AUTUMN IN NEW YORK
The Lowell makes it easy to take a juicy bite from The Big Apple’s best offerings.
Written by Bridget Williams
There are many reasons to visit New York City, and I have two: Amateur Night at the Apollo and Central Park. For my most recent sojourn, which included a stay at The Lowell (lowellhotel.com), I couldn't have gotten much closer to Central Park than if I pitched a tent under one of its 18,000 trees. And, if perks rather than parks are more your thing, you're a Birkin's-throw away from Hermès' Madison Avenue flagship.
Walk just a little further for an actual breakfast at Tiffany’s at Daniel Boulud’s Blue Box Café on the fourth floor of the exquisitely renovated Landmark building on Fifth Avenue, which reopened to great fanfare this past April. Waiting to be discovered among its ten floors are a high jewelry workshop and an Audrey experience, where you can marvel at how teeny tiny Ms. Hepburn’s waist had to be to fit into that iconic Givenchy gown.
Nestled on a tony tree-lined Upper East Side block dotted with brownstones and offering the chance to rub elbows with neighbors counted among the world's wealthiest (a nearby nine-bedroom townhouse was on the market for $28 million), the Lowell, one of the last privately owned hotels, was practicing stealth wealth long before it became a buzzword.
Stepping down into a small marble-floored vestibule that provides access to the chic Jacques Bar on the left and the hotel's reception room on the right, we were immediately entranced by the aroma of fresh flowers. Purpose-built as a 17-story hotel that opened in 1927, notable features of the 74-room property include rooms with wood-burning fireplaces and furnished terraces, a rarity among NYC hotels. The Lowell's most recent $25 million renovation, overseen by current owner Dina De Luca Chartouni, and unveiled in 2017, cemented its consistent placement atop major travel magazines' lists of the world's best hotels.
Los Angeles-based interior designer Michael S. Smith devised the property's eclectic interior design scheme, imparting a uniqueness that looks like it was collected over time. Though it is as impeccably and elegantly outfitted as the rest of the property, guests generally don't linger long in the small lobby, preferring instead to seek repose in large and luxurious guest rooms and suites boasting loads of natural light and upscale amenities, including Chartouni’s own DDC28 bath amenities. The hotel’s residential feel made it fun to ponder living in the city for a hot second.
The army of attendants at the front desk projected the care and confidence of a team that's been at the helm for decades. The casual mention of a birthday resulted in the prompt delivery of a lovely card, a bottle of Cava, and a glass jar of colorful macaroons.
By and large, rooms at The Lowell are as much as 100 square feet larger than venerable peers like The Carlyle and The Pierre. Our 15th-floor suite boasted a separate living room with plush upholstery and an abundance of windows to admire the view of neighboring rooftop gardens, a Carrera-clad bathroom with a separate tub and shower, and an elegantly understated bedroom so quiet that each morning, we remarked that for the first time, the sounds of the city didn't suspend our slumber. Not having read a physical newspaper in years, I looked forward to the daily doorknob delivery of the New York Times and the luxury of time and comfort to engage in an activity that felt akin to firing up a record player.
Throughout our stay, I gravitated to the first-floor Club Room at the rear of the property, which is reserved exclusively for guests. Deftly toeing the boundary where gilt and mirrors traipse from gobsmacking to gaudy, I relished concocting my vision of who'd live in such a place. Classic design elements culled from Greek and Roman influence spoke to someone well-versed in history; a plethora of coffee table books hinted at continuous curiosity; art spanning the centuries signaled an openness to beauty in all forms; and a series of photographs of Marilyn Monroe surmounting a pair of leopard-print upholstered slipper chairs added just a touch cheekiness to indicate someone who didn't take themselves too seriously.
It's always a treat when I can share something new with friends who live in the city, and it was fun to invite them for a private apéro in our temporary haven. "How did we not know about this gem?" they exclaimed while surveying the space.
Arched French doors at the rear of the Club Room provide a view into the glass-ceiling orangery at Majorelle, The Lowell's elegant French/Mediterranean restaurant. Resplendent with a groin vault ceiling accentuated by French Art Deco pendant chandeliers and a graphic black-and-white marble floor, the space is punctuated by monumental and fragrant floral arrangements.
The lobby's grand marble staircase leads to the Pembroke Room, another of NYC's best-kept secrets. In this opulent, European-inspired salon, white-jacketed servers serve daily breakfast and weekend brunch for hotel guests. Also on this floor is a very well-equipped fitness room, which is quite large for a boutique city property.
With The Lowell located one-hundred-fifty feet from Madison Avenue and slightly more than one thousand feet from Central Park, we amply occupied our days by shopping and strolling, even walking all the way through the park to Harlem for our pre-show dinner at Vinateria (vinaterianyc.com), a lively Black-owned restaurant serving solid Italian and Spanish-inspired food without pretense.
While it's been a staple at the historic Apollo Theatre since the 1930s, I have been a fan of Amateur Night since college, when it would air on network television in the late night/early morning timeslot. I've attended in person four times, and I never fail to be entertained by the crowd and the rookie performers willing to go up against a "be good or be gone" audience whose display of dismay gets contestants promptly escorted by a tap-dancing "executioner" off a stage that's launched the careers of legends like Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown. For $30 a ticket, it's some of the best fun you can have on the cheap in the Big Apple.
Here Lies Love sits at the opposite end of the entertainment spectrum (herelieslovebroadway.com). We were introduced to this new David Byrne and Fatboy Slim musical by dear friends who helped bring the disco-bio about Imelda Marcos to Broadway. Flirting with being among the top ten highest-grossing shows since opening in July, we celebrated the show's success and a pair of milestone birthdays with a prix fixe French/Korean feast at LittleMad (littlemadnyc.com). The restaurant's austere interiors, with overhead linear suspension lights casting an LED glow above chunky concrete tables with bench seating, belied the nuanced flavors and beautifully presented dishes from Korean-born and New York-raised chef Sol Han's kitchen.
While NYC has long been known as "The City that Never Sleeps," it seems that COVID has left a melatonin-like effect on the fine dining scene. Running a little late for our 8:30 reservation, we sat down and found that we had mere minutes to submit our order to the kitchen at LittleMad before the cutoff. And even though we were the last to leave, we were happy knowing that our somewhat abbreviated evening could continue back in the comfy confines of the Club Room at The Lowell.