We’re certainly not the first ones to meet this way. On the internet, that is. Nice to meet you reader, I’m Natalie, and to tell you why I’m writing this I’ll have to tell you a little bit about myself, and how I ended up in the wondrous world that is hospitality.
To keep things short, I’m what you’d call a third culture kid. I was born in New York and grew up in Tunisia, Morocco, Argentina, England and Dubai, raised by an Italian mother and Belgian father. Try explaining that to everyone who asks you where you’re from. But for those who already know our type, you’ll know that we’re practically bred for the adaptive and lawless hotel industry.
After a few misguided stints in the art world and a few right turns in the editorial world, I found my way to One Night. A hotel-booking app for the world’s most discerning travelers, where I somehow convinced my otherwise unconvinced boss that exposing the characters at our ever-exclusive hotels was a good idea.
Now if you think I just waltzed into any hotel unannounced, you’d be all kinds of wrong. A hotel after my own heart, I was eager to start my journey in pursuit of the Gramercy Park Hotel. But first, I had to make a believer out of Danielle, their savvy Director of Sales & Marketing who holds the keys to the coveted stories kept within their walls. The industry-infamous bad-ass with a finesse for contemporary art guards the hotel like a Matisse in a museum, but after a few chats over cacao chai lattes, she gave me her blessing to come in and explore.
And simply enough, that’s how I found myself here: walking up Lexington Ave on a scorching New York summer’s day to uncover the characters that build up the illustrious Gramercy Park Hotel.
THE FACE OF GLAMERCY.
I was first met by Mr.Twigg, also known as Twiggy, self-proclaimed VIP liaison, lover of disco, and the hotel’s fabulous front desk. Perfectly put together with a polka dot handkerchief in pocket, slicked-back hair, and an utterly charming Australian accent, it was obvious that Twiggy puts the glam in his favorite term, “glamercy.”
“I like to call myself the VIP liaison because I do a bit of everything. Everything from the easy stuff like getting condoms to booking private jets. I remember one time we had to help translate for a Knicks player trying to ask out this Spanish girl. I even had a guest request a liter of baby oil, he clearly had a lot of fun because we had to repaint the room after it. People will come to us for anything. It’s anything, anytime.”
Instantly it was as if I’d known Twiggy forever, like we were longtime disco-friends sharing existential nothings at 4 am after a night out. We felt like we both knew that little secret, that je ne sais quoi about staying in a hotel that gets you giddy and out of your comfort zone. “Our hotel has the gothic and dark vibe which I love, and I think in New York it’s so relaxing to be in a dark environment, it helps your creative juices flow. It’s that dark, sexy, chic,” he professed.
But Twiggy and I aren’t the only ones who like a little seclusion, apparently many-a-celebrity roam the halls freely amidst the intimate ambiance. “The ‘first family of reality television,’ if you will, didn’t even use security guards when staying here. Even a former US President held a meeting here with a member of the Cuban government on the second floor. All the bodyguards for that meeting had the same look, suit, and height so you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from the leaders. It was like The Thomas Crown Affair,” Twiggy shared.
I couldn’t help but pry about the hotel’s most coveted and scenic place to hide, Gramercy Park. Twiggy laughs,
“I’ve seen everything from breakups to proposals and affairs in there. I’ve had guests who’ve done the fake checkout, where they pretend to check out, send the wife to the airport and walk off like they’re going home, but come around the corner and check back in.”
It made me think about the type of person you become when staying at a hotel. It’s not your everyday self, it’s you, uninhibited. You when you think no one is watching, and anything is possible. It’s why artists have felt inspired to write entire albums here, why Bowie used to take the whole third floor and call it getting ‘glammed at the glamercy,’ which meant he had a ‘wild night,’ if you know what I mean. If you don’t, just know that in every essence, detail, and memory, you can tell the Gramercy Park Hotel is very proud of their rock ‘n roll.
THE BUSINESSMEN, THE DALLAS GIRLS.
Expecting a late night ahead, I was ready for a little party nap. I headed to my upgraded Park View Suite and was met with all of my Renaissance fantasies come true. I sat on my Maarten Baas hand-crafted chair and felt like I might as well be getting fanned with a palm tree and being fed grapes straight to the mouth. After answering an email or two, it was Thursday after all, I drew the blinds on my coveted Gramercy Park view and cozied up in bed.
I awoke in imported Italian linens just before magic hour feeling fresh as ever and inspired to continue my Italian afternoon with an aperitivi at Maialino downstairs. I found myself a place at the bar reminiscent of those in Rome. And when in Rome, I ordered myself a tall glass of wine.
