Upon planning our trip to New York for my mom’s birthday the four of us discussed (heatedly at times) where we wanted to stay. Such a crucial decision for any trip really. My parents enjoy luxury and being pampered (who doesn’t?) while my sister and I are just happy to be there. In my mind I had chosen the historic Waldorf Astoria ($$$+) while my dad was thinking about the Mandarin Oriental Hotel ($$$$). In the end the price of the Waldorf won out and the location was ideal for us fans of the iconic 30 Rock, NBC and especially SNL (more on that later).
The Waldorf was first built in 1893 on 5th Ave. but was torn down to make way for the Empire State Building. The current Waldorf Astoria, located on Park Ave. built in 1930, was the first skyscraper hotel and, as their website boasts, has catered to various presidents and stars like Nixon and JFK, Jackie Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II and other royalty from around the world. It was also host to Grace Kelly and Rainier III’s engagement party. I must emphasize that these guests stayed in the towers while we stayed in the “commoners” rooms (my own terminology). At the Waldorf, when you have a modest budget, you are paying for the name/history of the hotel and the location. The rooms aren’t small but they are aged which can be charming or, in the case of our bathroom mirror, can be off putting and even hazardous when the wires of the electrical outlets are exposed to the shower steam.
However, the lobby of the Waldorf shows no signs of her age and is kept it top condition, including the murals and famous Lobby Clock. The clock is from 1893 for the Chicago World’s Fair and made of bronze. It is a symbol of the friendly relationship between America and Britain with images of presidents such as Lincoln, Washington, Grant etc. along with Queen Victoria. A great time to get an image alone with the clock is late at night as the lobby is usually full of guests checking in and out or people enjoying the plush seating, the atmosphere and a drink.
The romance ends after you walk through your rooms hotel door. Like most luxury hotels the mini bar prices are outrageous. One San Pellegrino will cost you $10 US and the miniature bottles of Champagne are just as much as what you’d pay for a full bottle in a liquor store. The room service is by no means a bang for your buck and is the blandest of food you can get in Midtown ($200 for 2 club sandwiches, chicken fingers, one over cooked burger, and one pizza).
The best experience the Waldorf offered was held at midnight in the areas we were not necessarily allowed to go. The third floor was dark and abandoned. We got lost in its reflective chandeliers directing us to new rooms where other chandeliers were begging to have the lights turned on. A theatre known as the Grand Ballroom has been host to Queen Elizabeth, Jimmy Carter, JFK and Nixon and was illuminated for visitors to see.
However, when exploring the 3rd and 18th floors I suggest dodging any security that may be roaming the halls along with you. I was yelled at once but ran into a dark room as I pretended to make my way back to my room. Stay quiet, take your heels off if you must as this is an experience worth having for free! I asked the security if they offered tours during the day but they have stopped giving tours for two months now. I couldn’t imagine why, I would have been a customer!
Also on the third floor is the Silver Corridor, a long hallway with brilliant chandeliers and marble flooring. Pick any door that that runs along this hall and you won’t be disappointed. One of these rooms, besides the Grand Ballroom, is the Basildon Room at the very end of the hall. The room was black but my camera helped illuminate the Parisian made mantlepiece, golden ceiling and psychedelic meets art deco carpeting.
On the 18th floor you can find the Starlight Roof and a gorgeous rotunda leading you to the closed rooftop which used to be the poshest dinning club in New York up to the 1950s fitted with an art deco retractable roof. Now it is still and silent where you will be the only entity in the halls and your footsteps will be the only haunting sound on the entire floor.
Would I stay at the Waldorf again? Probably not but I would swing by for a nostalgic trip back to its heyday. Sneak into history on the third and eighteenth floors late at night after a martini at the Bull and Bear bar and see where the Waldorf takes you.