There aren’t a squad of black pyjama clad valets deigning to help you between preening in the lift mirrors. They don’t have a bookshop featuring the lastest nudes and art hardbacks. Their staff don’t loiter like eager tip junkies. In fact I’d go as far as to say that if you casually wandered out of Central Park and across Madison, bypassing the luxury goods and fashion stores, and into the grid of Upper East Side streets that discretely hides some of the cities most prestigious addresses you might even pass the hotel without noticing it.
There are of course an awning and a doorman and a few steps down into the reception but the everyday passerby wouldn’t know how good an establishment this is. I would say over the last twenty five years I’ve stayed somewhere in the region of 150 hotels in thirty odd countries, many of them the world’s best, but there was something about the Lowell you rarely come across. To put it simply it just made you feel great about being there. I can pay it no greater compliment than to admit that on a Saturday night in Spring my girlfriend and I chose to stay in and enjoy our room rather than go out in what many consider the greatest city on Earth.
From the moment we arrived to the moment we left we never wanted for anything and yet the staff didn’t actually deliver anything spectacular other than quick, careful and polite service. They took the edge off travelling – offering cash when we asked for a local ATM, changing and checking in for flights – and made it a pleasure just to pass through its lobby.
With just 21 rooms, three to a floor, the corridors were quiet and private. The room service appeared and disappeared in a totally unimposing way, and the food and drink that arrived met our birthday celebration needs to a T. The furnishings were homely and traditional, the mini-bar was more a mini-kitchen with deep drawers full of wines, beers, soft drinks and good quality snacks alongside a hob and sink. I know you’re thinking, loads of hotels have these, but the over-all feeling in the Lowell was that the hotel were pleased to have you there and nothing was a problem. In a city as busy and hot and flustered as New York it was a luxury just to feel relaxed.
In an era when hotels so often seem to be about style and PR than comfort and hospitality, the Lowell offer a glimpse of a different time when different standards prevailed. Some people identify a great hotel as being a home away from home but the Lowell was better than this. It wasn’t about fashion or trends or brands, it’s just about you the guest.
One of the reasons The Lowell might have appeared so welcoming was we arrived having spent two nights at the Bryant Park. Our opening experience at the Lowell – where the gentleman behind the desk offered us cash against our room charge to save us going out – contrasted starkly with our last experience at the Bryant Park where the valet’s attempt to get us a cab involved standing on the pavement outside the hotel for five minutes talking about Lewis Hamilton with his hand in the air and then admitting defeat and suggesting we drag our bags over to 6th and have a go at finding a cab ourselves.
Maybe it’s an age thing but the Bryant Park felt more like getting in and out of a nightclub than staying at a hotel. There’s a busy bar/club in the basement and a popular sushi restaurant in house, so if you’re flying in and out in business and want to meet a lot of people or feel like you’re appearing in Sex and the City this might be the place for you. The sushi was excellent at KOI, and the offer of an hours free drink in the bar for residents seemed a great way to soften the credit crunch, and the room and front desk service were snappy and assured but overall I felt like I was staying in a place that felt like it was doing you a favour letting you in.
As the hotel is set in an eye catching black and gold historic skyscraper on the edge of a large and busy community park it had been selected as a location for a new movie, the notice in our room effectively said ‘do us a favour and don’t get in the way of their filming’. In addition everything in the room had a price on it. There was no kettle, no complimentary water, the phone adapter had to be paid for. In four nights in Manhattan I spent far more on room charges at The Lowell but never once checked nor was aware of the price of anything. The Bryant Park Hotel room felt like I couldn’t move without being charged.
The hotel is popular with short stay mid-town fashion industry people and it’s geared towards them. It’s image and not customer conscious and I think they’d do well to swap that around.