By Liz Hatton, New York Correspondent
When it comes to style preferences in the home, give me modern and contemporary every day, but I do like my hotels to be old-fashioned and opulent. That’s not to say I don’t go weak at the knees for Schrager-like minimalism every now and then, but there is something wonderfully reassuring and rather comforting about old-school, five-star hotels – the period elegance, a grand piano tinkling away in an elegant bar, and the formality of the service. It takes you back to a time when travel was elegant and glamorous, when people used to dress up for a flight and part of the fun was actually getting there. And when you arrived, you expected nothing less than first-class service and luxury at every turn, and a bar man that remembered your name and your favourite sundowner tipple.
Sadly, nowadays, with the supremacy of the boutique hotel – where minimalism rules and the staff are paid to give attitude and look superior, rather than serve the guests – it’s becoming harder and harder to find a hotel with soul. The Ritz-Carlton Central Park is one of these hard-to-find gems. The 33-storey 1930s building is perfectly located, directly opposite Central Park and within easy walking distance of some of New York’s most famous, must-visit shops, including Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany. And if the Fifth Avenue shopping isn’t enough for you, the hotel has a complimentary, chauffeur-driven Bentley at their guests’ disposal to take you into Midtown. Also within walking distance of the hotel is the Metropolitan Museum of Art (leave the hotel early and meander gently through Central Park, and arrive early to avoid queues), the Guggenheim designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Frick Collection. As far as locations go, it really doesn’t get much better than this.
As you’d imagine from a building with 33 floors, the hotel is immense, with 277 rooms and 40 suites, as well as 11 luxury residences for longer stays. The rooms are spacious, particularly for New York where space is at a premium, and the views from my ‘Park View’ room were quite incredible – there’s something rather special about sightseeing in your own city from the comfort of a king-size bed.
As you’d expect from a hotel of this stature, the décor is elegant, with a generous, reassuring splash of chintz. It felt cosy, luxurious and wonderfully decadent. Despite the old-fashioned glamour, each room is packed full of all the modern amenities you could wish for and there is even a ‘technology butler’ on hand for those of us whose grasp of all things technical is not quite as good as it should be. And this is one of the many touches that makes this hotel stand out for me. God is in the details, after all. Others include an over-sized glass of Champagne (or freshly squeezed orange juice) as you check in, Burberry raincoats for your dog when the weather requires it and small bottles of water and fresh fruit laid out at the hotel entrance for joggers returning from a run around Central Park’s gruelling circuit.
I must own up to not trying the restaurant, Atelier, except for a wonderful breakfast on my last day. The reason for this is two-fold: firstly, my room was so luxurious and the 24-hour in-room dining so tempting that it’s hard to tear yourself away after a hard day’s shopping. My suggestion is this: shop until your feet can take no more; return to the hotel exhausted but jubilant about your new purchases; make a call down to the bath butler to run you an aromatherapy bath to soothe your aching muscles; choose your evening’s outfit from the selection of bath robes (lightweight or full-on thick, heavy Frette terry towelling); order a carb’-packed supper (my recommendation is the delicious and very naughty Ritz burger) from the 24-hour in-room dining service and allow the charming waiter to lay out your table with silverware and linen; order a selection of DVDs from the concierge (they have a library of the Oscar-winning film for every year for the last three decades – bliss); open the bottle of Opus 1 sitting temptingly in your mini bar; eat, drink, relax and watch as the lights turn on in Manhattan’s palacial townhouses lining the Park; go to bed enveloped in the most luxurious sheets and sleep like a baby in the most comfortable bed that New York has to offer.
The second reason for not trying the restaurant is the Club Lounge. There is no doubt that it is worth splurging out on an upgrade that includes access to the lounge (next door to the La Prairie spa, with its beautiful aromas wafting across). And if you drink as much of the free-flowing Champagne as I did, you’ll find that it’s exceptional value for money! And it’s not just the Champagne: there are expertly-mixed cocktails, beers from all around the world, and perfectly-poured cups of coffee to tempt you. The seemingly never-ending flow of food at every time of the day and evening was sensational. From the best ever breakfasts, with incredibly more-ish homemade granola, fresh fruits, smoked salmon of the highest quality and fresher-than-fresh bagels, to the early afternoon snacks of sushi and clever canapés of every sort and the foie gras to accompany your pre-dinner Champagne cocktail. It really doesn’t get much better for me than sinking into a comfy armchair overlooking Central Park, sipping Champagne, nibbling on toast with foie gras and planning the next day’s shopping, New York-style. You may have gathered that I love this hotel.
And I haven’t even touched on the service yet. Impeccable, personal, professional and unerringly friendly – it was everything five-star service should be and everything you’d expect from a Ritz-Carlton property. From the charming doorman, to the super-helpful and highly knowledgeable reception staff and concierge, to the sweet cleaners and of course the legendary NYC barman Norman, it was faultless at every turn. It was what I like to describe as ‘comfortable’ service – there was nothing pretentious or in-your-face about it; just a team of highly-trained, well-meaning, professional people who seemed to make it their personal mission to make your stay as memorable and relaxing as possible. The Ritz-Carlton Central Park oozes warmth.
It is wonderfully old-fashioned where it counts (right down to the piano in the elegant lounge) and cutting-edge modern where it needs to be. It’s a winning formula that keeps guests coming back time and time again. I, for one, am hooked.
Ritz Carlton Central Park, 50 Central Park South, New York City , New York
Tel: +1 212 308 9100, www.ritzcarlton.com
Date of review: December 2012.
Liz Hatton stayed as a guest of Ritz-Carlton.