BACKGROUND Originally opened as The Commodore Hotel in 1919, but almost completely rebuilt and branded under the Hyatt portfolio in 1980, the Grand Hyatt New York is considered one of the grande dames of Midtown Manhattan’s hotel scene.
The property has recently completed the final stages of a US$130 million refurbishment, featuring redesigned guestrooms, a modern lobby with “larger than life” installations by sculptor Jaume Plensa, and a new Grand Club on the 16th floor with a garden terrace.
WHAT’S IT LIKE? The new lobby can feel a little intimidating on entering, with its dark colour scheme, high ceilings and two large marble heads - reminiscent of the Moai sculptures on Easter Island and named Awilda and Chloe by the sculptor Jaume Plensa - overlooking you on arrival.
The lobby was almost constantly busy during my stay, with both guests and large groups of school children. On checking in I was informed that the hotel was not full, although I was informed there were a grand total of 17 rooms unoccupied out of 1,301, so it was not far off.
There is a mezzanine level surrounding the lobby and some seating in the lobby area for people loitering around. There are two concierge desks, four check-in desks, including a priority lane, and a bellboy who will take care of luggage for you. There are lifts lined up on the far side of the room on entering, with the furthest five required to reach the upper rooms, such as mine on the 24th floor.
WHERE IS IT? The hotel is located just steps from Grand Central station and is in a prime location on the city’s east side with Times Square, Broadway, the bustling 5th, 6th and 7th avenues, and the beautiful Chrysler building all within walking distance.
Valet parking is offered from US$50 for up to six hours and $60 overnight. Self-parking is not available. Doormen are on hand to hail taxis at the front door. Taxis to JFK cost roughly US$45. The well-connected Times Square subway station is a 10-15 minute walk. Concierge staff were always on hand to help me get to where I wanted to go and were keen to offer advice on other attractions.
ROOM FACILITIES There are 1,301 guestrooms, including 43 suites. Looney and Associates have designed the majority of the guest rooms and suites, with the emphasis on dark woods, pinstriped carpeting and chrome lighting. There are 20 VIP Suites, also designed by Looney and Associates, with a choice of the open space Loft Suites or the more homely Residence Suites.
There are also four Premier Suites, designed by George Wong Design. The Uptown Suites seek to evoke the classic Manhattan townhouse while the Downtown Suites are inspired by the open lofts of TriBeCa.
All rooms come equipped with flatscreen LG TVs and iPod docking stations. Lighting is controlled via a touch panel, and rooms offer good working space with ergonomic chairs. Wifi is charged at $12.95 per day, $25.90 for two days and $38.85 for three days for the Lite bandwidth option and $16.95 per day, $33.90 for two days and $50.85 for three days on the Enhanced bandwidth.
I was staying in a Grand Deluxe King with a view onto another high rise and down East 42nd street. The large wardrobe had proper hangers, an iron and ironing board, plenty of artwork, a bright purple headboard and a large comfortable bed.
There was a bowl of fresh fruit, a corner sofa, ergonomic chair, plenty of lamps, a big LG flatscreen TV with pay-per-view options and 62 cable channels, and an iPod dock. Bathroom amenities were by June Jacobs, and the shower was powerful and immediately hot. The colour scheme was muted greys and creams with a pinstripe carpet, brightened up by the artwork.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS New York Central is the main restaurant located just off of the lobby. The restaurant specialises in farm-to-table dining and has an open kitchen concept with a long bar at the far end, overlooking East 42nd street.
Breakfast is served between 0700 and 1100 on weekdays and until 1130 at weekends, and is a-la-carte (to see the menu click here). On my first morning I ordered the pancakes which were served in a tall stack (six pancakes) with a pecan and cranberry compote on top and a jug of maple syrup on the side. Orange juice and coffee is offered on sitting down and staff are chatty and constantly on hand. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are available to pick up in the mornings too.
