Two hotels in New York for this year’s pick. One a legendary grand dame undergoing a gentle nip and tuck that more than lived up to its reputation, the other a new, much hyped opening that failed to deliver.
The Best of Times: The Carlyle
The Carlyle, New York
We booked a three night stay at The Carlyle to celebrate a special occasion and the whole experience was superb. The hotel embodies wonderful Upper East Side New York glamour, just as we’d envisaged. A discreet entrance just off Madison Avenue leads to the small, elegant lobby decorated in Art Deco monochrome with splashes of golden velvet. While the hotel is exclusive we found the service friendly and attentive throughout. And everyone seems to be greeted with “nice to see you” whether it’s your first or hundredth visit.
The Carlyle is being subtly refurbished in parts but cleverly all the classic features that make it special are still there including the famous Bemelmans Bar and the elevator attendants. Our room was one of the recently refurbished ones and successfully blended classic with contemporary. There were some lovely touches such as Central Park murals and quirky rabbit objects reminiscent of the Bemelmans bar downstairs. The room wasn’t huge and the bathroom a bit tight but that’s usual for New York and the beautiful décor made up for it.
Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, New York
We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts every morning in the chic Carlyle Restaurant. And dinner there was the icing on the cake of our stay. We were given the type of table we’d requested beforehand (a corner banquette) and the classic menu and slick service matched the stylish setting perfectly.
For exploring the Upper East Side the hotel’s location was also superb. We had the Met museums and Central Park right on our doorstep and of course the shops of Madison Ave. There are newer, trendier hotels in more fashionable parts of New York but for sheer class this is hard to beat.
The Worst of Times: TWA Hotel
TWA hotel, JFK, New York. Credit: Max Touhey
When we heard the TWA Hotel opening was coinciding with a trip we had booked to the US, changing planes at JFK, we switched our onward flight so we could stay the night at the hotel. We wish we hadn’t.
The problems started when we looked at the website a few days before our arrival and noticed that the hotel’s only sit down restaurant was fully booked for the evening of our stay. We contacted the hotel direct to ask if they were keeping any tables back for hotel guests and were flatly told no by the Assistant Director of Front Office. He suggested we try the “grab and go” take away outlets in the lobby instead. As we’d been looking forward to an elegant dinner in a “Jean Georges Vongerichten” restaurant it was hardly the experience we hoped for. He also confirmed as per the website that the restaurant was fully booked for breakfast – something we have never encountered in a hotel before.
On top of that, we’d booked the hotel some three months ahead of time and had not been advised then to reserve a restaurant booking as we have with other hotels with popular eateries. When we pointed that out the Assistant Director replied: “reservations didn’t start being booked until mid April.” He did not respond when we questioned why we hadn’t been contacted at that point – still a month before arrival.
The hotel was easy enough to get to when we landed at JFK and the architecture is truly stunning so we still hoped to enjoy our stay. However we were surprised to be told when we tried to check in at 3pm that the room wasn’t ready and that check in wasn’t until 4pm. It seems puzzling to have such a late, inflexible check in at an airport hotel when guests are arriving at all times. After an early start and a transatlantic flight the last thing we wanted to do was hang about for the room.
When we eventually checked in the room (we had booked a Deluxe King with a Heritage View) was very attractively designed. Small, but we expected that in New York. But the lack of wardrobe and the fact that my husband could barely walk around one side of the bed was an issue. There was no room for chargers on the bedside tables either. The floor to ceiling windows gave us a great view of the stunning Saarinen building but it also meant we were completely on show to everyone inside that building.
We tried to find the much publicised roof top swimming pool and bar but were told that they weren’t yet open. This too was disappointing as pictures of the roof top had been heavily promoted as part of the hotel’s appeal.
Sunken Lounge, TWA hotel. Credit: Max Touhey
On the plus side the Sunken Lounge was fun for a cocktail (at Manhattan prices). Plates of olives ($10) and cheese ($20) were not enough for dinner and nearing 8pm we were hungry so went in search of the “grab and go” only to find most of the stalls closed. We managed to buy some gyro from the Halal Guys just minutes before they too closed. No offence to the Halal Guys (they were the only reason we had sustenance that night –there’s no room service) but a donor kebab was not what we had envisaged after our martinis. On returning to our room we found the television didn’t work.
In the morning we checked out first thing and headed to the airside of Terminal in search of breakfast, we’d had enough of the TWA experience. To add insult to injury when we looked at our bill we had been charged $10 plus tax (note this is payable per room per night) “facility fee”. This purportedly covered “free” wi fi “complimentary” access to the fitness centre and luggage storage on arrival/departure. Leaving the wi fi aside, we have never before been charged for fitness centre access (which incidentally we didn’t use plus the pool wasn’t open) or luggage storage in any hotel.
The following week we needed to travel through JFK again and then on to Upstate New York. It would have been ideal to check into the TWA hotel and then travel upstate the following morning. Based on our experience we chose not to – instead we took a cab to Manhattan to stay the night.