Park Avenue will be a little less glamorous at the end of February. The new owners of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, China’s Anbang Insurance are closing the hotel then for extensive renovations that are expected to take 3 years. When the hotel eventually opens, it is expected that ¾ of the rooms will have been converted into private apartments. The next 7 weeks are the public’s last chance to drink in the luxury and history of this storied hotel that has been the home away from home of celebrities and aristocrats since 1931. The President of the United States stayed at the Waldorf until recently; Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fought in the halls, and Frank Sinatra caroused there with the Rat Pack. Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and close adviser of President Elect Donald Trump, dined at the Waldorf’s Le Chine, which offers an authentic culinary journey through China and its provinces in a refined setting more befitting 3 star Michelin French restaurant, the night after his father-in-law’s election.
My recent visit to the Waldorf in December only highlighted the luxury that will be missing from our lives when the hotel was closed. My room included both a separate bar and dressing area as well as a shower and a bath and was large enough to comfortably entertain several friends that stopped by. Room service, which was invented at the hotel, arrived quickly partially because the hotel maintains a separate kitchen to fulfill guest’s room service requests.
Earlier in the day, we had a tour of the hotel and the kitchens, which occupy an entire city block in the basement. The kitchen tour was topped off with a lesson on how to make red velvet cupcakes with two of the hotel’s pastry chefs. The Waldorf makes all its baked goods in house except for the bread which it buys in Brooklyn. By the way, these kitchens are where Veal Oscar, Lobster Newberg, and Eggs Benedict were created.
Next up for our press group was dinner in the hotel. When Le Chine’s bar manager Chris Johnson introduced himself as the “Sake Ninja,” I knew we were headed for a memorable evening. Actually Johnson was being modest; he is a certified Sake Samurai, a honorific that the Japanese Sake Federation has only given to 80 people around the world. Not surprisingly, the sake he chose went down smoothly and with no aftertaste. Le Chine’s staff then served us cocktails created by long time Waldorf bartender Frank Caiafa and sent us our way with a wonderful keepsake, his book The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book. (available on Amazon for $14.88)
Slightly tipsy, our press group walked across the hotel to the Bull& Bear, which is known for its mahogany bar. We were first greeted by an orgy of raw seafood and then a carnivore’s delight. The food was of the highest quality with my rib eye so tender that a butter knife could have cut it.
I didn’t think the Waldorf could top themselves in the food department after the delightful dinner at Bull & Bear. The brunch at Peacock Alley proved me wrong proved this brunch fetishist wrong. There was a chef making omelets to order, another shucking oyster, and a third flambéing baked Alaska. I quickly learned that maybe I don’t need 4 different types of caviar but I surely liked sampling them. Ditto for the 5 varieties of salmon.
I was ready for a nap after a repast fit for a king, but instead I was whisked to the Guerlain spa in the hotel for a facial that left my face glowing. Rush to the legendary Waldorf Astoria before it closes. This will be the sybaritic vacation that will make you regret ever waiting in a TSA line.