TBH I’ve never really had a great deal of time for Midtown. Work, yeah, MOMA, yeah, some good restaurants… but I’ve never known anyone who actually resides there. To coin a well-known local cliché from where I lived, most people I knew got a nosebleed above 14th Street.
A view not universally held, I agree, given the zillions of visitors swarming up and down 5th Avenue every day, not to mention the street’s most famous former resident, First Lady Melania, who loved it so much she refused for the longest time to vacate Trump Tower, instead posting wistful images of the Manhattan skyline from the penthouse aerie of her husband’s 58-story Golden Temple of Mammon.
Casting her gaze to the streets below, she may or may not have remarked a new neighbor on West 56th Street, just over the road and beyond the security barricades. Named after a northern UK beach resort – the place where Dracula makes landfall in Bram Stoker’s novel – the Whitby Hotel has as much in common with faded English seaside grandeur as I have with Melania’s husband. It has brought cool to the district.
To say that Firmdale reinvent their surroundings is no exaggeration. Aeons ago, the Charlotte Street Hotel in London turned overnight into medialand central overnight and has stayed that way; the new(ish) Ham Yard Hotel transformed a dingy, threatening alleyway behind Piccadilly Circus to an elegant upscale thoroughfare. The Soho Hotel was once a multistorey car park. Even the group’s most discreet townhouse properties, like The Knightsbridge, enliven more sedate upscale environs with a sprinkling of celebrity dust.
On entering the Whitby I shared an elevator with James Cromwell, the Hollywood A-lister who’s played everything from US President (George Bush senior in W) to the Duke of Edinburgh (The Queen) to a pig farmer (Babe) in getting on for 200 movies. On the sidewalk I might have joined the throng of autograph hunters; in here we just smiled knowingly, him famous, me not.
We sipped martinis and stared up at Trump Tower while Tony Bennett crooned from the 33rpm record player in the corner. It was a Midtown Moment
The Firmdale formula works. A buzzy cocktail bar leads to a light, modern restaurant; a luxurious basement cinema; and rooms which please the eye. There’s killer design from founder Kit Kemp, with strong, bold colours everywhere, punctuated by original curiosities of modern art, including Real Time Grandfather Clock by Maarten Baas in the Whitby’s lobby. I can personally vouch for the space, light and elegance of suite 903, from whose terrace we sipped martinis and stared up at Trump Tower while Tony Bennett crooned from the 33rpm record player in the corner. It was a Midtown Moment.
Beds are as luxurious as you might expect, as are the expansive marble bathrooms. Giant flat screen TVs and subdued lighting make for ultra-comfortable early nights, or the temptation to stay up till 12.30 to watch James Corden’s Late Late Show. Fresh fruit bowls and Evian abound and although I wasn’t looking for it (honest), pressing on a closet door suddenly revealed, hey presto, a fully stocked bar.
During my stay we had a late night, tumbling in from a midweek event at a time when most London bars might have already been closed. The Whitby Bar was alive and our sizeable party continued until, well, ahem, late. I’m assured the fun we thought we had, we did.
All this is well and good, but in my book hotels are only as good as their staff. In this case, having misplaced my wallet before arriving, and having no cash, I was particularly grateful to the company employee who ignored formal procedure and, from his own pocket, loaned me enough to get to where I needed to resolve the situation. Given the strangulated conversations I’ve had at some lobby desks trying to get basic service, I was more than relieved to discover I had a new best friend behind the counter.
There’s a new kid on the block – or, as Dracula himself might have said, new blood. C
The Whitby Hotel, 18 W56th Street, New York, NY 10019 USA
+1 212 586 5656; firmdalehotels.com