Close to the action, far from perfect: My stay at The Chatwal New York

Aug 1, 2022

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Times Square is filled with tourists, Broadway theatergoers and a parade of office workers (or at least the ones who still go into the office these days). Often called “The Crossroads of the World,” it’s a vibrant, bustling part of the city that’s a must-see for first-timers and a must-avoid for grizzled New Yorkers.

Visitors pay a premium to stay here, often in oversized hotels like the mammoth Marriott Marquis — one of the most popular redemptions in the Bonvoy program.

Yet just a few steps away from the madness is another Marriott option, The Chatwal, a boutique luxury property with only 76 rooms and suites.

It seemed like the perfect midweek staycation for me and my wife — a quick, kid-free getaway just 1.5 miles physically from our home, but miles away mentally.

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In This Post

Booking

This hotel does not come cheap. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to maximize your spending there.

I chose to book via the American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts program.

The base rate was £618 for a deluxe king room measuring about 270 square feet. Booking the same room directly via Marriott, as a Bonvoy member, would have been £606.

However, by booking via American Express I was offered a shot at a noon check in, guaranteed 4 p.m. check-out, daily breakfast for two people and a possible room upgrade. It also came with a £105 property credit, which I knew I would use for dinner at the hotel’s popular restaurant, The Lamb’s Club. Finally, there is an up to £168 annual credit for holders of The Platinum Card® from American Express for prepaid bookings via Fine Hotels + Resorts.

(Screenshot from American Express Travel)

That same room is going for 79,000 to 91,000 Bonvoy points a night. Based on TPG’s current valuations, those points are worth about £558.38-£643.20, which can be a good deal when you factor in taxes. My one-night stay, as an example, ended up costing £762.93, including New York City’s high lodging taxes.

The free breakfast and £105 credit toward my dinner still made the Amex booking a better bargain, especially since as a Titanium elite member I earned 6,095 Bonvoy points, worth £43 based on TPG valuations. That said, if I wasn’t eating at the hotel (and testing out all the benefits for you) and had not already used my £168 credit (which I had), I probably would have used points for the stay.

Location

The primary reason to pick The Chatwal is its central location. It is steps from Times Square and minutes from other popular spots like Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park. This area is great for first-time visitors to New York, those with Broadway theatre tickets or folks with business in midtown.

At the same time, the hotel’s location on 44th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues is just shielded enough from the nearby bustle to make it a good spot to sleep, relax and catch your breath after a day out in New York.

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

The hotel sits in a 1905 building designed by Stanford White, part of the legendary architecture trio McKim, Mead & White. It initially opened as Lambs, a professional theatre club, near the heart of Broadway. In 2010, the building was renovated and opened as The Chatwal, named after Sant Singh Chatwal, the founder of Dream Hotel Group.

(The hotel company also just opened up a new luxury retreat in the Catskill Mountains called The Chatwal Lodge that I recently reviewed.)

The hotel’s history is evident in its lobby and other public spaces. I’ve been a longtime fan of its tiny but attractive Art Deco lobby with an atrium opening to its second-floor bar. A giant clock — one of the hotel’s signature items — hangs beyond the front desk. You don’t spend hours in this lobby but just walking through does take you back in time.

Check-in

I began my check in the day prior to my stay on the Marriott app, but knew I would still have to stop by the front desk to get my key.

On the day of arrival, I messaged the hotel via the app to see about a possible upgrade as a Titanium elite member. And then I waited — and waited some more. I wouldn’t hear back until more than four hours later, well after I had already settled into my room. Oh well.

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

When I arrived at the hotel around 3 p.m., two doormen were waiting to assist with luggage — a treat to see in this age of limited staffing. A quick walk up six stairs and I was at the front desk.

There was no wait at the front desk. The representative was helpful, gave me a letter outlining all the benefits I would receive from booking through Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts, explained my one-category room upgrade and offered me a bottle of water.

Moments later, I was in the elevator and on my way to my third-floor room. (My wife would arrive later.)

The room

My upgraded room was a “Grand Deluxe” king facing 44th Street, measuring about 350 square feet. The only real upgrade from the entry-level king room I’d originally booked was a small loveseat and the street view.

The closet was impressive and could have comfortably housed a wardrobe much more extensive than my overnight one. There was a tray to leave out shoes for the hotel’s butler to come and shine for free. Plush robes and slippers were waiting in the closet. I couldn’t have been happier.

Then I looked at the rest of the room and it was — well, just fine. It was clean and comfortable but not exactly luxurious or posh enough to justify a £589-plus nightly rate. The desk and loveseat had seen better days; there were scuffs and nicks all over. The room felt very cramped, even by New York City standards. It was technically large but none of the furniture was really inviting, making it just feel smaller. A thick layer of grime on the windows darkened my view of the street below.

There were lots of scratches, marks and the text on various switches had been rubbed away. One side of the bed had easily accessible outlets on the nightstand and the other didn’t. In other words: It’s time for a light renovation.

Then I walked into the bathroom.

No room, let alone a bathroom, should have as many mirrored spaces as this one. Plus, the tiles had sparkling specks in them, adding even more reflective surfaces to the room. While the hotel is only 12 years old, the bathrooms felt like a flashback to the 1970s and the age of Studio 54. (At least there wasn’t a disco ball?)

The Asprey bath products were nice, but I found it odd to see plastic cups in the bathroom — especially when paying these rates. Would it be too much to ask for nicer glass ones? Perhaps this was a pandemic-era cut that hasn’t been reversed.

