Leaving a hectic JFK airport behind, in the comfort of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, it didn’t take long before I was treated to my first glimpse of the New York City skyline. I might sound like a sycophant but driving into a city always excites me, especially as this is my first visit to Manhattan. People are always talking about escaping the city and making it out to the countryside for rest and recuperation. Let me tell you, the countryside is far less equipped to help you reduce your stress and multimedia dependency than the city. We’re begging to believe the hype that R&R needs to be garnered in a lush woodland, filled with flora and fauna, but trust me, the city never sleeps and the lights are always on and burning brightly for the masses. Give me a great hotel suite with room service over hay bales and meditation any day.
As I dreamt of the adventures that laid ahead, I zoned out entirely, only to be rudely awakened by the sound of the Hellcat escaping from a potential collision with one of the many drivers that lack any sense of lane discipline. Welcome to New York: where the little people who have a license shouldn’t be allowed one.
I blame the adrenaline pumping through our veins for missing our destination and having to circle back along 6th Avenue. Having to double-take the entrance, we pulled up at the Four Seasons Hotel New York on East 57th Street. The entrance is understated and unassuming, with only one incredibly efficient doorman acting as a gatekeeper to the premises. No red carpet, velvet barrier ropes or unnecessary external grandeur. The Four Seasons Hotel New York is self-assured: they know who they are and present themselves in a reserved fashion. It’s a no-nonsense approach that exudes the confidence of a hotel which has been awarded with the Five Diamond accolade for the past 15 years.
Holding this accolade for over a decade, you might expect some hotels to let the silverware do the talking whilst they take a comfortable step back. The Four Seasons Hotel New York is not one of those hotels. They do not rest on their laurels like a spoilt debutante. Their modesty and general New Yorkness keeps them grounded. After all, there are exacting standards to uphold. The hotel is also a member of Grand Luxury Hotels, a bespoke reservation system with personal advisors to some of the world’s most highly-regarded hotels.
My Four Seasons flush to one side, stepping into the lobby, I am struck by the French Chassagne stone floors, African acacia trees and pillars rising high into the gods. Yes, the IM Pei designed lobby is a triumph. The sheer scale of it makes you want to put on your favourite ballroom gown and sway your way from the Ty Bar to the Garden Restaurant and back.
Four Seasons hotels are known for having mesmerising floral arrangements on display in their lobbies; Four Seasons Hotel New York is different. Instead of a dramatic floral installation, they’ve opted for trees that form canopies over the tables in the Garden Restaurant. The light stonework and subtle aura from the lantern style light fixtures also gives you a sense of serenity in the warmest way possible.
You would be forgiven for thinking the concierge desk (directly in front of you as you enter) is actually the check-in desk. Refreshingly, though, the property is designed to ensure unflinching and uncompromising privacy with your often personal and commercial check-in details only being revealed at the right-hand side of the lower floor. This secondary space is purposely placed away from the main entrance and crucially any passing ears or guests that might be there for breakfast or lunch only.
My arrival was signalled by the doorman, and I was treated to the attention of a small army of hotel staff. This could be considered somewhat overwhelming, but I understood the interest in tending to us whilst a room on a higher floor was sought. They needn’t have worried: for a better view, I would have stood out on the street! Not that I expect any bad views from the tallest hotel in New York. At 208 metres, 682 feet, or 52 stories, the views are incredibly captivating, but we’re not quite in the elevator yet.
As I enjoyed a cup of Earl Grey tea, like my adopted countrymen, the check-in procedures commenced in Dutch, my native language. Being greeted in one’s mother tongue, no matter how obscure, is quite an experience wherever you go. But at the Four Seasons Hotel New York, the staff speak at least 27 languages, and the city was called Old Amsterdam before the English took over. I confess, I am an import Brit through and through, but due to an impending Brexit, I am sure my export will come soon enough.
We’re swiftly shown to our Central Park Junior Suite on the 26th floor (the hotel is an all-suite property). And at 500 square feet, the space is more than generous. It shouldn’t be surprising that the first thing that caught my attention were the views of the park and across Midtown. There was little chance of me whipping out my laptop and sitting down at the desk to smash out any copy given the scenery. The mirrored window bays helping to accentuate the already inception like vistas.
The art deco-inspired space is decidedly monochromatic, with complementing wooden furnishings offset by flourishes of colour in the striking paintings, fixtures and fittings. The entrance hall leads first to the walk-in wardrobe, complete with dressing table and (mercifully) great light. More often than not, at some point during a hotel stay, you are going to be gearing up for an event that requires a little more pomp and ceremony when it comes to the hair and make-up department. Having a dedicated space to sprawl out the various accoutrements of the modern beauty regime is a luxury in itself, especially in a home away from home. It’s also conveniently located next to the bar area so your glass should never run empty.
