Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A 2009 renovation brought Asian touches to this iconic New York hotel. It's all very lovely, if occasionally stuffy.
Built in 1930, the Pierre features a stately neo-Georgian exterior and an ornately detailed interior, especially in its ballrooms and the rotunda, where every inch of the curved walls and high ceiling are covered by trompe l’oeil paintings. With the $100 million, 15-month renovation completed in 2009, however, a few Indian touches -- some furniture and colorful silks in the guest rooms and artwork from Indian artists in the lobby -- were added to the hotel. The overall look is opulent elegance -- not so much East meets West as it is old New York made new.
But with a tony Upper East Side location on Central Park, and 78 residences that share staff and hotel amenities with hotel guests, it's the old New York that dominates. Bellhops and elevator attendants wear white gloves and attend to guests with old-fashioned formality. Cruising upwards in one of the hotel's small elevators, with white-gloved hands pushing the buttons for you, it's not hard to imagine one of the building's famed residents of yore, say Elizabeth Taylor or Natalie Wood, getting in for the ride. The building's penthouse residence was valued at $70 million in 2006 and named one of Forbes' Most Expensive Homes in the World.
For decades, the hotel was managed by the Four Seasons. In 2005, Taj Resorts and Palaces, a growing Indian luxury chain, took over the hotel's 140 guest rooms and 49 suites and headed up its massive renovation.
While undergoing renovation, the hotel's banquet and meeting facilities remained in operation. With its elaborate ballrooms and rotunda, the Pierre has long been a popular place for high-end parties and weddings. Hotel management says they have a wedding nearly every Saturday and some Sundays at the hotel. In April 2009, the hotel was the site of the after-party for the premiere of the Grey Gardens HBO movie, and when I visited in early June, the hotel hosted a benefit for the Guardian Angels that even Mayor Bloomberg graced with his presence.
When I visited a week after the hotel's "soft" reopening, only about half of the renovated guest rooms and suites were complete. The renovated rooms aren't huge (standard rooms average 300 square feet), but they're lovely. Colorful, textured fabrics make them more interesting than the rooms you'll find at the nearby Four Seasons, but they are no less elegant. Everything, from the electronics to the toothbrush holders, feels, well, expensive.
Service is professional and ever-present, but friendliness varies. The Pierre doesn't have the discreet, come-all-who-can-afford-it vibe of high-end hotels on the Upper West Side, like the Mandarin Oriental. At this iconic Upper East Side hotel, there's a sense that not everyone belongs, but those who do are treated with care.
The large, formal, and thorough white-gloved staff caters to both hotel guests and building residents with a high degree of professionalism. There's the occasional service glitch, and the staff warms slowly to short-term guests.
Before I'd even paid for my cab, a pair of white-gloved hands reached in and relieved me of my bags. "Welcome to the Pierre," another doorman said as he pushed the revolving door ahead of me. Check-in was efficient, and I was soon on my way to the 10th floor with a white-gloved elevator attendant pushing the buttons for me. My bags, meanwhile, took a separate elevator, accompanied by a separate bellhop.
Indeed, the hotel prides itself on a high staff-to-guest ratio, which is reportedly three to one. Not only is the staff numerous but highly professional as well: One elevator attendant I spoke with had worked at the Pierre for 20 years. And I heard staff and building residents chatting sadly about a doorman who had recently and suddenly passed away. It's all charmingly anachronistic -- but at times it seems excessive.
Surprisingly, given the heavy staffing and small number of guests, I saw a few minor service lapses. Most problematically, I was assigned to a smoking room, even though I hadn't booked one or been informed of it at check-in.
Initially cool, the service grew warmer during my stay, and eventually the staff was greeting me by name. The concierge was especially helpful with suggestions for where to go to lunch with a friend and her young child.
Room service, laundry, and dry cleaning are available 24 hours.
The Pierre occupies nearly an entire city block on the southeast end of Central Park. The main entrance is on East 61st Street, and a second entrance sits on 5th Avenue, directly across the street from Central Park. Its eastern side fronts Madison Avenue, a famed stretch of luxury shopping. The hotel's close neighbors include Barneys New York, an upscale department store, and the Metropolitan Club, one of New York City's most exclusive private social clubs.
Numerous subway lines are situated near the hotel. The N, R, W station on Fifth Avenue is on the same block as the hotel, and the F train at Lexington Avenue is three blocks away. Taxis are easily hailed around the hotel at virtually any time of day or night.
30 to 90 minutes from three airports.
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.
Elegant and colorful, the just-renovated rooms have top-of-the-line everything, from Frette sheets to Molton Brown toiletries. But all that luxury is packed into standard rooms significantly smaller than those at competing hotels.
At about 300 square feet in size, the Pierre's standard Traditional rooms are decent for New York City but nowhere near as large as what you'd get at the Four Seasons, where standard rooms average 500 square feet, or the Plaza, where they run about 475 square feet.
The rooms are the picture of elegance, however, compensating for what they lack in size with a subtle yet distinctive style. As part of a $100 million renovation completed in the summer of 2009, all rooms feature brand-new interiors. They're classically elegant, but with sumptuous silk and brocade fabrics in corals, blues, and greens, many of them imported from India by the hotel's new Indian management company. The decor is more interesting than the tasteful-but-bland interiors at the Four Seasons or the Ritz.
