America has always had a funny relationship with the British: they definitely don’t want to be British all the time but they, supposedly secretly, look to our standards, taste and heritage as inspiration for their own.
This is very true of The Lowell hotel in New York City which sits, with ankles demurely crossed, between Madison and Park Avenue and has done since 1926. For America, this is a deeply historic building. (For Brits, we have milk in the fridge that has been around longer.)
As with many place names in Britain (just to keep out the riff raff) The Lowell is its own shibboleth: it’s pronounced to rhyme with bowl not owl.
The Lowell hotel in New York City, ‘which sits, with ankles demurely crossed, between Madison and Park Avenue’
No one at the hotel seems to know where the name came from, however.
There’s no town or village in Britain of that name and a quick thumb through the archives of Burke’s reveals no family with that surname. I suspect some clever young thing in the 1920s picked it as it sounds fairly high-brow and has overtones of British superiority.
It’s a name that suits it well: a certain level of quality and refinement is anticipated even before arriving.
The hotel today has 74 bedrooms – 47 of which are suites – and succeeds in attracting CEOs and their families, celebrities and well-heeled, statesman-like jetsetters.
Golden oldie: The Lowell dates back to 1926. For America, this is a deeply historic building
Being a nearly 100-year-old, 17-storey New York building, each bedroom is unique in design and shape, many with original wood-burning fireplaces: a cute reminder that not that long ago it was incredibly smart, and a key selling point, for hotels to have a fireplace within the room. (The Ritz in London, opened in 1906, was the first to have them in all bedrooms.)
The luxury continues today, with marble-heavy bathrooms with heated floors, lavatory paper wrapped in tissue, Frette bedsheets and orchids decorating the room.
There are moments in the bedrooms that need some love and TLC – only two years ago the hotel’s public spaces had a $25million renovation – and some well-worn areas of the bedrooms, often hidden behind chairs and tasteful objets, could do with some renovating, too.
The hotel has 74 bedrooms – 47 of which are suites – and succeeds in attracting CEOs and their families, celebrities and well-heeled, statesman-like jetsetters
Charles Masson glides around the Majorelle restaurant (pictured) during service ‘like a gastronomic theatre director’
Mr Hanson was impressed with the marble-heavy bathrooms, but did find evidence of wear and tear in his bedroom
Continuing its love affair with all things British, the hotel’s Pembroke Room plays host not just to breakfast but also to the ceremony of afternoon tea.
Once seated, you are cocooned away from the dirty, rushing streets of the city and presented with silver teapots that have come directly from Garrard & Co in London – silversmiths to the Prince of Wales and designers of five of the eight crowns held at the Tower of London.
The Lowell gets the afternoon tea service more correct than many London institutions, but with many nods to American mores and ideas of sophistication (Garrard’s pretty pots are placed on tea light-lit warmers – and while they keep the pots warm, they also stew the tealeaves inside).
Sadly there’s no clotted cream on offer – just the similar sounding ‘Devonshire cream’. We can forgive the Pembroke Room this as clotted cream is so difficult to export, not to mention expensive.
The tea service is complimented by white-jacket coated waiters who will warmly engage you in conversation and backstory about each of the teas, as well as discussing their own experiences of tea shops and hotels during their trips to England.
‘Being a nearly 100-year-old, 17-storey New York building,’ writes Mr Hanson, ‘each bedroom is unique in design and shape, many with original wood-burning fireplaces’. Pictured is the living room in one of the two-bedroom suites
The Lowell gets the afternoon tea service more correct than many London institutions, writes Mr Hanson
The Lowell is worlds apart from some of the recent hotel openings in New York City, such as Public
Cocoon: The Lowell is perfect for those who crave ‘a break from the lunacy of the city’
For those for whom tea may be too much, their lunch and dinner offering at the Majorelle restaurant is probably more in line with their desires. Classic French cookery with a Moroccan twist, overseen by Charles Masson, who glides around the restaurant during service like a gastronomic theatre director, overseeing every detail of each table’s experience.
The vaulted, dramatic setting of the restaurant is decorated by even more dramatic floral displays, each created by Masson, who uses the restaurant’s closure on a Monday to visit the flower markets to hand-pick whatever will grace his stage for the rest of the week. A job well done as the florals perfectly compliment, but do not upstage, the food: the cheese soufflé with velouté is a particular hit.
The Lowell is worlds apart from some of the recent hotel openings in New York City, such as Public, but I suspect will have a longer legacy and outlive the newer, faddy accommodations in the city.
For those who crave a break from the lunacy of the city and country as a whole, and those who appreciate quality, discreet, subtle service and surroundings, this unparalleled portal to the Upper East Side is for them – and me.
Rates start from $885 (£700) per night. For more please visit www.lowellhotel.com.
Rating key: one star – poor; two stars – ok; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.