Q. What do you get when you take $150 million and put them into the hands of one of the world's greatest architect/designers? A. The Mark. Be under no illusions, what Jacques Grange and co have conceived in the leafy surroundings of the Upper Eastside is now the yardstick against which all other hotels will now have to measure themselves. After over two years under renovation with some of the most sought after names in the creative fields working on the project, The Mark has transformed itself from a decent hotel to a hotel of superlatives. Everything is top draw from the design to the staff, from the food to the wellness centre. This all, of course, comes with the price tag that its quality demands, however rest assured that no other hotel can come close to what The Mark has to offer.
The Mark is situated on Madison Avenue at 77th Street in the affluent Upper Eastside area of Manhattan, just moments away from Central Park. It's surrounded by high end boutiques and restaurants as well as some of the city's attractions that those staying in Midtown may not necessarily think to see. For example The Whitney Art Museum is a couple of blocks away, while the Frick Collection is just a short walk to the south. It is true to say that New York's main attractions are some way away, but you can easily hop on the metro and take line number 6 from 77th Street station down to Midtown and change, if necessary, at Grand Central. Both JFK and Newark are 19 miles away while La Guardia is 10 miles.
The team that is responsible for the statement that is The Mark includes some of the biggest names in design, décor and art. Although it was Jacques Grange, arguably the father of French design, who took the helm, it was another designer and friend to Monsieur Grange, Pierre Passebon, owner of the renowned Parisian furnishings boutique Galerie du Passage, who brought together the artists and curated their work. Among the contributors were Guy de Rougemont, a celebrated designer whose career has spanned over 50 years, Roan Arad, the eccentric Israeli designer known as much for his architectural brilliance as his love of outrageous chairs, and Mattia Bonetti, the Swiss-born, Paris-dwelling designer who describes himself as a "troublemaker turned traditionalist". The Mark is part of a small private group of hotels which include the Flatotel and The Alex in New York as well as two four-star properties in London.
The building which houses The Mark is a fairly unremarkable red brick affair in the leafy suburb of Upper Eastside. However, once through the smart entrance, the unremarkable becomes the astonishing. The lobby, which is something akin to a scene from a refined, upper-class remake of Alice in Wonderland, is magnificent with a black and white trompe l'oeil marble floor (which may make some guests slightly dazed), exquisite furniture (primarily from Passebon's Parisian boutique) and, perhaps the first thing that grabs your attention after the floor, Arad's 'Ge-Off Sphere' lamp which hangs from the ceiling and hovers over a round Eric Schmitt marble table. To the right of the entrance is a seating cluster centered around another Schmitt table featuring a dark red sofa and matching armchairs and looked down upon by two pieces of modern artwork (including Bonetti's wall 'orbs'). Next to this you'll find the black concierge desk which, despite its colour, throws back the reflection of the floor. On the opposite side of the room is the reception desk, attended to by not only the most courteous of staff but also the best dressed, fitted out as they are in Turnbull and Asser (shirtmakers to Prince Charles). The lobby sets the tone for the rest of the hotel, as it should do, in spectacular fashion. The hotel's gym doesn't disappoint with a host of top-of-the-range machines and free weights as well as yoga equipment and plenty of water and towels. The hotel does not have a wellness centre, but it does have a beauty salon run by Frédéric Fekkai, the New York-based French stylist to the stars. The salon offers all kinds of hair services and treatments as well as makeup sessions and manicures and pedicures. Considering that the salon is in a top hotel and that it is run by a celebrity, the prices seem pretty reasonable. While the hotel is only around eight months old (as of March 2009), its condition is absolutely perfect. Class awaits around every corner with impeccable corridors and beautifully crafted furniture and fittings within them. The multilingual staff is charming and delightful and will see to your every need with swagger and sophistication.
The rooms at The Mark are by no means the most audacious or innovative from a design point of view, however they are certainly the classiest and most tastefully refined we saw in the city. With elements from many of the hotel's contributors, they are spacious, timeless and most importantly comfortable and functional. The Superior Courtyard Room, which is the standard room, plays on tones of tan and taupe and is extremely well appointed. A stunning sycamore and black ebony dresser by Grange is the highlight of the furniture which also includes sycamore bedside tables, several styles of designer lamps (including a Lucien Gau), an armchair, table and chairs and attractive black and white closets. The beds, custom made for The Mark, are dressed in fine Italian linens by Quagliotti. A Creston hand-held panel controls temperature, entertainment (Bang & Olufson flatscreen television and audio system), the window shades and lighting, while other amenities include a telephone with screen for messages, a SubZero fridge, granite pouring station, iron and ironing board, bathrobes, slippers and safe. The room itself gives onto the courtyard and its gardens and is perfectly peaceful. The bathroom, which is very generous in size, has the trademark black and white marble floor with both a bathtub and shower and nickel fittings by Lefroy Brooks. The mirror behind the double white marble vanity has a built-in flatscreen television by Mirror Image as well as a B&O telephone and personalised luxury toiletries. Some of the bathroom floors are heated. The Madison Room, which has exactly the same amenities and are located on the same floors as the standard rooms, have the bonus of looking onto the eponymous avenue. The Seventy-Seven Kings are another 100ft² with the same amenities but look out over the south of the city as well as East 77th Street, an exclusive part of the neighbourhood. The one bedroom suites, of which there are three types, all have gorgeously appointed living spaces with a pull out sofa for guests who also have their own bathroom with shower. The penultimate category of room is the Mark Studios of which there are three types. All have Boffi kitchens designed by Piero Lissoni with Gaggenau and Miele appliances, with the Park Studio also having a separate living space with pull-out bed. Top of the pile of accommodations at The Mark are the stunning one- and two-bedroom suites. All five types have an entrance hall, a kitchen and a living room/dining room and boast the very best of the contributors' work as well as unbeatable views of Madison Avenue. These are veritable inspirational accommodations.
During our visit to The Mark, the Jean Georges restaurant and bar were still under conception and eagerly awaited by both locals and tourists. Finally opened in February 2010, both the restaurant and its bar have been received very well, the former starring the best of Jacques Grange, the latter featuring custom made furnishings by Guy de Rougemont and Vladimir Kagan. The décor of the restaurant is, like in the rooms, neither audacious nor highly innovative, but is chic and highly comfortable (which it should be with chairs rumoured to have cost $1,200 each!). The breakfast menu, served between 6.30am and 11am, features a mix of continental and hot fare. At lunchtime start with something from the raw fish counter (little neck clams, caviar, sashimi) before moving onto a pizza or pasta or dishes such as steamed shrimp salad and foie gras marble green bean salad. Mains on offer, amongst others, are slowly cooked salmon, veal Milanese and grilled beef tenderloin which can be washed down with a homemade soda. The dinner menu also begins with a selection from the seafood bar and continues with similar appetizers. Pizzas and pastas follow with meat and fish dishes such as roasted Maine lobster and veal chop wrapped in prosciutto completing the mains. You can make up your own dish if you fancy by choosing simply cooked fish (salmon, sea bass) or meat (lamb chops, ribeye steak) and ordering your sides (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, mash, fries) separately. The wine list is impressively broad featuring both European and New World wines listed by grape. Afternoon tea is available throughout the week and on Sunday a brunch is served. The bar, just next door to the restaurant, is, unlike the restaurant, very daring and design. With cow print sofas, 'blob'-shaped tables, starry lighting and a red illuminated bar topped with metal, it is already one of the places to be seen in the Upper Eastside.
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