Is TripAdvisor’s 2016 Best U.S. Hotel for You? A Look at The Sherry-Netherland

No matter how you may feel about TripAdvisor and the reliability of its crowd-sourced reviews, it’s impossible to ignore “the world’s largest travel site.” And this year we wouldn’t dream of ignoring it: for the first time TripAdvisor users voted a New York City property the #1 hotel in the U.S.

The Vatican Library on Fifth Avenue.

The big winner is the Sherry-Netherland, and it’s an intriguing choice. It’s small — just 50 hotel rooms tucked inside an Art Deco apartment tower. It’s independent; though affiliated with Preferred Hotels of the World and the Mantis Group, there’s just one Sherry-Netherland. It’s not a bit trendy (and doesn’t try to be). And the sumptuous, one-of-a-kind lobby, modeled after the Vatican Library, is so private 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.

Though seldom among the usual suspects on hotel best lists in publications like Travel & Leisure, the Sherry cracked TripAdvisor’s Top 25 for the U.S. in 2014, got a nod again in 2015 and now this. I last visited the Sherry shortly after the newly restored murals were unveiled in 2014. It seemed high to time for a return, so when the hotel offered a celebratory tour, I signed on.

Griffins on the prowl.

The Sherry rises 37 stories over Fifth Avenue, and true to its Roaring 20s origins, seems to hum to a Gershwin score. 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. Hungry guests can order room service from Harry Cipriani, the cosmopolitan Italian bistro adjoining the hotel, and have 20 percent lopped off the bill when they eat at the restaurant during their stay.

If the Sherry feels more like an apartment building with a killer lobby than a hotel that’s because it is. Opened in 1927 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.

Putti on the ceiling.

The M.O. hasn’t changed much. 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 at $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.

Animal print suite.

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 sets itself apart. Owners get to decorate their properties, so no two hotel rooms look exactly alike. Room decor is vetted by Managing Director Theresa Nocerino and her team, who make sure each unit is up to snuff and that no one goes off the rails when decorating. “Guests often request a specific room, and we do our best to accommodate them,” Nocerino says.

I can see why. 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.

Desk lamp in a Gilded Era suite.

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.

The Taupe and White suite.

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.

A hand-painted room number.

Unifying these diverse yet collegial mini-worlds are thoughtful touches, like the hand-painted numbers on each apartment’s front door and the residential mindset. Guests get complimentary mineral water, soft drinks, newspapers, fresh flowers 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.

It’s a clever place. By being true to its origins while embracing 21st century amenities like free WiFi and a fitness center, the Sherry has tapped into three of the hotel industry’s biggest trends — individuality, homeyness and a celebration of locality. (You know you’re in New York the moment you enter the lobby even if it looks like an Italian villa.) The Sherry isn’t for everyone (if you’re deep into partying or contemporary design it’s unlikely you’ve read this far). But if you like what the Sherry is selling, you’ve probably come to the right place.

The Sherry-Netherland, 781 Fifth Avenue at 59th Street; 212 355-2800.