Luxury Hotels

Finally, Mandarin Oriental’s luxury New York hotel

Barman, The Office

The gal’s final night in the Big Apple turned out to an eye-opening theatrical experience, start to finish. First, Mandarin Oriental New York’s GM Susanne Hatje, who oscillates between sybaritic surfing and Manhattan magic, wove the wand of the latter incarnation to take me to what must be the city’s finest speakeasy, The Office. The hotel turned to Alinea Group, led by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, to replicate their freestanding Office back in Chicago. With the help of designer Adam Tihany, the luxury hotel’s MObar was transformed, its door blocked off. Now you enter via an unmarked door behind a kitchen. Inside, lured by word of mouth, up to 45 connoisseurs sip drinks that go up to a 50-year old Glenfiddich, at $3,000 per ounce.

The Aviary, earlier in the day (see bar-kitchen on right)

Sitting only here, by the way, no standing allowed, said Aldo Sersale, son of the owners of Le Sirenuse, in Positano: here, he seems to be interpreter both of The Office and its baby sibling, The Aviary, which opened only end September. Adam Tihany, in bright scarlet glasses, happened to come by as I drank a Hendrick’s, an unsuitably ordinary drink for this venue – but then the nibbles, which turned out to be a cruditée arrangements about the size of two soccer balls, was out of the ordinary too. Interestingly, whereas Adam Tihany did ‘dark’ for the window-free Office, he could not do much to transform the adjacent former lobby lounge, which has all-wall windows. He has, as the image to the right shows, added ceiling lights, and a working bar-kitchen. The offerings here are sensational, with cocktails that include ‘Science A.F.’ (see above, and the second video below), and ‘Wake and bake’.

Another day dawns..

‘Wake and Bake’ is inspired by single-barrel rye, and coffee and orange and Vermouth, and you get a blown up transparent plastic bag that, when pierced, oozes out typical breakfast aromas. What did we eat, that passionate surfer and I? Well, most memorable one-bites were led by Black Truffle Explosion, a single truffle-infused ravioli, in a spoon that appears to sit on a small dish but when you lift the spoon you see that the dish is merely a halo rim. All dishes are one-bite, and I also loved a single octopus croquette, and A5 Miyazaki Wagyu: we both passed on Okinawa brown sugar icecream and other desserts.

.. and Susanne Hatje says farewell

Honestly, there are so many reasons this is such an outstanding luxury hotel. Suite 5200 came with big bowls of popcorn for movie watching (though the flower displays were so gorgeous I could simply have watched them). Room service called to ask what kind of Nespresso pods I would like, and sent up three tubes. Night security opened the gym for me at five minutes’ notice, and the facility’s supply of apples, bananas and plums, all perfect of course, had not been taken away over night, as elsewhere seems to be the norm. In the morning, without asking I found all possible English-language papers, and then, as I left, there was my surfing pal, just to make sure I really was leaving. Oh, and the Central Park view is breathtaking. See the first video below. FIRST, SUITE 5100



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Luxury Hotels

Lunch at The Barclay

The Barclay’s gin bar

From The Carlyle, on 76th street, the walk south down Madison is absolutely fascinating. Ralph Lauren already has its Christmas decoration windows – see above – and what looks like a one-time bank is now a busy Apple Store, at 74th Street. The gal was actually on the way down 48th Street, just east of Park Avenue, for lunch at The Barclay, which celebrates 30 years as an InterContinental next month. Anyone who remembers the hotel at that time will immediately think of the lobby’s bird cage, with real song birds which must have driven front desk mad after a time.

Hervé Houdré

Now the focal point to the left of the lobby, as you go in, is a prominent two-sided gin bar, with well over 80 bottles. To the right of the lobby, three separate front-desk pods, each with two agents, offer more flexilibity, and quicker check-in – yes, says the hotel’s suave sartorialist MD, Hervé Houdré, check-in by devices will come, and soon, but it is not there yet. He told me about the hotel’s really commendable community initiatives, which include offering rooms, if available, to abused women who suddenly need a bed – the hotel works, in all, with 15 different charities, and its sustainability culture definitely attracts the important meetings business. Over 90 percent of meetings planners apparently ask what a hotel does for good.

