Simple touches like a hand-written addressed envelope or a pillow case with my initials on it helped The Carlyle win my heart in a minute, says Glenn Jones. *Photo by Glenn Jones
Simple touches like a hand-written addressed envelope or a pillow case with my initials on it helped The Carlyle win my heart in a minute, says Glenn Jones. *Photo by Glenn Jones

I have a childhood memory of my mother stuffing bars of hotel soap in her purse during family vacations.  That soap came in handy at a mall restroom or in the half bath off the foyer of her home.

If Mom stayed at The Carlyle in New York, she’d lose her mind.  

The soap in the guestrooms is such a hit, “people call and ask to buy it by the case”. a hotel spokesperson told me.

It’s made with honeysuckle, wrapped in clear cellophane and replenished daily. It’s just one of many reasons The Carlyle, a Rosewood property, is often declared best in show in a city with a seemingly endless list of hotels.

The Carlyle has met the approval of the political elite like President John Kennedy and Mrs Kennedy, fashionistas like the Olsen twins and Hollywood power players like Woody Allen — who sometimes takes the stage at Café Carlyle to play clarinet in a jazz band. This hotel is that kind of place.

In the summer, room rates drop as low as $395 per night. Just off Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, those rates almost double during the end-of-year holidays when New York is sometimes covered in snow and always delightfully doused in Christmas spirit.

Each of the 188 rooms and suites has original wood floors from the 1930’s. And although the hotel is almost 100 years old, the fixtures and furniture feel as if they were put in yesterday.  

Not overly modern or ostentatious, but comfortable and well suited — like you might find in the home of a wealthy family that prefers being understated.

There are show-off moments too like around-the-clock elevator attendants in white gloves — which I didn’t care for — and pillowcases embroidered with initials.  

Apparently there’s a room in the belly of the hotel with racks and racks of embroidered pillowcases.  

The one that made it to my room on the eleventh floor was a simple gesture — two letters: GJ — but I must admit The Carlyle won my heart in an instant because of that pillowcase. 

And I suppose that’s the point. The Carlyle says it wants guests to feel like they’re at home or, as I interpreted it, they want me to feel like I’m in a better version of my own home — mission accomplished.

The cable is unlimited, the hallway walls on each floor are covered in suede instead of paint, the concierges seem to be one degree removed from all things important, and on certain floors you can see Central Park from your hotel room bed — I say again: mission accomplished.

However, if you want to make The Carlyle your actual home it can happen.  They sell residences at this Mecca of hospitality, but I didn’t get prices because I figured: “What’s the point”?  

I can’t dream of buying real estate on the upper East Side, I’m better suited to pinching a bar of soap.  I am, after all, my mother’s son. 

Grab a drink at Bemelmans

You haven’t really been to The Carlyle unless you’ve spent some time at Bemelmans Bar.

Ludwig Bemelmans painted a mural on the walls of this lobby bar and you can follow his wall scribbling as effortlessly as an audio book if you just swivel your head.  

The scenes of Central Park fly off the wall in a manner that could only be created by a man who was as dark and humorous as he was talented.

Bemelmans was an artist for Vogue and the New Yorker (among others), but he  also wrote the Madeline children’s books.  

Even Madeline makes an appearance on the mural, but you may have to ask the bartender to help you find her.

The piece took about 18 months to complete while Bemelmans was a resident at The Carlyle.  

He exchanged the mural for his accommodations.  Now socialites, political leaders and other well-heeled individuals meet here for a drink, a laugh or to listen to the pianist fill the room with delightful noise.

Even if you are not staying at The Carlyle, a visit to Bemelmans is encouraged, as long as you can get a table and stomach a $19 vodka on the rocks. 

Editor’s note: In the spirit of full disclosure, as required by the Media Council of Bermuda’s Code of Conduct, we note that Glenn Jones’s stay was courtesy of The Carlyle.