Electronics are modern, with a 40-inch Sony flat-screen and a Bose iPod dock. Sadly, the shiny new flat-screens have a less-than-thrilling channel selection -- just over 20 stations, mostly networks and cable news channels. Don't count on catching your favorite shows on HBO or Showtime, or even getting basic-cable channels like Comedy Central or Bravo -- they're not there. The rooms do have DVD players, and the hotel has a DVD library with about 50 titles. The concierge will also go to a nearby video shop to rent guests additional titles for $6. Guests can also purchase movies on demand for $12.95 each.
With Frette sheets, pillow-top mattresses, and perfectly fluffy down pillows and comforters, the beds are some of the best around.
Bathrooms are small -- so small that the door can hit your legs as you use the toilet -- but they're luxuriously equipped with huge, fluffy, white bath towels, an enormous Grohe rain showerhead, crystal drinking glasses, and Molton Brown toiletries. One caveat: The least expensive standard rooms have showers but no tubs.
The minibar, nicely concealed in the cabinet beneath the television, contains nice surprises like candy from Dylan's Candy Bar, a popular local sweetshop; premium Fever-Tree mixers; and even a special area set aside for "Your Personal Use."
My standard Traditional room looked out onto a brick wall and lacked a tub. For another $50 or so, the Classic rooms have a soaking tub and another 50 or so square feet of space. As prices go up, the rooms get larger and the views improve.
The hotel's fitness center boasts seven brand-new Life Fitness cardio machines with individual cable televisions, iPod docks, and USB hubs; a multipurpose strength-training machine; fitness balls; free weights; and even a Bosu ball. A changing room with shower is also available. Water, iced towels, fruit, and newspapers are on offer. The fitness center is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, but security will open it for guests at other times.
The business center features both PCs and Macs and an attendant on call.
The hotel also has its own Jiva Spa, the spa brand associated with Taj Hotels. The spa offers treatments such as massages, aromatherapy, and body wraps.
Children are offered age-appropriate welcome amenities at check-in, so parents should let the reservationist know their children's ages when booking. Adjoining rooms are available. Some City View rooms feature two twin beds, a nice option for kids. Those rooms can connect to City View rooms that have a single king bed. Cribs are available at no extra cost. Rollaway beds are also complimentary for guests under 17. The standard Traditional rooms cannot accommodate rollaways, however. Guests using rollaways should book a Classic or City View room.
Room service features a "Children and Juniors Menu" with options like a "Junior Pierre Burger" ($16) and macaroni and cheese ($12). The 2 E Lounge does not have a children's menu, but special requests for kids can be accommodated. Whipping up a simple grilled-cheese sandwich is not a problem.
In addition to Central Park, there are a number of fun places for kids within walking distance of the hotel. Serendipity 3, a classic kiddy spot famed for its Frozen Hot Chocolate and other huge desserts, is just five blocks away, as is Dylan's Candy Bar, another hot sweet spot. The FAO Schwarz flagship store is three blocks away.
Almost (but not quite) spotless, and just renovated.
With the entire hotel just having undergone an extensive renovation, everything, from the hallways to the lobbies to the guest rooms, feels fresh and new. The entire property seems extremely well maintained. However, during my visit, it fell just short of spotless: My guest room had some dust on the surfaces and some faint rust-colored marks at the bottom of the toilet bowl.
Le Caprice, an outpost of a hot London restaurant, opened at the hotel in October 2009. The chic eatery serves brasserie-style fare (dinner entrees are $22 to $45).
Two East lounge serves afternoon tea from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., simple, light plates throughout the day, and $14 specialty cocktails. Sandwiches are priced in the mid-teens, salads in the low-20s. Cocktails are served with a generous plate of olives, cheese, and crackers.
The hotel's 24-hour room service is extensive and expensive, with both a $6 fee and an 18 percent service charge. In addition to typical room-service fare, Indian specialties (the hotel is managed by an Indian company), like a lamb tikka kebab ($26), are available.
A "Children and Juniors Menu" features options like a "Junior Pierre Burger" ($16) and macaroni and cheese ($12).
The hotel will also pack a Central Park picnic basket ($65 for two; $165 with champagne).
If you're in search of more fine dining options in the neighborhood, Rouge Tomate, a well-reviewed and stylish new restaurant serving modern cuisine with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients, is just around the corner.
Dogs under 15 pounds receive a warm welcome.
Small (under 15 pounds) four-legged friends are most welcome at the Pierre. Doggy welcome offerings include a bed, a chew toy, and bowls. Guests must sign a pet waiver. The concierge can arrange dogwalking services. Building residents have dogs of all sizes.
An elegant, historic hotel across the street from Central Park, the Pierre offers a taste of grand old New York to those staying in any of its 189 small but freshly renovated guest rooms. The large staff is white-glove formal, but service is not without the occasional glitch -- and the hotel lacks the on-site amenities of some of its by-the-park luxury competitors, like the Plaza and the Four Seasons.