This iconic New York City hotel just reopened — Here’s what it’s like to spend the night
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Soon after the coronavirus gripped New York City, I left town.
I know, I’m a sellout. I didn’t stick with the city when the going got tough.
But at that time, we had no idea what was happening, and I had no interest in getting “trapped” in the 600-square-foot apartment I share with a roommate for what could have been a year or more, for all we knew.
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Around the same time I left, tourists vanished from the streets of Midtown Manhattan and businesspeople stopped milling around office towers downtown. As a result, the city’s once-thriving hotel industry took a beating, causing many properties to shut down entirely for months — if not forever.
One of the hotels that closed temporarily was the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown, which instantly became one of the city’s most desirable properties when it opened in 2016.
Eight months since the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S. and the closure of the hotel, both the Four Seasons and I are back.
I returned to the city with a new appreciation of what it means to be a New Yorker, an awesome sense of humility and appreciation for restauranteurs and street vendors doing whatever they can to scrape by and a sense of optimism that, despite the naysayers, this city will come back. And the reopening of hotels like the Four Seasons (which, by the way, is the only hotel in Lower Manhattan that has a Forbes Five-Star rating and a AAA Five-Diamond rating) is a critical part of that rebirth.
After being closed since 22 March, the hotel reopened on 30 November with heightened cleanliness and safety protocols, a newly renovated “Empire Suite” (the name the hotel assigned to its top room) and a clearer-than-ever idea of what it means to provide five-star service.
Its doors are open to guests once again, and it stands ready as ever to welcome guests back to its oasis of quiet luxury in the middle of normally buzzing Downtown Manhattan.
The hotel invited me to stay for two nights soon after it reopened. So, I packed an overnight bag and made the 15-minute journey from Brooklyn to see what the hotel was like after it had been closed for the majority of the year. Here’s what I learned during my staycation.
Four Seasons takes safety seriously
Over the years, Four Seasons has built a reputation for stellar service.
In today’s world, that means — first and foremost — keeping guests safe. Based on my stay in Downtown Manhattan and my colleague Zach Griff’s experience at the Four Seasons Philadelphia, you can expect the utmost precaution when you check in to any Four Seasons property.
You’ll notice the Four Seasons COVID-19 safety programme, known as Lead With Care, as soon as you pass through the doors. Before I was able to check in, I spoke with a bellhop who asked me to sanitise my hands at the automated dispenser.
After I sanitised my hands, I took a step to the left in front of a machine that quickly took my temperature.
Finally, he asked me to verbally confirm that I had not travelled within the last 14 days to another state, with the exception of a handful of states neighbouring New York such as Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey.
All hotel guests and visitors must complete the above steps before they’re allowed to enter the hotel, though the process was seamless and unobtrusive.
In addition to the initial screening process, the hotel placed numerous placards explaining the Lead With Care programme around the hotel’s public areas along with dispensers filled with hand sanitiser and graphics on the floor reminding people to keep their distance from one another.
Perhaps the best tool we have in fighting COVID-19 is wearing a face covering, and I’m happy to say this Four Seasons took mask compliance very seriously. I never saw an employee without one. And, I can’t recall seeing any other guests walking around without a mask or wearing one improperly.
Guest rooms are large (at least for New York)
As a New Yorker, I’m used to small spaces — and that expectation is no different in hotel rooms. Most rooms in the Big Apple aren’t exactly palatial, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a very spacious Manhattan Room.
Measuring 425 square feet, the room may not be as large as what you’d find at a sprawling beach resort, but it had space for a sitting area complete with a chaise lounge in a beautiful grey houndstooth fabric, a chair and a large cabinet that served as the minibar. This is far more space than you’d find in many other hotel rooms in the city, which might have just enough capacity for a bed and maybe a chair.
There’s also a dedicated desk and chair — perfect for remote work in the age of Zoom meetings.
