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March 14, 2014, United States

Living it up in a New York hotel

We visit two iconic hotels that have been updated for the 21st century and a third that’s taken its brand to China.

Francis Kan

The Mark Hotel, New York City

RETAILERS that are open round the clock are nothing new in our 24/7 culture of consumption. After all, many last-minute shopping dilemmas here have been solved with a dash to Mustafa Centre in Little India.

At New York’s upmarket The Mark Hotel, however, the concept of 24-hour shopping is elevated to an entirely different level of luxury and cements the Big Apple’s reputation as the city that never sleeps.

Guests of the beautiful 1927 art deco building at the corner of Madison Avenue and 77th Street can have the pick of what they want from nearby luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman at any hour of the day, and have their purchases – perhaps a pair of cufflinks or earrings for a dinner engagement – delivered to their room free of charge.

This novel privilege comes courtesy of the store’s personal shopping department. Hotel guests who need to make an urgent purchase only have to get in touch with The Mark’s concierge team, which has a private phone line to Bergdorf Goodman’s director of personal shopping, Todd Okerstrom.

The hotel’s tie-up with Bergdorf is among many round-the-clock amenities it offers its guests, such as 24-hour check-in and en-suite dining from The Mark Restaurant, which is helmed by famed chef Jean-Georges. A Frederic Fekkai salon and John Lobb shoeshine kiosk on the premises add to the notion that one is pampered from head to toe.

The sleek building that houses the 150-room The Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side was purchased in 2006, and its interiors re-imagined by French designer Jacques Grange in 2009.

Mr Grange commissioned seven international artists and artisans, including Ron Arad, Eric Schmitt, Paul Mathieu, Mattia Bonetti and Vladamir Kagan, to create exclusive artworks and furnishings for The Mark collection.

The hotel’s edgy mix of old-world luxury and cutting edge design has proven popular with celebrities – singer Justin Timberlake and actress Jessica Biel are some A-listers who have chosen to party there.

25 East 77th Street, New York, NY 10075, USA. Tel: 212-744-4300, fax: 212-606-3100

The Paramount Hotel, New York City

LOCATED in New York’s theatre district, Times Square, the 86-year-old Paramount Hotel stands as one of the very few hotels designed by one of the world’s most prolific theatre architects, Thomas Lamb.

When the hotel was a decade old, one of its signature attractions, the Diamond Horseshoe Supper Club, opened in its basement. It became famous for dinner theatre, vaudevillestyle revues and a chorus of showgirls called “Billy Rose’s long-stemmed beauties”, named after the founder of the club.

The place had a good run, attracting top musicians and performers and becoming the centre of the Broadway and vaudeville scene, before shuttering in 1953.

The historic property, which entered New York City’s list of official landmarks in 2009, was given a fresh lease of life when it was purchased by real estate mogul Aby Rosen and his partners. A US$40 million overhaul of the 600-room hotel, completed at the end of last year, has revived the Diamond Horseshoe, 75 years after it first opened.

Patrick Hall, the vice-president of hotel operations for RFR Holding LLC, one of the property’s shareholders, said: “Our team has embraced the lively, social atmosphere that made the historic hotel a must-stop in Midtown Manhattan. With the completely re-imagined two-storey lobby, event spaces and Paramount Bar & Grill, we are confident that Paramount is poised for its best encore performance to date.”

Combining its art deco heritage with modern design, the update of the property is apparent the minute one steps into the lobby, the showpiece of the property’s redesign.

The design builds on the glamour of Mr Lamb’s original vision and enhances it with modern touches to give the room an edgy ambience. Dark woods, sculptural chandeliers and richly textured furniture create a sense of drama at every turn.

The focal point is the fireplace, masterfully rendered to reflect the light and energy of the room. Perched above is a DJ booth; live entertainment is also available, to add an aural dimension to the visual and spatial experience of being there.

The Diamond Horseshoe marked its re-birth last new year’s eve with a production called Queen of the Night, a theatrical experience that melded food, music, dance, fashion, theatre and circus performances.

The show’s creative team comprises names such as Giovanna Battaglia for the creative vision, fashion designer Thom Browne for the costumes and Jennifer Rubell for a curated food experience.

With such drama on offer, The Paramount has added to the smorgasbord of choice for fans of theatre and New York City luxury.

35 West 46th Street, Between 7th and 8th Avenue New York NY, 10036

The Waldorf Astoria, Beijing, China

THE original Waldorf Astoria on New York’s Park Avenue is as old-school New York luxury as they come. Following the opening of the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund in April 2011, the brand launched its second China branch in Beijing this month.

The location of this hotel in the Chinese capital is redolent with history. It stands on the former site of the Xianliang Temple, home of Li Hongzhang, a politician and diplomat of the Qing Dynasty. Aside from having quelled several rebellions and holding key positions in the Imperial court, Li was the first Chinese guest at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. More than a century after his passing, the iconic hotel has come to visit him, so to speak.

The original Waldorf Astoria in the Big Apple is an institution ingrained into the fabric of the city’s complex social hierarchy. (Think the Peninsula in Hong Kong, or Hotel Ritz in Paris.)

Founded through the union of two hotels, each owned by a member of the distinguished and very wealthy Astor family, the establishment has been credited with redefining the contemporary hotel as a social gathering space for the city’s elite as well as a highly sought-after destination for visitors.

Synonymous with New York City and now part of the Hilton umbrella of luxury hotels, the Waldorf Astoria picked Beijing as the second Chinese city to replicate its brand of old-world hospitality. Martin Rinck, the Asia-Pacific president for Hilton Worldwide, said: “Waldorf Astoria Beijing will build on the success of its namesake, the renowned Waldorf Astoria New York, and its legacy of timeless luxury and exceptional experiences.”

To make it stand out in Beijing’s bustling Wangfujing district, the hotel was designed with a striking bronzeexterior, which will change colour over the years.

Inside, design firm Yabu Pushelberg has created a space that feels like a discreet mansion with its own sizeable collection of contemporary art.

Its 176 luxurious guest rooms and suites have been given a modern Western layout, with just a touch of chinoiserie in their silk-panelled walls and Oriental rugs on the wooden floors.

In a nod to the city’s heritage, two hutong villas, or traditional-style courtyard residences, have been built in the historical alleyway behind the main tower.

The four-room villas, which will open later this year, are linked to the hotel via an underground passage; one of them will house a swimming pool and a 16-seat cinema.

Marlene Poynder, the hotel’s general manager, believes they will be a draw for the jet-set crowd.

“We’re expecting the hutong villas to be popular, particularly with Chinese and international celebrities,” she said.

5-15 Jinyu Hutong, Dongcheng district, Beijing, China. Tel: +86-10-8520 8989

This story first appeared in ZBBZ

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