Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
The Denihan hotel group (Affinia, the Benjamin) takes on the iconic, grand-dame hotels of New York's Upper East Side with The Surrey, an elegant prewar building less than a block from Central Park and around the corner from the Whitney Museum. After a $60 million renovation in 2009, the 190-room Surrey boasts a five-room spa that does custom treatments, an English rooftop garden with butler service, and -- here's the kicker -- 24-hour room service courtesy of three-Michelin-star chef Daniel Boulud, from his on-site restaurant Café Boulud.
In lieu of the gilded-to-the-gills lobbies and extensive features you'd find at the Plaza or St. Regis -- not to mention the daily battalion of tourists wandering in to snap photos -- the Surrey offers a private, more intimate experience, more like the Carlyle. But instead of the Carlyle's hushed lobby full of Louis-XV-inspired decor, expect a hushed lobby full of Art-Deco-inspired decor. Wall sconces that would look right at home in the Empire State Building share space with a graffiti-scrawled armoire in the hallway. Hanging behind the leather-upholstered front desk are stark black and white images from conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. A metal elevator that looks like it's straight out of the 1920s futuristic film Metropolis whisks guests up to their luxurious rooms, where marble baths with French Cote Bastide toiletries, Pratesi bathrobes, and incredibly comfortable custom Dux by Duxiana beds await.
It's not all perfect. The bed took up most of the space in my standard Deluxe Salon ("salon" means room in Surrey speak). Some of the decor feels like it's trying too hard -- like the narrow windowbox cushions scrawled with corny lines of poetry, and a handpainted armoire that sounds great in theory but looks cheaper in practice (even the tasseled pulls can’t do much for this.) Walls are thin and hallways are narrow, so you can usually hear other guests coming and going. And while the hotel does have nightly turndown service, it does not have twice-daily maid service, as the Carlyle does. Finally, the overly sweet concoctions of the Boulud lobby lounge, Bar Pleiades, are no match for the perfectly mixed cocktails of the Carlyle’s historic Bemelmans Bar. All that said, for the private views of the city, exceptional French dining, and extraordinarily soft custom beds, the Surrey is a worthy challenger to the city's finest hotels.
Nightly turndown and a house Benz
Attentive and fairly extensive -- enough to make you feel like minor royalty: Porters open every door for you, the front desk receptionist personally escorts you up to the room when you arrive, and there’s a nightly turndown service and a complimentary house car. Still, you’d feel even more royal at the Carlyle, where there’s a white-gloved elevator operator and twice-daily maid service.
Located on a posh block just off Central Park on the Upper East Side, the Surrey shares the street with multimillion dollar townhouses. The luxury boutiques of Madison Avenue are just around the corner (as is the Whitney Museum of American Art, one block down), and there's a restaurant from star chef Daniel Boulud downstairs. While traffic on Madison Avenue and the occasional party at the Whitney can get loud, this by and large remains a very quiet, sedate neighborhood in the evenings. New York doesn't get much more exclusive than this.
Some of the most luxurious beds in the city
Starting at a spacious 330 square feet, rooms are bigger than at the Carlyle and the Waldorf Astoria, and feature extraordinarily comfortable custom Dux by Duxiana mattresses topped with Sferra linens. The occasional weird design choice (a cheap-looking armoire, pillows embroidered with corny poetic quotes) take the rooms down a notch from those at the make-no-mistakes Carlyle. Still, with ebony oversize desks with inlaid vanity trays, Bulova alarm clocks, and handsome coffee table books (the fashion of Lanvin, the portraits of Vanity Fair), rooms are much more stylishly contemporary than those than those at the Waldorf or the New York Palace.
A unique private rooftop garden with butler service -- but you still have to pay for Wi-Fi
The Surrey's most distinctive feature, its 2,200-square-foot English rooftop garden with butlers serving food and drinks from Café Boulud downstairs, is open only during the warmer months. The garden, which opened in the spring of 2010, is available only to guests and members of the hotel's exclusive patron club. Aside from that, there’s a 24-hour Life Fitness exercise room with luxury amenities (Hildon bottled water, Mascioni hand towels), a business center with two computers (which, for these high room rates, should really be free to use but aren't), and a spa with five treatment rooms.
Bring the dog -- and your wallet.
Pets are welcome, and there's no weight or size limit. The only catch: You'll be charged a pricey daily fee. The hotel furnishes pet owners with bowls and treats.
A bit too formal for most families. Try the Plaza instead.
Although cribs are free at the Surrey and Central Park is just a block away, it's hard to see this hotel as particularly kid-friendly. The hushed lobby and the formal French restaurant don't really lend themselves to relaxed family getaways. There's no separate kids' menu, and there are no rollaway beds. Try the Plaza instead.
When the hotel restaurant and room service are managed by world-renowned three-Michelin-star chef Daniel Boulud, you have to take advantage. Surrey guests receive priority seating at the restaurant, Café Boulud. I was able to get a reservation for two that night, just by putting in a request at the front desk.
After a $60 million renovation in 2009, this 190-room hotel on the Upper East Side is ready to pull guests away from the nearby Carlyle with room service by Cafe Boulud, a private rooftop garden with butler service, and some of the most comfortable hotel beds in New York.