Do Not Disturb



April 20, 2006 -- Regular readers of this column know that, if pressed, I will say that my favorite hotel is the Beverly Hills Hotel, the famed Pink Palace. But maybe it's about to lose its throne.

My wife and I have just returned from an almost sublime stay at a hotel in, of all places, New York City, a town where service is generally hamstrung by union rules and the attitude of staffers is the stuff of a cartoon in The New Yorker.

Our greeting was friendly, the doorman's bowler hat reminiscent of the Lanesborough in London, the front desk clerk smiling and efficient. We were escorted to our 33rd floor accommodations by a super-smart, pretty and effervescent young lady. The elevators were manned by attendants who spend their days riding up and down. The job must surely be the most stress-free in the world and they always had a friendly "good morning" or "good afternoon" or "good evening." We liked Fred best.

The room itself had wonderful views of Central Park, Madison Avenue and, to the East, the East River. The mattress was firm, the sheets were Frette and each of the pillows had our initials monogrammed on the cases. There were beautiful fresh daffodils, simply presented, and a sensible minibar with goodies from Dean & Deluca. There was an entertainment system that one could actually work and the television guide listed channels by category: news, film, sports, etc. How sensible!

The Matthews finger tested the tops of the pictures and under the bed, but failed to find a speck of dust.

Although small, the bathroom had every convenience, including a bidet and a range of toiletries from Kiehl's. By the way, Kiehl's is my new favorite bathroom amenity, especially the coriander body cleanser and the Crème de Corps moisturizer. We brought home (stole) bottles of each.

No sooner were we in our accommodations than my wife took a well-earned bath. She activated the Jacuzzi, ensuring that the bubbles reached her neck. She lay there, wonderfully relaxed, the coriander bubbles floating across the room, until the telephone rang.

The aforementioned super-smart, pretty and effervescent young lady was calling. She asked if we'd left the bath running and if it had overflowed.

"No…" I said.

"May I come up?"

"Of course," I said. "What's the problem"?

"Unfortunately, the bathroom below is now flooded and filling fast and the one below that and the one below that…"

I had visions of 33 floors of bathrooms being flooded and water eventually cascading onto the hotel's nightclub, then trickling down Madison Avenue.

Seconds later, the super-smart, pretty and effervescent young lady arrived at our door with a uniformed engineer. Within seconds he had dismantled the piping, fixed the leak--it had nothing to do with my wife's bathing habits--and departed.

Christine, the super-smart, pretty and effervescent young lady, remained behind.

"I am so, so sorry to have inconvenienced you," she said. "Is there anything I can do? I have taken the liberty of ordering you fresh fruit. Is there anything else I can do? I am truly sorry to have disturbed you."

For the next four days, wherever we turned, there was Christine, immaculately turned out in her black uniform dress, not a hair out of place, nails manicured, makeup just right, always smiling. Do you think Christine would like to meet our son, the doctor?

So where were we in New York City? At The Carlyle, well-known as the trysting place for JFK and Marilyn Monroe and even better known as the longtime home of the late Bobby Short, the cabaret entertainer who made Café Carlyle his home for more than 35 years. These days, the hotel is the home of conservative billionaires from around the world and anyone who appreciates understated service and homely comfort and abhors the brassiness of the more modern establishments. It's a place where "good morning" means just that.

During our stay at The Carlyle, we tried Bemmelmans Bar, one of the hotel's other dining and entertainment venues. It was too crowded and loud for my taste, but the drinks were mammoth and the hors d’oeuvres exceptional. The dining room, the Carlyle Restaurant, is superb. The setting is right out of Architectural Digest and the service reminds you of Jeeves, the gentlemen's gentleman from P.G. Wodehouse. Real Dover sole, served on or off the bone, is as good as the sole served at Wiltons in London. The eating and drinking options at The Carlyle are such that you may never need to leave, but Jeff, the amiable concierge, is a wizard at getting you a table just about anywhere in New York.

The Carlyle is a truly superb and well-managed hotel. And so it should be. The managing director, a tall, Hermes-tied South African named James McBride. He was trained, in large part, by Alberto Del Hoyo, the managing director of the Beverly Hills hotel. That explains it. Get ready to more over, Alberto. This fellow McBride is ready to grab your crown.

One last note: Our arrival at The Carlyle was preceded by the departure of Charles and Camilla, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. We asked various members of the staff what they were like. Without missing a beat, we were told, "I'm sorry, I wasn't on duty when they were here."

As far as I could gather, the hotel must have been devoid of all staff during their stay. Talk about discretion!

This column originally appeared at

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