Wednesday, December 22, 2010


"Power breakfast" hour nearing its peak in the “Library" of The Regency Hotel.

by Carol Joynt

What’s not to like about a great hotel? The comfort, the attention, the freedom from bother, a steak dinner or bucket of champagne at the push of a button, evening turn down, a strong mattress and crisp sheets. Want to leave the bed unmade in the morning? Go ahead. Want to use an extra towel or two? Why not. Like fresh soap? It’s at hand. And, oh, the water pressure. Great hotels have great water pressure, with shower heads that, at their best, provide a hot and wet virtual massage.

New York hotels generally come in these flavors: business, tourist, family and luxury. And then there’s The Loews Regency. It’s that rare establishment that not only meets the definition of a great hotel, but also satisfies many tastes. It has enough seriousness of purpose to ably support the multi-tasking business traveler, enough luxury to coddle the stylishly indulgent, a great “we love New York” vibe that makes a tourist feel like an insider, and above all its genuinely family friendly. Even the family dog is welcomed with a smile and bowl of treats.

The bonus is its superb location: Park Avenue at 61st Street. On the same block or across the street are an array of fine and clever shops, interesting eateries; Central Park is only a two block walk from the front door.
Within steps of The Regency's front door are some places worth visiting: Serafina for pizza.
Teuscher for chocolates ...
... particularly champagne truffles.
Barney's for an urban department store shopping experience.
Making hand-made shoes for the well-dressed man since 1866.
Leggiadro for classic style. Hermes for iconic French luxury.
The elegant and intimate lobby, marble without being imposing, is one of the best people-watching spots on the island of Manhattan. It’s a direct connect to the city’s pulse with the hub-bub at reception and the concierge desks, celebrities passing through, various movers and shakers showing up for “power breakfast,” and the lively cabaret action at Feinstein’s nightclub. Not since the hey day of The Plaza, when its Persian Room and Palm Court were vital, or when the late Bobby Short headlined at the Café Carlyle, has one hotel offered so much for so many.

Yes, staying in this bustling urban guesthouse comes at a price, but what good show doesn’t?

Last week I was at The Regency for a couple of days and was impressed with the way the spirit of the holidays was vibrant. The lobby was decorated to a fare-thee-well. In the afternoons there was self-service hot chocolate available (adjacent to the big bowl of apples). A sign advertised “Swing In The Holidays with Michael Feinstein and his Winter Wonderland Big Band,” an extravaganza that runs until New Year’s Eve.
Outside The Regency at day.
Outside The Regency at night.
The hotel garage is convenient; in the same block and well-lighted.
The garage rates may seem high but that goes with a central location.
Inside the marble lobby, with mats down due to rain.
Fresh apples are a signature of The Regency. Hot chocolate is a nice touch. In the summer The Regency offers lemonade.
The reception desk.
Dogs are welcomed at The Regency. The Regency lobby clock.
The hotel gift shop is just off the lobby ...
... and has a little bit of everything, plus sports team and other NY souvenirs.
My room was number 520. Here's what it looked like:
Complimentary bedside treats at turn-down.
The “Library,” is the hotel’s lounge. It’s just off the lobby and wears many hats: a place for cocktails, to read, to play a game of chess or checkers, to watch the news, to have a bite. It’s the home den away from home. I popped in for a glass of champagne and while there met a couple of young women who were having an afternoon nosh. “We love it here,” said Nadine Spector and Pamela Stern, practically in unison. “We live in the neighborhood.” When conversation turned to the affair of John Edwards and Rielle Hunter, who met in that very room, a waiter said, almost sorrowfully, “I served them.” When I asked to take his picture, he demurred. It seems no one at The Regency wants to be too connected to that fateful event.

Hunter and Edwards are small stuff compared to other celebrities who made a mark at The Regency in it almost 50 years. Most notably Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. At the peak of their colossal fame, it was the couple’s New York perch. An indelible memory is from 1974, when they split for the first time. It was global news. She arrived in New York and checked into The Regency. At the time I was a writer at The CBS Evening News, where that night we ran a clip which was shot in The Regency’s lobby. Walter Cronkite didn’t bother to narrate. All he said was, “This is what it looked like when Elizabeth Taylor arrived in New York today,” followed by 30 seconds of lobby mayhem, a molten gridlock of people and cameras, with Taylor’s head a speck in the scrum.
The Library at cocktail hour.
Nadine Spector and Pamela Stern enjoy an afternoon nosh in the Library.
In every corner and nook of the Library are bowls of M&M's. Regency service: champagne and a smile in the Library.
The bookcases of the library lounge are filled with books and photos.
The day's newspapers at the ready.
Christmas decorations at The Regency.
Hanukkah decorations at The Regency.
Much less glamorous but still sensational was a scandal in 1997, when NFL Hall of Famer Frank Gifford trysted at The Regency with a flight attendant. Unbeknownst to him she made arrangements with a tabloid to have the affair recorded by hidden cameras. It was national news for weeks. Last year Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” was shot at The Regency, an episode in which cast members, including Joan Rivers and Dennis Rodman, competed at the task of being hotel managers. It was a funny debacle, but because of the cast, not The Regency. Also funny was the way Larry David used The Regency as the location for an arc in his HBO comedy series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Suffice it to say, celebrities are a way of life at The Regency, but, as far as I can tell, not at the expense of other patrons. It’s the same with the signature “Power Breakfast.” While it may have the vibe of a private club, it’s open to everyone. All it takes is a reservation. Ask manager Rae Bianco for a good seat, but be bold. Maybe request Mayor Bloomberg’s table. Though entirely of a different breed—food and business talk rather than cocktails and music—the breakfast is as much an entertainment as the show that happens each night in the same room, when Michael Feinstein or a guest performer take the stage.
Morning at The Regency; newspapers at guests' doors. The stock reports are available right outside the door of the dining room.
Seven o'clock in the morning, the start of a new day's "power breakfast."
Here’s the breakfast back-story, according to The Regency:

