North by Northwest, one of my favorite movies, was on television recently. Which got me thinking about the United Nations General Assembly Building, a magnificent international style classic just seven year old when the movie was released in 1959. Which got me thinking about the Millenium UN Plaza, the once-gleaming, twin-towered hotel designed by architect Kevin Roche and planted across the street from the United Nations in 1976.
The 40-story hotel looked shopworn when I visited a while back. But that was then. Last fall the hotel unveiled the $30 million renovation of its West Tower consisting of 129 rooms, 25 suites and a new club for guests perched on the 30th floor.
To underscore the changes, the hotel slimmed down – and capped up — its name to become ONE UN New York, a less-corporate-sounding nod to its One UN Plaza address. I stopped by for a look.
Roche didn’t design the General Assembly Building, but he worked in the planning office of the United Nations Headquarters early in his career. The minimalist hotel tower he created
two decades later with its shimmering glass and metal facade stands across from the UN as a worthy foil, one with a dash of disco flash. A police dog prowls the front door, sniffing every bag that enters (another reminder you’re in the shadow of the UN).
The lobby, a High 70s hall of mirrors and green marble awaiting a redo sometime this year, still makes me want to hum Donna Summer’s greatest hits. But it’s been tweaked with sleek sofas in the sunken seating area and a smart new grab-and-go Café stocked with Illy coffee and agreeably priced, pre-fab salads, sandwiches and cupcakes you can eat in the lobby or take upstairs to sidestep room service.
A marble-encased alcove leads to the West Tower elevators, which swoop you up to the 29th floor. Guest rooms begin here, and Roche endowed them with two blessings – generous size (the smallest are 367 square feet) and edgy shapes (we didn’t see any obvious squares or rectangles).
The suites I saw resembled small apartments – and a not-so-small apartment in the case of
the duplex we visited. Devised by French designer Didier Gomez, rooms are contemporary and comfortable with sufficient edge to stave off visual boredom but not enough to offend.
The clean-lined furniture rich in mid-century inflections looks thoroughly at home in mid-century rooms outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows, some sharply angled. And while the white walls are almost devoid of ornament, riotously patterned carpeting that calls to mind giant Zen stones is a reminder that the floor is a fifth wall.
In the sleeping area, a cocoa-colored accent wall creates a serene backdrop for the simple
white-sheeted bed. The flatpanel TV is angled in front of the window for in-bed viewing.
Bathrooms I saw were big, up-to-date and inviting, with angled soaking tubs and sleek toilets with squared edges.
International delegations will no doubt feel at home here but so should families (the hotel features a pool and tennis courts). Guests who spring for the West Tower also can visit the Skyline Club, which serves up a comp continental breakfast, evening cocktails and a spacious sitting area with postcard views of the UN.
Indeed, views are a notable perk, whether from the club or the rooms. Yes, the hotel all-but-hugs the East River making points west of the United Nations a trek. But book the right room and on a clear day you can see all the way to the top of Freedom Tower at the tip of Manhattan. Or you can gaze at the spire of the Chrysler Building. Or the movie buff in you can pretend you’re Cary Grant and look onto the big blue tower where Lester Townsend assembled the General Assembly — and where Ban Ki-moon assembles it now.
ONE UN New York, One United Nations Plaza at East 44th Street; 212 758-1234. West Tower rooms from $380, East Tower (unrenovated) rooms from $220.