Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Tradition and class are in every inch of this iconic American hotel, which has played host to several presidents.
An iconic American luxury hotel on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the Carlyle figures into New York's annals as host (and residence) of local and international celebrities, including an impressive run of presidential guests. Its discretion -- photography isn't even allowed in the restaurants when people are present -- has earned the hotel its status as vault to some of the city's biggest secrets, scandals, and intrigues. Even Kennedy and Marilyn trusted their affair to the Carlyle's strict secrecy. And it's still a celebrity favorite -- Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes hosted a tea party for their daughter, Suri, here.
Built in 1930 with original designs by Dorothy Draper, the Carlyle maintains much of its original style: Louis XV lobby furniture, the original murals in Bemelman's Bar by the author of the famous Madeline children's-book series, and grand pianos in some of the suites. It's been renovated by several designers since then, but the lobby, restaurants, and many of the 187 guest rooms and 60 residential apartments carefully preserve the classic stylings. Many of the rooms show heavily English influence from Mark Hampton, while some rooms were given recent "contemporary classic" design updates by Thierry Despont, Alexandra Champlimaud, and others.
The Carlyle generally draws two types of visitors: those who want a brief glimpse of a more stately (and frankly wealthy) old New York, and those who still manage to inhabit that world. The competing Waldorf-Astoria and Loews Regency offer a similarly regal, historic New York experience, but those properties are much bigger (the Loews Regency has 790 rooms, for example) and their rooms are generally smaller.
Everyone from the porter to the elevator operator addresses guests with the utmost formality, harkening back to a more genteel Manhattan.
White-gloved elevator operators, elaborately uniformed bellhops standing guard 24 hours a day, a lot of British accents among the staff members. In short, the service at the Carlyle -- formal, even a little stiff, but always delivered with an "anything, anytime" attitude -- evokes a more aristocratic era, and makes for an extremely pleasant stay.
Bell staff are posted outside the hotel 24/7, rain or shine, to ensure that guests don't even touch their luggage between their taxis and their rooms. Front-desk staff also treat guests with old-fashioned formality; I wouldn't be surprised if 4-year-old guests were addressed as Miss and Mister. Despite this, the staff can also be friendly, warm, and extremely helpful. When I arrived ahead of schedule, I got a quick orientation and was promised a cell phone call when my room was ready. It came at 3 p.m. on the nose.
The knowledgeable concierge sits in his own small vestibule to the side of the lobby, surrounded by the Carlyle's exclusively Rubinacci silk ties, as if in a private time warp. My request for a cheap, local pub led him to earnestly tilt his head to the side and thumb through his mental Rolodex. "JG Mellon, a real dump of a pub," he drawled, and wrote the name and address on a slice of thick, heavy card stock. The bar, hardly a dump, was a good choice.
On the Upper East Side, a block from Central Park and within walking distance of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and surrounded by upscale boutiques and restaurants.
Located on the Upper East Side at 76th and Madison Avenue, a block from Central Park, the Carlyle is right at home in this ultra-wealthy, quiet, safe neighborhood. Upscale shops and restaurants line Madison Avenue; the Whitney and Metropolitan museums are both within easy walking distance. It's two blocks from the 77th Street subway station, served by the 6 train, but guests are more likely to have a bellman hail one of the plentiful cabs in the area.
A vast range of spacious, apartment-style rooms and suites with classic designs. The impressively stocked minibars, Kiehl's toiletry sets, luxury linens, and giant closets are great, but the electronics options fail to enthrall.
The Carlyle's 187 rooms, including 59 suites, break down into five types of guest rooms (ranging from 350 to 525 square feet) and nine types of suites (from 650 square feet to 2,600). You can check out floor plans for any of the units at the hotel's website. Most, like the King Deluxe that I stayed in, are in the Carlyle's classic style, with English-inspired furnishings by Mark Hampton. Other hotels aspire to this classic look; almost none pull it off with this level of authenticity.
The beds are as comfortable as anything you'd find in a modern luxury hotel: 450-thread-count sheets from Italian luxury linen manufacturer Rivolta Carmignani, as well as pillow-top mattresses and down comforters.
The electronics are reasonably up-to-date but don't impress for a luxury hotel -- and I chafed at the daily fee for Wi-Fi access, which is silly for a hotel in this price range. Each room has Panasonic flat-screen TVs, DVD players with remote controls, iHome iPod dock/alarm radios, and desks outfitted with easily accessible outlets.
