The Plaza Hotel review, New York: Why it's still a New York icon

Our rating

5 out of 5

For a six-year old, the precocious New Yorker Eloise has quite a business going.

The popular heroine of Kay Thompson's 1955 children's book, Eloise, is still in residence at the iconic Manhattan hotel that she first terrorised decades ago. There's the Eloise Suite in zebra print and pink-and-white stripes, selling at $1235 a night, where Eloise-obsessed girls (and maybe some adults) can dress up in Eloise costumes and throw Eloise-themed pyjama parties for their friends. 

Then there's the very pink Eloise store downstairs, which includes a tea room for private tea parties, a fashion room with dress-ups and a mini catwalk, a library room screening Eloise movies and Eloise merchandise ranging from bottled water ($1.75) to snow globes ($75) and a cute, if pricey, collection of fashions, including Eloise blouses, skirts and Mary Jane shoes.

Like Eloise, there are plenty of ways for Eloise fans to absolutely love room service (including $45 Eloise dolls on the menu.) Did I mention there's an Eloise concierge?

I absolutely love Eloise, too, but on a recent stay at The Plaza in Rose Suite 1235 I found there were plenty of sophisticated, grown-up things to enjoy there as well.

The Plaza is only one of two New York hotels on the National Historic register  (the other is the Waldorf Astoria) and its imposing French-chateau-like edifice has been a landmark on Fifth Avenue and Central Park South since 1907. After extensive renovations it reopened in 2008 with 282 hotel rooms and 152 condominium residences. It has had many owners over the years, including Conrad Hilton and Donald Trump. Currently it is managed by Fairmont Hotels.

The hotel's illustrious history includes a pantheon of famous guests and starring roles in a number of movies, including Funny Girl, Arthur and Crocodile Dundee. Truman Capote threw his famous Black & White Ball there in 1966 and the Persian Room hosted performers from Liza Minnelli to Miles Davis. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda were regular guests in the 1920s and some scenes in The Great Gatsby are set there. The hotel's stylish art deco Fitzgerald Suite, decorated by Catherine Martin, is almost always booked out.

I first stayed at the hotel in the 1980s. My suite had views of the classic old buildings of Fifth Avenue. It felt very much like a Fred and Ginger moment. A few years later, I went to a ball in the ornate ballroom where Eloise loafed. The guests included a number of movie stars and we danced to music played by the Peter Duchin Orchestra. It was the epitome of glamour. In those days, the hotel also had a wonderful "tiki" bar, Trader Vic's, in the basement, featuring a triple-strength "Scorpion" cocktail that could put you under the table in about 20 minutes.

 The basement has now undergone a massive transformation into the Todd English Food Hall with a marketplace of upscale food outlets such as Luke's Lobster, William Greenberg Desserts, the Olma Caviar Boutique and Epicerie Boulud.  Within this cavernous space is American celebrity chef Todd English's casual restaurant, a combination grill, sushi bar, oyster bar, charcuterie and pizzeria. Guests sit on high stools among open kitchens in the noisy, tiled hall – an altogether different vibe from the hotel's elegant Palm Court upstairs. 

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When you enter the hotel via the formal entrance off Grand Army Plaza, it's easy to mistake the Palm Court for the lobby. (Veer left and you'll find yourself in the actual lobby, with reception and concierge desks and a tempting Champagne Bar.) For many decades the place for Manhattan society to take afternoon tea, the Palm Court underwent a careful restoration, reopening last year for breakfast and afternoon tea under the guidance of new culinary director Gregory Zakarian. It remains a breath of yesteryear with its beautifully colonnaded, leafy setting under a stained glass ceiling, where the formal service is exemplary. 

It's tricky to pull off a renovation of an icon and I was concerned that The Plaza may not have lived up to my expectations, but I'm pleased to report it exceeded them. The proportions of the rooms and corridors are still grand and, while the hotel supplies every modern convenience, such as HD TVs, in-room iPads and complimentary WiFi, the interiors have been respectfully decorated in a sumptuous classic style that is wonderfully detailed, including fine linens by Beaumont & Brown, taffeta curtains and woven silk blinds, huge closets (including a welcome iron and ironing board), Plaza monograms on everything including the gilded inside of the vanity basin and the linen mat placed by the bed, 24-carat faucets, a vintage-style writing desk and velvet lounge chairs, and clusters of fresh roses in the bedroom and bathroom. 

The spacious bathroom was especially luxe, with gold mosaics in the earth-stone floor and above the bath, and generous amenities by cult French vinotherapie brand Caudalie, which operates the hotel's spa. I also had a butler's pantry in the entrance, in case I wanted to entertain, with a butler to help out if I needed him. The entry-level rooms have the same details and architectural proportions; sizes vary. 

The location on Central Park and right next to Bergdorf Goodman can't be beaten. And if there's an inner Eloise bursting to break out, there's no better place on earth. 

TRIP NOTES

STAYING THERE

The Plaza Hotel, Fifth Avenue at Central Park South, New York. Double rooms from $US675 low season. See www.fairmont.com/theplaza 

GETTING THERE

Qantas offers two efficient routes to New York: via Los Angeles, or via Dallas Fort Worth connecting to New York with partner American Airlines. See www.qantas.com.au  

The writer was a guest of The Plaza Hotel and Qantas.

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