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St. Regis, New York City

Michael Frank
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

At New York's most expensive hotel, you get what you pay for. Despite the money, the St. Regis is, hands-down, one of the world's top hotels, and it has a very nice address--just off Fifth Avenue on 55th Street. And because the St. Regis maintains such a quiet, dignified, almost restrained air of perfect hospitality (true to its Edwardian roots), you can check in and forget that it's the 1990s.

The original St. Regis--built by John Jacob Astor in 1904--might have been called tired or a has-been seven years ago, before its much-touted, three-year, $100 million renovation. Reopened in September 1991, the hotel is an overwhelmingly attractive example of nineteenth-century tradition successfully melded with twenty-first-century expectations.

Check in at the front desk and you'll notice something odd. There's no computer. A giant, leather-backed book contains your reservation, just as it would have 90 years ago.

In your room, along with silk wall coverings, fresh flowers, 12-foot ceilings, understated Italian-marble floors and tiles, double bathroom sinks, Bijan toiletries (Tiffany toiletries in suites) and Louis XV-style furnishings, there are several phones. At least one of these phones (two in larger suites) is equipped with an LED screen that displays instructions and messages in six languages. From the phone you can control all room lighting, the temperature, the television, hook up your laptop computer and even make local calls--for free. (Of course, the phone is also an alarm clock.)

Which brings us to value. Grab some juice from the minibar, make reservations for the Philharmonic and then call the butler (there's one on every floor, and he or she always speaks your language, whether it's French or Japanese) for coffee. Now check your bill. No charge. If you happen to be in your room at 4 p.m., tea, cakes and fruit arrive gratis.

And let's just say you buy those tickets, unpack your suit and it needs to be pressed and back within two hours. Don't look for an iron. Call the butler. It's free.

All this service just works according to the St. Regis' maître d'étage plan--each butler is responsible for his entire floor, managing everyone from housekeeping to maintenance, not to mention his guests. That cup of coffee was brewed by the maid on your floor, so it's actually hot.

Downstairs there are hotel entrances into Fifth Avenue boutiques such as Godiva Chocolatiers, Bijan menswear and Christian Dior. Down a silent hallway there is the Astor Court restaurant where the service--and lunch--exceed all expectations.

Carrot soup and a lobster club sandwich with basil mayonnaise went well together, while a Mozart piano concerto played softly enough to mute conversation at other tables. (Live piano and harp accompany the tea, sandwiches and scones at teatime.)

Aside from the ho-hum perfection of excellent food and waitstaff, there is always something more at the St. Regis.


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