The Waldorf-Astoria, built in its current location in 1931 after being moved to make way for The Empire State Building, is a name that is synonymous with luxury. It’s famous clients and film appearances make it one of the most famous hotel names in the world. When Ann and I learned we would be spending the night in this storied hotel, we were excited to say the least. Rooms in the hotel average $899 a night, but thanks to Hotwire.com we were able to stay for a mere fraction of that cost.
We (Ann, Jude, and myself) arrive at the hotel on Park Avenue after a long, but wonderful day of walking around the city. We had a blast, but are carrying all of our luggage in one purse and one messenger bag. My back is killing me, and Ann’s feet are not any better off. We are ready to bask in luxury.
As you approach the hotel, you are awed by the massive stone edifice of it. It’s not the tallest building in the area, but it is the most impressive. “The Waldorf-Astoria” is written high above the entrance in gold letters that declare, “You are a higher class of person for staying here.” Two doormen stand out-front, opening the doors to limousines and town-cars, ushering gentlemen and ladies in the finest evening-wear. Just walking in the door makes you want to hold your nose up to the heavens. We step past the gilded doors and into a room like none I’ve ever seen.
A short flight of stairs takes you up into the main lobby, where the floor is decorated in what can only be described as “ancient homoerotic mosaic” artwork. Above hangs a pristine, beautiful chandelier. As you continue down the hall you are surrounded on both sides by beautiful art, in the form of exquisite architecture. The main room, which contains the front desk, bell captain’s post, and the entrance to one of 3 (THREE!!) fine dining establishments, is equally impressive.
Subtle lighting, offset by a not-so-subtle clock/centerpiece really help immerse us in the feeling that we’d left the middle class behind, even if only for a night. All around us the wealthy arrive/mingle/regale each other with tales of their prowess in the boardroom. The Waldorf-Astoria has a dress-code: no t-shirts, no faded/ripped jeans. Basically, you have to look like you belong. I mention this because, as you will see, it is a key part of the Waldorf experience.
We check in and receive our keys. I half expect them to be made of gold. The elevators to our floor (15) are down another long hallway. On one side, behind glass doors, is a room set up to show how beautiful and regal a wedding at The Waldorf-Astoria could be. Expensive too, I imagine.
The elevators are fast and smooth, causing my stomach to lurch as it starts and stops at various floors. We survive that, though, and arrive on the 15th floor.
1553 is our room number, and Ann has the honor of sliding the room key in and opening the door. This is after she and Jude take turns pressing the doorbell over and over again. Yeah, there is a doorbell.
We step into the room and all of our excitement begins to die down. As we enter, to our right, is the closet. Sliding mirrored doors (one of which is cracked) hide a very small closet with all the normal hotel amenities.
Straight ahead, along the right wall is a dresser, atop which is a medium-sized flat-screen television. Jude, being 5, immediately grabs for the remote control and turns on the television. He begs me to put on Cartoon Network, but the channel guide provided by the hotel only lists 12 channels, all of which are news/sports networks. I break the news to Jude, who takes it in stride. Later, while flipping through, we discover that there are well more than just 12 channels; and though most of them are still news/sports networks, 3 of them turned out to be entertainment channels (Cartoon Network, F/X, and MTV).
Next to the dresser was a desk, which had nothing on it aside from a room service menu, a blotter, and a lamp. A gilded mirror hangs on the wall above the desk, making it a combination desk/vanity. The desk abuts the windows, and their lackluster view.
The Waldorf-Astoria is essentially shaped like a giant U. Our view consisted of the other side of the U, a dream for voyeurs a letdown for us.
A pair of double beds lay against the left wall. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that they were the most uncomfortable beds I’ve ever slept on. It wouldn’t be fair to the futon I called home in 2003. That being said, they are far from the MOST comfortable, as well. They are just middle of the road; not what you’d expect for paying $899 a night (which, if you’ll remember, we did not).
The final, depressing, stop on our whirlwind tour of how the other half lives is the bathroom. Apparently the rich must love the sound of a running toilet, because that is what we are subjected to until I decide I’ve had enough and fix the damn thing myself. And don’t go thinking that’s the only issue, no friends, I’m not finished with the throne room! The pedestal sink, a white marble glory, is broken. It provides us with water, both cold and room temperature, but only if you don’t mind a little splash-back. You see, the faucet is designed so the water falls directly on the metallic stopper, causing the water to arc back toward the handwasher/toothbrusher. When I lean forward on the sink, it wobbles like it’s about to fall to the cold floor at any moment.
After a long day trekking across the city, basking in Jude’s wonder as he sees it all for the first time, Ann is sore and decides to go for a soak in the tub. You probably know by now that this is not going to go as planned. The faucet for the tub and the shower head are on opposite ends. So as Ann lies and waits for the heat to soothe her tired muscles, a cold tap, tap, tap assaults her forehead, preventing anything close to relaxation.
Our experience at The Waldorf-Astoria is a let down, to be sure, but it did not put a damper on what was a wonderful trip: We got to see Elf on Broadway, I gave a passing celebrity (Christopher McDonald) a very cool, calm nod, and we got to visit the American Museum of Natural History. I wouldn’t have traded this weekend for anything. And I even got 1 positive out of the hotel.
I realized that The Waldorf-Astoria is a perfect metaphor for the wealthy upper class. To the outside world they appear beautiful. Every hair in its place, every wrinkle eradicated. Their money appears to make them happy, because it makes them beautiful; they drown themselves in opulence to disguise what is going on beneath. They are, after all, only human. They have their alcoholism, dysfunctional families, mental and emotional diseases, and all the faults shared by all classes of people. The only difference is they get to hide it behind a facade of pristine beauty and never have to face the unattractive facts of their lives.
Knowing this helps me sleep a little better at night.