As the Waldorf Astoria Hotel closes its doors this week to begin a two-year renovation project that will partially convert it into luxury condos, I remember when my husband and I stayed in its elegant cocoon five years ago...
When the Waldorf Astoria Hotel popped up on Priceline’s page, I had to rub my eyes and look again in a cartoon’s depiction of disbelief.
Priceline’s Name Your Own Price feature works like this. You set your parameters: neighborhood, star rating, and price. Then you press submit and Priceline books any hotel that agrees to your terms. My terms were low, so I expected to spend our getaway in New York City at a crack den.
Thanks to some miracle glitch, Priceline upgraded us to a room at the Waldorf Astoria. How do Phil and I feel about reaching the height of fanciness at the ripe ages of 25 and 29? We feel great.
Leading up to the stay, we were giddy with anticipation:
“Should I get my haircut?” Phil asked the night before.
“No, leave it shaggy. People will think we must be famous to look so disheveled at The Waldorf.”
“Check my teeth,” I said, a block away from the hotel. “I can’t have anything in my teeth at The Waldorf.”
As 49th Street met Park Avenue, we stopped and gazed at its gold-leafed entrance with the type of reverence we usually reserve for that initial moment when you open a pizza box and the steam pours forth.
“Valet parking,” I whispered, like a prayer.
We pushed through the revolving doors (which were also gold—I was starting to think the hotel architect was Scrooge McDuck) and walked through the Park Avenue lobby, slowly, gazing up at the ornate molding, chandeliers, and frescoes of Romans or Greeks enjoying themselves.
There are multiple lobbies at The Waldorf. The Park Avenue lobby was originally designed so that women could wait there while their husbands paid the bills because, at the time, it was considered inappropriate for females to witness the exchange of money. I suppose not too much has changed because, although I paid for the room, Priceline and Visa protected me from the dirty dealings.
We followed the mosaic-tiled floor and passed women in diamonds and chinchilla (accessories worn only by WASPS and rappers), meeting rooms named after oil tycoons, and not one, not two, but three grand pianos, until finally arriving at the crown jewel.
The main lobby of The Waldorf looked as if Grand Central Station and The Palace of Versailles drank a little too much Dom Perignon one night and conceived a bouncing baby hotel, complete with plush carpeting, pillars, and a 9-foot, two-ton bronze clock.
As I pondered that a salad with walnuts and grapes— two decadent food items that are often too expensive for us to buy— was named after this living museum, a uniformed bellhop with gold tasseled shoulder pads escorted us to the next available receptionist.
“Reservation for Dillon,” I said with a proud smile. The lady nodded and clicked her keyboard.
“All right, it says here that the room is prepaid through Priceline?” she asked.
She said it perfectly nicely, without a hint of judgment, but this was The Waldorf, and I knew she was just being polite. It took every ounce of my self-discipline not to shush her.
She issued us our room keycards, which had to be used to access the elevators, and we bumbled onward, still in awe of our surroundings, trying not to look like the Beverly Hillbillies, or the Wald-Oafs.
The wonder continued in our room, which had a doorbell that Phil was lucky I rang only three times. I stood in the bathroom, a luxurious little world of white marble, and was disappointed by a smudge on the mirror. As I rubbed the discoloration to remove it, the area flashed, and the local news came on. It was a television. Inside the mirror.
“Phil, Phil!” I screeched, shaking my hands like a child who doesn’t know how to express excitement. He peeked his head around the corner, seemed frightened for a moment, and then approached the image with the apprehensive curiosity of a dog navigating a vacuum. He looked around the room, attempting to identify the source of this moving picture. Then he waved his hand in front of it, presuming it was projected.
“No, it’s coming from inside,” I said, sounding more like a cavewoman discovering fire than a guest at a historic luxury hotel.
The Waldorf insignia radiated gold on every surface. It was emblazoned on the soap, robes, and pillows—even on the toilet paper. I imagined, right before we arrived, a man in a tuxedo patrolled the room carrying The Waldorf stamper, and branded every object that had an edge.
In the main area of the room, I approached the desk and opened a thick leather portfolio, revealing an extensive display of Waldorf stationery (cards and card envelopes, paper and letter-sized envelopes, postcards). I read online that every President since Herbert Hoover has enjoyed these lush accommodations. As I admired the regal selection of writing materials, I envisioned a President of the United States sitting at that mahogany desk, composing an important correspondence on the thick linen paper (which of course glittered with the golden Waldorf insignia). I sighed in reverence of this image, and then stuffed the stationery in my purse.
After surveying the room, we flopped down on the Italian linens, read the Guest Directory, and learned some very important facts about The Waldorf. For instance, after 6pm the hotel kindly requested a business casual dress code in the lobbies. Also, there weren’t ice machines on the floor. Ice was delivered to the room and, a few hours later, we would learn that it was literally brought on a silver platter. Lastly, every Friday and Saturday night at 7pm, The Waldorf offered a magic show by Steve Cohen, The Millionaires’ Magician. However, if the time was not convenient, Mr. Cohen was also available for private in-suite appearances. At this news I pictured a wealthy couple with a previous engagement at 7pm, sitting on their bed after their jaunt about town, wearing ballroom attire, looking severely unimpressed while The Millionaires’ Magician pulled the 2012 Best In Show prize-winning toy poodle out of his top hat.
That night, we slept in an official New York landmark— which is even cooler than when I peed in the bathroom of the New York Public Library.
Now I just have to decide which of my family or friends is deserving of a note on Waldorf letterhead.
This is an excerpt from the essay collection I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean