"This is a one-of-a-kind thing. It's a complete left turn for me and different than anything we have ever done before, and I expect it will wind up being a prototype for the hotel industry the same way my first hotel was 25 years ago." This is how Ian Schrager, the genius behind the project, sums up Gramercy Park Hotel (GPH) and who are we to argue. It is arguably the most complete hotel we saw: jaw-dropping design, highly sought-after artwork, the hippest of staff, a rich history and home to one of the most exclusive bar scenes in the city. Add to this the top quality amenities, an eatery from an acclaimed restauranteur and access to the only private park in New York and you have a Boho hotel which is quite simply in a class of its own. You won't be stunned to hear that this sort of experience doesn't come cheap, but if you are looking for an unforgettable stay in the city, why spend your cash elsewhere.
The hotel is located on an exclusive square at Lexington Avenue and East 21st Street which border the only private park in New York, Gramercy Park. The area is mainly residential however there are points of interest close by, such as Union Square to the south, where you can also pick up many a metro line. Perhaps the nearest star attraction to the hotel is the Empire Station up on 5th Avenue at East 34th Street level. For Times Square and the museums and shopping around Central Park, nest to take the metro. You are also not far at all from many of the newly hip quarter such as the Village, SoHo, NoHo and NoLIta, although you might want to take public transport. Aside from Union Square, you can also catch the metro at 23rd Street station a couple of blocks north. JFK is 18 miles away, La Guardia 9 miles and Newark 15.
Of all the attributes that the GPH can boast of there is one that no other hotel in the New York can compete with no matter how hard they tried. The park at the centre of the square on which the hotel finds itself has been owned by the Gramercy Park Block Association since 1831 and is open only to residents of the square, including hotel guests. The small haven was established by statesman Samuel B. Ruggles who aimed to recreate a typical London square. Many a famous American has graced the square with the hotel itself being on the site of Stanford White's former house. The likes of Mark Twain and John F. Kennedy frequented the park while the hotel as it used to be welcomed characters such as Babe Ruth, S.J. Perelman and Humphrey Bogart who got married here.
The GPH is situated in a calm residential area meaning guests can be assured of discretion (at least when there are no celebrities in house). The modern rococo/baroque lobby is nothing other than a masterpiece with stunning individual pieces of furniture, objets d'art and paintings.
There is almost too much to look at, with every single item and feature having a story and fighting for attention. For example the cypress wood on the ceiling which in a former life was a shipping crate for art; it's as if the lobby has been packaged up itself to put it out of harm's way. Then you have the lobby's columns which are made from Douglas fir, which used to be a building on an upstate mushroom farm. The furniture is a mix of Julian Schnabel creations and antique medieval pieces and includes various Chesterfields, the bronze concierge desk, Moroccan antique tables, a shark's rostrum lamp and French made Murano glass chandelier. This all sits on a lush custom made GPH rug and before a constantly burning fireplace nourished by Pinon wood shipped in weekly and covered by a coat of mail. The black and white checkered floor reminds of a medieval court while the vintage Spanish matador's jacket found by Mr. Schrager is one of the lobby's highlights.
You must not miss though the impressive original art work collection upon the walls from Fernando Botero (the foremost Colombian artist), Richard Prince (the controversial American artist and photographer), Jean-Michel Basquiat (a prominent black American artist), Keith Haring, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol.
The hotel's Aerospace Gym is a state-of-the-art facility with individual screens on the cardio apparatus and a range of weights machines as well as free weights and punch bag. Personal trainers are available on request. The Aerospa is the hotel's wellness centre and offers a full range of facials, massages and manicures and pedicures. There is a supplement of $50 for any treatment taken in-room.
Just as the lobby is full of features unique to GPH, so the rest of the hotel boasts novelties such as the lifts which are lined with mahogany reclaim and the corridor carpets which bear the rooms' numbers. Every part of the hotel was in perfect condition and spotless and we couldn't find a flaw anywhere. The members of staff are all young and trendy, much like the guests, and are some of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their product of any we meet in New York. The young gentleman who showed us round was able to answer all our questions, however obscure, in detail.
