The Surrey, New York: It’s all about the art, darling
Midtown is evolving and Lotte New York Palace is a stalwart of the city’s most iconic district, writes Susan Borham.
By Susan Borham | Published #69, Autumn 2017
In an elegant building, on a quiet, residential side street, The Surrey is tucked away from the tourist masses of New York City. Yet, set in the heart of the posh Upper East Side (where upper-class families – including the oil-rich Rockefellers, the Roosevelts and the Kennedys, and the Whitneys of thoroughbred racing fame – have made residences for generations), the hotel is just steps away from Central Park and the stylish Madison Avenue, and close to Fifth Avenue’s ‘Museum Mile’, a line up of the world’s greatest cultural institutions.
When you’ve chosen The Surrey for its connection to art and design, you’ll want to walk to the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters, the Frick Collection, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Gagosian Gallery and more. The American Museum of Natural History is within walking distance too, and if you like walking the streets of New York, you’re not that far from mid-town shopping like Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue.
In keeping with its residential location, The Surrey has the atmosphere of an affluent Art Deco townhouse – grand, gracious and glamorous. The rooms start at classic salons with fireplaces and continue with standard, penthouse and presidential suites.
The building started life as a modest but comfortable and lovely all-suite residential hotel in 1926. Upper East Siders might hole up there for a while after a divorce or put up long-stay relatives somewhere close to their own homes. At various times John F. Kennedy, Bette Davis and Claudette Colbert were residents of The Surrey. It re-opened in 2009 in its current, glamorous incarnation after what was reported to have been a $60 million reinvention to help the hotel compete with other luxury options in the area like The Carlyle, The Mark and Hotel Plaza Athénée.
Today salons range from 31 to 53 square meters with bathrooms that feature oversized glass-enclosed showers, Waterworks fixtures, speakers (so you can listen to the TV in the bathroom) and amenities by Diptyque. Some salons have fireplaces and private terraces. The suites start from 183 square metres with separate living, dining, and kitchen areas. Both salon and suite guests are granted access to the hotel’s private roof garden.
With 190 rooms, the hotel is considered boutique by New York standards. The lobby is fittingly intimate in scale. And the acclaimed Café Boulud downstairs will do room service if requested. You can also request a bartender to come up and mix your drinks in your room and there’s a free coffee and tea service in the lobby each morning.
When The Surrey reopened in 2009, its designers had drawn upon its residential neighbourhood, its previous life as a residential hotel and its proximity to New York’s most important art venues to create an identity that was all about staying in the grand Upper East Side home of a billionaire New York art collector. To do this, the refurbished hotel featured more than 30 serious contemporary works, starting with the Jenny Holzers behind the check-in desk and Chuck Close’s tapestry portrait of supermodel Kate Moss by the elevators. Other important works in the collection include those by Richard Serra and William Kentridge.
More recently, The Surrey has introduced an Art Expert in Residence – art historian Natasha Schlesinger – who is tasked with extending the scope of the collection.
Described as an Upper East Side treasure, Café Boulud is a more relaxed version of uber-chef Daniel Boulud’s famous flagship restaurant, Daniel. The haute nouvelle French cuisine at Café Boulud is as stylish as its location and tends to attract as many locals as hotel guests, along with the rich and famous.
Bar Pleiades, another Boulud entity and also just off The Surrey’s lobby, has an extensive wine list and has its nibbles supplied by Café Boulud. Guests interested in art and design can sit back in the Coco Chanel-inspired Art Deco bar and admire the William Kentridge and Richard Serra paintings on the walls. Les Pleiades, the legendary art world watering hole, once occupied the space where this bar is now.
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