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Oct / Nov 2011
The Hunt for a Shred of Sober

WRITER: Nicolas Shammas

A trip to the most populous city in the United States may be quite the thrill but finding the perfect hotel in vibrant New York is no easy task. Fortunately, Bespoke discovers a new sanctuary that’s worth every cent.

[Correction: The Setai Fifth Avenue is now called Langham Place]

Travelling to the United States is the epitome of a bittersweet experience. The flights are long and gruelling, the security checks are offensive and rude, and you arrive feeling as though you’ve run a sack race - backwards, blindfolded and down an inclined slope. Just when the excitement of having arrived at your destination begins to take hold, you’re hit with jetlag, a feeling akin to moving through the world in slow motion while gravity sardonically brutalises your head. You’re forgetful, befuddled and easily riled. Nevertheless, the remedy to all your woes would be checking yourself into a damned good hotel upon arrival.

Now, you may think that finding this hotel is a simple enterprise. Well it’s not. There may be close to 100,000 hotel rooms in the Big Apple, but try discovering one that ticks all the boxes! Somewhere flawless, subtle and soothing; sumptuous sobriety for the sybaritic modernist, if you will. It’s bloody impossible. The Gansevoort? Lots of attitude, zero aptitude. Waldorf Astoria? Pretty but worn out. W New York? A blatant case of style over substance. St.Regis? An old-world experience better suited to old-timers. The Grammercy? Quirky but with design flaws. The Standard? Fun and hip perhaps, but their terrible service is just the tip of the iceberg. The Chatwal? Great hotel as long as you’re willing to accept that the rooms are a squeeze. The Four Seasons? Immense rooms but they’re getting dated. The Plaza? Amazing location, but are you really getting your money’s worth? I could go on.

Luckily, I found a new place to try out and I am going to cut to the chase by telling you it was wonderful. Why, you might ask? Well, it’s not all that complicated actually: it has a decent location; unfalteringly avoids the pitfalls of coolness; the rooms are vast, beautiful and unpretentiously appointed; the sheets are magnificently soft; its cleanliness is painstakingly thorough; service is efficient; and the prices are within this stratosphere.

Allow me to start from the beginning and highlight the only setback I encountered. Before my visit kicked off, I was contacted via email by my Setai personal assistant – something akin to a receptionist, a concierge and a secretary rolled into one – who assured me that any request would be taken care of prior to arrival. I loved this touch and erroneously thought I may have a dedicated assistant throughout my stay. What actually happened is the personal assistant seemingly changed on a daily basis, and whoever was on duty works for the whole hotel, not per room or floor, so they always seem to be swamped. This wasn’t a huge setback though for I had merely three requirements. The first was a reservation for a Sunday brunch at a particular midtown bistro – Beaumarchais (the ex-Bagatelle). The second was a booking at a new hip club in town – Provocateur, and the third was two tickets to what is currently the most popular Broadway show – The Book of Mormon (a religious musical satire written by the creators of South Park). The first request was taken care of perfectly. The second was supposed to be sorted out but when I arrived at the club, they feigned never having had a booking. And the third was apparently impossible for, apparently, this Broadway show is booked for the entire year! And so I think you’d agree that it’s probably best to forget about the pretensions of such personal assistants and instead concentrate on what makes the Setai stand apart from the crowd.

This limestone-clad hotel is located at 400 Fifth Avenue between 36th and 37th street in Manhattan’s midtown south. It’s a desirable neighbourhood, even if it’s somewhat more of a trek from Bergdorf than you might possibly be used to. The advantage on the other hand is that you feel you’re in a more sane part of town. The fact that you’re opposite the landmarked former Tiffany & Co headquarters and only a block from the Empire State Building certainly has some caché.

The brand new 60-floor tower was specifically built by the Capella Group to house hotel rooms in the first 30 floors, with the 30 floors above that devoted to 190 residential condominiums. Now, you may wonder: who’s the Cappella Group and how did they get permission to use Adrian Zecha’s Miami-based GHM hotel name? I had the same questions and to be honest, I still haven’t uncovered the minutiae of the deal as no one wants to go on record as to what actually transpired. All I could determine is that Cappella is a new company started by Horst Schulze, the former head of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and it has somehow reached an agreement with GHM to use the Setai name for a new chain of hotels, which they will manage themselves.

Unlike GHM, which has a self-imposed cap on the number of rooms it can offer in any of its locations, the Capella Group has no qualms about designating 157 guest rooms, 57 suites and three penthouse suites at the Setai Fifth Avenue. This may sound excessive but what rooms they are! Surely one of the most perfectly understated luxury accommodations in which I’ve had the privilege to spend the night, at least for some time. I had a corner room with a vast entrance, an ample sitting area that leads into a lovely bedroom, a walk-in closet and an absolute delight of a bathroom. The décor’s an abundance of beige set against rosewood, walnut and marble, and there’s an ample lighting thanks to a cornucopia of uniquely angled floor-to-ceiling windows from which you can spend hours staring down in amazement at the buzz of Fifth Avenue beneath you.

I have to say that the mattress did look thin but don’t judge this King-sized Duxiana product by its appearance because it’s dreamily comfortable. As are the incredibly high thread count Pratesi sheets. The bathroom is a treat, with his and her basins, an oversize deep-soak bathtub and a separate rain shower. Oh and in case you don’t actually seek it out, there’s even a TV built-in to the mirror. From an aesthetic point of view, the Setai gets top marks because it really is everything you’d ever want and nothing you won’t.  That being said, you’ll discover that it’s the little things that make the longest lasting impression: the contents of the minibar are free; the wifi is complimentary; the in-room nespresso machine is on the house; and when you arrive, the Setai’s laundry service will press up to five items for no charge at all. And the best thing of all? There’s absolutely no checkout hour.

In an age in which luxury has become more associated with ultimately useless baubles like diamond studded cell phones and exotic leather handbags, the Setai demonstrates that at least someone somewhere still gets what it’s all about.

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