In lieu of the gilded-to-the-gills lobbies and extensive features you’d find at the , , or other iconic uptown hotels — not to mention the daily battalion of tourists wandering in to snap photos — the top boutique hotels on the Upper East Side offer experiences that are more personal and intimate, but often just as exquisite.
As you enter into a lobby with a black-and-white striped floor and furniture that's gold and bright pink, you know you're not in your typical luxury hotel. The Mark is one of the top hotels in New York, but one that eschews crystal chandeliers or gilded sconces for a unique high design. The 152 rooms are luxurious and spacious, with great amenities: custom-made beds with down pillows and duvets and Italian linens by Quagliotti, stocked minibars, and bathrobes and slippers. Stunning Art Deco bathrooms feature countertops, deep soaking tubs, and walls that are covered in beautiful white marble, plus separate showers, TV embedded in the mirrors, and heated towel racks. The Mark houses a restaurant and bar helmed by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a fitness center, complete with a martial arts and boxing studio.
Tradition and class are in every inch of this Upper East Side icon, which has played host to artists, local and international celebrities, and several presidents since 1930. White-gloved elevator operators, a special concierge vestibule, an acclaimed salon and spa, the classic Bemelmans Bar, and dinner performances by Woody Allen (playing jazz clarinet) are hallmarks of this classic American hotel. The spacious, classically designed apartment-style rooms and suites are filled with luxe amenities, but they're not as stylish as the ones at the Mark.
Sister to the world-renowned Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris, this luxury boutique, set in a historic building dating back to 1927, is known for its European style and attentive service. Doormen greet you as you arrive and direct you to the front desk, an inconspicuous seating area to the far right of the lobby where guests go through a sit-down check-in process (no waiting in lines here). In addition, the concierges are members of the prestigious Les Clefs d'Or organization, and can attend to almost any request. Rooms are sumptuous and understated, with classic European decor and top-notch amenities like Sferra linens, plasma TVs, and gorgeous bathrooms with deep soaking tubs. The bar and restaurant are intimate and romantic (though not iconic, like Bemelmans), serving excellent fine-dining fare and cocktails, while the spa and fitness center provide charming spaces to relax and rejuvenate. It's no wonder that both Princess Diana and Elizabeth have seen fit to call the hotel home.
Relais & Chateaux takes on the Upper East Side grande-dame hotels with the Surrey, an elegant prewar building less than a block from Central Park. The 189-room hotel boasts a spa that does custom treatments, a private 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 Cafe Boulud. Rooms have some of the most luxurious beds in the city, but only upgraded rooms feature tubs in the bathrooms (all rooms at Hotel Plaza Athenee have marble bathrooms with deep soaking tubs and separate rain showers).
The Lowell is an upscale boutique known for its top-notch service and gorgeous individually decorated rooms. It is located a block from Central Park and a short walk from designer boutiques along Madison and Fifth avenues. Its 74 rooms and suites have elegant, stylish decor and great amenities, including DDC28 toiletries, flat-screen TVs with movies on demand, and free Wi-Fi. Most units also have wood-burning fireplaces, full kitchens, and terraces. The on-site restaurant and the fitness center are perks, but the hotel does not have a spa, like our top three picks.
The Sherry-Netherland is a stately hotel full of Old World charm. With only 100 individually decorated rooms, white-gloved elevator operators, and a marble, vaulted lobby with crystal chandeliers, this boutique is exclusive, elegant and historic. Rooms have classic decor and modern technology features, including iPod docks, flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi. There’s not much in the way of hotel features, but the small fitness center is well-equipped, and the adjacent restaurant is known for its wonderful Venetian fare. Like the Lowell, the Sherry does not have an on-site spa, but it does offer in-room massages.
The 197-room Bentley is a high-rise hotel on the easternmost edge of Manhattan overlooking the Queensboro Bridge. The location is ideal for business travelers or guests visiting the nearby medical centers, though it's a 10-minute walk to the closest subway and as well as any real shopping or dining. The hotel is stylish, with a look that blends urban-chic and classic elements. Rooms are reasonably spacious and modern, with flat-screen TVs and minibars, although there are annoying fees for Wi-Fi and coffee, and some of the furniture is worn. There are two restaurants and lounges, which are welcome because the surrounding neighborhood is deserted at night. (Our top five hotels are located around the southeastern corner of Central Park, making them great bases to explore the city’s major attractions.)
The upper-middle-range Hotel Wales is a charming boutique property situated a block away from Central Park and Fifth Avenue's Museum Mile. Popular breakfast/brunch destination Sarabeth's East occupies the hotel's ground floor and provides room service, and there's also an Italian restaurant on-site. Free tea and coffee in an inviting lounge is a nice perk, as is the lovely rooftop terrace. Other features include a meeting room, business center, and a small fitness room with a couple of machines. The 89 contemporary guest rooms are a bit small, but come with flat-screen TVs, iHome docks, and free Wi-Fi, plus some suites have kitchenettes. However, they lack minibars and tea/coffee-making facilities (both are included in Bentley's rooms, with fees). The nearby Franklin doesn't have as many features, but it does offer a free breakfast as well as an afternoon wine-and-cheese presentation.
In operation since 1931, the Franklin embraces the romance of prewar Gotham, when the city was at the height of its Art Deco glamour and the skyscraper race raged between the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. The small size of the rooms reflects the hotel's structure, but the rooms are nonetheless stylish and come with free Wi-Fi and excellent Bulgari toiletries. The Franklin operates more like a bed-and-breakfast than a hotel. It lacks an on-site restaurant, bar, or gym but offers a free breakfast with fresh French pastries and an afternoon wine-and-cheese reception.
On the far northern reaches of the Upper East Side, The Marmara Manhattan is great for art lovers ("Museum Mile" is just a short walk away), though it's a long subway ride from most other New York attractions. But the tradeoff is that standard guest rooms have queen-size beds and start at a generous (for New York, at least) 350 square feet. All 109 of the guest rooms are really studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments with full kitchens with dishwashers. The Penthouse also includes, among other things, a wraparound deck, a deep tub overlooking the skyline, and a private sauna. Same as the Franklin, there is no on-site restaurant here (but also no free breakfast and afternoon wine-and-cheese reception -- perks at the Franklin).