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A Weekend at the Empire Hotel

Manfrengensen and I just returned from a weekend in New York, which was nice for the most part. We had a great time walking the streets, despite the rain, had a few good meals, and saw God of Carnage, which was a lot of fun.

We stayed at the uber-swanky Empire Hotel, which was the kind of place that looks good, but is ultimately impractical, and even a little stupid. The best thing about the place is the location, right near Columbus Circle, around the corner from the Time Warner Building. The doormen are friendly and busy out front, dressed in cool grey mechanics’ jackets rather than the usual monkey suits. The lobby of the hotel is pretty, its center feature a slick-looking European-style bar. The furniture is all deco with rich earth tones and animal prints. People were clustered in conversations around the room.

We got in a little before check-in and were pleased that they had a room ready for us. They asked if we needed Wi-Fi (we didn’t) and told us that if we neededView of Lincoln Center from 11th Floor Room computer access it was available in the business center on the far side of the lobby. As she said this she pointed to a set of brown doors. On the surface, our room was great, on the eleventh floor overlooking Lincoln Center. The fixtures are sleek and neat, all with that same art deco feel. But it was one of those places where, the closer we looked, the less impressed we were.


The bathroom was tiny. Let me stress this again — tiny. No room at all to place one’s toiletries. The white porcelain sink looked nice, all square with its mod one handle fixture, but it was only about an inch and a half deep, so that every time we turned on the water above a trickle we found ourselves with a lapful of it. The shower was nice, and yet not. Again very modern with a teak floor and rain shower head. No tub in which to soak, though. Also, there was only a half wall of glass in the shower with no shower door, so that every time we showered, despite our best efforts, water got all over the floor.

empire hotel roomThey had some of the strangest things for sale in little containers in the room. I guess because they had no gift or sundry shop downstairs. They had opera glasses, some other small items and a “pleasure kit” with lubricants and a vibrator. Really? Who doesn’t pack that who needs it? Maybe I haven’t traveled enough, but I’d never seen that before. I don’t mean to be a prude, but I’m just saying: you sell that but not an extra toothbrush or razor?

The air conditioning system was the worst I have ever seen in a modern hotel. The best way to describe it would be antiquated. If you have allergies, or like to sleep in a room that’s a little on the cool side, this is definitely not the hotel for you. The controls for the unit, which was installed in the wall of the room, were hard to figure out, to say the least. The unit was so old that some of the knobs were broken, and the directions were completely worn away so that we couldn’t tell if we were turning to hot or cold, high or low. And the unit itself offered no clues that we were on the right track.

The worst part was that eleventh floor room. When we came back from dinner, I noticed a line outside the lobby waiting behind a velvet rope to be admitted to the elevators that led to the nighclub on the roof. Little did I realize that our room was right under that club. And the music was so loud that our bed was pulsating. I called the front desk a little before midnight to find out if we could move. It would be a pain in the neck certainly, we were in our jammies and all unpacked, but certainly worth a better night’s sleep. The man at the desk told me no other rooms were available. Around 12:30, the music got louder. Now it was Manfrengensen’s turn to call downstairs. He got results. The woman at the desk said that there were no other deluxe rooms available, to which Manfrengensen replied, “Well I can tell you — there’s nothing deluxe about this room.” I don’t know if I didn’t get the reply we were looking for because I am a woman, but by 1 a.m. we were moving. 

I felt sorry for the Hassids on the eleventh floor. There was a room full of them, and they were all hanging out their door looking for help. They couldn’t use the phone or the elevator to get any, poor bastards. Why they didn’t point this out to whomever gave them the room in the first place I don’t know. But as they tried to get the attention of the bellman who was moving us, the elevator doors closed quickly in their faces. Poor guys. Really, I hope they got some help, because that eleventh floor was the eighth circle of hell.

Manfrengensen thinks the Empire should try to place only the people who are planning to go to the nightclub in the eleventh floor rooms. It was so loud that I can’t believe the eleventh floor was the only one affected.

So we got moved to an interior room on the first floor. Much better. No view, but no noise either, not even from the street. But the other things were still a factor. And some of those other things included: There was no closet, just an armoire for hanging clothes. The armoire had a shelf in it, and no full length hanging area, so that my dress had to hang with a bend in it. Also, for a “modern” hotel, the walls lacked enough outlets. There wasn’t a single one that wasn’t being used by hotel items. In other words, no extra places to charge the phones or plug in the laptop. The lighting was dim, and as Manfrengensen and I are big readers, that was kind of a drag. In addition, the tables on the side of the bed were too narrow to accommodate the alarm clock (which had difficult controls; I could figure out neither how to correct the time, which was twenty minutes slow, nor set the alarm) so the clock was across the room from the bed. In the “deluxe” room, it was around the corner because the room was “L” shaped, so we couldn’t even see the clock from the bed.

Empire Hotel LobbyAnd that “business center”? It was a double-wide closet with a desk and two computers that charged 25 cents per minute of use.

The Center Cut Steakhouse on the mezzanine level was nice. The prices are kind of high, but we ordered the prix fixe menu, which offers soup, salad, a main course and a side dish for $39. The service was good, and overall it was an enjoyable meal.

In the end, we got no restitution for the change of rooms. This was partially our fault. We were happy with the second room, so we didn’t go down to complain on Saturday, and we didn’t want to move again. Sunday morning, he went to the front desk to settle up on the bill. (And that’s another thing — modern hotel with no checkout from the room? Are you kidding me?)  I waited for him in the lobby, sitting in one of those swanky deco chairs, but when I leaned back, it gave like the chair was going to fall apart beneath me. It turned out that we still had to pay for the deluxe because we had paid through Expedia. The clerk pointed out that she could have done something for us, if we’d charged anything to the room, but we hadn’t. She then offered to give us a discount on our next stay, but as Manfrengensen pointed out to her, we won’t be staying at the Empire again.

Hotel Empire