Across the hall, you’ll find an Italian marble-clad bathroom with a tub so gargantuan, it reminds me of Michel Boisrond’s 1957 classic La Parisienne. Just imagine a young Bardot seducing Michel Legrand in the tub.
The bedroom-cum-morning-coffee-area is a triumph of classic design and timeless elegance, mixed with all those extra amenities, such as a king-sized lighted pedestal bed, custom made cerused oak desk and Bvlgari amenities. We’ve all stayed in suites where the bed is a little too large for the room and spent the weekend tripping over suitcases and alike not really knowing whether the room is really large enough for that sofa and coffee cup chair shoehorned into the corner. Banish that thought at the Four Seasons. Having operated since the 1960s, the company has always strived to redefine luxury as a service.
On arrival, laid out on the coffee table were what I can only describe as the epitome of a gifted chocolatier. The hotel’s executive pastry chef, Jasmina Bojic, had created a range of New York-inspired chocolate sculptures. These bite-sized delicacies ranged from a New York skyline detailed in gold leaf to a Big Apple, complete with apple jelly centre and miniature chocolate Empire State Building. I suspect it’s going to be a long time before any establishment I visit can beat that level of attention to detail. Simply put, it was spectacular.
If you are thinking of travelling with the whole family, entourage, or as part of a commercial operation, the property is more than happy to make special arrangements to cater for large groups. Whether it’s opening up a private floor or turning a room into a dining space for a special event, they’re happy to assist. If, of course, you have grander aspirations, the Four Seasons Hotel New York also has a rather timeless ballroom and event space that caters for a 270 person reception. Fundraisers, launches and weddings are all catered for.
With jetlag taking hold of us, sleep seemed like a distant memory, so we decided to see what we had available on our doorstep. My partner had already noted the Turnbull and Asser townhouse opposite the hotel and was fully prepared to talk shoes and shirts with their staff for hours, I’m sure. If you are in New York to shop, you’ve got Madison Avenue and 5th a few blocks away, so fill your boots and bags. The hotel itself also has some divine options, including the coveted VBH Handbags. Ask for the brilliant Bruce Black, who will guide your hand and budget well. You’ve also got Central Park (visit the Kerbs Boathouse), Rockefeller Center, MoMA and Carnegie Hall for those a little more culturally inclined. There is no better way to get in and amongst a city than on foot. If, however, you aren’t travelling far, the hotel offers a Rolls Royce Phantom as its town car (on a first come first served basis).
If, like me, you are a frequent traveller for work or pleasure, you’re all too familiar with the effects air travel can have on long haul journeys. The Four Seasons Hotel New York has an L.RAPHAEL Beauty Spa, the first in North America and offers a range of anti-jetlag massages and treatments.
After a day of typically touristy sightseeing and shopping, we returned to the hotel for cocktails at the Ty Bar. Try the Vesper Thyme. It’s clearly an after-work scene with power players setting the tone.
Breakfast, across the lobby, in the Garden Restaurant is also a weighty affair, serving breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch. It has a certain ring to it, a sense of iambic pentameter that I find really rather satisfying. Almost as satisfying as the lemon ricotta pancakes which are a staple here, lauded by many a food critic.
My partner opted for the corned beef brisket hash with spiced hollandaise. I think about 30 minutes in, he realised that no matter how perfectly cooked or plated, American appetites outweigh the European even now. Just the day before we had visited a cobbler a block from the hotel to have my partner’s belt taken in. A location that came highly recommended by Emmanuel on the concierge desk, after we had given up going from store to store on a Sunday. When something comes by recommendation from the Four Seasons, it carries weight. The incredibly accommodating gentleman at the cobblers couldn’t have been more helpful upon hearing that their assistance was recommended by the hotel. They even offered not to charge and arguably punching a hole in leather in under a minute would be considered a small task. But it’s not about the actual act of adjusting the belt in this case; it’s the personal service from both parties that impressed me greatly.
For me, it’s always about that extraordinary personal service. I’m looking for the kind of ground support and welcome that catapults a property into the stratosphere – and it’s tough to achieve for the majority.
From the courteous and personable team to the sheer beauty of the property, the Four Seasons New York is a well-rehearsed symphony of service. If you’re heading to the city or crossing the pond, you’d struggle to find somewhere with such elite levels of discretion and hospitality.