NYC's grand old Plaza returns with a flourish

If the fictional 6-year-old Eloise checked into The Plaza today, she'd enter her suite simply by waving a keycard above the doorknob. Once inside, she'd illuminate the crystal chandelier, set the temperature or order a butler to fetch a pot of tea by touching a computer-like screen on the wall.

Change has been brewing at The Plaza, which reopens Saturday after a two-year, $400 million lobby-to-rooftop renovation. Generations of tourists who have stayed at the imposing Beaux-Arts edifice on Fifth Avenue or nibbled scones in the Palm Court have been waiting to see what the new owners — New York-based Elad Group and Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Holdings — have wrought.

"This hotel means so much to so many people," general manager Shane Krige says. "It's an icon."

Indeed, the century-old Plaza, once run by Ivana Trump and now managed by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, is much more than a hotel. It's the setting for Neil Simon's play Plaza Suite. It's where The Beatles stayed on their 1964 U.S. tour. It's the site of A-list soirees and celebrity wedding receptions. And it's a National Historic Landmark too. The new incarnation — originally mostly condos until hotel unions and history buffs put up a fight — includes 282 hotel accommodations (102 are suites) vs. the old 805, Krige says. Nearly half are condo/hotel units, owned by people who lock up belongings when not in residence. Another 180 units are purely residential and sold at prices in the $4,000- to $6,000-per-square-foot range, Krige says. (Sadly, they tend to have the better views of Central Park.) Rates for hotel rooms start at $775 a night, nearly $900 with taxes (reservations: 888-240-7775 or About 80 hotel rooms now are ready for guests.

The downsizing allows a new level of "personalized service," says South Africa-born Krige (pronounced "Kreeg"), 39, who has speedily ascended in the hotel world. He used to be managing director of the chi-chi Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas.

He's blending the Old World and the new. Service is personified by a butler on each floor, who'll greet guests, press clothes, draw baths.

Daily afternoon tea in the marble-pillared Palm Court still will be a ritual, even more elaborate under the supervision of hotel chef Didier Virot, who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants including Manhattan's Jean Georges. Four courses (including crustless cucumber sandwiches with mint butter, scones, pink éclairs, berries and a selection of 22 loose-leaf teas and herbal infusions) start at $60. Virot's tasting-menu tea, with caviar and tidbits such as melt-in-your-mouth lobster salad with tarragon-tomato compote, soars to $120 with a glass of Champagne.

The Palm Court has been spiffed up with high-backed ice-blue velvety chairs, royal blue and gold china and Christofle silverware. A star attraction: its new stained-glass domed ceiling featuring entwined roses — a replica of the one hotelier Conrad Hilton had taken down in the '40s to make way for bulky air-conditioning equipment.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...