The Empire HotelUpper West Side, New York City, New York
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Business travelers and families haunt the earthy, mood-lit lobby by day; by nightfall, the Empire can become party central.
Dating back to the mid-1890s, the Empire is one of New York's oldest hotels, and it still holds on to its old-fashioned neon sign on its rooftop and its traditional entrance. But the hotel's interiors -- completely renovated in June 2008 -- tell a different story. Outfitted with zebra- and leopard-print seating, heavy brown curtains and modern chandeliers that resemble crash cymbals, the lobby looks like a classed-up but low-key pad suitable for liberated, 1960s jazzbos. Imagine the sounds and feel of this scene from Bullitt, but add in two stories of wide-open space, fancy artwork, and a 2nd-floor balcony.
Families from America and abroad, as well as laptop-wielding business travelers, frequent the lobby during the day. But the Empire is most notable for its bopping, cosmopolitan party crowd in the evening. The lobby bar, 12th-story rooftop bar, and private areas near the pool all attract young locals, and the hotel has also been known to host swanky private events (Google was having a party when I was there).
But because, in part, the public gains access to the rooftop bar via a separate elevator, the cocktail crowd doesn't interfere with a good night's sleep. And the earth-toned rooms supplement the public spaces' smokey allure with sun-inspired mirror-sculptures and sauna-style showers. Guest rooms are small, but the in-room amenities, like ultrasmooth Frette linens and deluxe l'Occitane bath products, are top of the line.
All told, a rooftop pool is practically unheard of in New York, and only the Hotel Gansevoort's rooftop pool and bar scene can compare. The Gansevoort might have a hipper downtown location, but the Empire's rooftop bar boasts cheaper cocktails, more space, and a more down-to-earth crowd than you typically find at the Gansevoort's Plunge. Given the Empire's pool, spa, fitness center, beautiful rooms, close proximity to Central Park, and sultry, sophisticated atmosphere -- all for a reasonable price -- it's an incredible deal.
Facing the small Dante Park and effectively sandwiched between Lincoln Center and Central Park on Broadway, the Empire sits in the Upper West Side, near that neighborhood's border with Midtown West and Times Square, which is 21 blocks south. Although it lacks the maddening crowds of Times Square, it's still a busy part of town.
- One block from Central Park
- 20-minute walk (five-minute cab) to Times Square and the Theater District
- Although it's technically in the same neighborhood as the Lucerne, On the Ave, and the Beacon hotels, the Empire doesn't share those hotels' proximity to the American Museum of Natural History or the Children's Museum of Manhattan (both are about two miles away, about 15 minutes on the subway).
- Nearest subway station at Columbus Circle, four blocks away, offers access to five subway lines.
Small, for the price, but with high-tech gear and deluxe amenities
Like the lobby, rooms achieve a funky, naturalistic tone through tan walls, brown trimmings, and darkly painted furniture. The entire property underwent an overhaul completed in June 2008, so everything's fairly new, and wear is minimal.
On the downside, 200 square feet runs a little small for hotel rooms in this price range: The path to the closet on one side of the bed is quite cramped, and the narrow desk doesn't exactly facilitate taking care of business. For a single traveler, though, that's a small caveat, and for me, the quality of the sheets and mattress more than made up for other drawbacks.
- Standard rooms start at a cramped 200 square feet -- about average for New York, but not for a hotel of this price; for more space, consider the London or the Beacon
- Small but beautiful bathrooms: sauna-floor shower with both a rainfall head and a spray wand; no separate tub
- Excellent bed: American Signature mattress; sumptuous Frette linens
- Frette terrycloth bathrobes
- Extravagant bath products by l'Occitane en Provence
- 32-inch flat-screen TV and iHome iPod-docking alarm clock
- Minibar and snack basket
- All room types either face Broadway (bright, but noisy) or a lackluster space that's walled in by other wings of the hotel (quiet, but the views are less attractive)
- Suites include a 478-square-foot suite overlooking Lincoln Center with a dining table and separate bedroom, and a 710-square-foot Deluxe Suite with two bathrooms and a tub.
A New York hotel with a pool is a rare thing, so even the Empire's small rooftop facilities immediately set it apart from much of the competition. For a pool elsewhere, travelers have to stay downtown, pay higher rates, or book the Sheraton Manhattan, whose rooms are drab and dated.
- Low-key rooftop pool overlooking the Upper West Side (and a glimpse of Central Park) -- a major plus in New York
- Poolside bar and posh cabanas equipped with TVs, iPod docks, ceiling fans, and minifridges
- Small, free fitness center that overlooks 63rd Street and includes sauna-style showers, cardio machines, a weight bench, and a set of free weights. No machines have their own TV monitors, but there are a couple flat-screens on the walls.
Perhaps because of its pool and its clean, relatively uncrowded Upper West Side location, families do stay at the Empire. But given the small guest rooms and the hotel's evening cocktail-party scene, travelers with children might fare better at the Hotel Beacon in the same neighborhood. It has large rooms and kitchenettes, but no pool.
- Free cribs
- Babysitting arrangements can be made through the concierge, provided there is 24 hours' notice
- Small rooftop pool
- One block from Central Park
- Ed's Chowder House, complete with a raw bar, serves up delicious seafood for lunch and dinner. The Chowder Bar stays open until midnight and offers cocktails and small plates; during the summer months, a small selection of bar plates are available at the rooftop pool deck.
- Room service, available from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.; comes from Center Cut.
- Guests and New Yorkers mingle over drinks at the Rooftop Bar; small appetizers are also available, but it's definitely more a place to grab a cocktail.
- Drinks and snacks available at the pool deck
- Three blocks south of the hotel, The Shops at Columbus Circle houses some of the city's best, and most expensive, restaurants, like Thomas Keller's Per Se and Masayoshi Takayama's Masa
- For quick bites, there's also a Whole Foods Market and the Bouchon Bakery, a top French bakery also from Keller, in The Shops.
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Things You Should Know About The Empire Hotel
Address44 West 63rd Street, New York City, New York 10023, United States
Also Known As
- Empire Hotel New York
- Corner Suite
- Deluxe Room
- Deluxe Suite
- Express Queen
- Junior Suite
- Standard Room
- Superior Room