The Good Life

The Plaza, New York City

| By Michael Frank | From Winston Churchill, Autumn 93

There are few places more enchanting than New York City in autumn. Warm Indian summer days are punctuated by cool crisp nights, while the leaves in Central Park slowly turn to fire. To be a visitor at this time is to see the city the way real New Yorkers love it--dressed up in smart fall fashions after the hordes of midsummer tourists have gone back to the heartland. And to stay at The Plaza Hotel means choosing one of the city's prime addresses: Fifth Avenue and the southeast comer of Central Park, where you can find much of the beauty and drama of the Big Apple.

With a staff of 950, five restaurants (each with its own kitchen), a movie theater, massive conference and business facilities, 815 guest rooms and probably more crystal, gold leaf, mahogany, oak, silk, and marble than in any other hotel in North America, you cannot help but realize that staying at The Plaza is the closest thing to lodging in a real palace; only here you pay for the privilege.

Glance up at the vaulted ceiling of the Palm Court restaurant (an open dining area in the hotel lobby, which serves light meals and afternoon tea) and it's easy to forget you're in the United States--the elegance throughout this grand old hotel is patterned after European standards, a "copy" of what was never so bold on the Continent.

In your room the show that is The Plaza doesn't stop (after all, Donald Trump owns the hotel). Park-view suites are very elegant, with accoutrements ranging from plush to nearly garish.

Spend $3,000 a night for suite 317 and you can see the park from the bedroom; and from the bathroom there is a direct view of the Wollman ice-skating rink. Sitting up in the elevated hot tub with gold fixtures, it is easy to see the ducks floating on the pond just off Central Park South. The room features the usual amenities and also has antique furniture, as well as a walk-in closet.

For $15,000 you can check into the presidential suite. Have the chef cook your meals in the suite's kitchen and drink wine from the suite's 2,000-bottle private cellar (the wine, alas, is extra). You could even invite nine friends to spend the night (the room sleeps ten) and not feel cramped. If you want to sun yourself or just have a 360-degree view of the city, climb the spiral staircase (to yet another bedroom--there are three in all), and walk out onto your private deck. Look north and you can see Westchester county on a clear day, and to the south, Manhattan spreads out before you.

Of course, you might want to leave all this elegance--maybe to buy a cigar or two-which is why the presidential suite comes with a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce on call.

But leaving the hotel, no matter which room you stay in, seems almost unnecessary. One reason is the food. The Edwardian Room, the Oak Room, the Palm Court, and the Oyster Bar are all top-quality New York restaurants.

The dining is excellent in any of the above, but cigars are welcomed only in the Oak Room. Step inside and you'll know why. The place feels like a medieval castle, with massive hand-carved oak buttresses and cavernous leather chairs. This room, with its rich ambience, was meant for cigar smoking.

The food in the Oak Room matches the clubby atmosphere. You'll never find vegetarian tofu burgers on this menu. For lunch there is standard Oak Room fare-beef, seafood and the truly traditional corned beef hash with a poached egg.

As an appetizer, the shrimp cocktail is delicious, and the Maryland crab cakes are slightly spicy with seasoning that does not overwhelm the fresh crab meat. In addition to great seafood, the Oak Room serves black Angus beef--and without a doubt the best cut is the 22-ounce T-bone.

Finishing off with a slice of exceedingly well-made New York cheesecake, a snifter of Rémy Martin Louis XIII ($100) and a cigar from the Oak Room humidor can extend the lunch hour into midafternoon. But at The Plaza, one more puff on your cigar and another sip of Cognac is so natural that to do otherwise is almost a violation of the law that rules here--the law of luxury.

-- Michael Frank

The Plaza Hotel
Fifth Avenue at Central Park South
Phone: (800) 759-3000
Room Rates: single, $175; 1-bedroom suite, $355; park-view, $495.


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