I just returned from a speech in New York and a stay at the old classic New York hotel, The Waldorf-Astoria. As someone who loves architecture and old hotels, it is always a thrill to stay at one of the true great “Old Ladies” of Manhattan. Regrettably, I was distressed to find that New Chinese owners seem to be treating the Waldorf-Astoria more like an elderly aunt locked away in an attic while it slowly drains her estate. The Waldorf-Astoria has never looked so bad (and I have been going to the hotel for decades) and the owners appears to be relying solely on its reputation as it milks the clientele for high priced rooms. Service and the facility itself has declined considerably. Worse yet, I am told that the owners plan a renovation and will be replacing historic meeting rooms with retail shops.
I have often used this blog to offer travel blogs and hotel reviews for our many readers to travel, including business travelers who are fortunate enough to have the ability to stay at top hotels. I have reviewed hotels from a Courtyard in St. George, Utah to the Shard in London. Admittedly, I often prefer some of the lower end hotels which can offer great service at a fraction of the cost. Indeed, I once criticized the Waldorf Astoria for bilking guests for WiFi after charging huge amounts for a room. However, there is still a place for the great old hotels like the Waldorf and it would be a shame to lose this venerable property to neglect.
I still feel a thrill in entering this old hotel with its famous clock in the reception area. It was built by the Goldsmith’s Company of London originally for the 1893 World Columbia Exposition in Chicago and later moved here (one more example of how Chicago made New York great). It features with eight commemorative plaques of presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland, and Queen Victoria and Benjamin Franklin. The building itself is a German Renaissance style hotel by famous architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh. A lovely period piece that speaks of decades of opulence and fame.
Unfortunately, the owners seem to be marking time until it decides what to do with renovations. I can understand the desire to conserve costs with a major renovation planned. However, I was pretty shocked by my stay. For the record, I was not paying for this trip. However, I strongly encouraged my hosts not to pay for my room. The problem is that it did not have a working shower. I kid you not. As I learned shortly before my speech, the water came out in a trickle and was ice cold. After 45 minutes, it warmed up enough to take a type of GI shower but then turned ice cold once you decided to try to risk it. It seemed like there was no pressure and limited hot water. The room itself was pretty dreadful and beaten up through the years. WiFi was spotty and constantly subject to interruptions. This is not to suggest that the hotel and its staff are entirely in decline. I met some wonderful people working at the hotel and I still love the history and interior work of this property.
I fared no better in visiting Sir Harry’s bar, a well-known watering hole on the first floor of the hotel. Sir Harry’s bills itself as a historic New York bar and certainly has the feel of a classic bar. However, the bar charges $20 for cocktails that are pretty mediocre. (I may have been jaded by my recent trip to Galatoire’s and the best Old Fashion by a bartender named Beauhannon that I have ever had). I tried two classics of Sir Harry’s: the Old Fashion and a Cosmopolitan. Neither was that good. The same could be said for breakfast in the room, which cost $60 for two eggs, bacon, and coffee (I was floored frankly when I saw the final tally and looked at the fairly unremarkable breakfast).
It is admittedly a huge perk of my speeches that I am sometimes able to stay at great hotels (hotels that I could not otherwise frequent). While I recognize the indulgence of such trips, it is fun to go to a truly world-class hotel and I try to share my impressions with our readers, many of whom travel on business. It pains me to see the decline of this grand Old Lady on Park Avenue. The idea of the Waldorf Astoria renting a room without a working shower would have been unthinkable not long ago. I can only hope that someone at Hilton will recognize that they have a jewel in their midst that should be returned to its once great beauty. This is a historic building and deserves a loving hand that preserves it for future generations. The hotel would do well to spend less time trying to find ways of charging customers like a world class hotel and start performing like one.