An antique table in the Penthouse…

I was really happy to see the Club Continental lounge, leading right off the lobby. At $100 surcharge a day, per room, it seemed amazingly good value, especially since alcohol is included. As Hervé Houdré says, breakfast for two in this Sky High breakfast tariff city can easily go into three digits (for the record, one breakfast I have had on this trip, no juice but coffee, plain yoghurt, no-sides eggs and toast, was $62, with spaces to write in gratuities both for the captain and the server). The lounge also has nightly themed cocktail buffets, grand enough for a full meal, apparently – and on your way out, listen to the lobby’s live jazz.

.. which also has the latest fitness bits

The big surprise, however, is the luxury hotel’s new Penthouse Suite, added to the rooftop and opened only this April. Designed Charbel Kallab, from Beirut, it is absolutely gorgeous, 3,000 sq ft inside with a 1,500 sq ft private terrace. You have two bedrooms, one gym (and I am sure that for the $25,000 you are paying, per night, access to the Club Continental lounge is thrown in). If you cannot stay there, at least watch the video, below.

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Luxury Hotels

New York’s iconic Carlyle luxury hotel

Bemelmans Bar – unusually, people-free

Travelling the length of central New York is somewhat akin to spanning the poles, and having made it south the gal had to head north, to the magnetic appeal of the Carlyle. This is the weekly home of Woody Allen who plays every Monday, and nightly, it seems, of local Upper East Side residents who throng to Bemelmans Bar – the image here is absolutely wrong as every day, from about 4.30 pm on, it is such a throng that servers have to push and shove in a most un-luxury way to get through. The gal was a little taken aback . Game of Thrones has nothing on the little scenarios going on here simultaneously. You have a feeling that Ludwig Bemelmans, 1898-1962, the illustrator whose likenessses adorn the walls – see Madeline, above – would be sketching many of the customers here.

Elegance is a coffee set-up

The Carlyle is a way of life for so many, with the percentage of repeat guests nudging the 70s. As well as taking those staying in the hotel rooms, the elevator attendants also have to ferry residents who live in the owned suites above (oh, if they could tell their stories). Every night, as well as activity in the bar, there a show, or perhaps two shows, in Café Carlyle, where integral dinner is purely a set meal. Those who want to talk will probably head for the considerably quieter Carlyle Restaurant. They might choose, as I did, Carlyle Classics, in my case thinly-sliced smoked salmon with capers, onion and pumpernickel, followed by Dover Sole meunière, presented and filleted table-side.

Carlyle, the Restaurant

There are so many traditions here that regulars would be appalled if too much was changed (even though it is seldom used in these days of declining hand-written letters, an ornate letter box sits between two of the elevators, in the main lobby, ready to receive missives dropped into the vertical tube on any of the floors above). Some Carlyle-ophiles may well be a little dubious at the thought of Tony Chi re-designing the bedrooms but, having seen two mockups, I was pleasantly surprised, and the lacquer and sumptuous fittings are pure Manhattan of today. But do not expect old-fashioned items to disappear altogether – see the samovars that hold the complimentary coffee available in the lobby from 7 a.m., just when breakfast starts, by the way.

Elevator companion, the boss

Breakfast here is a delight. One restaurant room becomes a discreet buffet, not visible from much of the room, and of course, as should be the case in all luxury hotels, everything was the best – it was tempting to gorge on yet more smoked salmon. Later, coming down in an elevator, I coincided with hotel MD Tony McHale, who had told me how happy he is to be in such a classic and cosy environment. Finally, too, I discovered a plus to having an operator in the cabin. He was able to take our photo, once he had taken off his white gloves, of course.


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