The Decline of The Great Waldorf Astoria

St_Bartholomews_and_The_Waldorf_Astoria_HotelI 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.

IMG_3705I 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.

27 thoughts on “The Decline of The Great Waldorf Astoria”

  1. Anyone planning a future trip to NYC should check out the Hotel Metro, located at 45 West 35th Street. Located right in the heart of everything, this little known jewel is an oasis in the midst of a bustling and often frantic city. I once tried the hotel, at the suggestion of a business associate, and I loved it. I now stay there every time I am in town. Google it. Small rooms, but lots of rave reviews, and you can snag some great rates off season. If you can spare the panache of being able to declare that you stayed at the Waldorf, this will become your go-to-place in NYC. Save the $60.00 on the cold, rubbery eggs and, instead, opt for this hotel’s complimentary Continental breakfast.

    Try it. You’ll thank me. You’ll bless me. 🙂

  2. Darren, It appears you went to Turkey @ the right time. It has turned fundamentalist Muslim since your trip, as you know. That was one of the countries on my list to visit. I removed it last year. Egypt was removed 2 days ago.

  3. Sixty bucks for room service delivery of two eggs, bacon and a coffee–what a ripoff.

    I had the polar opposite of this experience when I was vacationing in Turkey in the late 1990’s. It was somewhere on the Aegean coast but I remember not where. We checked into a hotel but as it was a few weeks before the beginning of the tourist season we were one of the few guests that night.

    For dinner we sat at the terrace overlooking the city and the harbor. Our waiter, I believe the owner himself, took our order. There was a bit of a language barrier but he seemed be indicating it might take a bit longer for our order to be made. It wasn’t an issue because the night was relaxing to just sit outside and watch everything.

    A few minutes after he left I saw him run out of the front of the hotel and down the street. He later came running back with a grocery bag in his hands. He must have been out of some of the ingredients yet was so determined to please us he was willing to personally make a grocery run for us.

    He served a delicious meal costing just under four dollars.

    That is customer service.

  4. At $60 for two eggs and bacon, they should have sent the chicken home with him. Seriously, in my youth (mid 80s) I was driving cross-country and stayed at a Motel 6 in Wyoming. The air conditioner buzzed to the point that it disturbed my sleep. The next morning I mentioned it on the room review card, thinking they would want to fix it. To my surprise, a few weeks after I returned home, I received a certificate for a free night from the corporation. And that was just for a $30 room. So not all companies want to fleece their customers; some want to maintain good feelings and brand loyalty. The bad corporations are the ones who buy assets in order to strip them of value and dump them. I also hate corporate boards who run an excellent brand into the ground, such as Sears has done withCraftsman. They had generations of devoted customers based on high quality tools with a lifetime guarantee. Since moving operations to China the tools are made of second-rate metals and are poorly machined, creating a large eBAY market for the older, US made tools. So the company creates short term profits but destroys its brand for the long term.

  5. I was at a chinese restaurant in LA. Across the street there was a swampy wooded area. Some of the workers from the restaurant set some traps and caught rats. They then put them in bags and took them across the street and into the back door of the restaurant. Does that tell you something JT about the great hotel in NYC with the old name on the wall?

  6. That is truly so sad.
    When I lived in Manhattan I would make it a hobby to go to all the ritziest restaurants and bars in the city, which were often in the ritziest hotels, and collect a book of matches to memorialize my visit.
    On occasion for shts and giggles I would stay a the ritziest hotel for a night with a friend.

    I did both with the Waldorf Astoria, and at the time although fraying a bit at the edges, I could still sense the majesty and old-world high society charm of the place throughout.

    It is sad to hear that these very fundamentals of hotellery are completely collapsing at its infrastructure.
    JT’s stay turned into a powerful review and rebuke that cannot help but send some shockwaves through the respective communities, as well as the corporate board. I hope it does some good.

  7. Go to Berlin instead! Such a good value and the coolest city in the world. Very friendly and international and so much history.

  8. Looking @ reviews online, they are consistent w/ JT’s take on the Waldorf Astoria. Hilton likes to buy old, famous hotels. Back in the 1980’s, they purchased a longtime family owned, Drake Hotel. I was hired as a house dick shortly after the takeover by Hilton. As you might expect, there were poor feelings w/ the employees, having to adjust to a corporate mindset. The Drake had many employees that had been there for over 40, even 50 years. A bartender @ the C’oq Dior went to Europe to fight WW2, returned to his bartending job, and was still there in the 80’s. He made a helluva martini!

    Unlike the Waldorf, Hilton did put a lot of money into renovations as soon as they bought The Drake. But, the hotel and restaurant business are about service. Having traveled a lot, and growing up in the restaurant biz, I can tell quickly how employees are treated by management. The Drake was losing that good chemistry and morale that had been earned over decades by the family run hotel. I have stayed there since. It is still a good hotel but you can tell it’s corporate. Few corporations can replicate a family run biz. Marriott is a publicly traded company, but JW Marriott, Jr. is the CEO and Marriott’s are consistently the best run large hotel chain. On a smaller, luxury scale, Fairmont Hotels are the best, IMO.

  9. $60 for breakfast and no shower is a good way to move the tenants out. It may all be part of the long-term plan.

  10. Another chink in the road. When you go on the road you must do research. In the hotel chain which is owned by some Hilton conglomerate they rate the hotels in the chain. As you go down the chain they change the name if the shoe does not fit. So the lower echelon is Sheraton and then Double Tree. But from the article it seems that JT did not do his research and know that some china woman bought the hotel and was chumping people. One of the commentors informs us about the china woman who owns it. Or was it a chinaman? Sixty dollars for an apCray breakfast and no shower?

  11. That’s New York City in general – a dirty, grimy, crowded place that overcharges for everything.

  12. As Tom notes, welcome to Chinese ownership. The new owner is Anbang Insurance which is a minor player in the Chinese insurance market. Hilton Worldwide Holdings received $1.95 billion.

    Did you leave a tip on that $60 breakfast or was it added for you as service charges? As Nancy Reagan would say, “just say no.”

  13. According to the NYT, Hilton no longer owns the Waldorf. A Chinese insurance company purchased the property for 1.95 billion in October of last year. Anbang is one of many Chinese companies that are buying up iconic real estate in NYC and other major metropolitan areas in the US. The Waldorf has lost a significant component of of its high profile clientele because of the change in ownership. Rumor has it that condominiums are in the Waldorf’s future. I’m not surprised the the quality of accomadation and service has plummeted.

  14. Fortunately it is possible to re-establish this to a world-class hotel with the right owner.

    A good example of this is the Davenport Hotel located in Spokane, WA. The hotel opened in the 1910’s and was clearly the most exceptional hotel in that part of the state. Over the years it declined. I stayed there in 1983 and it was in decrepit condition. It closed a year or so later and was considered to be on the verge of demolition.

    Since then a couple purchased the hotel and put millions of dollars into renovations. The results are astounding:

    http://www.davenporthotelcollection.com/our-hotels/the-historic-davenport-hotel/photos/

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