I have long recommended the lovely Hotel Plaza Athénée, located between Madison and Park avenues on New York’s Upper East Side, but as it underwent a multimillion-dollar refurbishment last year, I decided to make an incognito inspection on a recent trip to New York.
The hotel’s overall aesthetic remains that of a European townhouse, with a black-and-white marble floor in the lobby, patterned carpets and paneled walls. All of the rooms have been refurbished in two color schemes: cinnamon and yellow, and gray with touches of beige and mint. The Grand Deluxe Rooms are the most desirable, with an average of 450 square feet. (Lower categories are significantly smaller.) These have attractive mirror-fronted closets that provide ample space, and generous marble baths that have been enlarged to provide soaking tubs, rainfall showers and dual sinks. Suites are individually decorated and vary in size from 675 square feet to 2,453 square feet for the duplex two-bedroom penthouse. Some feature glass-enclosed terraces with glamorous city views.
The Bar Seine is a particularly inviting spot for a cocktail, with a décor reflecting influences from Asia and Africa, while the hotel’s restaurant, Arabelle, now reminds me of nothing more than the lovely Le Cirque when it occupied its original home in the Mayfair Regent Hotel at 65th and Park. It is a quiet, sophisticated space with a gold barrel ceiling, dramatic sconces, paneled cream walls, crystal chandeliers and elegant, solicitous service. The menu offers inventive American cuisine, with the standouts from our dinner being a flavorful heirloom tomato risotto, and coriander-seared salmon with chili-glazed bok choy and jasmine rice.
Unlike some comparable East Side hotels — The Mark, for instance — the Plaza Athénée now offers a small spa with four large treatment rooms, one of them for couples. The renovated gym is small but well-equipped with treadmills, StairMasters and LifeCycles, along with free weights.
The location of the Plaza Athénée, one block from The Lowell, invites a comparison. Certainly, the overall aesthetics are different, The Lowell being evocative of a country house, while the interior of the Plaza Athénée displays a European urban chic. Rooms are of comparable size. The suites at both are spectacular, but most at The Lowell have the wonderful extra of woodburning fireplaces. In terms of dining, I give the edge to Arabelle at the Plaza Athénée over The Post House steak restaurant in The Lowell. Forced to choose, I personally would opt for The Lowell, but others will disagree, and I can understand why. What is certain is that the millions lavished on the Plaza Athénée have been well spent.
Hotel Plaza Athénée 94 Grand Deluxe Room, $745; Suite, $1,190-$4,000. 37 East 64th Street, New York, New York. Tel. (212) 734-9100.
The new 214-room Setai Fifth Avenue — part of the Capella group — seems to be part of a studied gamble, the developers presumably hoping that the allure of a Fifth Avenue address will overcome the deficiencies of its actual location, on a scrappy stretch of this famous artery between 36th and 37th streets. To be sure, the magnificent New York Public Library and the flagship store of Lord & Taylor are nearby, but most of the street-level shops in the area seem to cater to the heavy tourist traffic generated by the Empire State Building.
Arriving for a weekend, we also found the exterior of this new 60-story building rather odd. Manhattan’s cityscape is eclectic, but this contemporary structure might be more at home in Miami. Check-in was distant, and our west-facing Deluxe Room seemed to be targeted at the business rather than the leisure traveler. We appreciated the spacious dressing room and large, well-lit marble bath with a separate tub and shower, but ultimately, the only things that gave the room any character were a potted white orchid and a couple of brown-glazed ceramic vases. From a technical standpoint, the room was well-appointed, with an iPod dock and an espresso machine, but otherwise, it felt completely disconnected from New York City.
The hotel bar occupies an awkward corner space overlooking Fifth Avenue, and aside from a large, well-run spa, the best feature of this hotel is its excellent Ai Fiori restaurant, where chef Michael White serves up delicious contemporary Italian cooking.
Setai Fifth Avenue 84 Deluxe King, $940; Studio Suite King, $1,210. 400 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York. Tel. (212) 695-4005.