Little did journalist and railroad magnate, Henry Villard, know when he constructed his stylish ‘Villard Mansion’ more than a century ago that it would eventually be converted into an elegant hotel towering over Manhattan’s Midtown.
Such is the Lotte New York Palace Hotel which stands sentinel over St. Patrick’s Cathedral and along Madison Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets, gracefully blending the historic landmark mansion with a contemporary 55-story tower to offer a total of 909 rooms and suites.
The hotel has two entrances, one being a classic courtyard, the original Madison Avenue carriageway of The Villard Mansion, which incorporates motifs from the flooring of several 15th century Italian cathedrals, with guests arriving in the hotel through tall iron gates. The Courtyard also serves as the entryway to the ‘Trunk Club,’ an innovative styling and retail service which opened two years ago.
Arriving by cab, we entered through the second entrance on 50th Street helped by uniformed doormen into an impressive two-story marble lobby, a tribute to elegance, true to the conception of its original maker, in the neo-Italian Renaissance tradition, designed after the Palazzo della Cancellaria in Rome.
On the lower lobby are the hotel’s reception and concierge desk, as well as entrance to the Towers section, comprising the hotel’s top 14 floors, and the contemporary ‘Istana’ restaurant. Inevitably, one’s eyes gaze upwards, to a sweeping, regal staircase that leads to a foyer before splitting to the left and right, to the upper lobby and the Villard House rooms.
On the south, or 50th Street wing of The Villard House, are the former Gold, Gallery and Madison Rooms, which form Villard Restaurant, all replete with vaulted ceilings, chandeliers, gilded walls, and famed works of art. The former, accommodating 150 guests, lives up to its name insofar as it is almost entirely gold with gilded walls that rise 30 feet to a beautiful, barrel vaulted ceiling. Originally used to host Sunday afternoon concerts, it honors the power of music and drama through the lunette wall murals by American artist John La Farge. It is suitable for meetings and dining, and also offers a private bar.
Highlighted by a painting by Saint-Gaudens celebrating joy, hospitality, and moderation, the 900-square-foot, 60-guest Gallery Room reflects Italian Renaissance-style. Entrance is via large, sliding doors embellished with an intricate pattern formed by diminutive nailheads. There is also a library emanating a 19th-century atmosphere and a drawing room on the third floor with rich, carved wood paneling and vaulted ceiling decorated with rosettes and shields bearing the logos of famous publishers of the day. Three large windows usher in abundant natural light and views of the iconic cathedral outside.
Another highlight of the hotel is ‘Rarities,’ an intimate 25-seat salon within the mansion. Invited guests enter via a discreet entrance, just steps from the courtyard, to a connoisseur’s wine cellar.
We stayed in Room 4914 and such was the view from the 49th floor – directly over the roof of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and across to tight clusters of Manhattan gray, white and black skyscrapers – we felt on top of the world. Seated in a comfortable tan leather armchair at my desk, miniature dots of people and vague outlines of iconic New York yellow taxis far below, I also felt like the world’s most powerful executive. The fact that it was the early hours of the morning and the city that reputedly never sleeps seemed to have dozed off, so slight was the noise, made the moment all the more memorable.
Later, over a leisurely breakfast in the Villard, I savored an assortment of seasonal berries with Greek yogurt, tangerine honey and house-made granola followed by steak hash skillet – wagyu beef, poached egg, peppers, roasted potatoes, cheddar jalapeño biscuit. My companion chose a lower calorie option of white asparagus de Provence, Maine lobster tail, Hudson valley morel, egg and English peas, with a dollop of crustacean foam.
Neither of us, however, could resist the brioche pudding French toast and so glad we didn’t. It was a succulent combo of crusted cornflakes, caramelized Fuji apple, blueberries and warm bourbon spiked maple syrup. Decadent in the extreme but delicious nonetheless.
Staying in the Lotte New York Palace is like basking in history, it having been home to a succession of impressive occupants through the decades, including the Friends of Free France and The Women’s Military Service Club during World War Two and the powerful Random House Publishing and Capital Cities Communications afterwards.
In the 1970s, architects Emery Roth & Sons designed the monolithic tower of dark bronze, reflective glass and anodized aluminum to blend with the rosy-hued Villard Houses and it opened as The Helmsley Palace Hotel.
By 1993, however, the hotel had undergone new management, a name change to the New York Palace and a multi-million-dollar restoration, including all public areas, guest rooms, dining facilities and meeting and banquet rooms. The special 15,000 square foot Villard Center was completed then, featuring multiple function rooms, all named after the original occupants of the Villard Houses. Later, as part of a 140-million-dollar re-design in 2013, around 25 million dollars was spent on renovating the 176 room and suite Tower accommodation.
No doubt, the Lotte New York Palace is an elegant, luxury property with panoramic views over downtown Manhattan and a rich sense of history – a fine choice on any visit to the Big Apple.