New York Palace, New York

Fifty-seven hotels in North America and the Caribbean have earned the AAA's Five Diamond Award, but only one offers its guests a room service menu from Le Cirque.

Until recently, the New York Palace was known by the last name of its former owner, a certain "Queen of Mean" who was sent to prison for income tax evasion. Now owned by a certain "Richest Family in Asia," whose Sultanate occupies the island of Borneo, the Palace has undergone a complete refurbishment--guest rooms, public areas, dining facilities--that drips with elegance (not to mention money). But no amount of dollars can buy what the Palace has always had going for it: one of the best locations in midtown Manhattan.

Situated on Madison Avenue, between 50th and 51st streets, the hotel is a brisk walk from all the better stores (read: Gucci, Saks Fifth Avenue, Fendi, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany, etc.), a brief stroll from Rockefeller Center, and about 30 seconds from one of the most celebrated restaurants in New York City. Indeed, Le Cirque 2000, the "new" Le Cirque, which opened to great fanfare in 1997, is on the hotel's ground floor, in the 1882 Villard Houses wing. Yes those Villard Houses, the neo-Renaissance townhouses designed by McKim, Mead & White and the enduring subject of undergraduate architectural survey courses--even if restaurant architect Adam Tihany's treatment of the restaurant is in his own words "the equivalent of parking a Ferrari right in the middle." Somehow, the sports car melded gracefully into the New York Palace. Above the Villard Houses rises a thoroughly modern skyscraper; within them toils Sirio Maccioni's culinary crew. Four of the six townhouses that comprise the Villard Houses form a courtyard, which houses an outdoor cafe.

The hotel proper does, in fact, literally tower above the Florentine-style courtyard that carries guests into the Villard Houses. It's 55 stories high, and the best rooms are, naturally, up in the clouds. It was this structure that had preservationists up in arms during the planning stages. Now, many of those architectural conservationists would thank Harry Helmsley's vision, for the tasteful treatment of the tower ultimately paid for restoration of the Villard Houses, which had gone to seed over the years. Think of that when you admire the grand staircase in the hotel lobby or the Augustus St. Gaudens clock and fireplace.

The Towers at the New York Palace, an exclusive 175-unit "hotel within a hotel," offers privacy and luxury that is unrivalled in New York City. Let's face it: even very good--and very expensive--Manhattan hotels do not generally provide guest rooms that you would call large. The guest rooms--and the sprawling marble bathrooms--at the New York Palace Towers are large. With a multilingual concierge staff and 24-hour butler service--not to mention in-room everything (three dual-line phones with a fax machine that functions as printer and copier in every room) and the kind of linens usually found in Europe's better castles--the Towers can make even New York City feel like a relaxing place.

Lest you get too complacent in your aerial cocoon, the Palace recently opened a fitness center with all the latest instruments of torture. The 7,000-square-foot facility has what most respectable midtown health clubs have: a variety of cardio and strength machines, a selection of steam baths, massage and aromatherapy services, and, this being a business hotel, cordless phones to cinch a deal while challenging the Stairmaster. But it also has something other health clubs do not: an intimate view of its neighbor to the west, St. Patrick's Cathedral. --Michael Konik


Michael Konik is Cigar Aficionado's contributing editor.

New York Palace
455 Madison Avenue
Phone 212-888-7000 or 800 NY-PALACE
Fax 212-303-6000
Rates Deluxe rooms from $475, suites from $900