(As first seen on JewishJournal.com) New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel has been named a NYC landmark, but really, it ought to be considered a national historic icon – an American palace, if you will – for its contributions to all manners of culture and elegance. You can arrange to learn more details about its history here. The Waldorf Astoria’s first set the high bar of hotel standards 123 years ago, 85 years ago at its present site: 301 Park Avenue.
There was a time when Americans looked up to what European royalty did and thought about us . . . and to that end, royalty loves the Waldorf Astoria! Titled personages including Queen Elizabeth, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the Duchess born in Maryland), notoriously fun-loving Princess Margaret, as well as kings and queens from across Continental Europe, Asia and the Middle East have stayed in the hotel.
“American Royalty”, such as the Kennedys, frequented and still frequent stay. All US Presidents since Herbert Hoover have been to the Waldorf Astoria. There are Royal and Presidential suites in the Towers, the most exclusive part of the hotel. This section of the grand accommodations has its own discreet off-street carport, entrance, concierge and elevators.
Towers suites are quite grand, with antiques, twice-daily maid service and turndown, super comfy “Waldorf Serenity” beds, fantastic views of the city, marble bathrooms and really, so many special touches and amenities! The toiletries laid out are exclusive, from Salvatore Ferragamo. Between those, the extra deep, long marble bath tub and reading/bath tray, some may consider bathing one of the luxe activities offered at the Waldorf Astoria!
But even there, the hotel towers step it up with the Guerlain Spa. Guerlain is certainly a well-considered partnership for the legendary destination: the beauty brand dates from 1828 in Paris, where they soon created the first commercial khol eyeliners, scientifically based skincare, mascara and lipstick. The spa takes appointments throughout the evening; some use their time as pre-party prep, while for others, it’s a relaxing activity before retiring for the night.
The treatment rooms are en suite, meaning full bathrooms with shower or tub. No need to pad around in your spa bathroom looking lost! There are complete body treatments, massages, nail care and world-famous skincare. The quality of their products is unparalleled; though you may have had fine facials before, they weren’t the Orchidee Imperiale Prestige Treatment – the “quintessence” of Guerlain treatments. Products from the most luxe line of the brand are used in cleansing, massage, mask and anti-aging moisturizers. The sequence of the steps varies, as each spa treatment is specifically customized to your needs, though all will incorporate the essences and benefits from four different rare orchids to keep you looking lovely.
After (or before), relax in the Grande Salon with a beverage of your choice or have a steam in the changing rooms of the exclusive to Tower guests’ fitness center. Other complimentary services after your treatment include garment steaming, shoe shine and makeup application.
Another Towers perk: access to a private lounge that serves complimentary breakfast – including Catskills smoked salmon – and also, afternoon tea.
The main lobby of the Waldorf Astoria is a labyrinth of amazing things to see and learn and do. The clock in the center is from the World’s Fair in St. Louis, created in 1893. It’s considered one of New York’s chicest places to meet up with your party! There are several upscale shops, as well as a corridor of historic photos and treasures from the hotel.
The Waldorf Astoria has all kinds of nooks and crannies in the lobby in which you can carry out a private tete-a-tete. There are also several bars, including the cleverly named “Peacock Alley” – where you can see and be seen.
And then, there’s the food! This very hotel invented some of the most beloved dishes in the world: things you’d swear must have originated years ago in Europe. There was a maitre d’hotel (not the chef, surprisingly!), Oscar Tschirky, who was the driving force behind most of them:
• He created what are now known as Eggs Benedict in 1942, to appease the hangover of one Lemuel Benedict, Wall Street stockbroker.
• Tschirky is also credited with creating in the early 1890’s the Waldorf Salad. In its early incarnation, it was simply fresh apples with chopped celery on a bed of lettuce with the lightest of mayonnaise dressings . . . a far cry from that stuff you see at delis and grocery stores today!
• Most Southerners will fall out of their chairs to learn that Red Velvet Cake was invented at the Waldorf Astoria. It’s traditionally tinted dark with beet juice and with a retro dense texture that supposedly hearkens back to the Victorian era.
• Did Tschirky invent Thousand Island Dressing? Possibly it was he, acting as chef to the owner of the hotel during a trip to the 1000 Island region between New York and Canada.
• Even the classic Martini was invented there!
Today – for the past couple of years – the Waldorf Astoria has held contests to select the next signature dishes. The competition pairs chefs from the various other hotel locations with up and coming culinary stars.
Imagine the intriguing and exotic flavors of authentic Chinese cuisine, served with French presentation in a chic – yet relaxed – atmosphere. The hotel’s newest restaurant, La Chine, has captured all of that and more! Hip music plays in the background of a décor that gives a nod to the Art Deco style building. Enter from the Lexington Avenue entrance, as the other entrance has a bit of a hidden/speakeasy thing going through another restaurant.
They’re using peony seed oil, rare flowers and even rarer Chinese wines – straight from China – in their recipes. A sommelier elevates this restaurant to another universe from the typical Chinese restaurant. Do yourself a favor and go for the tasting menu: you’ll sample things you may never have dared to! Their menu is seasonal, with weekly adjustments. Even their cocktail program’s on board: they’ve been created with Chinese ingredients – including sesame and Szechuan pepper – that are food-friendly.
Probably the most exquisite brunch in the world is Sunday at Peacock Alley. Though it has special occasion prices, the buffet is truly gourmet. Cold items include lobster tails, local clams, oysters, four kinds of caviar, eight kinds of locally smoked salmon and the famous Waldorf Salad. Hot items feature Beef Wellington, carved meats, eggs Benedict, thick cut bacon and a melted chocolate fountain. Save room for dessert! Pastry Chef Calogero “Charlie” Romano is Italian, was influenced by Germany and genuinely loves certain American guilty pleasures. Along with the famed Red Velvet Cake, Chef Romano makes many delicious treats.