Sleepover: Gramercy Park, New York
Sunday 19 September 2004
With its address at the southern end of Lexington the hotel is wonderfully located - on graceful Gramercy Square Park, with its classically laid-out trees, walkways, fountains and flowerbeds. Although small, the park stands behind iron railings and is the only private park in Manhattan accessible only to those that live around the square itself. Ask the concierge and he will open the gates for you - a privilege that many others in Manhattan would dearly like to share.
Standing on a corner, the hotel has a handsome façade and a large awning announcing its revolving-door front entrance, a green-uniformed doorman always in attendance. Once inside, you will find facilities that are a little limited compared to some of its pricier rivals but that include four recently installed flat-screen computers for internet access and a new fitness room.
The comfort factor
This hotel has recently changed hands, purchased by hip hotelier Ian Schrager, and renovations are promised, perhaps next year. Fans of the Gramercy may not welcome the coming change. Its faded charm, and long-earned dignity, may soon be partially lost. But for now, rooms are a touch tired, even shabby.
There is still a slightly eccentric air about the Gramercy Park. The stand-offish registration staff stand behind a Wild West-style counter and dispense keys that are still really keys, not plastic cards.
The rooms vary widely in size but can be very large, with living rooms attached, and most are certainly bigger than any you will find in most other more expensive hotels. In rooms on the lower floors you may notice noise from the bar.
Bathrooms are charmingly old-fashioned, and the occasional chipped tile may remind you of home, but they are spotlessly clean. Don't expect fancy bath products or flannels folded into swan shapes however.
The food and drink
There is no restaurant. A basic breakfast is served downstairs but you are likely to seek better fare elsewhere. However, the hotel has two wonderful bars. The most famous is downstairs and adjacent to the lobby. It is theatrically furnished with velvet sofas and period armchairs. Candles burn in high candle-sticks and the walls are decorated with trompe l'oeil.
The roof bar has been transformed in the past two years to a must-be-seen nocturnal destination for an attractive, martini crowd. Light meals of the satay variety are served in the evenings. Choose to sit in the indoor section, bizarrely decorated in over-vivid jungle greens - the wallpaper is a shock - or step on to the wrap-around terrace outside to drink, gossip and smoke and take in the views of surrounding downtown Manhattan.
An eclectic mix of guests, from wannabe models to elderly folk who look as if they might be permanent residents. The Gramercy has a hard core of loyal returning visitors. Eleven-year-old John F Kennedy lived here with his parents. Humphrey Bogart married Helen Mencken in the roof garden in 1926. Babe Ruth, the baseball legend of yore, was known to get rowdy in its bar.
Contemporary guests seen enjoying cocktails at the Gramercy: Sting, Ethan Hawke, Peter O'Toole and The Clash. The actor and director Cameron Crowe chose the bar as the set for a scene in his film about not-quite-there rock stars, Almost Famous.
On the corner of Lexington and 21st Street, the hotel is a little south of Midtown, a short walk to Park Avenue South, Fifth Avenue and Broadway. It's a short taxi ride to the theatre district to the north or the SoHo shopping areas to the south and an easy walk south to restaurants on Irving Place, and to vibrant Union Square.
Wheelchair accessible. Pets welcomed at an extra charge of $20 a night.
Take advantage of pre-renovation rates. Rooms can usually be had for $170 a night, but you may pay more. Still a relative bargain. Room rates same for one or two people; $10 may be added for each additional person or child.
Gramercy Park, 2 Lexington Avenue, New York 10010 (00 1 212 475 4320; www.gramercyparkhotel.com)
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