Full-Fat Jazz Age Glamour
Redolent of Golden Age of Hollywood, The Chatwal Hotel merges Art Deco elegance with sleek touches of modernity and possibly gives you the quietest night in the Big Apple you can find…
Review by Winston Chesterfield
For native New Yorkers, Times Square is probably the most avoided location in Manhattan.
Relentlessly, eye-wateringly bright every moment of every day, its chaotic combustion of bewildered humanity, tacky eateries, naff souvenirs and a Blitzkrieg of digital screen marketing is physically exhausting.
As a result, many astute visitors to the city follow the advice of Manhattanites and steer clear of the Square – and a big chunk of the surrounding area. This means much of New York’s historic theatreland is increasingly portrayed as a no-stroll area. In fact, so maligned is the Square that as a regular, albeit foreign, visitor to New York, I feel a good deal of affection for it. Particularly some of the old buildings in and around it, like the theatres and the Knickerbocker Hotel.
One of my personal favourites, the Paramount at 1501 Broadway, is an Art Deco masterpiece that recalls Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’. Built at the height of the Jazz Age, and in the time of Prohibition, its Gotham-like upper tiers, with a giant four-faced clock and glass globe, used to tower over the rest of the Square.
When it was first opened in 1927, visitors to its observation deck, high above Times Square, would have been able to look east down West 44th street to see the top of a smaller, older building that housed one of the oldest theatrical clubs in the world: The Lambs Club.
Formed in 1874, the Lambs – named after drama critic Charles Lamb and intended as a social and professional organisation of theatricals – moved into this building in 1905 at the zenith of the Gilded Age. Over the following decades, the members log was inscribed with the names of Chaplin, Fairbanks, DeMille, Barrymore and Astaire. But their elegant clubhouse was also a huge star, and this Golden Age of Hollywood lives on as The Chatwal Hotel.
Designed by Gilded Age darling Stanford White, it has the façade of a robber-baron’s Fifth Avenue palace. A massive stone fireplace in the Lambs Club restaurant – the property’s homage to its theatrical origins – is another sign of the stately pretensions of the establishment’s original designs, and the heavy tastes of the turn of the century.
Refreshingly, the hotel’s interior uses no further cues of the Beaux Arts period. Thierry Despont, one of the very few designers allowed to go anywhere near the sacred Art Deco temples of Claridge’s, The Dorchester and The Carlyle, has crafted a cinematic environment worthy of a late 1920s Paramount film set.
There are other ‘luxury’ hotels in Manhattan that have capitalised on the revived interest in the city’s Jazz Age with early 20th century-style renovations, but these often feel rather half-hearted, watered-down; semi-Deco. The Chatwal is the full-fat version and gives the impression of being a guest in Louis B Mayer’s private apartment.
The reception area, with a giant clock and floor to ceiling glass-tube lights is a perfect example of this vision and investment. At the opposite end of what is a very chic but relatively cosy lobby is a bar. Chrome up-lamps look like giant martini glasses; sofas flanked alongside in the Odeon-style, a nod to cinema, sit beneath a giant Art Deco, ceiling-height George Braques-style painting of a New York building scene that looks like it belongs on the Normandie.
This delectable and historically faithful theme continues beyond the public areas. Along wide, deep carpeted corridors (which make the Chatwal a divinely quiet place to stay by Midtown standards) are the 76 rooms and suites of the hotel. Some of the latter have spectacular rooftop terraces, surely one of the most luxurious ways to enjoy the views of Midtown Manhattan.
However, the Deco design touches here are subtle; chunky leather wardrobe handles and a vanity desk that looks like an extremely heavy (and extremely expensive) steamer trunk give these private spaces a more relaxed sense of luxury. Whereas the likes of The Beaumont in London – the UK capital’s own homage to the Jazz Age and the Golden Age of Hollywood – use 1920s antiques in the rooms to make it look like a genuine stage set from the era, the Chatwal doesn’t try to fake it and, instead, embraces technology, and even throws in a mid-century design chair with a minimalist lamp.
This gives the rooms a much more contemporary feel than, say, the lobby, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s one thing to pass through a restaurant, bar or lobby that throws you back to 1925 – but quite another to live as though it’s the same era in your room. Despite being one of my favourite design periods, I think the genuine 1920s guest would take the Chatwal’s accommodation over that of the era.
Not only is the whisper-quiet air conditioning far superior to strategic placement of fan and bowl of ice, I also prefer the electronic curtain control (I’ve broken more than a few blinds in my many New York hotel stays), the Toto heated toilet (even though it is very ugly) and the luxury ‘minibar’ cupboard with its larder of nuts and snacks, sweets, chocolate and copies of F Scott Fitzgerald.
The bathrooms are in black stone with gleaming crystals reflecting light; the walls are entirely mirrored, chrome trimming is everywhere. There is something alarmingly Norma Desmond about the set-up. It screams vanity. However, though less in keeping with the theme of the Jazz Age – when most bathrooms would have been white, as they are now – they are large and astonishingly replete with towels (I counted above 15 in mine) and Asprey toiletries. A huge tub with side jets and a raindrop shower head the size of a car’s hubcap turns ablutions into an indulgence rather than an awkward chore.
The Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa is on the lower basement floor, accessed from your room floor by the elevator. Aside from the treatment rooms, there is a small lap pool (real five-star pools are gold dust in New York) and a gym, which I used for a morning workout. The boutique nature of the hotel is reflected in these facilities; the gym is small, and feels crowded with more than two or three people in it at the same time. The equipment is new, though and snacks and bottled water are provided.
The Lambs Club restaurant is attached to the hotel, run by Geoffrey Zakarian, who cut his teeth at culinary powerhouses like Le Cirque, Auberge de L’Ill and The Dorchester. The restaurant focuses on ‘Modern American’ cuisine – which translates as sophisticated pasta dishes alongside oysters, steak and lobster, though this is perhaps dismissive. To be fair, anything else would feel fraudulent given the history of the venue.
Sadly, I was too late in arriving to be suitable for dinner – and besides, I had the pleasures of New York’s bustling Midtown at my feet. This is, after all, the city that never sleeps. But sleep I did, and sleeping at the Chatwal is the biggest pleasure of all. The vast bed, the barely audible AC and the thick walls and carpet contribute to a feeling of cocooning.
Enquiries: The Chatwal Hotel, 130 W 44th St, New York, NY 10036, USA / +1 212 764 6200 / www.thechatwalny.com/