They skipped the bells, whistles and champagne last September when JW Marriott took over management of the Essex House, the gracious 1931 tower overlooking Central Park and operated most recently by Dubai-based Jumierah Hotels.
Last night they made up for it.
For three and a half hours, the ballroom was a party with, well, bells and whistles and champagne. Jon Bon Jovi, looking almost ageless in an unbilled appearance, sang six songs and declared he had stayed at the hotel “many, many times.” A phalanx of former Knicks, including current assistant coach Herb Williams, stood heads and shoulders above the crowd. Actors Danny Aiello (Moonstruck) and Brian Baumgartner (The Office) provided a dash of movie cred.
The hotel showed off its catering chops with one-bite party nibbles — lamb meatballs, shrimp tempura, blackberry jellies.
And in case you forgot The Great Gatsby is premiering in a little over a week, a specialty
cocktail called the Art Deco Daiquiri was the top pour (Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum, Cointreau, lemon juice, kiwi slices, cucumber) — though be fair, the Essex House is the real Deco deal.
Outside the ballroom the 509-room hotel looked spiffy, hardly a surprise. Jumeirah poured $90 million into upgrading the property during the years it oversaw it; Chicago-based Strategic Hotels & Resorts, the new owners, felt it necessarily to invest a modest $18.3 for branding materials, public space improvements and splashy new marquees, complete with the JM Marriott griffin, at the Central Park South and 58th Street entrances.
The lobby has subtly become more American, less Dubai. New high-backed white leather slipper sofas stand near the classic Deco check-in desk. Also new: lobby art created by a
quartet of emerging artists chosen by Christie’s, the hotel’s new arts curator. It’s nice to know the Essex House custom of featuring rotating shows of commissioned art will continue under the new management (Jumeirah kept an in-house curator on staff). The current works are on view through October.
My favorite grace note was a witty display of long-stemmed red roses arranged by uber-florist Jane Packer to recreate the hotel’s iconic ESSEX HOUSE neon sign on top of the building. It won’t last nearly as long as the sign, so I took a picture.
JW Marriott Essex House New York, 160 Central Park South; 212 267-0300.