Alone but Not Lonely in New York’s Upper East Side
If you have an eye for art, you’ll be ultra-stimulated at The Surrey. Expect all five senses to come alive at this urban oasis. You’ll hear the comforting voice of a liveried doorman offer you a heartfelt ‘welcome’ as you enter the foyer. Next, observe the scent of white lavender that is no accident. It’s The Surrey “No. 20”, Art Aroma’s boutique creation inspired by the exclusive rooftop garden and its sweeping views of the upper east side of Manhattan. The Surrey Hotel offers a feast for the eyes. It is an art lover’s retreat, boasting an incredible collection of contemporary art, an Art Expert in Residence and houses ArtMuse – NYC’s finest private curated art tour company. You’ll languish in the deliciously soft sheets on oversized beds fit for a family, and have your thirst sated with complimentary champagne generously offered at twilight.
You’ll be tempted to pause and ponder both artist and subject when viewing the knitted brow of Frida Kahlo in her portrait by Imogen Cunningham that hangs proudly in The Surrey Hotel, but I suggest taking a bite of The Big Apple and explore like a local, Sami-style.
After countless visits to New York, this was my first hotel stay on the Upper East side. As a solo traveller, I was a little nervous about staying in a hotel in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, but the moment I walked into my room at The Surrey Hotel, I was captivated by the most fabulous window seat with a simple beige cushion embroidered with the phrase ‘Through these windows lies the soul of the city, across Madison and down 5th Avenue.’ There was something about these words that instantly put me in an Upper East Side state of mind.
Nestled perfectly between fancy Fifth Avenue and the even more fancy Madison Ave, and only one block from famous Park Avenue, everything about The Surrey emanates the neighbourhood’s sense of style, class, and luxury.
Home to the wealthy and well connected, the UES has long been regarded as the pinnacle of posh. It’s the height of luxurious living, where every apartment building comes with a well-dressed doorman, where shoe closets are filled with Louboutins and Blahniks and where girls wear Armani to the gym. Think Gossip Girl’s Serena, or Cate Blanchett’s character in Blue Jasmine (pre-breakdown).
My room was simply divine. Much larger than the average New York hotel shoebox, with an enormous oversized King bed. It seemed ridiculously indulgent for a gal sleeping alone – I swear you could sleep a family of six in that thing! I was especially thrilled that the bench space in the Italian marble bathroom was more than enough to accommodate my extensive collection of toiletries.
Fresh air is a precious commodity that is hard to find in many New York hotel rooms, so I loved the fact that I could open my windows. Central Park is so close you can smell it! Maybe it was the euphoria of being in such a luxurious hotel but it really felt to me like the air in the Upper East Side was fresher and cleaner than the rest of Manhattan.
I was impressed when the front desk manager called my room after noticing I had the sniffles. Could they bring me some tea … or could concierge run to the pharmacy and buy me some medication? With personal attention to this extent, I found it hard to believe that the property contained 180 rooms. It felt more like a small boutique hotel, where every guest was treated like a friend in a private home … a private home with the most incredible art collection. Chuck Close’s 6-foot tapestry of Kate Moss hanging in the hotel lobby mesmerized me – a brilliant touch by Interior Designer Lauren Rottet during the hotel’s 60 million dollar renovation in 2009. There’s something oddly comforting about staring up at a giant makeup-free Kate as you wait for the lift. It’s a strikingly modern touch in an otherwise classic hotel, perhaps intended as a nod to nearby “Museum Mile”. The Met, The Guggenheim, and The Frick are all on your doorstep.
I adored the fact that I could leave the hotel and literally step onto world famous Madison Avenue. Sure I couldn’t afford to buy anything in the designer boutiques along this famously glamorous stretch of road, but just browsing made me feel like an Upper East Side Princess.
I prefer my shopping in the madness of the “take an additional 50% off the lowest marked price” sale a few blocks away at Bloomingdales. After an exhausting afternoon of trawling the sale racks at Bloomies, I was thrilled to be offered a complimentary glass of champagne by the smiling doorman upon my return to The Surrey. This simple act speaks volumes about a hotel that truly understands its clientele. There’s something especially satisfying about a chilled glass of bubbles (after a particularly rewarding shopping outing) to help celebrate your bargains.
I was also in raptures when the hotel sent me up a tray of chocolates and macaroons from the hotel’s prized restaurant, Cafe Boulud. Chef Daniel Boulud’s unique take on French food is regarded as one of Manhattans most celebrated dining experiences. So, to receive a tray of complimentary goodies from this Michelin-starred restaurant was gratefully and deliciously enjoyed.
When I asked the Concierge for a dinner recommendation somewhere local (nothing too touristy), he somehow managed to score me a reservation at one of the coolest spots on the Upper East Side.
The Arlington Club on Lexington was buzzing with a fun Saturday night vibe. Good food. Great people watching. While standing in the bar waiting for my table, I was almost knocked unconscious by the steady stream of Chanel bags being paraded through the door on the arms of local ladies. This place was wall to wall packed and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you every single woman in the place was carrying a jumbo Chanel bag. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. That’s the national debt of a small country!! Right there. In handbags, alone.
The Upper East Side is home to the ridiculously rich, but lucky for the rest of us, they also recycle. “A Second Chance” is a vintage and consignment store I found only 2 blocks from the hotel on Lexington Ave – a treasure trove of perfect condition, second hand and seriously marked down Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, D&G etc. I’m pretty sure I momentarily stopped breathing when I discovered an entire room of Chanel. Bags. Shoes. Clothes. Jewelry. All of which no doubt once adorned by the local ladies as they dined at The Arlington Club and then promptly discarded the moment next season’s range hit the shelves.
Everything about my stay at The Surrey was perfectly lovely, from the gorgeous window seat overlooking Madison Avenue to the exceptional service and the half price Chanel bags around the corner. For solo travelers looking for a truly “Upper East Side” experience, with all the trimmings, this is the place to go!