After a three-year, $400 million renovation, the landmarked Plaza Hotel has reopened with $1,000-a-night rooms and afternoon tea in the famed Palm Court beneath a newly restored stained-glass ceiling.
"They say this place is the world's most famous hotel," said doorman Freddy Davila as he welcomed visitors up the red-carpeted steps on the hotel's opening day, March 1. "It's wonderful to be back."
"We just had to see inside," said Owen Mathieu, visiting from Marblehead, Mass. "We've seen it in the movies. Everybody's heard of it."
The Plaza, which is a National Historic Landmark, first opened in 1907. Marilyn Monroe was photographed here, guest included the Beatles and Frank Lloyd Wright, and Truman Capote threw his "Black and White Ball" in the ballroom. Scenes were shot at The Plaza for movies ranging from "North by Northwest" to "Barefoot in the Park" to "Home Alone 2." Owners have included Conrad Hilton and Donald Trump.
Many fans also know the hotel from children's books by Kay Thompson about a naughty little girl named Eloise who lives at The Plaza. A portrait of Eloise hung in the lobby for nearly 50 years; hotel officials say it will be back up later this spring.
The Plaza's current owners, Elad Properties, originally planned to convert all guest rooms into condominiums, but the plan was criticized by preservationists and the hotel workers' union. Negotiations with Mayor Michael Bloomberg led to a deal that resulted in 282 hotel rooms, down from the original 805, and 181 apartments.
"When you hear $1,000 a night for a room it might seem like a lot, but in the end it's not about the price, it's about the experience," said Bill Carroll, a professor at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration. "It's such a unique destination. It really is about the cachet." Carroll spent his honeymoon at The Plaza 41 years ago.
Hotel general manager Shane Krige said the renovated guest rooms "bridge the world between the old and the new" with flat-screen TVs, electronic key cards, iPod docks and digital touchscreens that let guests change lighting and temperature or call for assistance. Touches of old-fashioned opulence include 24-karat gold-plated faucets, mosaic bathroom floors and white-gloved butlers, one per floor, on call 24 hours. Guests of all ages can request an "Eloise" bubble bath, with milk and cookies.
Ruthann Picerno of Lyndhurst, N.J., checking in with two friends, said she was thrilled to be among the first guests. "I wanted to stay here since I was 17. When they closed, I was crushed."
The March 1 event was considered a soft opening for the hotel, which plans a grand opening May 10. The hotel's storied Palm Court, an elegant dining room decorated with palm trees that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea, is open already, along with a new Champagne Bar in the lobby. Later this spring, the famed Oak Bar will be back in service, along with a new lounge called the Rose Club. Also opening soon will be 160,000 square feet of high-end retail space, including a spa.