“The Power Breakfast originated at Loews Regency Hotel more than 30 years ago. It started informally during the New York City financial crisis in the 1970s, when Loews Corporation Co-Chairman and Co-CEO Bob Tisch began inviting leaders from the public and private sectors to find ways to help the city recover.”

The useful morning meal filled the void of the bygone three-martini lunch and became a concept imitated by a number of other establishments.

The breakfast is served from 7 to 10 a.m. in two rooms, the 540 Park dining room, which is the preferred room, and the adjacent Library. The day I sampled the fare of Executive Chef Stephen Crocker, it was fun to watch the arrivals. Men and women, but mostly men. The regulars politely checked in with Rae, but a few swept by, picked up a newspaper and marched to their table with confident entitlement, particularly Al Shapton, who virtually cruised the room. Also spotted: Sandy Weill, Les Moonves, and Harold Ford, each at his own table.
The all-important breakfast reservations book.
"Power Breakfast" duo: executive chef Stephen Crocker and manager Rae Bianco.
The main dining room.
The adjacent "Library," converted from lounge to breakfast room.
Among many other items, the breakfast menu emphasizes "local flavors."
Juice on ice. The "power breakfast smoothie" is $11.
The basket of pastries, $12.
Loews own jams and preserves.
A bowl of seasonal berries, $23.
The "All American" breakfast: toast, ham, eggs and potatoes.
Traditional (and delicious) Eggs Benedict, right after they got cut into. The price is $25.
Fluffy buttermilk pancakes, with Wood Homestead Maple Syrup from upstate New York, run $19.
Crispy fresh bacon.
The breakfast hour nearing its peak.
The menu hits all the major morning basics, and then some. Crocker said, “the secret to breakfast is it has to have presence and weight after fasting all night.” I sampled the “Power Breakfast Smoothie,” a filling and satisfying mix of yogurt, acai, soy milk, blueberries and bananas, a protein pack and Agave syrup. Like all good smoothies, it was breakfast in a glass. The “All American” is just what you’d expect—ham and eggs—and the fluffy pancakes come with Loews own maple syrup from a producer in upstate New York.

The local items on the menu make the meal as rewarding as the scene. For example, H&H bagels, Eli Zabar’s granola (a personal fave), Old Chatham New York State Yogurt, Streit’s Matzo Brei. The coffee, however, is Starbucks.

Crocker’s been on the job six months. He said, “it's humbling preparing food for the most influential people in the world.” But he’s not a stranger to the limelight. His father has worked in the front office of major league hockey for years, previously the Hartford Whalers and now the L.A. Kings.
Looking into breakfast from outside The Regency on 61st Street.
While the Masters of the Universe breakfast inside, their limo's idle in front of The Regency on Park Avenue.
A cozy power breakfast alternative: room service hot oatmeal with bananas, nuts, brown sugar and cream.
Before or after breakfast, or any time during the day and into evening, be sure to visit the gym, one of the best hotel fitness facilities in New York; compact but spotless, with the best equipment. It makes a difference when a hotel owner has a commitment to fitness, and Loews Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch is a fitness buff. He chose Browning Fitness to handle the personal training, and the facility offers all kinds of work-outs, including pilates and spinning.

It also makes a difference when a hotel is family owned and the matriarch lives upstairs. Joan Tisch lives at The Regency, along with about 15 other individuals who are residential guests. Altogether the hotel has 352 rooms, including 91 suites.
The Regency fitness center offers a full menu of services.
Inside the fitness center.
Jon’s late father and uncle, Bob Tisch and Laurence Tisch, built The Regency in 1963, soon after they took over the Loews Corporation. The Regency became the jewel in a chain that now includes 19 hotels in the U.S. and Canada. While Jon is a certified billionaire mogul, and is co-chairman of the family-held corporation that also includes insurance, offshore drilling, and natural gas exploration and pipelines, the hotels are his babies. In fact, one of his three books focuses on the particulars of the hospitality industry: “Chocolates On The Pillow Aren’t Enough: Reinventing the Customer Experience.”

While he once considered a career in broadcasting, Jonathan seems a natural for the hotel business. Maybe its because he grew up at The Regency. “I consider myself the male Eloise,” he said.

However, Jonathan Tisch has the distinction of being an Eloise you’ll likely see at breakfast.
Loews Regency Hotel
540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street)
New York, New York, 10065
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