Understated Elegance In New York City

The Surrey Hotel's lobby is the epitome of understated refinement.Photo by Fortini Stephen.

The Surrey Hotel’s lobby is the epitome of understated refinement.
Photo by Fotini Stephen.

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Surrey Hotel. Located at 20 East 76th on the corner of Madison Avenue, you are on the fringe of frantic New York City. Madison Avenue at this point really calms down and bestows a sense of neighbourhood instead of a roaring tourist trap. You are literally steps from the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, Central Park, The Jewish Museum, and the Guggenheim Art Museum.

While not exactly far away or out of the way, it is discrete and unobtrusive. It is also a favourite haunt of celebrities.

Very Impressed

A small point, but sometimes the small points can make a big point. The corkscrew is a French Laguiole, which is standard sommelier gear. I have seen some pretty poor corkscrews in hotels which call themselves luxury hotels, but never a Laguiole.

Very Impressed

The complimentary bottle of wine, with only one wine glass, and fruit platter, with only one fork, for my photographer and I were appreciated, as well as the handwritten welcome note.

Very Impressed

Classic free cocktail jazz in the lobby every Friday evening, from 9pm to 12midnight, by the James Hillard Trio. You can sit in the lobby or hear it from the bar.

Very Impressed

Immaculate and thorough housekeeping work.

Not Impressed

Despite booking for two, records for the hotel showed only one guest. Consequently the other wine glass and bar glass were removed when the room was being cleaned and supplies of water were for only one at turndown service.

Very Impressed

Our room service order from the Boulud kitchen arrived promptly and was a meat eater’s delight. The fries were heavenly.

The Café Boulud Burger ($28) arrived medium rare as ordered, smothered with caramelized onions, Gruyère cheese and whole grain mustard with a Frisée salad. The Cubano sandwich was piled high with Jambon de Paris, pate, pickles, and Swiss cheese ($27). Yum.

Not Impressed

The phone conked out although a technician was sent up quickly to repair it.

Not Impressed

With a disabled phone and no power in our cell phones, I asked the front desk to make reservations for a 4pm pick up to the airport. Luckily my photographer went down to the front desk to check if the reservation had been made since the promised confirmation from the front desk had not been received in my e-mail.

My photographer received the response that it was the hotel’s policy to only make reservations with their provider. Nice to be told this after the fact. Even luckier not to miss our flight.

Kate Moss, courtesy of Chuck Close, helps to guide visiotrs through the halls of the Surrey Hotel in New Yor City.Photo by Fortini Stephen.

Kate Moss, courtesy of Chuck Close, helps to guide visiotrs through the halls of the Surrey Hotel in New Yor City.
Photo by Fotini Stephen.

Not Impressed

I can’t recall seeing so many uncollected room service trays outside my door in any hotel I have ever stayed at.

Not Impressed

Upon check in we were asked what newspaper we wished to receive. It never came for three days, until I asked them to please deliver.

Not Impressed

The wine stemware is a rather bizarrely decorated charred coloured glass with a silver “X” pattern throughout. Not really appropriate for red or white wine.

Very Impressed

Locally crafted Hudson Single Malt and Bourbon. The mini bar is decently stocked with a weak attempt at local brews and spirits. Considering New York’s burgeoning beer and craft spirit industry, a single Brooklyn Lager ($9) and single 375 mL bottles of Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey and Hudson Single Malt Whiskey (both at $75) seems a bit short on the end of local products.

It is the only min-bar where I have seen half bottles of top quality gin, single malts, vodka, and tequila.

What moves this up a notch is that you are given a piece of paper in the mini bar area with the 375 mL bottles listing 10 cocktails. Call Guest Services and a Surrey mixologist will appear in your room and mix them. Very clever and unique. A real touch of luxury.

There are the usual munchies and an Intimacy Kit at $9.

Very Impressed

After twisting my foot while strolling in Central Park, walking the next day was very problematic. I was stuck until a 7:30pm flight, so a complimentary late check out at 4pm was arranged. A hotel with heart.

Somewhat Impressed

The Surrey is home to a Café Boulud, which is an impressive name in dining. They are also the room service provider. While the room service choices for In Season Specials are limited they are high-end bistro, so I think it is quality instead of quantity.

