19 OCTOBER 1991, Page 32


Now the platinum age of the social X- ray is over, New York is no longer the proper subject of New Yorkers. The only thing they'll be talking about these days is how to get out of the city. For the gracious folk no longer feel safe in their interior- decorated Park Avenue duplexes, and even New Jersey is acquiring a certain cachet. But this is the problem: the only place to be in Manhattan is in a hotel, and here your native New Yorker is at a disadvan- tage; for visitors, however, it's a different story. And, let's face it, Americans give great hotel. Whither thou goest, there is room service, my favourite two words in the English language, and even the lowliest bellman always makes you feel as if waiting on you was a rare and cherished honour. Yup, I'll take Manhattan.

While the Plaza, the Pierre and the Wal- dorf Astoria, all have their champions — and I wouldn't exactly turn any of them down — for me the perfect Noo York trip is spent at the Carlyle or the Royalton. The Carlyle is not the most expensive of the smart New York hotels (single rooms are from $250 a night, doubles from $275 and suites from $500) but it is — and hell, Julie Andrews stays here when she's in New York — it's most civilised. Americans think of it as a very British kind of a hotel, and it's true it does have the hushed elegance of the Connaught but without its intimidat- ing pomp. Bedrooms are decorated in English country-house style, but only up to a point: gracious chintziness, maybe, but not death by cabbage roses. There's a fax machine in every room and the best soap in the world. Never mind that one of Joan Collins's beaux once complained that it smelt of a 'Moscow elevator': I could think of staying here for that waxy yellow cake infused with Jasmine alone. Your room- service tray comes humped with silver


take Manhattan

Nigella Lawson on the best places to sleep and eat in New York

domes, Bobby Short still tinkles melodious- ly away in the evenings and Sunday brunch is, as they say in these parts, although per- haps not in this refined location, to die.

Nobody, but nobody, my dear, stays at the Algonquin anymore: smart money is on the place opposite. Set up by Steve Rubel! and Ian Schrager (the brains, if that is the word, behind Studio 54) and designed, within an inch of its life, by the super-hip Philippe Starck, the Royalton has become something of the Conde Nast canteen. And, as they figure over here, if it's good enough for Vogue and Vanity Fair, why, it's more than the rest of us deserve. The dimly lit interior means that life in the lobby, all moody blue and spiky aluminium, is seen as though permanently through dark glass- es, and since most habitués are already in shades, watch out for stumbling fashion vic- tims. Mao-jacketed members of staff aspire touchingly towards European existentialist chic, but because they're American you don't get the surliness that goes with it: that is to say, as often as not they forget themselves and toothily express the wish that you have a nice day now.

Rooms (single from $210, double from $235) have an austere glamour, though if you want more glamour than austerity save up for a junior suite (from $325) which gives you a king-size bed, elegantly clad sofa, 5ft round bathtub and a fireplace. For some reason, the Royalton hasn't yet got a licence to bring alcoholic drinks up in room service, though the bellman can bring you drinks in from outside.

Breakfast is spectacular — do not leave without trying, at least once, their banana and walnut waffles — and the '44' Burger is the best hamburger I have ever, ever had. The restaurant (see review, over) carries over the corporate image of 'hotel as the- ater': it is a cool place to be, but don't let that put you off.

For cut-price chic go to its sister hotel, the Paramount, in the theatre district. Sin- gle rooms start at $95, doubles at $145 and suites at $300, and I can't think of any- where in London you could stay with half the élan at even twice the price. For some reason, although there's a bar in the lobby, you can't order alcoholic drinks in the restaurant, but it's a zippy place to sit after the theatre and the cakes are wonderful, which is not altogether surprising since there's a branch of Dean & Delucca — the Village food shop to end all food shops — down in the entrance. Very beautiful, and very New York: if it aims to be more of a happening than a place, then it succeeds beautifully. For the young and hip-at-heart.

The hotels above are where to stay if you have completely free choice; if the compa- ny's paying, then the chances are you'll be forced into the New York branch of one of those hotel chains that gives corporate rates. Choosing between a Hyatt and an Omni and a Sheraton and a Mariott and


the rest is, at best, a rather academic exer- cise: all offer much the same basic luxuries at much the same price. (Most also do ridiculously cheap two- and three-day pack- ages at the weekends when the business- men have gone back to Boise and Debuque.) Some tips though: the best busi- ness rooms are secreted in the West Tower of Hyatt's UN Park-Plaza, where they still have old fashioned apartments at hotel room prices. They were built for those UN diplomats who, Hyatt HQ theorised, would need to stay for weeks at a time and there- fore need more than just a bedroom. Although the hotel is as popular as any not least because of its restaurant (see next col- umn ) and its magnificent tower views over Manhattan and the river, the long-term trade never materialised. The rooms are massive and decorated in a chic Sixties, cheery style with the sort of kitchenettes in which Doris Day would cook for Rock Hudson. It's all the sadder, then, that Hyatt HQ is gradually converting the rooms into the standard veneered-chipboard and indi- rect lighting jobs you can find in almost any hotel. The views, at least, are unchange- able. The starting price for a room is $225, corporate rate, $260 standard rate.

The Marriott Marquis, almost on Times Square itself, which is a recommendation or a warning depending on how you view these things, is what started the midtown revival a few years ago. This is conference City: you'll feel undressed without a badge Proclaiming that you're Hank Hankson III from Wichita Falls attending the National Wood-Pulp Technologists (North-Western Region) Annual Fibreboard Seminar and Dinner-Dance. But you're within walking distance of any major theatre (including the Marriott's own) and if you don't have one of the business-class rooms on the top floors (with access to the best of the all-day free snacks and papers business lounges) You can still drink and dine in unashamed tourist fashion in the revolving restaurant 40 floors above Manhattan on the hotel's roof. The price for a single room is $235, corporate rate, $270 standard rate.

The Carlyle, Madison Ave at 76th, NYC 10021; tel. (212) 744 1600; fax (212) 717 4682 The Royalton, 44 W 44th St, NYC 10036; tel. (212) 869 4400; fax (212) 869 8965 The Paramount, 235 W 46th St, NYC 10036; tel. (212) 764 5500; fax (212) 354 5237 UN-Park Plaza Hyatt, United Nations Plaza, NYC 10017; tel. (212) 355 3400; fax (212) 702 5051

Marriot Marquis, 1535 Broadway, NYC 10036; tel. (212) 398 1900; fax (212) 704 8930

You will probably find that all the hotels give much cheaper rates for weekends.