Although a dyed-in-the-wool Brit, Mr Smith loves classic American show tunes, and all the way in from JFK he kept singing, ‘When I take you out to the Surrey, when I take you out to the Surrey with the fri-i-i-i-inge on top.’ It’s in the Surrey, of course, but then, we were bound for The Surrey, the old-fashioned Upper East Side hotel that was redone last year, reputedly for $75,000,000. Our destination played right into Mr Smith’s penchant for slightly changing a lyric and then basking in his cleverness.
Although we’ve been to Manhattan many times over the past 25 years, I confess that we had never stayed on the UES, as it has come to be known. The Surrey, a 1926 Beaux-Arts building, is just a somersault from Central Park and a martini-totter from Bemelmans bar in the Hotel Carlyle. It has central-casting good looks, as though it were designed to serve as the backdrop to a ’40s movie. (In fact, it’s been the roost of starlets from that era, among them Bette Davis and Claudette Colbert.)
The affable doorman, Giuseppe, who remembered our names from the get-go, seemed the perfect old-school foil to the hotel’s coolly sensuous new look, designed by Lauren Rottet. This Mr Smith is an interior designer by profession, so no sooner were we through the revolving door than I'm saluting that the lobby’s subtle tones – creamy whites, pitch-black blacks, and reassuring grays – are nods to the ’40s, my favorite design decade. The room deftly balanced currents and influences from several periods, Art Deco, mid-century modern, ’90s minimalism – it was more about Ms Rottet’s educated eclecticism than an homage to an era. That arresting, black-and-white Chuck Close portrait of Kate Moss, an exclamation point at the end of the elevator lobby, certainly is very now.
Our room carried on the eclectic theme – muted pastel tones and rich wood cabinetry, a working fireplace and black, etched water glasses, and a capacious bathroom, floored and walled in grey-veined marble. There were doffs of the cap to Chanel in the bar modeled on the beauty house’s compact, and maybe to Shabby Chic in the bookcase stenciled with an acanthus motif. Drawing back the curtains we found a balcony and a fabulous view over Central Park, now bundled up in the golden tones of late autumn.
The evening being mild, we took a walk to clear our heads, and then ducked into the Two Brothers Diner, just across the street from the Whitney Museum, for a burger and a few rounds of Rolling Rock (when in Rome…). Then home to that huge sumptuous bed, with a headboard of padded leather as tall as an NBA centre.
What we enjoy doing most in New York is shopping, abetted by the fact that the place seems to be permanently on sale. This Mr Smith is also a big guy, especially in the shoe department, and America caters to me brilliantly. So it was straight to Barneys, 20 blocks down Madison Avenue, where I picked up some lovely pink suede shoes and a pair of red brogues at 50 per cent off.
Our unlikely rendezvous for lunch was ABC Home, near Union Square, which had recently opened a new bar and cafe. We had a boozy repast with a friend from north Wales (but now a New Yorker), and then hot-footed it back uptown so I could have a session of reflexology, while the husband soaked in the tub. I returned thoroughly relaxed and full of praise for the spa, especially the fact that each treatment room has its own dressing armoire and vanity, and some a shower or bath. I just wished they'd given me more than a spoonful of the delicious local honey that begins each treatment.
The great thing about The Surrey is that it puts you smack in Manhattan’s museum zone, and the next day we made the most of it. We took in the Edward Hopper show at the Whitney, then walked up Fifth Avenue for a whirl around Frank Lloyd Wright’s nautilus-shell-shaped Guggenheim. We took one last gulp of culture at the exquisite Neue Galerie, which specialises in German and Austrian art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – the Secession artists, the Blaue Reiter, Die Brucke, and the like.
Friends were curious about The Surrey, so we were happy to be able to invite them to our boutique abode on our second evening. We started at Bar Pleiades, an intimate boite off the lobby, and ended up with nightcaps in the ravishing roof garden on the 17th floor. And what did Oscar Hammerstein III name The Surrey's new private roof garden? ‘The fringe on top’ of course. Perhaps it was the master-of-the-universe view that induced Mr Smith to start on what would be many rounds of bubbly. The next morning, I felt anything but. When I cocked open an eye, there was Mr Smith with a Virgin Mary, two aspirin, and a pleased-with-himself smile on his face. ‘That,’ he said, ‘was the Surrey with the binge on top.’