Up­per East Side story

Why New York­ers are still mad for the his­toric Pierre at Cen­tral Park

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

JUST how clas­sic Man­hat­tan is this? De­spite a $US100 mil­lion facelift of its 189 gue­strooms and pub­lic ar­eas by new own­ers Taj Ho­tels Re­sorts & Palaces in 2009, the 1930-built Pierre at East 61st Street and Fifth Av­enue feels so time­less, just so up­town Man­hat­tan, that it’s one of the pre­ferred ho­tel back­drops for the mak­ers of the tele­vi­sion hit se­ries Mad Men.

Madi­son Av­enue, the for­mer spir­i­tual home of ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies, is just around the cor­ner and the prop­erty fea­tures in mul­ti­ple Mad Men episodes, ac­cord­ing to web­sites that make it their busi­ness to keep track of such things, even down to the minute/sec­ond frame of rel­e­vant scenes.

The ho­tel’s de­but was in sea­son 1, episode 6, when Don Draper tries to res­ur­rect his ro­mance with depart­ment store heiress Rachel Menken. It’s where the am­bi­tious Peggy Ol­son and Her­man ‘‘Duck’’ Phillips have a tryst (sea­son 3, episode 7). When the prin­ci­pals of Sterling Cooper break away from the British own­ers to start their new agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, they tem­po­rar­ily set up shop in Room 435 of The Pierre (sea­son 3, episode 13).

And it’s where on an early Tues­day evening in March, while Man­hat­tan is all sour skies and chill winds, I am snug in the Two E Bar/ Lounge off the lobby, amid the kind­ness of low lighting and cush­ioned seat­ing, con­tem­plat­ing the Mad Men clas­sic cock­tails list, which has a 1960s retro twist in hon­our of the much-an­tic­i­pated pre­miere of sea­son 5.

Tues­day is jazz night (live gui­tar and string bass) and from 6.30pm9.30pm, I am in­vited to em­brace my in­ner Joan Hol­loway (I would pre­fer to hug Don Draper) and get stuck into that Roger Sterling sta­ple of Ir­ish cof­fee (with Bush­mills, of course) or a per­fectly mixed grasshop­per. Or­ders are build­ing for the bikini mar­tini, de­signed with shapely Christina Hendricks in mind ( even the gin is Hendricks), and touted as ‘ ‘ the most volup­tuous’’ drink in Man­hat­tan.

There are reg­u­lar ‘‘mixol­ogy’’ classes at Two EBar/Lounge (orig­i­nally the ho­tel’s se­ri­ous-sound­ing read­ing room) to cel­e­brate the sea­sons; the next is for the north­ern au­tumn equinox on Septem­ber 25 when The Pierre’s dab-hand bar­men will re- cre­ate clas­sics served here dur­ing the past 82 years. ‘‘Recipes will be pulled from the archives of debu­tante balls and el­e­gant state dinners . . .’’ Pitch up for the win­ter solstice on De­cem­ber 18 for ‘‘flavoured foams, cock­tail caviar and other tricks with a bit of hol­i­day flair’’.

But most of all I want to be back in the bro­caded nest that is room 3807, over­look­ing the long green rec­tan­gle of Cen­tral Park and fit­ted with Frette bed­li­nens and bil­low­ing cur­tains and hil­locks of Ban­ga­lore silk cush­ions in sooth­ing pas­tels and car­pets so thick your heels sink in and lit­tle menu cards of­fer­ing pil­lows of dif­fer­ent downs and feath­ers. It’s a per­fect hi­ber­na­tion cham­ber, just the spot for a snooze af­ter a three-mar­tini lunch and a nudge of an ad agency exec’s drinks cab­i­net and then, per­haps, a sil­ver- dome room­ser­vice din­ner and a pe­ruse of that day’s Wall Street trad­ing stats, printed on a po­lite note that’s slipped un­der the door by a but­ler so dis­creet he may just be a fig­ment of my imag­i­na­tion.

Ho­tels with this kind of lin­eage of­fer an ef­fort­less com­fort that all but hugs you. Since its 1930 open­ing, when no less a culi­nary em­i­nence than Au­guste Es­coffier was the guest chef, the roll­call of pa­trons has in­cluded Coco Chanel, Spencer Tracy, John Wayne, as­sorted roy­als from the House of Wind­sor, Hep­burns (Katharine and Au­drey), El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, Jimmy Ste­wart and, well, I could go on and on, even as far as men­tion­ing Mary Tyler Moore and Bar­bara Walters held their wed­ding re­cep­tions here.

Ser­vice is so seam­less it only seems to be there when you need it but, wait, there is a per­son­alised twist. White-gloved el­e­va­tor at­ten­dants whisk you up and down on ros­ters around the clock, al­ways with a line in po­lite pat­ter. Some of your fel­low pas­sen­gers will be per­ma­nent res­i­dents of the soar­ing build­ing (Lady Mary Fair­fax fa­mously lived here); there’s a sense of old-world glamour, fam­ily money and ti­tled names but, oddly, no hint of snob­bish­ness. The at­ten­dants in­clude Jose, Ed­mond and, es­pe­cially, widesmil­ing Khady, who wel­comes me to ‘‘her of­fice’’ as she holds open the el­e­va­tor door.

