Updated: Feb 04, 2015
id: luxurious grand dame hotel
cool detail: classic rotunda with murals
By Terry Trucco
At a glance: If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to wake up in a classic Manhattan apartment across the street from Central Park, look no further. This silky Fifth Avenue Jazz Age Tower feels more like an apartment building than a hotel, no doubt because apartments dwarf the number of hotel rooms.
Like the Gershwin songs it embodies the Pierre is stylish, polished and timeless.
Quiet, too. Even when a wedding or partners’ dinner spills out of the ballroom, the building feels hushed, the pace unhurried.
Following a grand-scale renovation the hotel reopened in 2009 with a high-tech climate system, 21st-century wiring and new guest room bathrooms, many enlarged.
The crisp black-and-white lobby channels the hotel’s Art Deco origins and serves up modest seating on velvet club chairs. An impressive collection of modern Indian artworks offers high-brow eye candy, a nod to the hotel’s current management team, India’s Taj Hotel Group, which oversaw the renovation. It’s not a lobby for hanging out, though stacks of the Financial Times offer sprightly pink accents and invite you to settle in, at least briefly. Mostly you see people on the move, from well-heeled international travelers to familiar faces (I spotted political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin recently).
The renovation ushered in notable changes on the main floor. Afternoon tea – and drinks – are served in Two East, a glamorous, windowless black and white bar carved from offices and the hotel library. And the rotunda, its walls bedecked with paintings of 1960s society figures, offers spill-over seating for the ballrooms (in other words, you can sit and check your messages in one of New York's prettiest hotel spaces, but you can't sip tea and champagne anymore).
Rooms: Fresh from the Pierre’s 2009 renovation and awash in pale hues and thick Bangalore silks, they’re a reminder that traditional rooms, well designed and smartly appointed, never go out of style. Typical of prewar towers, rooms come in wildly different sizes and shapes (don’t expect boxes) and vary from spacious to really-small-for-$500-a-night.
The two suites I saw were large, gracious and felt more like Fifth Avenue apartments than hotel rooms (besides a kitchenette, one included a sprawling terrace crying out for a cocktail party with sculptures, planters and a sliver view of Central Park).
Both suites, dressed in soothing shades of pale blue, celadon and cream, had separate seating rooms with plenty of room for a sofa and wood-frame side chairs adorned with silk pillows. A king bed flanked by polished wood tables anchored the roomy light-filled bedrooms. In one the flatpanel TV stood on an antique veneered table. Bathrooms, enlarged during renovation and clad floor to ceiling in polished oatmeal-colored marble, are lovely with a stall shower, soaking tub and flatpanel TV. Modern Indian paintings and prints adorn the walls.
The standard room I saw, one of the hotel’s smallest, was beautifully appointed but not very big. A long, narrow hall let to the sleeping area whose large window overlooked a dark courtyard, not Central Park like the suites. Though the marble bathroom sparkled it was snug with a stall shower but no tub. In other words, a very nice place to park the body guards or baby sitters while the family, CEO or prince, takes the suite.
Cool detail: Mattresses, specially made for the hotel by Sealy, are a mix of bamboo and silver steel.
Food and drink: After a false start with an American branch of London's iconic Le Caprice, New York restaurateur Siro Maccioni took over the space, aptly shaped like a strand of spaghetti, with Sirio Ristorante. Out went the black and chrome. In came La Dolce Vita-meets-Jet-Set browns and creams -- and Tuscan-inspired dishes cooked up by Filippo Gozzoli, a Cremona native with big-time hotel experience in Italy, most recently at the Park Hyatt Milan. The good-to-mixed reviews haven't stopped the place from turning into a lively East Side society lunchtime canteen. (Leonard Lauder and Amy Fine Collins sat at the two tables sandwiching mine on an autumn day.) My Insalata di Granchio salad, well stocked with Maryland crab, melon confit and tomatoes, was appetizing, not too caloric and at $39, pricey.
Two East, the hotel's stylish bar and lounge, serves up adventurous drinks and nibbles in a serene, windowless black-and-white surrounding. The specialty drinks menu changes seasonally and has run the gamut of barrel-aged cocktails to Micro Mixology, trends rarely seen at luxy midtown hotel bars. The bar is quiet and sophisticated but not stuffy -- a winning combination, in other words.
Amenities: The plush fitness center features changing rooms with showers. A spa is scheduled to open in 2012. In the meantime, in-room Indian-inspired Jiva treatments are available. The public spaces feature notable modern Indian paintings from the Taj Paintings Collection; once a month private guided tours of the hotel’s art collection are offered by experts like Priyanka Matthew, Southeast Asian paintings specialist at Sotheby’s. Wellness cuisine menu available, complete with calorie counts, in rooms. WiFi ($15 a day).
Surroundings: The Pierre perches on Fifth Avenue across from Central Park – it doesn’t get much more blue chip than this. The Central Park Zoo is steps away as is Wollman Rink for ice skating. The Plaza Hotel with its shops and food court is also nearby. Shopping is tip top. Barneys is around the corner and Bergdorf-Goodman, Tiffany & Co. and assorted heavy-duty designer boutiques are close by as is the Paris Theater, one of New York’s last single-screen theaters (compete with a balcony). The area is filled with excellent if pricey restaurants. Lincoln Center is straight across the park, easily reachable by taxi or cross-town bus. Museum row – the Metropolitan Museum, Guggenheim, Frick Collection, etc – is straight up Fifth Avenue. Bus stops are directly across the street, and a subway stop is around the corner. And taxis, of course, prowl Fifth Avenue.
Back story: Named for Pierre Casalasco, its first managing director, this 41-story Georgian-inflected building stands on the spot once occupied by the mansion of Commodore Elbridge T. Gerry, grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Architects Shultze and Weaver designed the hotel in the style of a French chateau. Unfortunately, opened in 1930 on the heels of the 1929 stock market crash. Within three years, the 700-room hotel, fashioned “to create the atmosphere of a private club or residence instead of the average hotel atmosphere,” was sold at auction.
Casalasco stayed on as manager until his death in 1934, and the hotel proved popular with New York society. Still, Depression prices allowed John Paul Getty to buy the hotel in 1938 for a mere $2.5 million, less than one-fifth of its nominal value.
In 1950, the hotel was the first in New York with radios and television sets in every room. Nine years later, the Pierre became a cooperative, with the lion’s share of the rooms – including those with the best views – snapped up by the permanent residents. The rest of the rooms continued to operate as a hotel. Various management companies oversaw the property, including Britain’s Trust House Forte and Four Seasons, which oversaw a $15 million renovation in 1981.
By 2005 the hotel looked worn and outmoded. Under the management of India’s Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces the Pierre closed for renovation, reopening in 2009.
Keep in mind: Though the hotel overlooks Fifth Avenue and Central Park, the privately owned condominiums that comprise the bulk of the building score the best views.
What We Saw: