The Fifth Avenue Hotel: First In

Why book?

If you’re in the mood for a change from the big hotel brands that run up and down the spine of Manhattan, and want to nestle into something more intimate, the Fifth Avenue Hotel is for you. Ensconced inside a 19th-century mansion exterior—and retaining a sense of residential comfort within—this exuberantly designed hotel is a wondrous escape from the busyness of NoMad at its doorstep. It’s not until you throw open the blinds in your room to the city’s irrefutable facades that you’re returned solidly to reality.

Set the scene

From the moment you step in, there is a sense of entering a giant cabinet of curiosities. The vaulted lobby, dressed up in jewel tones, ornate wall panels, and mixed materials, sets the tone for the rest of your visit. In being converted into a hotel, the Renaissance-style mansion has been redesigned brick to brick, its interiors filled with a myriad decorative flourishes. Stockholm-born designer Martin Brudnizki, who is known for skillfully bridging the past and present, takes his cues from not just the building’s Gilded Age provenance, but also the travels of owner Alex Ohebshalom, filling it with painted columns, pleated pink silk canopies, rainbow-hued crystal chandeliers, and bone-inlaid tables that will prompt memories of trips of your own: to Morocco, Rajasthan—and beyond. Corridors are bedecked in vivid wallpaper with oversized flora and animals, real and mythical, and the hotel’s art collection that meets your eye around every corner is a go-for-broke assemblage of everything from old-world oils to ambitious mixed media and 20th-century American photography.

This romantic eclecticism is matched by its guests: glamorous ladies in party frocks and snazzy boots; older men in sharp dinner jackets, young lovers, and gaggles of girlfriends—opening week attracted them all. Brudnizki and Ohebshalom’s vision, I’m told, is a nod to the artistic spirit of Baudelaire (there’s even a suite named for him), and in particular, to the idea of the flâneur—the curious wanderer emblematic of 19th-century French literary culture. French novelist Honoré de Balzac, another fan of the art of flânerie, called it "the gastronomy of the eye”—and true to that idea, there’s plenty to feast on here.

The backstory

The Fifth might appear like it suddenly stumbled into the NoMad neighborhood—but in fact, it has been in the making for a while. The original five-story limestone and brick building was part of the estate of socialite—and purportedly, legendary party-thrower—Charlotte Goodridge. In 1907, it was redesigned as a bank in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo by McKim, Mead & White, the architects who put their stamp on New York heavyweights like the Brooklyn Museum and the original Penn Station. Hotel founder Alex Ohebshalom’s family, entrenched in the real estate business, eventually acquired the building in the 1970s—and over the last few years, a newer 24-storey glass tower was added to abut the mansion and complete his vision for a luxury hotel. In enlisting Brudnizki (the tastemaker behind Hotel Barrière Fouquet’s New York, Dean Street Townhouse, and Annabel’s), Ohebshalom has reimagined it as a “New York hotel like no other” that somehow still feels like it could be someone’s incredibly sumptuous home.

The rooms

While public spaces are situated in the main mansion, most rooms and suites are contained within the modern glass tower next door. Still, spaces effortlessly flow into each other via richly hued corridors and bedecked elevators, and you barely register moving between the two. The Mansion suites—one of which I had the pleasure of staying in—are richly detailed with hand-molded stucco and crown detailing, with painted wood and glass screens dividing the bedroom from the living space. Tiger-striped rugs, pleated headboards, and lavish cushions grab your attention, whilst decorative objects further visual interest. It’s the bold palette Brudinizki’s known (and loved) for: a dreamlike pastiche that would have been chaos in the hands of a less practiced hand. Thankfully, modernity hasn’t been sacrificed at the altar of whimsy: all controls are centrally organized on a personal tablet, including comfort levels in the room, the television, and in-room dining. As a result, there’s less clutter around the room by way of remotes and menus (although a hunt for what would’ve been a handy phone charger proved fruitless as well). Families would do well to book either the 1300-square-foot two-room suite which comes with perks like twice-a-day housekeeping, daily pressing services, and a luxury car service. Equally indulgent is the flâneur suite that is accompanied by a palatial terrace complete with a Japanese garden with a soaking tub overlooking the New York skyline. As a point of comparison, the most petite room covers 225 square feet, but still punches above its weight in design. Rooms start at $895 per night.

