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LUXURY HOTELS: The Surrey, New York, USA
Style: Coco Chanel's boudoir meets street chic
Scene: Upper East Side designer shopping and Central Park stroll
Seen in the lobby: Well-heeled businessmen and nipped-in wives
 
In Salon 1006 the lines of a poem, elegantly embroidered in black, scroll along the taupe linen of a window bench seat cushion. "Only here among the crowds can you find rest nestled up above the park deep in the city..." they hum.

Freshly shuttled up from downtown Manhattan, I ponder this post-post-Orwellian phrase. If The Surrey is set up to give you anything, I decide blinking into the stillness of 76th Street below, it is luxury in peace. Here, on the Upper East Side, the beast of Manhattan traffic has been tamed. The footpaths allow an indulgent amble. Designer boutiques, like Caroline Herrera, cater (almost) just for you. Central Park is a skip down the street.

I can imagine that if you've done New York and have friends that live in this part of town, then this sort of quiet freedom will thrill you.
 

the surrey bar pleiades  tom mcwilliam
the surrey bar pleiades  tom mcwilliam
presidential suite sitting area  tom mcwilliam
surrey  bedroom   tom mcwilliam
the surrey  penthouse suite  living room   tom mcwilliam
the surrey  lobby  tom mcwilliam
the surrey exterior   tom mcwilliam

 
The recently remade and just-reopened Surrey has retained its discreet Beaux-Arts entrance. An intimate affair, it is easy to envisage you are being given a passport into the pampered world of the uptown residences that surround it. Inside, the original deco features have been shimmied over by name interior designer Lauren Rottet who channels Coco Chanel calm in ecru, black, silver, grey and coffee. There are just enough twists in details and furnishings to cause flickers of excitement, but their effect still seems to say do not disturb.

I make this snap-judgement as soon as I step into the lobby. Directly ahead an ornate, custom designed armoire in metallic silver has been graffitied by London-based Swedish duo Jimmie Martin. Rather than squealing punk, it oozes a quietly dynamic chic into the otherwise mild surrounds. The armoire, I am told, is destined to become a boutique lobby shop for products. What at first looks like a scribble of grey mosaic tiles takes up a large rectangle of flooring in front of the long hand-tooled leather reception desk. But soon my eye rearranges them to reveal a pattern inspired by a classic antique oriental rug.

In the rooms, it is Rottet's eye for the small details - hand-painted armoires, personally sourced artworks - that saves the décor from slinking too quietly into noiseless elegance. The dominating feature in my room is the Dux bed. Mounted with a hillock-size pile of pillows, even in rooms that are New York apartment large, with footprints starting at 350 feet square (32.5 metres square), its presence is not unpleasantly inescapable - even if I do almost require a small step-ladder to leap into it.

Rivalling the bed for relaxation is the in-house spa. Designed in consultation with the marvellous spa director Cheryl Jacobs, this cocoon of calm shifts you through a somnambulistic reality that begins with a cup of loose leaf tea. Treatments feature Darphin or Australian/Aboriginal Li'Tya products (luxe out on the 180 minutes 'Dreaming' top-to-toe massage and overhaul) and can be personalised. Lie back solo or couple up and experience Jacobs' own favourite design element - a double rain shower with bench seat.

The Rooftop Garden terrace is still a construction site when I go to view it, but even in this naked concrete state I can see it is going to be a special place, exclusive to guests and, in the tradition of the old hotel, to local residents. Staring out across to Central Park and straight back to the silent skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan, I contemplate a future-time here with Cliquot at sunset.

It is chef Daniel Boulud's name and food that largely draws locals and outsiders into The Surrey. In the morning, Café Boulud is a breakfast zone for hotel guests and power-meeting locals. I overhear a matron lamenting to her girlfriends about the standard-issue letter of thanks she received for her two million dollars donation as I plunge a fork into pillowy mounds of scrambled eggs. Waterless eggs are my hallmark of a great restaurant. When I mention this to the head waiter he tells me I can order them creamed with truffle oil for lunch.
 
..an ornate custom designed armoire in METALLIC SILVER has been GRAFFITIED by London-based swedish duo Jimmie Martin

At night, Bar Pleiades, camped on the other side of the lobby, parlays little savoury or sweet mouthfuls from Café Boulud. It doesn't take long to discover that it largely is operating like a holding zone for pre-dinner guests. Looking around I can also see that the bar also brilliantly gives full flight to Lauren Rottet's design fetishes.

Here, tables and the back of bar chairs are graffitied with numbers. They make for easy meeting points - "I'm sitting in chair number three at the bar". An interactive video piece by South African artist William Kentridge plays on a wall, while in the back area a taupe coloured Chanel-style padded wall features in a jewel-box alcove 'unofficially reserved' for guests of eight.

The sleek black-clad bar attendant has already worked out I'm here solo. Sweetly, she ferries across a little paper cone filled with thin slivers of hand-cut savoury chips after serving me wine.

I am left free to survey the scene of early patrons - they seem mostly wealthy, worked hard here and 'made-it' locals. Designer Lauren Rottet's choice of uber low-lighting and the specially mottled, silver-aged mirrors that hang throughout the hotel sit well on us all.

Check in: 20 East 76th Street New York, NY 10021 Tel + 1 212 288 3700
Ultimate Luxury: Dux beds and walk-in showers. Ask about Salon suites with window bench seats to read and drift over New York rooftops
Most Indulgent Moment: Sipping a Sloe Gin Fizz on the Rooftop Garden at sunset.
Insider Secrets: Celebrities head for the spa room with the long white couch.
The Little Things: This is an area that could be worked on, although room key 24 hour access to the gym is terrific for jet-lagged insomniacs. Sunrise yoga on the roof top and rock climb runs in Central Park are also nice offerings.
Junior Luxies: More sophisticated than child friendly, although nearby Central Park should take care of tiring out tiny tearaways.
Dress code: Think Anna Wintour and Catherine Deneuve - classic cuts with statement jewellery.
Perfect luggage: Chanel diamond stitch travel bags.
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Hotels Link: www.thesurrey.com
Words: Prue Rushton 11/4/10
Photos: Tom McWilliam
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