Located on an especially quiet, residential strip of snazzy Park Avenue in Murray Hill, the Japanese-owned, 149-room Kitano's appeal is in the details -- in-room towel warmers, soundproof windows, a free morning shuttle to Wall Street, and impeccable service. It's a fine hotel, but for the price it's also worth considering the nearby 70 Park Avenue and St. Giles - The Court hotels.
Quiet, serene, 149-room Japanese-owned hotel with large rooms and impeccable service.
Opened in 1995, the Japanese-owned Kitano was formerly the Murray Hill Hotel, owned by the Rockefellers. Mr. Kitano overhauled the property and transformed it into a hotel that balances Western design with Eastern hospitality. Oriental decor is kept to a minimum -- only the hotel restaurant, Hakubai, has bamboo furniture and shoji (paper windows) -- but it's in the service and ambience that Japanese sensibility is prevalent. The wide, open lobby is hushed, save for the light strains of classical music. The staff speaks in soft tones and is very polite. Symmetry and serenity are the overarching themes of this hotel, making it a peaceful and modern retreat in midtown Manhattan.
Art is an integral element of the Kitano. In the middle of the lobby sits a bronze sculpture of a dog by prominent sculptor Fernando Botero. Its tongue is tarnished from countless guests who have rubbed its tongue, which is believed to bring money. "It's our hotel mascot," the management explained. "It's the first thing that came into this hotel when it was built." Mr. Kitano curates the art around the hotel, and he changes the hallway exhibits at least once a year. When I was there, photographs from a variety of New York City artists were featured.
The hotel's website features an endorsement from tennis star Maria Sharapova, but this is by no means a celebrity-hotspot hotel. The mellow scene is more catered to business travelers, families, and wedding groups. The Kitano offers extensive business services, including a complimentary morning shuttle to Wall Street. The large suites are ideal for big groups, and occasionally wedding receptions are held at the 18th-floor banquet hall. Wednesday through Saturday, a live jazz band plays at the lounge, and this brings in older locals in the neighborhood.
Japanese-style service that's known for going above and beyond.
The Kitano staff has obviously been trained in Japanese hospitality, as everything I asked for was not only brought in five minutes, but it was done so with reverence and care. When the Ethernet cable in my room wasn't working, an engineer came up to my room. He was quite apologetic about the situation, and he thanked me for alerting the hotel about the problem. When I complimented the coffee that came with my breakfast, the room service attendant brought me a small pack of Lavazza coffee to take home.
One of the principles behind Asian service is to remain invisible but always attentive. The bellman at the corner of the entrance is a good example of this. The bellman remains unobtrusive, and you won't notice him until he comes around to help with your bags.
There is a full-service concierge fluent in both Japanese and English. As this hotel gets wedding groups as well as business travelers, concierge services range from making salon appointments to contacting a notary public, and getting Broadway tickets isn't a problem.
The Kitano is in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan. It's centrally located, south of Midtown East, so reaching downtown and Midtown is relatively easy. This makes it a solid choice for business travelers, especially those needing to reach offices in Midtown.
Directly beside the hotel is Scandinavia House, which has exhibits, film-screenings and design products from Scandinavia. The indoor café, Smorgas Chef, is quite popular and worth a visit. Across from the hotel is a Catholic church and apartment buildings. Apart from the other upscale hotels nearby, such as 70 Park Avenue and the W Tuscany, this is a particularly quiet section of Murray Hill.
The hotel is three blocks from Grand Central Station which connects to the 4,5, 6, and 7 subway lines, as well as the shuttle to Times Square. Cabs can also easily be hailed right in front of the hotel.
There are numerous restaurants nearby, especially on Madison Avenue (one block west). Curry Hill, a small subsection of Murray Hill, is a three block stretch of, you guessed it, Indian restaurants and shops.
New York City has three nearby airports: JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark (in New Jersey). Flying into JFK or LaGuardia is typically easiest and the least time-consuming. From JFK, it's a (one-hour) $45 flat-rate taxi ride to anywhere in Manhattan. From LaGuardia, it's about a (30-minute) $40 metered cab ride to Midtown Manhattan. Rides from Newark cost at least $40 (plus tolls), and can take more than 90 minutes. Don't forget to tip your driver 15-25 percent.
To save some cash, try the group shuttles that are available at all three airports for about $14/person. For more information on the shuttles, go to Super Shuttle or New York Airport Service. You can also take public transit from any of the airports 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 stairs. For mass-transit directions right to the hotel, check out HopStop.com.
Standard rooms are 305 square feet, which is about 50 percent larger than most standard rooms in New York City. Rooms seemed to be designed with a Japanese sensibility, with the placement of every piece of furniture thought out carefully. There are no unusual corners or misuse of space -- even rooms in the back of the hotel get a lot of natural light, and the bedroom is situated a good distance away from the door to ensure quiet and privacy.
There are 11 other room types, ranging in size from 305 square feet to 968 square feet. For large groups, the suites are very spacious and have a separate living room. There's only one Japanese-style suite that has tatami mats, futons and shoji doors. All the other suites have a Western design similar to the standard room. Smoking rooms are available on four floors: 7, 8, 14, and 16.
The hotel sees its share of Japanese guests, so it does its part to provide for their needs with Japanese newspapers and products.
Beds have down comforters and pillow-top mattressrs.
Soundproof windows shut out any outside noise, which isn't much in this residential neighborhood.
Marble bathrooms are spacious and immaculate, and feature towel warmers and shower/tub combos.
37-inch flat-screen TV with premium cable, as well as Japanese channels
USA Today and Asahi (a Japanese daily) newspapers delivered to room at no extra charge.
Japanese green tea and a small water heater available in every room
Gilchrist and Soames toiletries
Stocked mini-bar with Japese and American products
Sony Dream Machine CD player; updated Suites have iPod docks
Geared toward a quiet business crowd, the hotel does have big rooms. The neighborhood is safe, but there's not much fun stuff nearby.
At 305 square feet, the double superior room is good for a family of four. For a larger clan, the suites are perfect. There are six different suite types, ranging from 522-968 square feet. These are impressively big hotel rooms, especially for New York City. The Townhouse suite has a living room the size of most New York City apartments, and it comes with plush couches and a flat-screen TV. A lot of wedding parties book here because of the amount of space.
Roll-away beds are available for a nightly fee, but they do not fit in the standard (superior) room; all other room types can accommodate them. Cribs are free, and baby-sitting services can be arranged through the concierge.
Typical kids' food isn't available in the hotel, unless your kids are into sushi. For sandwiches, walk one block over to Lexington Avenue, where there are many delis and sandwich shops.
The neighborhood is a safe and particularly affluent residential area. Sidewalks are wide enough for nannies and their double strollers. Most of the kid-friendly museums (the Museum of Natural History, Hayden Planetarium, the Children's Museum of Manhattan) are farther north and west of Central Park. Getting there means at least one subway transfer at Times Square.