It takes big bucks to open a new luxury hotel in Manhattan – and even bigger cojones. Clearly, the idea has not been tempting for some time. New York’s last mega-launch was the Mandarin Oriental in 2003.
Eleven years and one recession later, confidence has finally returned to the Big Apple – and, in September, the much-hyped, £244m, 210-room Park Hyatt New York welcomed its first guests. While it’s an excellent hotel, it won’t have been quite what they were expecting.
For starters, when they say “luxury”, they mean the modern, fuss-free type. Things you will not find at the Park Hyatt New York include: 1) a reception desk 2) bellboys or 3) a grand piano in the lobby. If you want Claridges, stay in London.
The well-tailored arrivals team ensures a swift, smooth check-in, which happens in your room via an iPad. For woozy Londoners who’ve staggered off the seven-hour flight to JFK and can’t face Manhattan’s glitterati just yet, being whisked through the lobby is divine.
The bedrooms feel expensive, vaguely eastern (think dark wood walls, pale brown floors and white bed linen) and comfortable (apart from one evil orange armchair, less squishy than it looks). Unfortunately, the wow factor is absent.
This is largely because the hotel occupies the building’s lower 25 floors (floors 26 to 90 are residential) – and in Midtown that’s not high enough to offer a view. In fairness, the Park Hyatt never promises one explicitly, though some might say their external photography of a 300-metre tower are a touch misleading.
But I’m being a princess. My room overlooked the Russian Tea Room and Carnegie Hall and I was two minutes from Fifth Avenue, Central Park and Woody Allen’s favourite bagel shop, the Carnegie Deli. The bath was huge and toiletries are specially commissioned by NoLiTA perfumerie Le Labo.
This new flagship of the Hyatt Group’s super-premium “Park” hotels makes much of its 25th floor, 65ft pool, with its Carnegie-curated soundtrack piped above and below the water. They reckon their Spa Nalai is another big draw, particularly the “healing” quartz crystal massage beds. I’m not so sure. My treatment was lovely, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I was face down in a giant litter tray.
Far more pleasant is the hotel’s buzzy, unstuffy, high-ceilinged bar and “Living Room” lounge area. Here, the brown/beige/white theme continues, but feels cheerier with huge windows, friendly staff and elegant fresh flowers.
The “Back Room” restaurant is cosier. The wine and champagne list is vast with 350 bottles to choose from (mainly American). The service is excellent, and chef Sebastian Archambault (who spent 10 years at the Park Hyatt Washington DC) is rightfully proud of his steak. Again, the light is a slight issue. While dim is fine for dinner, I craved a tad more sun when I returned for breakfast the next morning.
Then there’s the the art. Giant sculptures and paintings are everywhere with a number of works by big names like Ellsworth Kelly and Sigmar Polke. And if you’re so inclined, the concierge can organise a private, after-hours tour of MoMA, which – by the way – the Park Hyatt New York sponsors.
I suspect the strong emphasis on art is a ruse to distract guests from the fact that this isn’t a particularly cool part of town. The Bowery Hotel in SoHo (where all the editors stay during Fashion Week) is cool. Jay Z and Bono’s restaurant The Spotted Pig in the West Village is cool (even 10 years after it opened). The best rooftop bars are in the Meatpacking District. Nothing exciting happens near Central Park anymore. The in-crowd has moved out, and staying at the Park Hyatt, you can’t shake the feeling that the party is happening somewhere else. Which it is. Downtown and over the Brooklyn Bridge.
In fact, there’s a sense that Manhattan in general is struggling to keep up with the kidz. What is cool now are the boroughs – Brooklyn, especially. No longer a scary, tourist no-go zone, Brooklyn is a Mecca for under-35s visiting New York. Even first-timers will do just one day in Manhattan, then spend the rest of their trip in Williamsburg, hanging with the hipsters on Bedford Avenue.
Canny hoteliers, investors and developers have moved fast. In Williamsburg, the 72-room Wythe Hotel and the 64-room McCarren Hotel and Pool are regularly booked out, and their bars and restaurants heaving every night. If you know who Lena Dunham is, blame her. If you don’t, just know this: Brooklyn is Shoreditch with American accents. This is where the party’s at. Once you’ve been out in Williamsburg, Manhattan feels oddly flat.
There are signs the Park Hyatt knows it shouldn’t try and compete. Why else would its 1,000-guest, Dom Perignon-only launch party in September be so noticeably star-free? (The biggest names came from the art world: Bill Rubrecht, chairman of Sotheby’s and Glenn Lowry, director of MoMA). Naomi Campbell was spotted in the Back Room during New York Fashion Week, but that’s about it on the celeb front.
The planning for the Park Hyatt started 15 years ago – and, in that time, the city has changed. Today, even DUMBO (the un-promising patch Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is being transformed in to a cultural district to rival London’s South Bank. Now that the boroughs are scrubbing up, Manhattan has some stiff competition. And so does the Park Hyatt New York.
NEED TO KNOW
Nightly rates at Park Hyatt New York start from $795/£472* per room for two persons sharing a Park King room, excluding breakfast and VAT. For further information please visit parkhyattnewyork.com or call +1 646 774 1234.
British Airways offers three nights at the 5* Park Hyatt New York, from £1,089 per person, travelling in January. Includes return flights from Heathrow. For reservations visit ba.com/new-york or call 0844 493 0758.