Though they cannot have foreseen their good fortune when work began at The Whitby, which opened earlier this year, there is currently no hotel bed closer to the city’s newest and most popular tourist attraction.
Not so long ago, the view out to the Statue of Liberty from the top of the Empire State Building was the must-have New York holiday snap. Now, at least on the evidence of my visit, it’s the bird-flipping selfie at Trump Tower. Right on the doorstep of this frankly stunning new offering, Korean tourists jostle with Italians for the best spot from which to laugh, raise their middle finger and vent their highly instagrammable displeasure at the decline of the West.
There is also nowhere quite so stylish. Firmdale Hotels, of which The Whitby is New York’s second, are all designed to within an inch of their exquisite lives, while maintaining a distinctly British feel. This is courtesy of the group’s co-founders Kit and Tim Kemp, who also have a whopping eight premises in London.
The bar and restaurant are the real design masterpiece. A quite extraordinary array of wicker baskets, collected from all over the UK, appear to have been topiarised above the long pewter bar. The lights have been woven in bright fabrics around concealed plastic Coca-Cola bottles, in counterpoint to the fine gilded English bone china
At breakfast, there’s a small buffet to choose from of reassuringly New York-sized pastries, fresh fruit and yoghurt. But the main event is pleasingly a la carte. No Serengeti-like rolling expanse of blue cheese, donuts and serrano ham, no “design-on-your own” omelette station – just a short(ish) list of first-rate choices, from which I personally recommend the hangar steak with eggs and arugula salad.
Behind here, there’s the drawing room, strictly for the use of guests, with 24-hour butler service and an “honesty bar” where one writes down what one’s consumed, an impressive display of trust given the stoppered bottles of Laurent Perrier Jouet in the ice bucket.
Even without their suddenly enviable spot at the foot of Trump Tower, The Whitby’s location is unimprovable. Two blocks from Central Park, two from the heart of Fifth Avenue and the well-known cultural highlights of the Upper East Side. For those visiting New York and still wishing to avail themselves of its best known sites, there is no better place to be.
There are a mere 86 rooms, spread across 16 floors – diminutive by New York standards – each to its own specification.At the foot of my bed there was a vast orange sofa. On a grand mural above my head, an orange horse led an embroidered knight into battle. On the wall, some sort of Andalusian shepherd surveys the green pasture, himself looked over by the watchless gaze of a dressmaker’s dummy, again in orange. (There is a lot of orange, and this is no accident, the hotel manager explained. This, and blue, are the city’s official colours. It was once known as New Amsterdam, after all.) On the expansive bookshelves, design books feature prominently. In the magazine rack, you won’t be shocked to find a Monocle design special.
My own room had a lovely roof terrace, truly a rarity in this or indeed most parts of town, with green patio furniture where meals can be taken, high above 58th Street. The menu is the same as the one offered in the downstairs restaurant, itself a more than worthy addition to New York’s already overwhelming brunch (and breakfast, and lunch, and dinner, and afternoon tea) culture.
On my visit, it rained almost without stopping, leaving the terrace unused. But there was, naturally, a flat screen TV at the end of the bath, complete with waterproof remote. So if you want to take advantage of the time difference and while away your Saturday morning in the tub watching the Premier League action before re-emerging, prune-like, at noon, well, you can.
The mindbending madness of US politics lends New York’s newest attraction an almost Castro-esque sense of urgency. You’ve got to flip the bird at Donald’s tower block, before he’s impeached. By that logic, you might only have weeks to make a reservation. But The Whitby is clearly going to be one of the city’s finest places at which to spend a few nights for years to come.
18 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019
001 212 586 5656; designhotels.com/the-whitby-hotel
Doubles from $555, room only.
Access: all upper floors wheelchair-accessible by lift