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.
After leaving the table to make an urgent call, one guest returned to find his half-consumed espresso missing. The waiter explained that he didn't want it to get cold and then replaced it with a fresh cup.
The perfection extends to the hotel's restaurant, Lespinasse, where Swiss chef Gray Kunz presides over the stoves. The high ceilings and soft decor are subtly reminiscent of a French château. Fixed-price menus cost $51 and $67. Some outstanding dishes include a taro-crisped salmon with syrah reduction and rack of lamb on a spiced eggplant tart with carrot emulsion. Be prepared. Kunz is one of the most talented chefs working in New York today.
The wine list is straightforward. Some interesting buys include a Château Woltner, Howell Mountain St. Thomas Chardonnay, 1990, $59, an Etienne Sauzet Bâtard-Montrachet, $219 and a Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage Blanc, Le Chevalier de Sterimberg, 1989, $62. Red wines include a Caymus Special Selection, Cabernet Sauvignon 1988, $105, a 1966 Mouton-Rothschild, $520, a 1979 Ducru-Beaucaillou, $83, and from Burgundy, a Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, Echézeaux, Vielles Vigne, 1990, $119.
After dinner there is, of course, more than one place in which to smoke a cigar. The King Cole bar, with its original Maxfield Parrish mural of the old king, is a lovely retreat (ask the bartender for the Dunhill humidor), and there is the Salon, just off the lobby, where one could easily sit for hours admiring the original furniture and 1904 fireplace.
It's nice to know that, at least at the St. Regis, cigars, service, fine food and elegant surroundings are aspects of lodging still worth the extra expense.
-- Michael Frank
Two East 55th Street at Fifth Avenue
Phone: (800) 759-7550 or (212) 753-4500
Room Rates: $350, standard double; $575, suite