At a glance: The Sherry Netherland holds a distinction no other New York hotel has had so far: in 2016 it became the city’s first hotel to be voted the #1 hotel in the U.S. by Tripadvisor reviewers. Never mind that, like a hospitality Cinderella, the Sherry fell from its lofty perch at the stroke of midnight when the 2017 results came in (Tripadvisor currently r anks it as New York City’s #7 hotel). I can’t see much if any difference in the hotel in a year, but I always thought the proudly iconoclastic Sherry an intriguing but curious choice for the nation’s best hotel.
Rising 37 stories over Fifth Avenue, the Sherry’s Art Deco tower opened in 1927 and hums to a Gershwin score. It’s not a bit trendy (and doesn’t try to be). Its most desirable rooms face Central Park or south onto Fifth Avenue (or both if you’re willing to pony up). White-gloved elevator operators whisk you to your floor in a Gilded Era elevator cabin harvested from the Vanderbilt Mansion where Bergdorf-Goodman now stands. And the sumptuous, one-of-a-kind lobby, modeled after the Vatican Library, is so private that you’ll be questioned (politely) by a liveried porter if you venture in to check out artist Joseph Aruta’s exquisitely restored Renaissance-inspired ceiling murals, awash in garlands and putti.
If the Sherry feels more like an apartment building with a killer lobby than a hotel that’s because it is. It was designed as a pied-a-terre apartment tower that provided owners with housekeeping, a blue chip address and a kitchen that could cook up a banquet for 20 or breakfast for one.
The M.O. hasn’t changed much lo these many years. Each unit is a privately owned co-op apartment, whether it eats up half a floor or clocks in at 450 square feet. Owners can choose to use the property year round or avail themselves of the hotel option, occupying the apartment 30 days a year and turning it into a moneymaker for the other 335, when it is available to hotel guests at prices starting around $389 a night. It’s like a high-end Airbnb with quality control and twice daily maid service, your golden ticket if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to pretend you’re Katharine Hepburn in “Woman of the Year” and wake up in a swanky prewar apartment.
Not surprisingly, the smaller units are the ones you can book, though with rooms ranging from 380 square feet to a 1,350-square foot two bedroom suite they’re palatial by New York hotel standards. But here’s where the Sherry blazes its own trail: owners decorate their properties, so no two hotel rooms look exactly alike. The hotel’s managing director vets the decor to make sure no one goes off the rails when decorating. And from what I’ve seen, no one does. But taste varies. If you like Marriott uniformity — or edgy contemporary decor — the Sherry is not for you.
Rooms: As befits a luxury 1920s building, every room I saw boasted high ceilings, thick walls, beautiful moldings and marble bathrooms; several had fireplaces. But style is personal, and I clicked with some rooms more than others. At one end of the spectrum was a baroque fantasy suite with puddling curtains, gilded mirror frames, velvet sofas in the apricot sitting room and a pink marble bathroom. An antique writing table, lighted by a lamp with a fringed shade, cozied up to a window overlooking The Plaza hotel. It felt homey if home happens to be Fifth Avenue and you’re partial to the Gilded Age.
Its polar opposite, a sleek taupe and white suite, was a sedate Sherry take on modernism. Framed New Yorker covers hung near the Biedermeier-inspired mirror-clad writing desk. A pair of cushy club chairs faced a plush grey velvet sofa. Hot pink orchids floated in a cut crystal tumbler atop the mirrored dresser in the spacious bedroom. The roomy bathroom reminded me of a tuxedo, clad in black and white marble.
In the middle stylistically was an enormous suite that opened with a leopard-print bench in the entry, a hint of the animal motifs to come (a painting of gamboling tigers hung over the bed). In addition to a black and white kitchen with a mirrored backsplash, the suite boasted a fireplace with candles warming up the mantle, a crystal chandelier and two crisp orange club chairs across from the creamy velvet sofa.
Food and drink: Guests get a 20 percent discount then they eat at Harry Cipriani, the cosmopolitan Italian bistro next to the lobby that’s a fraternal twin to Harry’s Bar in Venice. Harry’s also provides room service.
Amenities: Rooms are outfitted with complimentary mineral water, soft drinks, newspapers, fresh flower and Godiva chocolates in a lavender Louis Sherry tin, a wink at the Sherry’s co-developer, the preferred confectioner of the Edith Wharton crowd. Free WiFi. Pets allowed.
Surroundings: A superb location if you want to be in Midtown. Central Park is directly across the street. Nearby blue-chip Fifth Avenue shopping includes Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany, Saks Fifth Avenue and numerous boutiques. Subways stations and bus stops are steps away, and taxis are usually plentiful.
Backstory: As mentioned above, the Sherry started life in 1927 as a luxury apartment tower that, at 38 stories, was the tallest in the world— and four feet taller than the Washington Monument. A showpiece from the start, it was designed by the Jazz Age architectural firm Schultz & Weaver known for sumptuous Art Deco beauties like the Park Lane Hotel, the Pierre and the Waldorf Astoria. Apartments came with service pantries outfitted with cutting edge heating and refrigeration equipment so food from the restaurant could be sent up. Apartments eventually became co-ops, a situation that remains unchanged, and each hotel room is privately owned. Though modernized repeatedly over the years, the stately building retains its Art Deco trappings. The latest nod to the past was the painstaking restoration in 2014 of 1920s artist Joseph Aruta’s original lobby murals inspired by Renaissance paintings at the Vatican (after the murals suffered water damage due to leaks in the 1970s, the walls were painted white, obliterating the art).
Keep in mind: Like all historic hotels, the Sherry-Netherland has its quirks and is not for everyone (if you’re deep into partying or contemporary design it’s unlikely you’ve read this far). No two rooms are alike, but the hotel says does their best if you request a specific room.