The Surrey hotel in New York exudes elegance and glamour as any good Upper East Side resident should. More than just a handsome visage, it quietly impresses with sumptuously appointed rooms, a fine art collection, Coco Channel-inspired lounge and a private rooftop garden where a butler will bring you your favourite tipple.
Noon, but flexible, for a cost (half a day’s rate before 3pm; a full day’s rate after 6pm); earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £308.94 ($386), including tax at 14.75 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional room tax of $10.00 per room per night on check-out and an additional resort fee of $40.16 per room per night on check-out.
Rates exclude Continental breakfast (US$26 each).
Treat yourself with a decadent treatment like a honey scrub or seaweed wrap at the refined Cornelia Spa on the second floor. After your soothing treatment, head up to the rooftop terrace to unwind. Also, New York's 'Museum Mile' is on your doorstep – the museums lining Fifth Avenue are some of the world's greatest cultural institutions.
At the hotel
Gym, spa, restaurants, bar, seasonal rooftop garden, DVD library and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, DVD player, Pratesi bathrobes, Dean and Deluca minibar, in-room mixology kit and Diptyque bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The Studio Suite comes with a fireplace and a soaking tub. If you really want to splash out, opt for the Presidential Suite: a luxurious expanse with a baby grand piano, claw-foot bath tub, sauna, private terrace, and lashings of space for dining, entertaining, sleeping or all the above. Start saving now.
Bring a scent or bag by Chanel – the bar’s decor riffs on the classic designer, with leather quilted walls and monochrome.
Dogs are welcomed with their own bed, in-room treats, day-care services and grooming. Owners will need to pay US$150 and sign a waiver for canine companionship.
Little Smiths are welcome, with free cots and extra beds for $50. Babysitting can be arranged, for $30 an hour (based on a four-hour minimum; there will be an extra charge for the babysitter’s transport to the hotel).
Sit in the banquette-lined alcove and people-watch unseen.
Upper East Side elegance: Chanel and Hermes or clever imitations.
Café Boulud – part of Daniel Boulud's culinary empire – has been styled by a Parisian artist and a NY-based architect, and the decor reflects this European–American union: wood panelling, plush upholstery, neutral hues, pendant lamps with rice paper shades, coral leather chairs and white linen-dressed tables. The menu is shaped around four concepts: tradition, the season, the vegetable garden and travel.
Bar Pleiades is inspired by Coco Chanel and the 1930s, with leather quilted walls, black and white lacquer finishes, French doors, banquette seating and plenty of nooks and crannies. The cocktails are just as elegant – honour your setting with a Manhattan or two. The rooftop garden, overlooking Central Park and the Upper East Side on the 17th floor, is served by a butler who’ll happily serve you drinks up here.
Breakfast is from 7am until 10am, lunch is noon until 2pm and dinner is served up between 5.45pm and 10.30pm. Drinks are served in the bar from noon until midnight.
In-room treats can be ordered from the restaurant menu 24 hours a day.
Just a block from Central Park and walking distance to museums and high-end boutiques, The Surrey is all Upper East Side elegance.
JFK International Airport services most international and west coast arrivals and departures, and is 20 miles away. Several domestic airlines fly into LaGuardia Airport, just 10 miles away. Although close, travel times to and from both airports vary greatly due to traffic and time of day.
Penn Station, just 15 minutes away by car, is on 7th Avenue & West 32nd Street, and is served by Amtrak (www.amtrak.com).
With an abundance of taxis and public transportation options available, a car is not necessary. However, for those daring enough to brave city traffic, parking for guests is available, at $75 a day for cars ($85 for SUVs and four-wheel drives).
Worth getting out of bed for
Book a massage or facial at the ravishing spa – each treatment room has its own white-tiled bathroom, so you won’t have to see a soul en route to the massage bed. Ask the concierge to arrange a private tour of any of the neighbouring galleries. It would be hard to find a more cultured setting than Museum Mile – the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Asia Society & Museum are just a few of your neighbours. Madison Avenue is on your doorstep, so dedicate at least one afternoon to shopping, especially at the two big Bs – Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman. Hop into a private horse-drawn carriage and have a ride around Central Park. While you're there, see a concert at the Central Park Naumburg Bandshell.
One of the city’s best restaurants – Café Boulud – is within the hotel itself, so be sure to book in for dinner. For a meal with a view, eat at Aureole at the Bank of America Tower on 34 East 64th Street. The food is as seductive as the glamorous setting, with dishes such as pastrami pork-belly sliders, Alaskan black cod and New York cheesecake. Go celebrity spotting at Tao, a restaurant styled as an Asian temple, at 42 East 58th Street. You can eat in the third-floor Skybox, and look out over the entire restaurant, have some sashimi in the sushi bar, or sample delicacies such as lobster wonton with ginger broth and crispy orange chicken in the main dining room.
Ease tired feet and shopping-laden shoulders by staking out a nook at Alice’s Tea Cup at 220 East 81st Street. Try the café’s afternoon tea if you need a boost; there’s even a ‘wee tea’ for little Smiths.
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.’