier Antique Show.
Where is Abby Hoffman (or any colorful counter cultural leader) when you need him? At least in my hometown of Phoenix the "Occupationistas" have actually taken to breaking and entering and stealing from upscale homes. They have skipped the park scenes of pathetically pitched tents and blown out bull horns. Thankfully I ended my indulged "New York Sate of Mind" time with my dear friend Susin Fair (New York Times Samurai Shopper columnist) and Cameron Silver (owner of popular Decades vintage store) taking me to the Pier Antique show.

We all arrived wanting to shamelessly "fill our emptiness" (Silver's line). So we did. Susin and I got Miriam Haskell pearl earrings, necklaces and chunky charm bracelets from dealer extraordinaire Lynell Schwartz (

Cameron saved his best purchase for last with a pricey outrageous vintage Hermes leather and metal necklace. We all left feeling high, wide and handsomely over spent. Nothing like a "shopper's High" … especially in NYC.
Miriam Haskell pearls and earrings at Lyn Schwartz's booth at Pier Antique Show. Cameron Silver and his vintage Hermes
necklace purchase.
Susin and I celebrated with a late afternoon Bloody Mary at The Mandarin Oriental top floor bar. Overlooking Central Park, Columbus Circle and the giant CNN digital clock and weather sign. Susin is the perfect "enabler." She "shops till she drops" for a living and helped me obliterate all Zuccotti Park guilt. "Remember life is too short" she kept mantra-ing me like a true "dealer."

We congratulated each other on our conscious splurging and raised our glasses. So there it is … I came, I saw, I went broke, and I feel better for it. And a Happy Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Cash out December to one and all!
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