The marble- and nickel-clad bathrooms—their bold wallpaper a nod to theme—are well-sized and practically designed with separate areas for shower and the toilet. I blamed my capacious bathtub with its accompanying headrest pillow for making me run late for my dinner reservation.

Food and drink

The hotel’s restaurant, Café Carmellini—courtesy Andrew Carmellini, the chef behind Downtown favorites like Locanda Verde, Lafayette, and the Dutch—mirrors the old-school elegance of the building. Blue velvet and mustard leather chairs and banquets sit strikingly against Art Deco mirrors, concentric-circle chandeliers with more bulbs that I could count, and two very large trees that stretch to the double-storeyed ceiling. (For prime vantage, sit on the upper level with its opera-style box seats.) The menu here draws on various sources of inspiration: some of Carmellini’s dishes are more personal, like the Shrimp Colonnata, a nod to a village near his family’s hometown in Tuscany, and the Grapefruit Sorbetto, an ode to his nonna; others are classic Italian like the duck tortellini; and still others that are homages to other great chefs, like the Scallops Cardoz, a touching tribute to Chef Floyd Cardoz, who Carmellini worked with in the ‘90s. An 1800-bottle-deep wine menu accompanies dinner service as does a tight list of classic cocktails, but you’d do well to leave room for a nightcap at the Portrait Bar around the corner. Designed to imitate a snug library bar, the art-filled, wood-paneled bolthole is the perfect place to round off the night. Cocktails here are named for the destinations they are inspired by. The Kochi, Japan is a whisky sour punched-up with yuzu and star anise; the Kolkata is a delicious mango lassi-inspired rum, mango, orange, and coconut blend. The bar also currently doubles up as the breakfast room in the morning, although I placed an order for mine to be served in the room before I slept. Not a moment later than 8.30 a.m. the next morning, my tartine and cappuccino arrived, piping hot, and were enjoyed in bed in my fluffy bathrobe—quite possibly the greatest luxury of them all.

The neighborhood/area

Set at the intersection of 28th Street and Fifth Avenue, the hotel is within walking distance of Madison Square Park and the Empire State building, not to mention a clutch of new hotels like The Ned and The Ritz-Carlton that have transformed this neighborhood. For art lovers, the Gagosian and Fotografiska galleries are a short walk away, and food lovers can roll on over to easy-breezy Eataly, or try and snag reservations at the ever-multiplying restaurants in the area: Koloman at The Ace hotel that serves Viennese food with a French twist or the always-fun, Korean-inspired Atoboy and Little Mad. Koreatown’s many casual but boisterous offerings also await.

The service

Around-the-clock butler attendance is included here. In fact, upon check-in, your butler is alerted to your arrival and waits outside your room with a welcome drink, warm towel, and handy tips on navigating your room. Whatever you do, don’t miss the martini ritual which any guest can order to their room between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Simply pick from a choice of ‘Blue’ gin or ‘Axberg’ vodka, and a martini butler will arrive to stir—or shake—the perfect martini. In general, the service is formal but friendly and generous. When I complimented the heady in-house scent designed specially by Brooklyn-based Apotheke, the general manager promptly sent one up to take home with me.

Accessibility

All public spaces including the food and beverage facilities are ADA-friendly, and there a broad range of ADA and wheelchair-compatible rooms and suites.

Anything left to mention?

While the hotel currently only houses one restaurant and a bar, soon to open are an additional dining space they’re calling The Study, and a sprawling (and exuberantly designed) ballroom. This will eventually be followed by a fitness center, although, in the meantime, guests receive passes to nearby gyms. This might feel limiting for guests used to a sprawl of spaces and activities, but hey, there’s always the entirety of New York to wander through. After all, flânerie is actively encouraged.

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