Our Town: Easter at The Carlyle

Our Town: Easter at The Carlyle
A mural on the walls of the magical Cafe Carlyle photo by Tom Ferraro

Rather than do the same old thing this Easter I decided it was time to properly celebrate spring by doing something special. Long gone are the days of being satisfied by getting an Easter basket filled with chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. The older I get the more I require more complex pleasures.  So this year I decided perhaps an overnight stay in New York City might be fun.

I didn’t want to see another ballet and I wasn’t consumed by an urge to see a Broadway show, but suddenly I had an image of Bobby Short singing Cole Porter on piano. I had always wanted to see him perform live and had procrastinated on this impulse for years and years. I knew he played at the Café Carlyle and wondered if he was alive and well and still there.  I looked up the Café Carlyle on the internet and discovered that although Bobby Short had passed on many years ago, the Café Carlyle was going strong with torch song singers, and even the likes of Wood Allen playing his clarinet on Monday nights.

I then began to  explore the Carlyle Hotel website and though I had known nothing about this hotel, I could see that it had a massive history and panache and was the hangout for uber cool celebrities like George Clooney, past presidents like John Kennedy and his wife Jackie and royalty from around the world like Princess Diana.  I knew that there was little chance I would run into any celebrities, but the place looked enticing enough for me to book a suite, pack my bags and head in to Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side the Saturday afternoon before Easter Sunday.

When I arrived in my suite, I noticed one of those nice looking coffee table books titled “The Carlyle,” which provides a history of this high-style hotel along with many photos of the dignitaries and celebrities who have called this place their home away from home while staying in New York.  I have been spoiled and privileged my whole life and I’ve spent time in the world’s best hotels, including The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Cipriani in Venice, The Hotel Quisisana in Capri and Ritz in Key Biscayne. Therefore I know what superb service is all about.

At the Ritz in Key Biscayne on the first day there we left the hotel in the early afternoon and returned later that night. As we re-entered the gates of the hotel the doorman said “Welcome back to the Ritz, Dr. Ferraro.” Somehow within half a day the staff had not only recognized me but had memorized my name.

So I am fully jaded and no longer easily impressed. I was to meet some friends on the first night at the Café Carlyle for dinner and the show with John Pizzarelli, the longtime opening act for Frank Sinatra. As I meandered towards the café I passed by lots of those wonderful Ludwig Bemelmans sketches. Bemelmans was the author and illustrator of the Madeline children’s books and his murals in the Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle are still there for one and all to view. The fact that the hotel uses Bemelmans murals and sketches is perfect for both Bemelmans and The Carlyle to represent the glamor and joy of hotel living.

What I observed consistently throughout my stay was the relaxed ease, charm and grace of the staff. The captains were all handsome, not condescending and responsive. As an example of how much fun they were, my brunch companion on Easter Sunday remarked that the captain of the main restaurant looked like Sean Penn. I wagered $10 that no one but her had ever noticed that. So when the captain next came to our table, she asked: “So, Mirim, has anyone ever said that you look like Sean Penn, to which he answered, “Yes, I get that all the time.” So much for my betting luck.

Then the charming general manager, Illianna Nieto, engaged me in a conversation about my camera. I told her I might be doing a piece on the hotel for one of my newspaper columns and she immediately said she would love to read about it. This remark was said with such sincerity that I decided right then that I would do this week’s column on the hotel.

Over and over again I was impressed with the service, gentility and finesse of the staff many of whom had worked there for decades. I was once told by the hotel manager at the Beverly Hills Hotel the same thing, which was that their staff had longevity and most had been there for decades,  a sure sign that the hotel had been managed properly and was a good place to work.

Needless to say, I was very pleased that I had decided to come to the Carlyle for an overnight stay.  It is in walking distance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to Central Park. The service was kind and warm,wel coming  and sophisticated. The food was scrumptious, the surroundings were classy and the history of the place was unbeatable.

True, I had not seen any celebrities but what the heck, you can’t really have it all can you?   So with some sadness I went back to my room on the tenth floor, packed my bags   and made my way to the elevator to go down to the lobby and check out.  I waited patiently for the elevator door to open and as it opened I noticed that there were three other people already in there. One guy was in the back left corner, another big guy in front of him and then a lady on the right side.

I walked in, the door closed behind me and then I did a double take at the guy in the far left side. There was Robert Downey Jr., the actor who just won the Oscar for his role in “Oppenheimer.” I stared at him and blurted out “Robert Downey Jr.?”  He said, “Well, hello there. Nice camera you have there. Take any good pictures today?”  I didn’t know what to say to that and then all of a sudden, the doors opened up and out he went with his trainer/body guard.

So I guess it’s true that The Carlyle has history, glamor and class and it’s also the home  away from home for celebrities as well.

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