At a glance: Feast your eyes on the waning days of the Carlton, a stylish, history-enriched property built in 1904 as the Seville and reopened (and renamed) in 2005 following a top-to-toe renovation. I like this place, and thought the designers, including architect John Rockwell, updated this historic property beautifully. Too little new stuff, and the place feels creaky. Too much, and it loses its character.
For 12 years the Carlton got it right. But in 2016 the hotel was sold to the Denihan Group, owners of the James, hip, contemporary boutique hotels in SoHo and Chicago. And on June 1, the Carlton officially became the James New York NoMad, even though the hotel will remain a hybrid — a CarJam if you will — until its renovation is complete sometime this summer. (Artist renditions show a sleek, clubby contemporary lobby in earth tones.)
The entrance will move from Madison Avenue to 29th Street. But for now you still use the old entry and behold a dramatic Rockwell creation, with a triple-height ceiling, lavish grillwork and plenty of sleek sofas and club chairs. The showpiece is a towering black-and-white image on a wall of a horse-drawn hansom cab, a nod to the hotel’s Edith Wharton origins (it used to have a waterfall over it but no more). I like the chic, shaded crystal chandeliers, too. The room was extremely quiet on my recent visit, as if awaiting its next phase (I was told it would become a retail space). But free coffee in the lobby perks things up.
Cool detail: The hotel boasts a magnificent Tiffany glass skylight in the second floor of the restaurant that’s not on view during renovation. Fingers crossed it’s included in the hotel’s new identity.
Rooms: For now you’ve got a choice. Though the website photos look appealing, we haven’t seen the new rooms. Older rooms are still available — at up to 30 percent less — and they’re crisply romantic. Skip the smallest if you can. They’re almost big enough for two (if you don’t spend much time there). On the upside, they have luscious ceiling moldings and sheer pull-down shades with elegant stenciled borders, same as the larger rooms.
But you get what you pay for. Larger rooms have the Carlton Closet — a witty armoire patterned with mirrors that echo the look of the lobby’s clever ultra-suede columns. Beds range from full to king, come dressed in snowy Frette sheets with a cornflower throw at the foot and are crowned by white tufted leather headboards. I like the crystal sconces dressed with sheer shades — and especially like the pliable bedside reading lights. I also applaud the chic little sofa and chair in the executive king room I saw.
Bathrooms, clad in subtly striped brown wallpaper and brown and cream granite, range from very snug to spacious, and are outfitted with handsome painted wood vanities and Molton Brown toiletries (neat perk: yuan zhi sleep mist to spray on your pillow). Most have tub/shower combos, while a few just have showers.
Ask for a room with a view of the Empire State Building.
Food and drink: The area abounds with good restaurants, and Grubhub provides in-room delivery. A new flagship for the popular Italian restaurant Scarpetta is set to open in October.
Amenities: Flatpanel LG TVs and iHome players and chargers. Free WiFi. The fitness center is being renovated (guests get free passes to Crunch, a nearby gym). Pets up to 25 lbs. allowed ($50 cleaning fee). Molton Brown bath products.
Surroundings: A boring block but the area, dubbed NoMad (north of Madison Avenue Park) is newly almost-hip. It’s nicely situated if you need to get downtown (SoHo, Nolita, Tribeca, the Village and the Financial Distrist, et al) or to Midtown. The Empire State Building, Morgan Library, Madison Square Park, lower Fifth Avenue shopping, Flatiron building and the Fashion Institute of Technology are all a short walk away. Madison Square Garden, Macy’s and Times Square and the Theater District are slightly farther afield as are Grand Central Terminal and Fifth Avenue stores. Bus stops are steps away and the nearest subway station is a short walk.
Back story: In a previous life, this was the Seville, an elegant 1904 hotel whose fortunes rose and fell with those of the city. By the early 1990s, it was rundown and scuzzy, a prime candidate for an extreme makeover. The ground floor was gutted, the lobby was moved from 29th Street to its current spot on Madison Avenue, and uber hotel/restaurant architect David Rockwell was recruited to design the premises. Best of all, the renovation unearthed a stained glass dome, believed to be by Tiffany — a smoke-stained, broken, boarded up wreck that was restored to showpiece glory. Several years – and $60 million – later the renamed Carlton on Madison Avenue opened. Rooms retained the original dimensions but with new bath fixtures and heating (radiators be-gone). Along the way Carlton joined Marriott’s Autograph Group collection of historic hotels. But in 2016 the hotel was sold to the Denihan Group. Marriott points ended on May 31, and as mentioned above, the hotel became the James New York NoMad on June 1. In the meantime, the lobby, restaurant and the remaining untransformed rooms are undergoing dramatic changes.
Keep in mind: Unless renovation changes things, hallways are labyrinths, and the hall floors leading to the rooms are uneven. Interior rooms on low floors can be dark. Construction is underway on the ground floor as the lobby is moved and the public rooms redone. I didn’t hear much noice when I visited, but be forewarned.