The Waldorf Astoria has been the place to stay since the doors first opened in 1930. Kings and queens, presidents and princesses, movie stars and musicians graced the halls, ‘kept a room’, or swung by for a cocktail. The hotel has been an icon of the best of New York, with a staff motto that reads “The difficult immediately. The impossible will take a little longer”. This magic was not lost on Sean and I when we first visited NYC 21 years ago. After the twenty four hour flight, a less than enthusiastic welcome and a tiny room, I rang reception with genuine disappointment to say we would not be staying. Within minutes there was a knock at the door, and a butler poised under a silver tray carrying an iced bottle of champagne said he would accompany us to our new room – a suite in the towers larger than our house in Sydney and requiring a special pass to access. Welcome to New York!
The Waldorf as we know it will close on March 1st. A Chinese Insurance Company has purchased the property and, apart from a few hotel rooms, will convert the location into condos over the next 3 years. Apparently the Historical Society will come in and advise on aspects or appointments of the hotel that need to be kept. But of course it will be different. When we wandered around the hotel for the last time on Monday it was with more than a little nostalgia. While a security guard stopped us on the very top floor of the towers, where for the moment there are still private rooms, the rest of our ramble was unimpeded. The Skylight Room on the 18th floor where the Count Basie Band used to play was now abandoned, leaving only piles of tablecloths and dishevelment. The Grand Ballroom was echoingly empty. It seemed strange and ghostly, when downstairs at reception everything appeared like business as usual – the antique clock still rang out on the quarter hour and concierge were still taking bookings for hotel tours. (Saturdays and Thursdays at 10.30, with a cost of $65 that includes a three course lunch.)
It may well be time for the Waldorf Astoria to have a facelift, for new people and influences to come in with fresh ideas. But I’m glad to have shared some time – and some fun – with part of New York that is historical now. On the way out I picked up a couple of pens with a sobering and slightly ironic thought – they have probably been getting them made in China for years…
Fascinating, would love to have been a fly on the wall back in its hay day!