The prospect of a long weekend in New York in itself brings shivers of excitement. Now add to that the thrill of staying in an exciting new Manhattan hotel creted by the godfather of boutique boltholes – Ian Schrager’s Gramercy Park Hotel – and you've got a very exciting package. Schrager has been a personal hero of mine ever since I worked on London’s club scene – thanks to his heady Studio 54 days, he's nightclub royalty as well as hotel god. This particular hotel is the fruit of his collaboration with Academy Award-nominated director, Julian Schnabel. To borrow Chandler Bing's famous Friends-featured inflection of incredulity – could a hotel be any more now?
Back in the Nineties, a naughty extravagance for this Mrs Smith would have been to go out clubbing, checking into one of Schrager’s hip hotels to complete a night of hedonistic escapism in my home city. Oh, how times have changed. I’ve long since traded disco balls for duvets and, now, here in NYC, and heavily pregnant, my dance-floor glory days seem centuries past. I’m nearer to being someone’s embarrassing mum at a wedding than a club chick throwing some shapes.
Just as I’m reinventing my own lifestyle, here’s Mr Schrager doing the same for the luxury boutique hotel – all over again. Utter the words ‘Gramercy Park Hotel’ to the driver of one of those yellow taxi-cabs, and chances are they’ll be very familiar with this limestone building off Lexington. After all, this establishment was the favourite haunt of such luminaries as baseballing legend Babe Ruth and Hollywood hero Humphrey Bogart. Head to its chic restyled bar now, and nursing an exotic cocktail alongside you is likely to be one of today’s darlings of the paparazzi.
From the moment this Mr & Mrs Smith pair stepped foot in the revamped Gramercy Park Hotel, we knew we’d found the sexiest dirty-weekend rendezvous imaginable. Artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel’s influence is palpable throughout – dark, eccentric and heavily perfumed, it isn’t just a visual sensation, but an olfactory one. Even the air is sweetly scented. The foyer is pure theatre: above our heads, suspended from the Cypress-beamed ceiling, was a huge Venetian-glass chandelier. Forget common-or-garden marble flooring for this five-star retreat – here, we had Moroccan floor tiles and a French rug, hand-woven with a mediaeval-looking design, to pad across en route to the front desk. A huge Cy Twombly painting provides a nod to the 20th century. As for that heavenly smell – it’s a spicy scent from perfumier Le Labo, created especially for GPH (as its known to New York’s in-crowd), and it’s blowing the ooh-là-là factor through the roof.
Genuinely on tenterhooks to find out what surprises were in store, we hotfooted it to our suite. In keeping with the hotel’s louche heritage, the lighting is low-level and moody. And when you’ve just done a long-haul at six-months pregnant, trust me: you’re grateful for any soft-focus effects. I loved the sultry darkness of our boudoir, which, thanks to an imaginative decor, was a world away from its modern-day Manhattan location. Deep cerulean walls, port-tinted velvet, tapestry chairs, hand-stitched leather – this building may be steeped in recent history, but the rich hues of its interiors transport you to back to the Renaissance. Even the vast velvet bedheads are stitched with gold and reminiscent of a courtly wall hanging. (Obviously, Mr Smith was more taken with the cut-crystal glasses in the drinking cabinet and the fully loaded iPod he’d borrowed from the concierge than my blathering on about how Michelangelo would have approved of the colour scheme.)
As for the bathrooms, at Gramercy Park Hotel ‘attention to detail’ is a way of life. (And smarty-pants who know their way around a new-fangled dimmer switch will even be able to boost the bulbs to interrogation-bright levels.) Forget middle-of-the-road Molton Brown: the best-in-class approach to the toiletries here involved asking staff on a style magazine to recommend a few of their favourite products. As a result, the bathroom boasts Hamadi organic shampoo and conditioner, Mario Badescu body lotion and Håkansson skincare. Resisting the temptation to road-test the Japanese tub big enough for two, we planned the rest of the day’s recce.
Schrager was the inventor of ‘lobby socialising’, so it’s no surprise to discover that the Rose Bar and the Jade Bar are Manhattan’s hottest see-and-be-seen cocktail lounges. But, as it was a bit early for boozing, we settled on a quick look at the private roof club and garden, which exudes a gentlemen’s club charm. On the ground floor, Wakiya restaurant provides Northern Chinese cuisine courtesy of Yuji Wakiya, a Japanese chef mentored by Nobu Matsuhisa and being hailed the new Alan Yau. All terribly chic, obviously, especially when served up in a setting styled by French designers Gilles et Boissier – but, I thought to myself, we are in New York, I’m up the duff, and I’m having cravings. For a full American breakfast. With extra maple syrup. At 3pm. And that’s one of the best things about being in NYC – you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. In extra-large portions. Heaven (even if you’re not eating for two).
Mr Smith arched an eyebrow and suggested we at least book a table for the in-house Asian sensation for supper, and follow it up with a nightcap in the exclusive club at the top of the building. Here we were, excited about being at one of the most vibrant city-slicker stays in the world, a hotel where most guests probably earmark the Rose Bar for a pineapple and cinammon mojito, and Wakiya for delicious dim sum, and I want eggs over easy served in iron skillet. Admittedly, you’re not as likely to bump into a member of the Rolling Stones or one of the latest celebrity-mag cover stars at a rustic café called Friend of a Farmer, but what a girl wants in New York, a girl gets. And rubbing shoulders with so many beautiful people in a place so achingly cool sure works up an appetite…