Behind me, three dressed-to-the-nines, flirtatious French businessmen celebrated ‘new technologies’ that we’re going to make them, in their words, “MEGA-RICH.” To my right, two blondes in tight black dresses talked about their Dallas group in New York, and how they’ve since branched out. One with her hair down, or as I saw it the “why am I listening to this” girl, and the one with a tight ponytail, or, “the talker.” Their main point of conversation: a guy. He’s Italian, he’s the best, he’s exactly her style. “And like I think Walter might be in love with me since he kissed me in front of everyone at the murder mystery party. So Italian.” Wait, Walter is the Italian? I was confused.
The pop of fresh prosecco being opened punctuated every overheard conversation, from the “He’s my ticket into their family” to the “Jake wore cowboy boots to Monica’s wedding after being instructed not to. When I get married, he’s not invited.” And by the time I left the place it was buzzing, and I was buzzed.
As much as I was enjoying my Carrie Bradshaw moment, I was missing my cohort of fabulous female friends. So as any 20-something New York girl would do when she has her very own suite at the Gramercy Park Hotel, I invited some of my most spontaneous girlfriends to share in on the fun.
Kenzie, the singer who is effortlessly good at everything and always looks like she just stepped out of an indie music video. Sophie, the actress extraordinaire whose innocent charm has become the peril of many a suitor. And Alex, the feisty Israeli who by the end of the night, would always make friends with the entire bar.
First order of business, we called room service for a celebratory glass of wine, threw on our plush robes, and set-up our playlist du jour (namely, Cardi B) on the oh-so-appropriate custom-designed Marshall speaker.
Wine galore and an impromptu polaroid shoot later, we went downstairs to Rose Bar where Brian Newman, a close friend of Lady Gaga who frequently pops out during his shows, was playing a jazz set for a casually trendy crowd. We find some real estate at the bar and order our next drinks of the night, vodka and tequila sodas. “This is strong as fuck,” in Kenzie’s words.
THE MAN OF MANY, MANY LIVES.
And that’s how I met Patrick. The former Bear Stearns New York Stock Exchange financier turned savvy bartender with a Mad Men-esque polish.
We weren’t the first to strike up a conversation with Patrick, who’s been serving up cocktails at Rose Bar for the last eight years. We made nice and he began to tell us stories of talks with everyone from rock stars to CEOs. He told tales of Rose Bar sessions with Guns N’ Roses, “I remember when we announced they would be playing it was kind of a secret. I was like I’ll believe it when I see it. But they did, Guns N’ Roses set up by the fireplace and played an hour and a half set. You name it, they were here. We ended up having a private after party for them in one of the rooms on the second floor. We set up another bar up there. I remember leaving the hotel that morning at 7am, the sun was out. One of the best nights I’ve had.”
Patrick: Do you want another drink by the way? Champagne or something?
Me: Maybe a glass of wine.
Patrick: Let’s get you a sauvignon blanc.
Me: So, where were we?
I had so many more questions for Patrick. I discovered the many cringe-worthy pick-up lines he’s heard, how everyone claims to “know the owner” to get inside, but craziest of all, a story of one French businessman with a generous wallet.
“I got a $6,000 tip one night. It was so unusual. This guy stood at the bar, he was very well dressed and had a French accent. He kept buying bottles, Cristal, Dom Perignon, by himself, and he was good for it. All he said to me was I’ll take care of you if you get me into the backroom, I said all I could do was try to talk to the doorman. Luckily it happened, he gets in and he left my ticket signed and there it was. $6,000. My eyes popped out of my head.”
Before returning to his duties, Patrick had one last memory to unpack. “We had to preview the guest list for Keith Richards’ birthday party, a picture book of who was showing up. The likes of Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, I think Steve Jobs was on it. This had to be six years ago. I can remember Richards showing up with his assistant, and she told me to not serve him any drinks, and I was thinking in my head, if Keith Richards asks me for a drink I’m going to give it to him. I’m not that strong-willed. I can’t tell the guy he can’t have a drink!”
We step outside to puff on our Juuls and cigarettes and gossip about what we had just heard. It’s romantically monsooning the way it only could on a hot August night in New York. Everyone was huddled up side-by-side under the hotel awning. Luckily (or planned, that’s up for debate), we were stood next to a gorgeous guy all by his lonesome. He slyly laughs at our conversation about selling Juuls undercover internationally. We start talking, his name is Jason, or as I saw him, rom-com main-guy-gorgeous Jason.
He starts by telling us he’s a soccer player because he’s all sorts of modest and too shy to start off with the fact that he’s actually a model. Naturally, we end up inviting him to dinner, and he invites his two other model friends to join us too. Another Jason, and Anok, possibly the most beautiful person who has ever come out of New Hampshire, and maybe the only person I’ve ever met from New Hampshire.
