Destination: New York
Four Seasons Hotel New York
I.M. Pei’s fifty-two-story limestone tower on East 57th Street has become an icon—and not just because it houses the most expensive hotel rooms in the city. The property was the last great project conceived by Robert H. Burns, founder of hospitality company Regent International, which he sold before this structure was completed in 1993. Its opening as a Four Seasons marked the emergence of the company as the true standard-bearer of modern luxury hotels. Those who scoffed at the idea that it could ever draw guests from more established hotels were quickly proved wrong, as business and leisure travelers rushed to pay the record-setting room rates. Its appeal has not worn thin. The minimalist yet majestic entrance, with its terrace lounge, evokes the drama of a grand hotel arrival, while the flawlessly trained staff warmly welcomes all who wander in. With the addition, last year, of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, the hotel may even soon have a Michelin-starred restaurant—not that those lining up for sought-after counter seats need that imprimatur to convince them that the food is worth the wait. The 368 rooms have pale English sycamore furniture and enormous (for New York) marble bathrooms. The best have large windows facing north and west for a glimpse of Central Park. The views improve the higher you rise in the building. I.M. Pei came out of retirement in 2001 to create two presidential suites on the 51st floor with such indulgent touches as leather-paneled walls in the library and bronze chairs by Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne in the foyer. The current owner, Ty Warner (who made his first fortune with Beanie Babies), will occasionally rent out the fabulous Peter Marino–designed penthouse suite (for $30,000 a night) when he himself is not in residence. It has panoramic views of the city: from one side you can watch planes landing at LaGuardia and from the other take in all of Central Park, spread out in a swath of green or copper or white, depending on the season. As a born-and-bred New Yorker, I didn’t expect to find anything particularly special about staying in a hotel in my hometown, but the first night I stayed there, I couldn’t take my eyes off the scene outside my windows. I have since returned several times and discovered a few other worldly New Yorkers who treat themselves to a knockout pick-me-up weekend with a cab ride here. Rooms from $895.
Mandarin Oriental, New York
The transformation of Columbus Circle from a roundabout bordered by a dingy meeting hall to a high-end shopping and cultural hub owes a lot to the hotel that anchors one of the two towers in the Time Warner Center. The Mandarin Oriental brand has long been known for luxury in Asia (specifically its legendary Bangkok outpost), but it hadn’t made a major splash in the U.S. The opening of this property, in 2003, helped to change that. Among other features, it gave the city its first sky-high lobby, on the thirty-fifth floor, affording stunning Central Park views: in the morning, you can see hawks soaring among the high-rises, and at night, the show of city lights below hypnotizes. An Asian aesthetic informs the 248 rooms and suites (designer Vivienne Tam, who divides her time between New York and Hong Kong, created the signature fan in the lobby). All have floor-to-ceiling windows; the best, of course, face east, toward the park. Already a favorite with Silicon Valley moguls, movie stars and musicians, the hotel has proved that it can deliver the same seamless service in America as it does in Asia. It’s also become a popular overnight retreat for couples from Greenwich and Bedford who come into town for opera or ballet at Lincoln Center and would rather walk home than face a drive. Be sure to go downstairs for a performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center, especially if you can hear a concert in the Allen Room, where musicians stand before the four-story-high windows; listening to jazz riffs with an electric-cityscape backdrop can elicit goose bumps in even the most jaded. Rooms from $745.
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The twenty-three-story hotel is housed in a glorious Beaux Arts structure on Fifth Avenue at 55th Street, in walking distance to such attractions as Rockefeller Center, the Museum of Modern Art and Central Park. The landmark building was constructed in 1905 and the hotels’ 185 guestrooms and 54 suites retain much old-world charm with classic dark wood furnishing, luxurious fabrics and Art-Nouveau touches. Bathrooms are spacious and come with deep soaking tubs. As expected from the Peninsula group, there are also the latest technologies on site, including flat screen televisions and complimentary Wi-Fi. A serious health club and glass-enclosed swimming pool are located on the upper floors (the 360-degree panoramas from the pool area are stupendous). The Espa is a major draw for spa afficionados. On the mezzanine level, popular restaurant Fives serves a menu of classic European dishes with Asian influences, while the Gotham Lounge remains a nice, quiet spot to meet for an afternoon tea. During the summer, groovy Salon de Ning on the rooftop is often packed with a post-work crowd. Cocktails are expensive, but the glittering views below may be priceless. Rooms from $875.
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