Back in the bedroom, there was a small TV mounted on the wall. The bed was comfortable, but not exactly memorable.

Despite being in the heart of Manhattan, the double-paned windows did an excellent job of keeping out the city noise and we slept through the night soundly.

Food and beverage

Here is where The Chatwal shines. Long before I spent the night, I would come to this hotel for a pre-theatre drink or a business breakfast or lunch.

There are very few spots near Times Square where you can saunter in, sit down and have an excellent cocktail. To me, The Chatwal has always been that oasis — dating back to the days when I would earn Starwood Preferred Guest points for my food and beverage tabs there.

But the real star has always been The Lambs Club, a cosy restaurant off the lobby named after Lambs, the theatre club that used to occupy the building. Pre-pandemic, this was one of New York City’s power lunch spots, a place to settle into an inviting table, surrounded by deep red leather banquettes and photos of old-time stars of stage and screen.

The restaurant recently reopened under the leadership of chef Michael White, the man behind Michelin-starred New York restaurants Marea and Ai Fiori — two of my favourites. As soon as I booked my stay, I made a reservation for dinner, too.

My wife and I started our meal with the fluke crudo and a phenomenal dish of raw scallops, which were fresh and had a rich, luscious texture. We moved on to the lamb chop special and — what shockingly turned out to be my favourite dish — orecchiette with lobster, scallops and clams in a spicy tomato sauce. We ended with the sundae described on the menu as chocolate cake, maraschino cherry, chantilly, bruleed bananas, chocolate pearls and Maldon salt. That sounded like a lot of flavours all at once but it was actually the perfect end to our meal — a lovely balance of sweet, salty and tangy flavours.

These dishes aren’t cheap. The orecchiette, for instance, cost £39. Our meal, with just one glass of wine each, came to £223 before tip. But The Lambs Club does offer a three-course pre-theatre dinner for £59, which actually seems like a steal.

The food was very good but fell short of my dining experiences at Marea. Everything was delicious, but the sense of “wow” was missing from some of the dishes. The crudo dishes were great but the entrees just lacked that same burst of creativity and uniqueness. Maybe it was the dark, windowless setting. Maybe it was being in Times Square. Maybe I was just tired and picky that night — but I wasn’t as impressed.

Breakfast the next morning back at Lambs Club, on the other hand, actually exceeded my expectations. My eggs were fluffy and flavorful, the orange juice was freshly squeezed and the potatoes were just the right level of crispiness. My coffee cup never went empty and the staff warmed up milk for my wife’s coffee so it didn’t cool the drink down too much — a nice little touch. (For those not having breakfast at The Lambs Club, there is free coffee in the lobby near the elevators.)

Fine Hotels + Resorts covered £67.32 worth of breakfast — which was just about everything except for the tip.

Amenities

This is a small city hotel and I didn’t expect a plethora of amenities, but the ones that were available were disappointing.

In the basement, there is a small gym with three treadmills, one all-purpose weight machine and some free weights with a bench. Nothing else.

There is an indoor pool next to the gym and a spa but both were still closed in June due to the pandemic.

The hotel also used to offer a chauffeured Mercedes-Benz E350 to bring guests anywhere within 20 blocks for free. That, too, was unavailable during our stay but the staff told us they hoped to bring it back by the beginning of May so it might very well have returned by the time this is published.

(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Service

Every in-person contact we had with the staff was great — from the team at the front desk to the bartender in the lobby who walked me through the cocktail menu. (He told me I couldn’t go wrong with the Gold Rush, a bourbon, honey and lemon drink that was created for the hotel’s 2010 opening.)

While there might be a global staffing shortage, The Chatwal didn’t seem to have any issues. There was always someone at the front desk, a concierge, two doorman greeting guests and plenty of bartenders, all for a hotel with just 76 rooms. Maybe the spa, pool and house car are still casualties of the pandemic, but everything that was available operated perfectly, which is a very hard feat these days.

That said, we didn’t really interact that much with the staff. Doors were opened, hellos delivered and any questions we had were quickly answered, but I can’t say I walked away feeling a connection to the hotel on a personal level. This is an urban property where you sleep, unwind a bit and maybe have a drink or a meal. The staff was helpful but not overly warm.

The only issue we had was at departure. We had a guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout and I needed to use that time to do some work.

Several times, the staff questioned if we were going to really need it, with housekeeping even knocking on the door to check up on me. And when I left the room around noon to help my wife into a cab, the front desk staff quickly stopped me to warn me that I had left my laptop in the room. Yes, I had — because I was going back. Housekeeping had been quick to enter — despite the do not disturb sign — and had seen that I was still set up at the desk. I’m glad they stopped me, but at the same time, they didn’t seem to really believe that one of us would be sticking around longer. It left me feeling much less welcome than I had been the day before.

I understand hotels have to turn rooms over, but a guaranteed late checkout should be honoured without this level of fuss.

Checking out

The Chatwal is a good option for those loyal to Marriott who want to stay near Times Square but be a little apart from the madness of the area.

The service was (mostly) great, but the hotel is starting to show its age and could use a light refresh. While the public spaces have always felt special to me, the room itself was very underwhelming.

I really wanted to fall in love with The Chatwal, but instead was just left wanting just a little bit more luxury.

I’ll be back for a business breakfast or lunch and probably a drink at the bar one night before a Broadway show. I just won’t be spending the night.

Featured image by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy.

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