The central bar is located above 42nd Street and was buzzy on the weekend I visited. There is a good and unusual selection of mostly American beers on tap and a long cocktail list. The barmen were happy to create cocktails not on the list, such as an Old Fashioned for me, and all staff were generally eager to please.
The dinner menu is fairly short (see here), and the recommendations were for tuna tartare, Delmonico steak and shrimp and grits. I dined in the restaurant once during my stay and opted for the first two, with the tuna tartare coming out in a ramekin with sourdough toasts and a small duck egg yolk sitting on top.
This was followed by an exceptional steak. The cut is a New York institution, originating between 1840 and 1850 as the house cut at Delmonico's Restaurant in lower Manhattan. The meat is traditionally a rib cut and came with the bone in and two rings of well marbled meat surrounding the central chop.
The steak was cooked medium but retained huge flavour and tenderness and was served on top of roasted potatoes with cheesy spinach, roasted root vegetables and Brussels sprouts with bacon bits as sides. The shrimp and grits was ordered by one of my dining partners, mainly out of intrigue, and what arrived was a buttery polenta like dish with plump shrimp embedded, nothing like the original southern dish but an elegant and tasty version.
As a three we tried three desserts, including hot chocolate and praline pudding with toasted hazelnuts, which was a bit too rich for me at this stage. Another was a breakfast favourite made into dessert - two slices of French brioche toast topped with cinnamon and maple ice cream and grapefruit segments. Last was a toasted almond meringue with limoncello curd.
Also in the lobby is Market, a 24 hour grab-and-go concession serving fresh coffee, a large selection of beverages including beers and wines, sandwiches, salads and sweet and savoury snacks. This seemed very popular during my stay.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES The hotel boasts 55,000 sq ft of meeting space, including the newly renovated Empire State Ballroom for larger events and the Manhattan Ballroom designed for smaller gatherings of up to 300 guests, with views over Manhattan. There are also 22 breakout rooms available on the 14th floor and executive rooms with connecting bedrooms and conference tables.
Gallery on Lex is a brand new 4,400-square-feet flexible, multiuse space with a long high-top communal table, cuisine preparation and display stations, and a bar area in a space that can be opened out by removing sliding glass partitions. The space is ideal for networking, brainstorming, cocktail receptions, and small presentations.
Originally built in 1917, the Empire Ballroom has undergone a US$12 million renovation. Known previously as the Commodore Ballroom, it was the place where President John F Kennedy accepted the Democratic Party nomination for US president in 1960. Martin Luther King also gave a speech here in 1956 and it's also where former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton celebrated her victory of the New York Senate. The 18,000 square foot space accommodates between 100 and 1,500 guests, and can be divided into five units. State of the art audio-visual equipment has been installed along with permanent drop-down projection screens.
For more information on meetings and conferencing, click here.
LEISURE FACILITIES Central Park is within running distance, and a fitness concierge service is offered in the directory who can provide you with a route around the park depending on how far you are keen on running.
There is a 24-hour fitness centre on the top floor, fully equipped with modern equipment including: nine treadmills, exercise bikes, Stairmasters, free weights and weight machines, a bench press and a punching bag with gloves. The gym is well lit and has views downtown and there are several TVs set on silent, with headphones available. Towels are provided but not water.
The Grand club is a residential style gathering space with its own private terrace, bar and buffet dining area, televisions and lots of seating. Guest in Grand Club rooms, and those holding Hyatt Diamond loyalty status have access to this area.
VERDICT This hotel sometimes suffers from its own size, as the building can feel imposing and impersonal, staff seem spread a little thin and there is no interaction between guests. However, as soon as I required a member of staff they were friendly and eager to please. The restaurant is a particular highlight and my room was a luxurious base from which to explore the surrounding attractions.
- HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 1,301 guestrooms, including 43 suites
- ROOM HIGHLIGHTS Elegant design and good technology
- PRICE Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in a standard double room in June started from US$409
- CONTACT 109 East 42nd Street at Grand Central Terminal, New York, New York, USA 10017; tel +1 212 883 1234; grandnewyork.hyatt.com