Staring out of my window at The Carlyle and appreciating the stunning view of the Manhattan skyline, I couldn’t help but reflect on how I had spent my time in New York up till that point. To put things in context, it was my first trip to the Big Apple and I was eager to soak up as many experiences as I possibly could.
I spent the better part of my two-week trip living out of an apartment in the hipster district of Williamsburg, Brooklyn and taking the L-train every day to the city. I walked up and down the entire Times Square stretch, twice, where I got tricked into taking a photo with an Asian Elvis, something that cost me $5. I strolled through Central Park and witnessed no less than two marriage proposals in the span of half an hour. I even queued up for 45 minutes to have dessert at Serendipity 3 – the famous dessert café where John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale fell in love in 2001’s rom-com Serendipity, a movie that, I proudly and freely admit, helped me through a particularly rough breakup.
All in all, it had been a pretty action-packed trip and I didn’t think there was much else I had yet to experience. And then, I was invited to spend the last couple of nights of my trip at The Carlyle. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of it prior to receiving the invitation. But, as I later found out, that is what The Carlyle secretly wants.
Built in 1930 and named after British essayist Thomas Carlyle, the 35-storey hotel prides itself on being a time capsule of art and culture. Its rooms and suites boast of classic Louis XVI style with audubon prints, architectural renderings by Piranesi, and English country scenes by Kips on the walls, Nero Marquina and Thassos marble finishes, and even Steinway and Baldwin grand pianos.
But above all else, The Carlyle is proudest of its discreet nature. Situated in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, The Carlyle is surrounded by galleries such as the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and designer boutiques on New York’s posh Madison Avenue. Its classy, albeit unassuming front may just make you walk past it without realising what is it or the immense history and heritage that lay within in.
Over the years, the hotel has housed just about everyone – from politicians to business moguls, film stars to musicians. Every American president since Truman has stayed there. Visiting royals and heads-of-state include the likes of the late Princess Diana and Kings and Queens of Denmark, Greece, Spain, and Sweden. It used to be the meeting place for Frank Sinatra and George Harrison and continues to be a regular haunt for people like Mick Jagger, George Clooney, as well as fashion figures such as Vera Wang and Carine Roitfeld.
Café Carlyle has made an indelible mark on the entertainment and social landscape of New York since its opening in 1955, playing host to legendary talents such as Bobby Short, Woody Allen, Elaine Stritch, Steve Tyrell, Eartha Kitt, and Judy Collins. Bemelmans Bar, on the other hand, is where artist and author Ludwig Bemelmans’s childhood fantasies are given free rein, with fine works of art and drawings of books including his children’s series, Madeline.
Having gone down the list of The Carlyle’s VIPs, guests might visualize a movie-like scenario that sees them rubbing shoulders with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, sipping cocktails with Emma Watson, nodding to fashion designer Michael Kors and former Vogue creative director Grace Coddington chatting at the next table, while Mariah Carey walks up to sing a tune simply because she felt like it.
But The Carlyle isn’t a place to go just to see and be seen. Instead, it is a place to immerse yourself and engage in its heritage and tradition-rich stories rather than simply bearing witness to them. It is a place to make your home away from home and to create your own narratives.
At the end of day, you want to be able to say, “I stayed at The Carlyle on the 15th floor suite that overlooks the Upper East Side, sat at the Café Carlyle listening to Steve Tyrell sing It Had To Be You, before taking an elevator that Marilyn Monroe used to ride on her many secret visits to John F. Kennedy’s duplex suite to rest your head on your very own pillow with your initials embroidered in gold on it.”
That’s the Carlyle way of life.
Text by Patrick Chew
This article was originally published in Men’s Folio