Bathroom sizes vary but are generally four-fixture marble bathrooms. A vase of fresh orchids and a seven-piece Kiehl's toiletry set -- lip balm, shave cream, face and body lotions, easily superior to the usual soap-shampoo-conditioner bar at most hotels -- greet guests in each bathroom. Mine had a simple bathtub and regular showerhead, but some have whirlpool baths. Carlyle-crest-embroidered bathrobes come along with the towel set, and slippers are provided with turndown service in the evening. Light marble, mirrors, and vintage-style sink fixtures make the bathrooms seem deceivingly sleek and spacious, despite being fairly small relative to the overall room sizes.
Most rooms have small, separate pantry/wet bars. They're not full kitchens, but they do have sinks, refrigerators, and a small stock of glasses for mixing drinks. Honor bars have a huge selection of food and drinks, including a seemingly endless assortment of liquor nips.
The mosaic tiles sparkle at Sense Spa, which opened in October 2008 -- but treatments are jaw-droppingly expensive. And the attached acclaimed salon expanded in 2012.
Sense Spa opened in facilities in October 2008. A sparkly, mosaic-tiled staircase leads guests to its beautiful treatment rooms below, where Sisley products are used in its numerous spa services. Treatment prices are enough to make even a modern-day Marilyn gasp in awe -- they start at $280.
The spa also shares space with the Yves Durif hair salon and the hotel's gym. A gym attendant is on staff most hours to help guests with equipment. Personal training is also available.
Pets, up to 25 pounds, are allowed in the hotel.
Some ADA-compliant rooms and suites are available upon request.
Though the Carlyle is old-fashioned and adult, it manages an element of whimsy that starts with its bar, decorated by and named after Ludwig Bemelman, author of the beloved Madeline children's-book series. Subtle nods to Bemelman (and kids), like Madeline-themed menu options and pre-packed picnics to take to Central Park, make the hotel a subtly family-friendly place.
On the practical side, the large rooms (starting at 350 square feet) have plenty of room for families. Cribs are complimentary and extra beds are $75 per night. All rooms have bathtubs of some sort and are large enough for a parent and child. Complimentary prams bearing the Carlyle crest are free to guests.
Perfectly clean despite vintage furnishings, though guests who are smoke-sensitive may want to request a smoke-free floor prior to their visit.
Despite vintage-style furnishings and a building that's been around since 1930, the Carlyle feels nearly immaculate. White-leather furniture in my room wasn't even dirty in the creases; and the carpets and hardwoods were absolutely dust-free. Just as the waiters come by with table crumbers between courses at dinner, it's as if imaginary white-gloved housekeeping staff are trailing behind each guest with a dustpan, cleaning up any remnants of dirt.
Though they keep to a high standard of cleanliness, some rooms and floors do permit smoking to accommodate residents and guests. If that will bother you, request a non-smoking floor or unit.
Sky-high prices reflect the setting as much as the quality. Iconic Bemelman's Bar and Cafe Carlyle, with performances by the likes of Woody Allen (on jazz clarinet) and Judy Collins, arguably justify the prices.
The Carlyle Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. The food is of great quality, with a heavily French dinner menu (the same is available as room service), but the prices are considerably higher than what you'd pay for similar cuisine in a less iconic setting. At breakfast, I ordered the "Breakfast of Champions" -- Wheaties with banana, a smoothie, and a complimentary copy of Sports Illustrated -- inspired by guest Brian Clay. At $25, my bowl of Wheaties seemed a little on the skimpy side, and I was kind of annoyed when I asked for my SI and was told they didn't have any. There's also an expensive breakfast buffet available.
The famous Bemelman's Bar -- named after Ludwig Bemelman, author of the Madeline children's books, and decorated by his murals of Central Park -- is also noted for its excellent cocktails, ambiance, and nightly piano performances. The cocktails are indeed excellent, waiters provide impeccable service, and each table comes with a silver tray of salty snacks. Nightly piano performances mean a cover of about $10 per person at the bar or $20 per person at a table for most nights (though select performances cost more). If you come before the 9 p.m. performances, the cover is waived, but drinks are still pricey.
Cafe Carlyle hosts equally famous performances -- Woody Allen (on clarinet with a jazz combo) and Judy Collins are on the weekly roster -- but these are more formal (and expensive) shows: The cover here is $100 per person for the entire night, and guests must order dinner (which can easily run another $100 or more).
The Carlyle has been a historic and discreet host to artists, presidents, and local and international celebrities since 1930, and it's traditional to the core: White-gloved elevator operators, a special concierge vestibule, the classic Bemelman's Bar, and dinner performances by Judy Collins and Woody Allen (playing jazz clarinet) are hallmarks of this classic American hotel. More intimate, with bigger rooms, than the competing Waldorf-Astoria and Loews Regency.
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