Boasting 129 enormous suites, all with kitchens, plus a location within blocks of two major hospitals, the Affinia is an excellent luxury option for families on longer stays, and an obvious one for folks in town for health reasons. For everyone else, however, $300-plus is a bit steep for a place with a generic vibe and a distinct lack of amenities (there's a small gym, but little else).
Families, well-heeled couples, and rehabilitating patients come together at this Upper East Side all-suite oasis.
Owned and operated by the Denihan Hospitality Group, which also owns the Benjamin and the James, Affinia is a small chain of midsize luxury hotels based mostly in New York. Unlike, say, the Dumont, Affinia's "fitness and wellness" branch, the 129-room Gardens doesn't really have a theme. According to the website, the hotel is a "tranquil retreat" with a "gentle ambiance," as characterized by its trademark "Serenity Lounge." In reality, there's nothing particularly tranquil or gentle about the Gardens' vibe -- no soothing music, for instance, or spa services -- and the Serenity Lounge is basically just a mood-lit room off the lobby that serves tea 24 hours a day.
That is not to say that the Affinia, formerly the Lyden Gardens, doesn't have its charms. The lobby is a pleasant place to rest your sightseeing-weary feet, and the amiable bellmen don light-gray fedoras, a nod to the Denihan Group's Depression-era founder, Benjamin J. "Bud" Denihan, who supposedly greeted everyone he met with a tip of his hat (and whose affinity for his fellow man inspired Affinia's name). The monthly "Tranquil Hour" in the Serenity Lounge includes wine and hors d'oeuvres. Other fun touches add to the whimsy, like the rubber duckies that are available for purchase, or the notepads on the room desks that say, "Names. Numbers. Clues."
The hotel's defining feature is probably its backyard garden (hence its name). Unfortunately I wasn't able to see it -- and you won't either, unless you spring for a Deluxe Room with a patio (more in Rooms, below). If you've stayed in one of the garden rooms, please let us know how it was.
As far as attractions go, there isn't much within walking distance, which is rare for New York. The famous shopping along Madison and Fifth avenues -- Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Jimmy Choo, and on and on -- is four to five long blocks west. Once you hit Fifth, you're at Central Park, the second reason to tour the Upper East Side.
Generally speaking, the Upper East is isolated a bit by the fact that only one major subway line (the 4/5/6) runs through it. In the lower 60s, however, where the Affinia is, there are stations for other major lines -- the N/Q/R and the F, both of which are within five blocks of the hotel.
New York City has three nearby airports: JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark (in New Jersey). Getting into town from JFK or LaGuardia is usually more convenient than from Newark, but travel times are heavily dependent on the time of day and traffic conditions. From JFK, a taxi to anywhere in Manhattan costs a flat rate of $45 and takes around an hour in average conditions. From LaGuardia, a metered cab ride to midtown Manhattan costs about $40 and can take 30 minutes if traffic is light, three times that if it's bad. Rides from Newark cost at least $40 plus tolls and can take more than 90 minutes. It's customary to tip your driver 15 to 25 percent.
Those looking to save some cash can use the privately run shuttle buses that are available at all three airports for about $14 per person. For more information on the shuttles, go to Super Shuttle or New York Airport Service. Public transit is also available for as little as $7 per person, but travel can take up to two hours and involve a lot of lugging bags up and down stairways.
For mass-transit directions right to the hotel, check out HopStop.com.
All suites with kitchens; all spacious, even compared with rooms at other luxury hotels. They're also well lit, tastefully decorated, and intelligently arranged.
As a former apartment complex -- a tres pricey apartment complex, to be sure -- the Affinia boasts enormous rooms. Even the Studio Suite, the most basic room type, is large by New York standards -- 400 to 600 square feet. The 450- to 650-square-foot one-bedrooms are slightly larger.
Taking into account the various combinations involving suite size and options like terraces and patios, there are a number of different room types. But with the exception of three two-bedroom suites, there are really just two basic options at the Gardens: studio suites and one-bedroom suites.
Complimentary "Affinia Dream Pillows" and "experience kits" are also available by request. (For more on those, see Features, below.)
All suites include a fully stocked kitchen, large enough for one person at a time to cook. The kitchens include a fridge, a stove, a microwave, and cabinets, plus pots, pans, and silverware -- basically, everything you need unless you plan to move in.
One of the Affinia's hallmarks is that your experience begins before you even arrive. Through the website you can customize your stay by requesting certain amenities ahead of time, which, while not entirely necessary (you can always just ask at the front desk when you arrive), is entirely fun.
All sorts of "kits" are available for your customizing pleasure, some (the Ibanez guitar) more gratuitous than others (nail-polish remover, universal laptop charger). Walking tour kits are available, with pre-loaded iPods and pedometers.
24-hour Gym is small, but at least the equipment is nice
Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel for a fee
Room service from neighborhood restaurants
In-room dream pillows include the Sound Pillow ("ultra-thin speakers connect to your MP3 player for a soothing sound experience") and the Buckwheat Pillow ("whole-grain goodness")
Huge suites with kitchens, kid-oriented amenities, and its location in a safe, quiet neighborhood make the Affinia an excellent family option.
The one- and two-bedroom suites include pullout sofas. If you're in a studio suite, rollaway beds are available for a nightly fee. Cribs, high chairs, and playpens are all free.
For longer stays, families often opt for deluxe suites because they include patios and dining room tables. You can save a lot of money by buying your food at one of the two grocery stores within a block of the hotel and using the kitchen to cook your own meals.
The Affinia is also within easy walking distance of several kid-friendly attractions, including the Central Park Zoo, Dylan's Candy Bar, and the famous dessert restaurant Serendipity 3 (try their legendary frozen hot chocolate!). There's also a cute little playground about three blocks away.