As New York icons go, The Plaza is on a par with yellow cabs, Woody Allen and the Statue of Liberty. And, like many of the glamorous ladies who lunch in the image-conscious city, it has undergone a facelift – costing $400m (£267m). The 101-year-old landmark was closed for extensive refurbishment by its new owners ElAd Properties in 2005 and reopened for business last March, with many of the main features opening gradually throughout last year.
The Plaza's grip on New Yorkers' affections isn't just down to the Beaux Arts splendour of its facade, however, or its location within a pretzel's throw of Central Park, but its rich cultural and celebrity history. One of the first scenes of Hitchcock's North by Northwest features Cary Grant being kidnapped from the hotel's plush Oak Bar. Truman Capote, meanwhile, hosted his legendary Black & White Ball in the Plaza's vast ballroom in 1966, and the hotel also provided the setting for the classic Eloise children's books about a girl who lives in a room on the hotel's "tippy top floor".
The hotel's painting of Eloise now hangs just outside the Palm Court, which has been beautifully restored, as has the Oak Room bar and the Grand Ballroom. However the more radical overhaul of the rest of the hotel has had a mixed reception. The decision to create 181 private residences was controversial, not least because the rooms with a park view were all subsumed in the revamp.
It feels as though the developers have tried to hedge their bets between old-world polish and modern glamour, and the result is a little ritzy in some places, particularly the new shopping plaza.
The decor in the corridors and rooms – replicas of Old Masters, gilt-edged furniture and cream carpets – although very smart, has an air of luxury by numbers. However, the plush surroundings of the Palm Court restaurant, complete with stained glass, domed ceiling and harp player, bestows the hotel's excellent breakfast – or high tea – with a sense of occasion.
Similarly, the calm atmosphere and natural light of the champagne bar, to the side of the lobby, makes it agreeable for a spot of discreet people-watching.
Alongside the new Caudalie spa and "retail collection" (otherwise known as a shopping area), one of the hotel's key boasts is of a "white-glove butler service", which I called upon only to have the room's Nasa-like "wireless tablet, controlling heat, light and entertainment" explained to me. This confusing system is enough to drive Luddites and technophiles alike into a rage that is only likely to be eased by a drink from the minibar.
The Plaza, Fifth Avenue at Central Park South, New York, US (001 212 759 3000; theplaza.com). As long as you don't mind other tourists or hanker after a more hip, downtown vibe, the Plaza enjoys a dream location across the road from the south end of Central Park, on the corner of Fifth Avenue. It's particularly handy for shopping, with Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany, Saks and Barneys all within five minutes' walk.
There are 282 rooms – including 102 suites – all huge by New York standards. My room consisted of a king-sized bed, writing desk and chair, armchairs and coffee table, and there was a good-sized en-suite bathroom with a bath and shower. The bed, with pristine sheets and pillows that melt into shape under a weary head, was very comfortable. The decor – used in the background of many fashion shoots – aimed for Louis XV grandeur, and achieved a fairly successful pastiche.
Freebies: Miller-Harris toiletries.
Keeping in touch: Every room has a direct-dial phone and expensive high-speed internet access ($14.95/£11 for 24 hours). Wi-Fi access is also available in the lobby, charged at the same rate.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Plaza Rooms start at $845 (£563) per night, room only.
I'm not paying that: Also at the foot of Central Park is the Art Deco Jumeirah Essex House (001 212 247 0300; jumeirahessexhouse.com), where doubles start at $320 (£213), room only.