128 West 44th St.; 212-764-6200; 83 rooms from $457; thechatwalny.com. No eco-rating.
It is hard to resist a hotel that offers to pick you up at the airport. Being greeted at arrivals by a driver holding your name on a clipboard is one of life's great little pleasures. When that driver is a solidly built Russian in a black suit and mirrored sunglasses who is driving a black on black BMW sedan, it is downright cinematic.
The leading man of mystery fantasy carries all the way to the hotel where a liveried doorman greets the car and ushers you into the art deco lobby. Oxblood chairs are arrayed around mirrored side tables and slender chrome accents reflect soft light. It's easy to imagine Katharine Hepburn having drinks with Fred Astaire in such a space. It may well have happened too. The building was formerly the headquarters of the legendary Lambs Club, America's first professional theatrical club that, since its inception in 1874, counted everyone from John Wayne to Woody Allen among its members.
Originally designed by Stanford White - the famed 19th-century architect best known for designing the Fifth Avenue mansions of the Astors and the Vanderbilts, among other notable buildings - the Chatwal is an art deco masterpiece. The hotel pays homage to its past in some very modern ways. For example, the elevators are equipped with video monitors showing the movie American Eve, which details White's tempestuous relationship with the model Evelyn Nesbit that ended in his murder in 1906. You'd have to ride the elevator about 120 times to see the whole film, but it works well in 30-second segments.
Thierry Despont, the same architect who helped restore the Statue of Liberty, was brought in to oversee the redesign of the hotel. It is a loving and masterful restoration that honours the art deco tradition and maintains historically significant aspects of the building's history: a plaque listing original club members, a 100-year-old mantelpiece, ornamental carvings. For all of its period glamour, though, modern touches like heated sidewalks outside and patios are thoughtful and modern.
At 400 square feet, my room (considered a Theatre Guestroom style) is generously proportioned and comfortable. The walls are covered in fine suede and the cedar-lined closets are wrapped in leather. The desk, designed to resemble an old travelling trunk, is also wrapped in leather and opens to reveal a lit makeup mirror. Clever.
The view looking north across 44th Street is fairly uninspiring, generic New York streetscape, but the great bathroom more than makes up for it. What feels like acres of black marble are reflected in spotless mirrors and the flick of a remote reveals an integrated 19-inch television screen. The Japanese Toto toilet, the Gulfstream G6 of toilets, has a heated seat and multiple jet functions and glows a soft blue in the dark, doubling as a nightlight. There's a walk-in rain shower, but not all rooms come with tubs, so request one if that's a priority.
From the bartenders to the bellhops, there's a sense that everyone involved with the hotel is genuinely proud of it. The electronic "do not disturb" and "please make up room" signals are infinitely superior to the old-fashioned handle tags and ensure that you never need to be bothered when you're trying to watch Jeopardy! in the bath.
Beyond the handmade Shifman mattresses and the Kashwere robes, the Chatwal has pulled out all the stops when it comes to amenities. Each room comes with a set of bespoke playing cards in a silver holder - card tables are available on request - and a backgammon set. In addition to docking stations and free Wi-Fi and wired Internet, there are laptops, iPads and pre-programmed iPods available at the front desk for anyone who forgot their electronics. Turndown includes complimentary shoeshine and butler service is offered in addition to 24-hour room service.
The spa offers a wide range of treatments, many of which are offered in-room, while the Infinity Saltwater Lounge boasts a hot spa, a cold plunge pool and a small lap pool that simulates swimming against a current.
From the moment it opened last autumn, the Lambs Club Restaurant became one of Manhattan's hottest restaurants. The elegant dining room, with its red leather and chrome chairs and banquettes, is lined with portraits of the theatre club's famous members. A crackling fire in a vast hearth anchors the space. Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, a celebrated veteran of New York hotel dining rooms, offers a snapshot of where contemporary American comfort food is at this moment. Heirloom beets in a bouquet of colours are joined by tender, mild stracciatella cheese and white balsamic. Meaty ravioli are filled with braised pork, peppery rapini and savoury Sardinian pecorino. Pink pistachios are incorporated into a honey sweetened cake and chocolate pot de crème is treated to a red-wine sabayon.
Even for hotel guests, securing a table during prime hours (any time between about 6 and 11 p.m.) can be a challenge. But there is often space in the mezzanine bar, where bartenders in spotless white jackets hand-carve ice for impeccable cocktails. Try the Gold Rush: a symbiotic blend of bourbon, lemon and honey. Much of the dining-room menu is available (including the excellent sirloin burger with gingered coleslaw), although fewer fashion editors will see you up here.
The Chatwal retains some of the clubby exclusiveness associated with the building's early beginnings: Guests feel like they've been invited into a private club that is equal parts discretion and glamour.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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