There are four each of salad, entrée, and desert selections. Unfortunately, there are no serious vegetarian choices. There is a tantalizing breakfast menu, a limited All Day Menu, and a rather pedantic children’s menu.

The in-room wine list is adequate for the in-room diner and is thoughtful enough to include some half bottles. The wine list disappoints in terms of a total lack of New York State wine. Don’t tourists love to try local products?

Very Impressed

The Grand Salon room design is spacious and well thought out. It includes two love seats and a coffee table. The furniture is an eclectic mix of British Oriental Colonial, French Provincial, and modern American.

The bathroom is huge with a beautiful showerhead with just the right amount of pressure, and the ample towels are plush and inviting.

The bed is a Duxiana with custom Sferra bedding. The fixtures in the bathroom are by Waterworks with luxurious Pratesi robes and toiletries made exclusively by diptyque for the Surrey.

The bathrooms at the Surrey Hotel in New York are outfitted with only the most luxurious items in an opluent decor.Photo by Fortini Stephen.

The bathrooms at the Surrey Hotel in New York are outfitted with only the most luxurious items in an opluent decor.
Photo by Fotini Stephen.

Not Impressed

At $14.25 a day for internet service, not impressed is an understatement. Almost all hotels I stay at have long ago waived that irksome charge. In this case, Guest Services had the discretion and power to waive it and did so.

Not Impressed

Many hotels offer complimentary coffee service in the morning and extend it for the week-end. Unfortunately, the Surrey only offers it until 8:30am each morning and makes no accommodation for those wishing to sleep in on the weekend.


The Surrey was built in 1926. It has a proprietary collection of art curated by Lauren Rottet. As their hardcopy hotel information booklet states, “You will find the original works throughout the hotel are born of both internationally acclaimed and up-and coming artists. Much like the high contrast aesthetic of our interior we seek to provide experiences of complimentary opposites-classic and contemporary, modern, and timeless. Peace and harmony within the high energy Manhattan milieu.”

The lobby is simple yet luxurious, but highly discrete and well lit. The pathway to the elevator has a rather greasy faced black and white photo by Chuck Close of Kate Moss staring you down. Absolutely cool and imaginative.

The Surrey does, in fact, have an art expert in residence.

Concierge Service is Available

Of course, with advance notice, just about anything can be arranged for you, whether it is dinner reservations, Yankees tickets, or tickets to the New York City Ballet.

Private Roof Garden

On the 11th floor there is a rooftop garden available for guests with a wonderful panoramic view. Cocktails and nibbles are available. As this is open air it is seasonal.

Pet Program

Rest assured your pet will also be kept in the lap of luxury.

A Bar For the Thirsty

There is Bar Peilades under the Boulud chain. The bar and lounge décor is inspired by fashion icon Coco Chanel and features a 1930’s Art Deco bar.

Cornelia Spa

A full range of spa treatments are available.

Fantasy and Luxury

Accompanying luxury is always an element of fantasy. Imagery evocative of being above the crowd. There is no better example of that than the hardcover book about the Surrey in each room. It gives a great overall view of the hotel and its services but, in some respects, its imagery is way over the top and almost comical and self depreciating.

If you are a luxury hotel there is no need to flaunt it with such a publication. Way overdone and ostentatious.

Very Impressed

Check in was immediate without a hovering bell boy holding desperately onto tiny carry ons. I take a small carry on for my own ability and quickness. The last thing I want is someone wheeling what I could effortlessly wheel.

Asking if we wanted some water was also a nice touch which also the case at check out.

Getting to the Point

No hotel I have stayed at has been perfect. After all, they are run by human beings who, as we all know, are never perfect.

The Surrey is a great hotel with fantastic accommodations and slick and sleek common areas. It is off the heavily trodden path of the often obnoxious tourist horde. You almost feel that you are in a real neighbourhood.

You are close to many of the main museums and close to the subway on 77th.

Although we are not talking wine here, I would rate it a 96/100 and would not hesitate to stay there again.

(The Surrey, 20 East 76th Street, New York, NY, 10021, 212-288-3700, surreyhotel.com, Square Media group Rating 96/100)

I picked a random long week-end in October and rates started in the $600s.



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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write." Email Robert Stephen