Even if you’re a first-time visitor to 455 Madison Avenue, you may find the courtyard’s ornate iron gate and the lobby’s sweeping staircase familiar. That’s because the New York Palace has been a frequent film and TV backdrop, even serving as the home address of Serena van der Woodsen on Gossip Girl—but the storied Midtown spot was synonymous with luxury long before its prime time supporting role. In 1882, journalist-turned-railroad tycoon Henry Villard commissioned six grand townhouses surrounding a Renaissance-style courtyard modeled after Rome’s Palazzo della Cancelleria. Nearly a century later, a 55-story tower was added, and the address became the home of the Helmsley Palace hotel, where millionaire Queen of Mean Leona Helmsley ruled for a decade, terrorizing staff until her sentencing for tax evasion. Rechristened the New York Palace, the property went on to wind up in the hands of—no joke—the Sultan of Brunei. Then in 2011, it was purchased by Northwood Investors, who undertook a $140 million renovation uniting Gilded Age glamour with modern opulence.
That’s especially evident in the Towers, a hotel within a hotel with its own private reception, where flutes of Champagne await at check-in and the elevator stands ready to whisk you to the top 14 floors, home to 176 revamped rooms and suites—including jaw-droppers like the 5,000-square-foot Jewel Suite dreamed up by Martin Katz, featuring more than $1.5 million of the Beverly Hills jewelry designer’s bling. But even the Towers’ standard rooms can make you feel like a master of the universe. Decked in a gold-and-cream color scheme with lots of leather and marble, they boast opaque and sheer shades that descend with the touch of a button, glass showers with dual heads and Molton Brown toiletries, and stunning skyline views anchored by neighboring neo-Gothic marvel St. Patrick’s Cathedral, currently under renovation and partly shrouded by scaffolding, but still welcoming both tourists and penitents.
In-room bartending and butler services are just a phone call away, but there are plenty of options for drinking downstairs. Abutting the lobby lounge is the clubby Tavern on 51, while tucked beneath the grand staircase is Trouble’s Trust, a sultry cocktail bar dressed in red lacquer and leather and named for the pampered pooch to whom Leona bequeathed a $12 million trust fund. Specialty cocktails like the Queen of Mean—featuring local potables Breuckelen 77 New York wheat whiskey, Ginger Bee craft mixer, Red Jacket Orchards apple juice and Averell Damson gin—will run you a cool $19. Even more luxe is Rarities, the by-reservation-only salon limited to 25 imbibers at a time and stocked with cognacs and wines that date back to Villard’s day. The ground-floor Pomme Palais bakery, meanwhile, offers light fare for an on-the-go breakfast or lunch, plus pain au chocolate and other sweets to work off at the eighth-floor fitness center. (You’re fully forgiven if you skip the cardio in favor of an aromatic hot towel massage at the adjoining spa.)
The real playgrounds, of course, wait just beyond the courtyard: MoMA, Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center and many more sights are within easy walking distance. So is Broadway, where Finding Neverland, the Diane Paulus-directed musical bred at the A.R.T. in Cambridge, recently made its debut. To celebrate, the hotel is offering a package with themed cocktails and cookies, the option of discounted tickets, a program signed by the entire cast and a phone greeting from Kelsey Grammer, who plays Captain Hook. Like your theater a little less G-rated? There are lots of new standouts this season, like comic-come-to-life Fun Home, a musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of growing up in a funeral home and coming out to her closeted dad, who died in what was likely a suicide months later; Something Rotten, a 16th-century-set musical about the making of a musical that spoofs familiar tropes from Broadway and the Bard; and Hand to God, a decidedly dark comedy in which a demonically possessed puppet gives voice to the id of a troubled teen at a Christian ministry. Expect extended puppet sex, a bit of gore, lots of laughs and questions on the function of faith that will linger on your walk back toward St. Pat’s and your freshly turned-down bed at the Palace.
-If you’re arriving in New York via Penn Station, the Uptown E train will get you to the hotel faster than a cab.
-Pop by the lobby before heading out for the evening to check out the Palace Hour, which offers a daily changing treat, from a gougere of the day to a mini spa service, starting at 5 pm.
The New York Palace 455 Madison Ave., New York (212-888-7000) newyorkpalace.com