There are several categories of guestroom at the GPH which follow one of three colours schemes: jade green, renaissance blue or rose. Then there are six Gramercy Suites, each one different from the next. All rooms were conceived by Julian Schnabel and feature both his furniture and custom hand-made furniture from other artists from around the world. The Superior room, the most basic is fairly small at 220ft², but has all the amenities of a room several categories superior. The bed is dressed in Italian 400-thread count and has a plaid draped over its corner. The desk has a hand-stitched leather surface while all the chairs are embroidered by hand. The rugs are hand-made too and imported especially and they lay on oak wood floors. There is a mahogany English drinking cabinet featuring a decent selection of drinks and snacks with Crystalacarte glasses as well as custom products and a 'Best of' collection of bathroom products as chosen by 'Allure' magazine (to reflect the reality of life at home where we buy different brands).
On the walls are prints of Magnum photographers such as Marc Riboud. Other amenities include flatscreen television, CD/DVD player (guests can borrow DVDs at no extra cost), iPod docking station (charged iPods can also be borrowed) and safe. Other rooms, such as the Loft (roughly 400ft²) feature more impressive works such as a wingback chair by Maarten Baas, a Swedish designer famous for his lacquered burnt wood furniture. At the foot of the bed is a plush velvet covered trunk (which doesn't open) while the Moroccan bedside tables and standalone unit in the closet are covered in stretched leather.
The bathrooms feature marble vanities, mahogany paneling and oversize showers or bathtub with velvet curtains. The Park Suite, the largest of the guestrooms, looks onto the square and reflects the conditions in which an artist like Schnabel might live. Amongst the furniture is a rocking chair and although the décor is rather bohemian, it remains luxurious and enjoys much natural might. The six custom suites have features such as deep soaking tubs, dining areas and fireplaces. "I wanted to give people an unprecedented level of luxury service and attention simply not available anywhere else," says Schrager. Again, he's hit the mark.
The hotel's restaurant, Maialino, has just opened during our time at the hotel. This Roman-style eatery is the latest project of Danny Meyer who has several other restaurants in the city including 11 Madison and Tabla, both of which have been in Zagat's top 10 New York addresses for the last decade. The chef, Nick Anderer, was brought in from another Meyer venture, Gramercy Tavern. The trattoria, which was designed by the Rockwell group, serves food all day, being a coffee shop in the morning (it has a bread, pastry and coffee station, which smells divine) and then later opens for lunch and dinner.
Another station, this time for salami, cheese and antipasti lies opposite the other and together they spilt the area inn two. One side is the actual trattoria, with typically laid tables and wooden booths, while to the other side is the bar, a long smart wooden affair with light pouring in from the windows behind. It is also possible to grab a bite here, but in the form of snacks and lighter fare.
The waiting staff here has no uniform and are instead asked to dress as if they were going to grandma's house for Sunday lunch! The menu adheres to the Italian tradition of salumi to start, antipasti (octopus and purple potato salad, pig's foot, coco beans and celery) to follow, then primi (carbonara, spaghetti with clams, suckling pig ragu and arugula), secondi (swordfish, fennel and mushrooms, oxtails with carrots and celery) with side orders and the lot finished off with Italian cheese. The bar menu features salami and cheese as well as finger food such as pizzas, croquettes, typical desserts. The extensive wine list is exclusively Italian and favours red over white. The Jade and Rose bars are two of the most exclusive spots in the whole city, attracting the highest calibre of celebrity and the rich and beautiful of New York. Each one has art work from the likes of George Condo (the American contemporary artist specialising in caricature portraits), Warhol, Prince and Haring and includes a pool table by Haas in his trademark lacquered burnt wood.
There is no doubting the quality of the décor, which includes fireplace, rostrum lamps and bronze and plaster details, however the one big disadvantage is that not even hotel guests are guaranteed a place in the bar-quite unacceptable in our opinion, no matter how famous the night's patrons are. On the top floor of the hotel is Sofia and the private roof club. The former is a space in which guests can take all their meals and features an installation of 2,000 bulbs on the ceiling (not all of which are alight at once) and has a gentlemen's club feel. Next door is business lounge area with international press, laptops free for use and a flatscreen television. It is the terrace though that guests really come up for. Running round three sides of the building, it was almost completely designed by Schrager and features an amazing collection of plants including clementine trees and has a completely retractable glass roof. Not only is this roof's acoustics excellent (sound bounces back off it) it also helps to keep the space at a constant 69°C. It is a truly remarkable setup and one of our favourite spaces in the city.
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