The bathroom was similarly large, with a standalone soaking tub, stand-up shower, water closet and single vanity. I was a little surprised there weren’t two sinks, but that’s grasping at straws considering how well the bathroom was appointed.
The luxurious single-use toiletries (great for COVID-19, not so great for the environment) were Replica by Maison Margiela, and some of the most high-end products I’ve seen at a hotel.
The room’s closets were cleverly located in the small hallway between the bathroom and the rest of the guest room, allowing one person to get dressed in private while the other is going about their business outside.
As an added treat, I had a view of the famous Oculus transit centre, designed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava.
The decor in the room is at once understated and glamorous, with muted greys and light wood throughout. The furniture is beautiful but comfortable and approachable — it makes you feel like you’re in an upscale apartment rather than a high-end hotel
You can get away from it all — even in the big city
As soon as you walk into the lobby, you’re whisked away from the honking horns and other noises of Downtown Manhattan (yes, the city is still alive and yes, still noisy).
Rich, dark wood and dim lighting create an atmosphere of calm, something to be appreciated after a long day of meetings or seeing the sights.
The corridors of each guest-room floor were similarly dim and very hushed. I never heard any noise from the city below, even though the hotel is located near some very busy areas.
For a city hotel, this Four Seasons offers guests plenty of ways to relax. My room had a dedicated soaking tub, and even though I’m not much of a bath guy, I couldn’t resist drawing one for myself.
And, the hotel has an entire wellness complex that includes a stunning 75-foot indoor pool and resort-style loungers to kick back and relax after a swim.
I spent an afternoon reading a book next to the pool and immediately escaped from the reality of pandemic life. (Based on personal experience, this is also a great place to take a nap, thanks to the balmy temperatures in the pool area.)
Predictably, the hotel also boasts a full-service spa with locker rooms equipped with showers, multiple treatment rooms, steam rooms and infrared saunas. Due to coronavirus-related restrictions, the steam rooms and saunas are closed, but the locker rooms and treatment rooms are open and operational.
If you feel like sweating off your decadent room-service breakfast (more on that later), the hotel has a very well-equipped gym complete with a dedicated studio for yoga or stretching. Of course, the placement of machines and operation of the fitness centre has been modified in accordance with the Lead With Care programme.
Technology is luxury
Over the last few years, the definition of high-end service has changed.
These days, great service doesn’t necessarily mean getting waited on hand and foot by hotel staff. Instead of calling the front desk or concierge for a request, many now prefer more automated ways of interacting with the hotel, such as in-app messaging features, and digital requests for everything from room service to pillows.
During a pandemic, this shift in service is more relevant than ever. The Four Seasons has this concept down to a science, and I could communicate any questions or concerns with the hotel via a messaging service in the Four Seasons app on my phone.
Additionally, there was an iPad next to my bed that put hotel information at my fingertips, as well as the ability to order meals or schedule spa treatments.
I used the iPad to order breakfast each morning of my stay, and I loved that I didn’t have to pick up the phone and pretend I was actually awake to order my food.
And, on the last morning of my stay, I avoided the dreaded “Can I have late checkout, pretty please?” call and was able to arrange that simply by “texting” the front desk. It’s these kinds of technologies that set many luxury hotels apart, and it’s something I sincerely hope proliferates further throughout the industry in the future.
The food is superb
It had been a very long time since I’d enjoyed one of life’s greatest pleasures: room-service breakfast.
I was very much looking forward to having breakfast in the comfort of my robe each morning, and the Four Seasons New York Downtown delivered — literally.
Each morning I was able to specify that I’d like my order left outside my room and I simply wheeled in the table, unwrapped the dishes, took way too many photos (phone eats first, as they say!) and enjoyed my decadent meals with a view of the Oculus through the window.
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The first morning I ordered an omelette with fresh vegetables and sides of roasted potatoes and fresh fruit. The second morning I went for the avocado toast with poached eggs, bacon and potatoes and, again, fruit. Both mornings I enjoyed the “Detox” pressed juice as a refreshing accompaniment.