Some of the bells and whis­tles might be miss­ing, such as a pool and a roof gar­den, but this is New York and no one ever came to the Big Ap­ple just for a swim. As for pam­per­ing ther­a­pies, let them come to you — have a ther­apy in your suite or head to the third floor where a room has been con­verted for mas­sages and treat­ments from Jiva, the Taj Ho­tels’ sig­na­ture spa Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art: The Pierre is per­fectly sit­u­ated on the Mu­seum Mile of Fifth Av­enue (which sep­a­rates Man­hat­tan into east and west) so hop up to, say, the Met (the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art) and the Guggen­heim, re­fuel at good gallery restau­rants with lunchtime spe­cials (Petrie Court Cafe & Wine Bar at the Met; the Wright Res­tau­rant at the Guggen­heim) and don’t miss the store at the Met for classy sou­venirs. Make sure you pur­chase a New York Ci­tyPass to save up to 46 per cent off ad­mis­sion to main at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the Met. ci­typass.com. Bar­neys: This old-money depart­ment store is just be­hind The Pierre; head di­rect to the Le brand, with its em­pha­sis on Ayu­verdic prin­ci­ples and ‘ ‘ the rit­u­als of In­dian roy­alty’’. Tip: go for a Vishram re­lax­ation mas­sage us­ing oil blends of kewda, frank­in­cense and brahmi with in­fu­sions of san­dal­wood and sesame.

Taj’s home­land roots are ap­par­ent, too, with the assem­bly of In­dian art­works in the ground- Labo counter on the lower level for fra­grances that all New York is mad about, es­pe­cially Rose 31 eau de par­fum, ‘‘com­pounded’’ on the spot and bot­tled with dated and per­son­alised la­bels. 660 Madi­son Av­enue.

Plaza Ho­tel Food Hall: At the floor pub­lic spa­ces, mostly an­tique stat­u­ary of Hindu gods and im­por­tant con­tem­po­rary pieces that add hints of an ex­otic else­where. A fine arts con­sul­tant with the splen­did name of Mortimer Chat­ter­jee se­lected the pieces, in­clud­ing items from the Taj flag­ship ho­tel in Mum­bai, the Taj Ma­hal Palace & Tower. There are art south­east cor­ner of Cen­tral Park and min­utes from The Pierre, this base­ment con­course eatery, mas­ter­minded by Bos­ton celebrity chef Todd English, fea­tures sit-up coun­ters serv­ing the likes of oys­ters, pizza, pasta (at a 21-seater Car­rara mar­ble counter), Chi­nese dumplings and tours once a month to view the cu­rated col­lec­tion and to peep into ar­eas such as the Cotil­lion Room, where scenes from the Al Pa­cino 1992 hit Scent of a Woman were filmed.

Be sure to linger in the Ro­tunda, with its fab­u­lous 1960s trompe- l’oeil mu­rals in which mytho­log­i­cal fig­ures such as Ja­panese soba noo­dles. Af­ter lunch, pop up to the ho­tel’s mez­za­nine floor and browse the beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated vol­umes in the As­souline book­shop. 1 West 59th Street (at Fifth Av­enue). Delis­simo Deli Cafe: Pick up a fat, hot and de­li­cious Reuben sand­wich with corned beef and Swiss cheese for $US7 and scoff in Cen­tral Park (or your room at The Pierre; don’t tell in-room din­ing). If you want to walk it off, pound 20 blocks north or south and you’ll have cov­ered a mile. 39 East 60th Street. Uniqlo: The city flag­ship store of this Ja­panese chain sells well­priced and su­perbly cut linen shirts for men and women, un­struc­tured jack­ets, ac­ces­sories and men’s ar­gyle socks so cheap ap­par­ently some Man­hat­tan bankers buy Nep­tune and Venus min­gle with fig­ures who look un­err­ingly like Jackie Kennedy Onas­sis plus New York so­ci­ety doyennes of the era; Adam and Eve are here, too, with he of the fig-leaf and ap­ple posed for by ac­tor Erik Estrada in his rather dash­ing hey­day.

The ho­tel has such a res­i­den­tial feel that I be­gin to imag­ine it re­ally mul­ti­ple pairs and toss them out af­ter wear­ing rather than send them to the laun­dry. 666 Fifth Av­enue. Ba­nana Repub­lic: Surely this cloth­ing chain didn’t ex­ist in the Mad Men era but it has been retailing a line of clothes con­ceived by the show’s cos­tume de­signer Janie Bryant, so you, too, can dress like the Drap­ers. 626-630 Fifth Av­enue and branches. is my New York pied-a-terre with a Jaguar thrown in. If the ho­tel’s com­pli­men­tary car is idling kerb­side, you’ll be dropped off within a rea­son­able vicin­ity for din­ing or shop­ping. So off I go in leather plush­ness with a Pierre chauf­feur for the tap­ing of the Late Show with David Let­ter­man at Broad­way’s Ed Sul­li­van The­atre and then to Frank Si­na­tra’s favourite din­ing joint, Patsy’s Ital­ian Res­tau­rant, at 236 West 56th St, where I tuck into a dra­mat­i­cally large serve of spaghetti and meat­balls. Just how clas­sic Man­hat­tan is that? Su­san Kuro­sawa was a guest of The Pierre and Qan­tas.

The soar­ing Pierre is a Man­hat­tan land­mark on Fifth Av­enue, over­look­ing leafy Cen­tral Park

Clas­sic el­e­gance is the hall­mark of re­fur­bished gue­strooms

The ho­tel pro­vides a back­drop for scenes from TV’s Mad Men

Chan­nelling the Mad Men era at Ba­nana Repub­lic

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