Big Cheese in the Big Apple | Prestige Hong Kong (Mar 2017)

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The Carlyle is a New York institution. We check in to check out a hotel whose guest list outshines the average Who’s Who.

The Carlyle has been a bastion of grand style and luxury on New York’s Upper East Side since the 1930s. Reputedly named after Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle, the 35-storey hotel – now part of the Rosewood portfolio – has been providing respite and entertainment to the powerful, the beautiful and the well-heeled for more than eight decades.

Fashion-week attendees know it as a prime party spot, where luxury brands and style magazines hold lavish soirées. For a few weeks earlier this year, the hotel’s Café Carlyle was also home to designer Isaac Mizrahi’s cabaret show.

Following the last US presidential elections, Hillary Clinton, still maintaining a low profile, was spotted with her family seated at a prime table near the stage of the Café Carlyle, where Woody Allen’s jazz band, Broadway star Sutton Foster and singer-songwriter Judy Collins feature among the regular headliners. Here, in this institution that’s been central to the city’s social and entertainment landscapes since its opening in 1955, everyone is guaranteed a feast: for the eyes, from the beautifully restored Marcel Vertès murals; for the ears, from the legendary talents on stage; and for the stomach, from the splendid dining.

Clinton is just one of the glittering guest list of politicians, business people and entertainers to have crossed the hotel’s threshold. Indeed, every American president from Harry S Truman onwards has visited the august establishment. This comes as little surprise, as even locals continue to drop into the hotel’s many restaurants for a taste of that classic and now fast-disappearing New York experience.

To visit The Carlyle Restaurant is to enter a decadent world of Dover sole and lobster thermidor, where banquet tables are separated by towering floral creations up to two metres tall and the decor is a mix of chestnut brown velvet, marble and linen. If you’re still not swept up by the old-world glamour, the Messrs Fores English hunting prints and the Liliacae engravings by Redoute that decorate the main dining room will provide suitable persuasion.

The Gallery is a Turkish fine-dining venue and tea parlour on two levels where hand-painted navy-blue and gold patterned wallpaper features vignettes of imagined Turkish treasures. For those less inclined towards the mysterious East, Bemelmans Bar is not only the not-so-secret haunt of the fashion set, but also the very spot where artist-author Ludwig Bemelmans gave life to many children’s books – including the much-loved Madeline. Nowadays, following afternoon tea, the bar swings into the evening with lively jazz from performers that include pianists Chris Gillespie and Loston Harris.

Aside from royals and other distinguished patrons, the hotel also attracts art aficionados who revel in its art deco style. This was introduced by the Carlyle’s first decorator, Dorothy Draper, and has been meticulously maintained throughout its speciality suites and famed black-and-white marbled lobby, the latter restored in 2002 by interior designer Thierry Despont.

In fact, the hotel could be seen as a work of art in itself, in which stepping into its sumptuous sanctuaries is an other-worldly experience. Furnished in stately Louis XVI style, its 121 rooms are decorated with colour schemes that range from Chinese red to celadon, tastefully punctuated by porcelain lamps and vases that stand in counterpoint to the Audubon prints and English country scenes on the walls. Bathrooms are kitted with whirlpool tubs and finished in marble, so that guests experience ultimate relaxation before tucking themselves in between the Yves Delorme duvet covers and bed linen.

A further 69 suites – including Tower and Empire – are the quintessence of Veblen luxury, each equipped with its own Steinway or Baldwin baby grand piano. Bathrooms feature Nero Marquina and Thassos marble, while guests ensconced in a Tower suite enjoy sweeping views across Central Park as they soak.

Naturally there’s a spa. The Carlyle’s Sisley-Paris facility is a sanctuary offering therapies for all skin types, built around the concept of phyto-cosmetology, while for those in need of grooming, the Yves Durif Salon does everything from trimming to transforming your tresses. 

It’s lucky they do – this is one hotel lobby in which you don’t want to be caught looking dishevelled.