Both meals were delicious, though the avocado toast was the standout, with perfectly crisp toast and flavorful toppings. I could tell the hotel hadn’t missed a beat, even though it had been closed for several months.
I also decided to have dinner at CUT by Wolfgang Puck, the hotel’s signature restaurant. At the time of my stay, indoor dining in New York City was still allowed, with reduced capacity. I went early — soon after the restaurant opened — in hopes that my friend and I would be two of only a handful of people in the restaurant, and we bet correctly.
We enjoyed a mushroom risotto, spicy “Dan Dan” dumplings and an order of some of the most decadent truffle fries I’ve ever tasted. To wash it all down I ordered a gin martini, which went down all too easily.
Perhaps even more than the food, we enjoyed the atmosphere. The bar area — even without barstools — was inviting and felt like a “scene” with bolts of red neon framing the bar and a super-cool corner flanked by deep-red banquettes.
Even though there were just a few patrons, the restaurant played track after track of classic rock music, which made it feel like “the old times.” The staff members were incredible too, interacting in lively conversation with us and giving sound advice on our order.
The Empire Suite is fit for literal royalty
While the majority of the hotel didn’t receive any changes to its look during the COVID-19 closure, the hotel’s top suite certainly did. Now known as the Empire Suite, this 2,400-square-foot suite is fit for presidents, celebrities and even royal families looking for a chic apartment experience in Downtown Manhattan with all the services and amenities of a full-service, five-star hotel.
I got an inside look at the newly renovated suite during my stay, and I immediately found myself Googling “how to become part of the royal family” after I left so I could have a chance to spend a few nights in this sky palace.
The redesign was completed by interior designer Tara Bernard through her firm Tara Bernard & Partners and, in my humble opinion, they aced the design. It feels at once opulent and cosy, with the centrepiece of the suite being the expansive living and dining area which features vibrant jewel-tone chairs and sofas along with a 10-place dining table, perfect for a royal feast served from the en suite catering kitchen.
This suite also has a media room, study, two bathrooms, an expansive walk-in closet and can be combined with two additional rooms on the same floor to accommodate a larger group.
While I dragged my jaw through every room of this suite, my favourite area is the study, which features a cosy day bed that I immediately pictured myself taking naps in between Zoom meetings.
With the relaunch of the Empire Suite, the hotel is also offering the Empire Suite Experience as of 1 January 2021, which includes round-trip helicopter transfers for two from any New York-area airport (LaGuardia-LGA, Kennedy-JFK or Newark-EWR), limousine transfers for two from the Wall Street heliport (or the airport if desired), daily breakfast for two, a “spa retreat” for two including a couple’s massage, soak service and choice of Resident Healer experience (all of these are either available in-room or at the spa) and personalized silk pyjamas by Olivia Von Halle Pajamas and/or personalized Duke + Dexter loafers for two.
This package starts at $25,000 per night.
If you’d like to book a “normal” room, remember that while the Four Seasons doesn’t participate in a major loyalty programme, the properties typically participate in the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts programme. Platinum Card from American Express cardholders can enjoy a host of amenities with every booking, including complimentary breakfast for two, guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout, upgrades when available and a unique property amenity.
The reopening of the Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown is a big deal, not just for the hotel itself, but for the city of New York.
While the experience of staying at a hotel has certainly changed, the Four Seasons makes it as seamless as possible, with unobtrusive but effective safety measures and a focus on technology that’s not only convenient for guests but also safe.
I very much enjoyed my luxury staycation in Downtown Manhattan. Even though it had been closed for months, it seemed like the hotel hadn’t shut down for even a day.
While this hotel (and others) likely won’t see normal occupancy rates for several months, the promise of COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon should give everyone hope that sometime in the not-too-distant future this property will back in full force, welcoming hundreds of guests from all over the world — and just around the corner — through its doors.
All photos by the author.
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