By Terry Trucco
At a glance: The Wales fits this cozily affluent Upper East Side neighborhood like a cashmere glove.
With high ceilings, carved woodwork and rambling hallways, it feels like a classic prewar Upper East Side apartment building. Forget flash: the vibe is old money, right down to the sensibly luxurious Edith Wharton sensibility emitted by the long, narrow lobby, wrapped in gold Edwardian-inflected wallpaper and crowned with a coffered ceiling.
For years the Wales personified the neighborhood’s earlier shabby/genteel flavor. But a 2009 renovation of rooms and the second floor lounges upped its game, and a polished look more in tune with the area prevails.
Think homey, if home happens to be Carnegie Hill, named for the nearby Andrew Carnegie manse, current home to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.
My favorite spot is the sprawling second floor Carnegie Lounge, a quiet, light-filled lair built for lingering with a numerous conversation areas outfitted with sofas, club chairs and tables. The room all but screams curl up with a coffee or tea (complimentary) and a book. But of course screaming is so not the Wales’ style.
Bonus: The roof garden, outfitted with teak benches, market umbrellas and superb views of Central Park (and numerous rooftop water towers), is a great place to catch a few urban rays, sip a glass of wine at sunset or nibble a cupcake from Yura’s, the high-end deli across the street.
Rooms: The smallest are extremely small (full beds). But the next level — not-too-small (queen beds) — should appeal to two people who don’t plan to spend much time in the room.
Standard rooms, spruced up in 2009, are well maintained, and the one I saw was pretty, with mismatched traditional wood furniture, a more contemporary club chair and a turn-of-the-previous-century charm (I love the deep window frames and handsome painted wood paneling). The bed, dressed completely in white, nestled against a sleek fabric headboard. The triple-dressed windows – wood Venetian blinds fronted by white sheers and velvet curtains – looked onto a dark courtyard, but the pale blush tan walls, slightly darker moldings and light carpeting felt cheery. The flatpanel TV hung on the wall over a classic wood desk.
But the renovated bathroom was spacious and sparkling, with fresh white tile in a classic pattern, pale blue walls above the tile wainscoting, a pedestal sink and a large stall shower fronted in clear glass.
If you crave space or are bringing the family, spring for a suite on a high floor. The prettiest have Central Park views, largish sleeping areas, and flatpanel TVs, with sofa beds in the living areas and hallways adorned with black-and-white photographs. (I liked the old-fashioned carved archway in the hall of one suites I saw.) And following a much-needed renovation they look better than ever.
Amenities: Pets allowed ($75 nonrefundable cleaning). Free WiFi. The fitness center is teeny with just the basics (treadmill, bike, free weights) but classy; when was the last time you saw a window roundel in a gym? Guest passes available for the nearby 92nd Street Y, outfitted with a pool and full-service gym. And I love the architectural drawings – and comp pencils, paper and computers – in the new small-but-stylish business center. Gilchrist & Soames bath products. Comp coffee and tea all day in the Carnegie Lounge.
Food and drink: Room service comes from Sarabeth’s East, the cozy comfort-food restaurant located on the hotel’s ground floor and justly famed for its eponymous homemade jams, muffins and cookies. (I swear by the pumpkin waffles and the green and white scrambled eggs.)
Also on the ground floor, Paola’s, an elegant neighborhood Italian restaurant, serves homemade pastas in a congenial, bistro-style dining room with a black and white tile floor and leather banquettes. The restaurant is popular with locals, and the food is good but rather pricey.
Surroundings: Upper Madison Avenue is smart, stylish and less snooty than a few blocks south. Private schools, restaurants and one-of-a-kind shops are nearby, like former actress Phoebe Cates’ kicky Blue Tree boutique and Feldman’s Hardware (Alessi teapots and Rigaud candles; it ain’t Ace). Manhattan’s uber museums — the Metropolitan, Guggenheim, Cooper Hewitt, Jewish Museum et al — are steps away as is Central Park. Also nearby is Mount Sinai Hospital. The subway is a hike, but the bus stop is a block away.
Back story: Built over 100 years ago, the Wales started life as the Hotel Chastaigneray, a way station for tycoons, flappers and war heroes (as in World War I). As in many vintage buildings, a staircase with marble steps and an ornate wrought iron banister connects all the floors. Spruced up in the 1990s, the hotel was renovated top to toe in 2003 (bye-bye chintz, hello neutrals).
Locals use the Wales as a spare room for newly separated spouses or relatives in town for weddings or bar mitzvahs — or just a place to hang out. It is also a quasi dorm for those with relatives at nearby Mount Sinai Hospital and offers a discount for extended stays.
I loved visiting the second-floor lounge in its pre-renovation days when the centerpiece was a magnificent Steinway grand played nightly by a nearby resident, a former lounge pianist who conjured up anything from Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim to the Beatles. These days the piano is gone, and the lounge is more contemporary and less quirky, with sound system jazz instead of classical music. Gone, too, are the quirky Victorian-inflected paintings of the Pied Piper that inspired an earlier iteration of the room decor (and name). But it’s still a pleasant surround, and the hotel effortlessly fits into the 21st century.
Keep in mind: Standard rooms face an interior courtyard and are tiny and dark. The hotel is old with small elevators, narrow staircases and window air-conditioners.