If you’re looking for a New York City hotel with a winning combination of history, location and elegance, you may want to follow our lead and check into the InterContinental New York Barclay.
This Manhattan property is situated in Midtown East (on West 48th between Park Avenue and Lexington), and is one of New York’s original Railroad Hotels.
In North America, partnerships between railroads and hotels go back to what’s known as the Gilded Age. In the decades between the Civil War and World War I, populations and the economy grew. During this era, which predated the dominance of the automobile, railroad companies expanded their scope and began to cater to the privileged who could afford the luxury of long distance travel.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have stayed in three such hotels to date: the Fairmont Banff Springs in our majestic Canadian Rockies, the magical and castle-like Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Old Québec City … and, twice now, in the elegant InterContinental New York Barclay.
The Barclay’s Railroad Ties
The magnificent Grand Central Terminal was constructed between 1903 and 1913, during what was known as the City Beautiful movement. During this period, the New York Central Railroad moved its tracks beneath street level and (along with the Terminal Corporation) leased air rights to The Barclay and other hotels.
With a 1926 opening, the Barclay was one of the final four such railroad hotels built around Grand Central Terminal. It opened its doors to New York society and well heeled travellers at the point in time when Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and the Chrysler Building burst onto the city landscape.
The hotel was designed with elegance in mind. Little touches, such as the saunas and steam rooms we enjoyed on our first visit, were reflective of the focus on guests’ comfort. So, too, were the train tracks and platform beneath the hotel for those guests who travelled by private car. While they’re no longer used, the tracks between Grand Central Terminal and The Barclay are still in place.
The Barclay Today
Impressed with the Barclay on our first visit, we were glad to hear that the hotel would reopen in May, after a 20-month, $180 million renovation.
First impressions? The lobby feels light and open, with beautiful tile work. I appreciated the shift from the traditional check-in counter to the three desks you can see above. Our check in was smooth, with gracious and efficient service.
One aspect that happily remains unchanged is the Barclay’s attention to floral displays.
On arrival day, there was a gorgeous cluster of white and green floral arrangements near the Gin Parlour. A couple of days later, the palette shifted to an impressive splash of purples.
The Barclay isn’t one of those hotels with soaring lobby ceilings. While “intimate” may not be the first word that comes to mind in describing a 420,000 square feet property, that’s just what it is. This is a contemporary hotel, yet it proudly reflects its Federalist style history and American Colonial decor.
The grand, new and gorgeous Carrara marble staircase draws the eye, and holds it.
The property has some equally elegant lighting.
The hotel has 704 guest rooms and suites, and there’s been some reconfiguration of suites. The decor in our cosy room was handsome, and the bedding and pillows were ridiculously comfortable – which is a given with all the InterContinental hotels in which we’ve stayed.
We were utterly spoiled on our first stay, with a venting window in the bathroom. This visit, we traded the window and tub for a lovely, sleek shower.
Some of this brand’s properties offer Club InterContinental, for even more touches of subtle luxuries away from home. We’ve enjoyed Club access in four InterContinental properties this year, beginning with truly exceptional hospitality in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and then San Francisco. With Club privileges, you can drop in for breakfast, and afternoon or early evening drinks and canapés in the private lounge. Staff will take care of your restaurant and car service reservations, and you generally have access to an elevated level of personalised service.
Club InterContinental is new to the Barclay, and the lounge had been open less than a couple of weeks before our arrival. Service was discreet and welcoming and, while there was not (at least not at this early stage) a menu from which to order, the buffet was good. While we were at the buffet, the chef popped in to check on supplies. He was generous with his enquiries of guests, and his invitation to let him know of anything else we might want.
Anyone who’s seen my office knows that I’m a nature and bird lover, and so I especially appreciated the Audubon prints throughout the Club.
Stellar Concierge Service
Whomever hired the Barclay’s Chief Concierge Adrian Proietti (left) knew what they were doing.
I don’t know if concierges are generally the unsung heroes of their hotels, but they can certainly make a tremendous difference in the quality of a guest’s visit. We’d already encountered very helpful concierge service by phone from Mustafa, and in person from Adrian as well as Christine Wong (below). This intimate space was also one of my favourite rooms in the hotel, due in no small part to the incredible wallpaper and the florals.
While we generally enjoyed our stay, we arrived fairly fresh on the heels of the hotel’s reopening and encountered a bit of a housekeeping glitch. The next day, I popped downstairs for some recommendations on Brooklyn neighbourhoods for architectural photography, and Adrian enquired as to how our stay was going. I mentioned the glitch and could not have been more impressed with, or appreciative of, his response and the action he took.
We subsequently found Assistant Head Concierge Simon Rose equally gracious and efficient. While the hotel had only recently reopened, the Barclay’s concierge team was a well-oiled machine that did not miss a beat. I saw these people in action with other guests, and the caliber of their service was uniformly high – and the highlight of our stay.
Corporate and Other Events
The property has 15,000 square feet of meeting and event space, and I can imagine many event organisers and admin. professionals – to say nothing of engaged couples – are already planning functions at this newly refurbished property.
This grand old railroad hotel may be celebrating her 90th anniversary this year, but she’s doing so with a renewed sense of elegance.
Planning To Go: The Lowdown
Getting there: You have your choice of three airports: John F. Kennedy International (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA) or Newark’s (EWR’s) Liberty International Airport.
The hotel website has directions for driving, cabbing or taking a shuttle from each of these, and also coordinates town car service. Arriving by train? Check out service via Penn Station or the landmark Grand Central Station.
Property coordinates: 111 East 48th Street, New York 10017 Phone: 212-755-5900 Click here for the Barclay’s website
InterContinental New York Barclay: Thank you for making this stay possible, and kudos to your impressive Concierge team, particularly Chief Concierge Adrian Proietti. As always, perspectives are entirely my own.
Sights to see: It’s really a question of how much time you have in New York, and what makes your heart thump. Turn left when you exit the hotel, and then right at the corner of Lexington and 48th. Depending on how quickly you walk, you’ll be at Grand Central Station in under five minutes. That’s a great starting point.
Or, you may want to turn right from the lobby door, and then right again at your choice of any of the next three Avenues: Park, Madison or Fifth. From there, you’re a baker’s dozen of blocks away from East 60th Street and one of the entrances to Central Park. Whatever you do, take a different avenue each time, in order to see as much of the city as possible. From Fifth Avenue and 60th Street, you’re a gorgeous 20-block walk from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Guggenheim is at Fifth Avenue and East 89th Street. These are mere starting points, and they’re all at your fingertips.