The perfectly toned models watched us as we ate burrata and Cacio e Pepe at Maialino. Drinks, of course, they allowed and we all cheered to a mutual love for judging people from afar. We reveled in fabricating stories of the newly-engaged couple next to us, who the two girls walking by were talking about when they whispered, “I couldn’t tell if he was gay or just European,” and discussed what love and dating are like for a model. Apparently, it’s not as easy as us mere mortals might think.
We finish with tiramisu and walk back to Jade Bar for one more drink. Everyone seemed to have not a care in the world. No one was in the corner fixing their outfit or on their phones. Everyone was wild and in the moment. A kind of carefree that seems to come naturally when you’re just that good looking.
THE FRIEND OF A FRIEND OF A FRIEND.
The very next day, slightly hungover, I was introduced to a woman, one otherworldly woman whose coveted Rolodex is the answer to all of your wildest New York City dreams. She, my friends, is Joy, the Gramercy Park Hotel’s lovable concierge. And for a few short moments, I had her all to myself.
Sure, we chatted about her 14 year-and-counting career in hospitality, her 40 years living at the coveted address of Mercer and Grand, but more importantly, the wondrous and very, very weird that she’s seen and heard during her time at one of New York’s most celebrated hotels.
“I got the impossible today,” she whispers with a shy type of charm to which she seems oblivious. “Le CouCou. Friday night. 7.30pm.” In my utter amazement, as someone who has been trying to get a reservation at Le CouCou for weeks, I asked the inevitable: How?
“I build relationships. You wouldn’t believe how old I am, I go out all the time. I go to every show, I do everything. I never stopped going out.” As I sat there across from Joy, the timeless blonde, her name seemed more and more fitting, joy is exactly what she brings to her lucky guests.
She recalls one request,
“This guy was really demanding. He wanted to see Kanye West on SNL’s season opener. I called every broker, no one could get him in. But I’ve got a friend of a friend of a friend. A person who knew a person. And I pulled it out of my hat. It was insane. It’s how things work, it’s who you know.”
She then began to talk about ‘two celebrities’ being coy as to share their names. “Let’s just say, On The Run. For Valentine’s Day, they wanted a WHOLE suite filled with flowers. You’re talking like 10 grand worth of flowers here. EX-TRAVAGANT. Beautiful. I never saw them, cause they go in and out of different entrances. We have secret entrances. That’s what so special about what we have here, it’s rock ‘n roll. Three words, rock ‘n roll,” Joy said with total, unconditional admiration for the hotel that has become home to her.
THE SMOOTH OPERATOR.
It was almost time for my adventure here to end, but before leaving I simply had to get to know Chen. I had heard utterings of his name and had seen him suavely maneuvering around the hotel for the last 24 hours, and I wasn’t going to leave without hearing his stories.
Sat coyly in the corner of Rose Bar, his 10 years here began to unfold in front of me. We started with the basics, how he’s a New York kid born and raised, how his “title” is guest attendant, but he actually handles everything from door to bell service. It didn’t take me long to gather that Chen is the guy making things happen, Gramercy Park Hotel’s very own smooth operator.
He gets into the stranger things, “I’ve definitely heard crazy things, seen crazy things. Even the other day, there were guests waiting for their room and one of the guys says, ‘Dude, I’m so glad I didn’t get my dick pierced again last night.’ Something like that just travels to your ear and you’re like what!”
And the even stranger, “We actually had Britney Spears running around with a mariachi jacket that was an artwork in the original owner’s private collection, and it was right there in the lobby. She just picked it up and put it on and started roaming around down the back stairs to the cafeteria, and the staff was like, is that Britney Spears? We had to be like Miss, you’re not supposed to be running back of house. She loved it.”
With all the crazy that comes his way, Chen shares “People don’t realize that you have to be way more than your job description. If you’re the quote-unquote doorman it’s not just turning a door for people. They are going to ask you for directions, advice, how they look, for drugs, everything.” Needless to say, Chen is every bit as cool as the hotel he has loved for 10 years now.
People always talk about the good old days. Dating back to 1925, the Gramercy Park Hotel has surely had many of those. In my time here, I heard celebrity names uttered in separate stories over 50 times. Heck, Blondie used to live here, The Rolling Stones threw a TV out the window, and Paris Hilton couldn’t even get into the tight doors at Rose Bar.
So sure, you could argue that the best is in the past, but I think you’d be wrong. In my short but wild time here, all sorts of strange happened. You really never know what one night will hold. But what I can tell you for sure, is at the Gramercy Park Hotel, that je ne sais quoi, and the good old days, are still happening right now.