The 190-room Upper East Side hotel takes on the nearby Carlyle with unique luxuries: a private rooftop garden with butler service, Daniel Boulud room service, and custom Dux by Duxiana beds.
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
The front desk
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.
The house car, usually a Mercedes-Benz S-Series, will drop guests off for free (but drop off only, not pick up) within a 20-block radius of the hotel. It's available on a first-come-first-served basis throughout the day.
24-hour room service from star chef Daniel Boulud’s on-site restaurant, Café Boulud. But, delivery charges are the highest I've seen in New York.
A rooftop garden with butler service for drinks and food from Café Boulud is available to guests and members of the hotel's patron club.
Nightly turndown service -- slippers laid out for you on a bedside mat, lights dimmed, music turned to a soft easy-listening station. No bottled water, though.
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.
Two blocks from the 77th Street subway station, served by the 6 train
From JFK International Airport, 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.
The smallest rooms, the 330-square-foot Deluxe Salons, are corner rooms with windows on either side of the king-size bed. The 400-square-foot Grand Deluxe Salons offer a little more seating space. Both have showers only, not soaking tubs.
The 445-square-foot Ultra Deluxe Salons add an additional soaking tub, terrace, and fireplace.
Most of the time it's great to have a room overlooking the Whitney Museum -- but not when the museum is hosting one of its late-night parties and you can hear the thumping music from your bed. Request a room facing quiet, leafy 76th Street.
Switches near the bed and front door control lighting settings for the room (reading-light setting, nightlight setting, evening setting, and late-night setting)
King-size beds with down comforters, Sferra Italian linens, and goosedown pillows on top of a custom Duxe by Duxiana mattress. Deluxe Salons and Ultra Deluxe Salons can also come with two queens, instead of a single king.
A selection of five different pillows (neck pillows, hypoallergenic, etc.) are available on request.
Minibar comes stocked with Dean and Deluca snacks and treats from New York specialty purveyors: Mast Brothers chocolate from Brooklyn, Hudson Baby Bourbon, and Ommegang Abbey Ale from upstate. Plenty of mixers in the fridge, but I found no shaker or utensils with which to make a cocktail.
In-room Wi-Fi is not free.
A unique private rooftop garden with butler service -- but you still have to pay for Wi-Fi
The fitness center
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.
Pricey business center with two PCs for 50 cents a minute, plus printing costs (50 cents a minute for black and white, $1 a minute for color)
The 24-hour free Life-Fitness-equipped fitness center has two elliptical machines, two exercise bikes, two treadmills, and three strength training machines (chest press, leg curl, etc). There’s also a full set of weights and a bench. Sessions with personal fitness trainers can be arranged.
Cornelia Spa offers massages, skin treatments and salon services
Free New York Times delivered to the door every morning
In-room Wi-Fi for a fee
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.
For lunch and dinner, Cafe Boulud offers appetizers, entrees, and desserts from four separate menus: classic French ("la tradition"), seasonally inspired ("la saison"); vegetarian ("le potager"); and world cuisine ("le voyage", frequently Asian-inspired).
For breakfast, Boulud serves a selection of French egg dishes (eggs en cocotte, saucisson de lyon), French pastries and charcuterie, and American breakfast classics like buttermilk pancakes. Brunch is a more extravagant affair, with a choice of two entrees for a heftier price tag.
24-hour room service is an abbreviated menu from the restaurant. Prices are the same, a steep delivery charge and 17 percent gratuity.
Cocktails and a menu from Boulud also available on the rooftop garden