[The Sunday Times: Jonathan Thompson]
The first thing you notice when entering the most extraordinary — and most expensive — new hotel in New York is the noise; or, rather, the lack thereof.
One minute you’re on frenetic 5th Avenue, strolling past the iconic glass Apple store and the bright lights of Bergdorf Goodman, deep in the thump and hustle of Midtown Manhattan; the next you’ve been spirited up to an airy 14th-floor atrium, where sunlight floods through grand, sound-proofed French doors, a fireplace flickers at the centre of a lofty, marble-colonnaded lounge and you can almost touch the tranquillity — and with suites starting at £3,000 a night, you’d want to.
We’re just two blocks south of Central Park, in what is arguably the busiest corner of the world’s busiest city, and yet there is absolutely no evidence of the human carnival streaming along those streets and pavements a few storeys below. No humming engines, no honking horns; not even a distant screaming siren.
Luxury comes in many forms. There’s the luxury of opulence, for example, or the luxury of excess. But here at the long awaited, much-hyped Aman New York, that £3,000 buys you the luxury of serenity and space — both at a premium in this city.
The Aman brand — beloved of celebrities from Leonardo DiCaprio to the Kardashians — is better known for its remote, ultra-luxe tropical resorts, such as Amanpuri, on the Thai island of Phuket, or Amanpulo, on a private atoll in the Philippines. Aman New York — which the company’s website archly describes as its “newest island destination” — is its first urban hotel in the US, and only its second in the world, after Tokyo (it doesn’t count Venice, apparently). It’s also a major gamble — one to the tune of a reported £1.23 billion.
The setting for this ambitious metropolitan sanctuary is the iconic Crown Building: a gold-accented, beaux-arts skyscraper at the corner of 5th Avenue and 57th Street, right on the edge of Billionaires’ Row. And the man chosen to marry Manhattan’s pandemonium with the quietude of Aman is the high-end hotel designer Jean-Michel Gathy, the virtuoso behind some of the world’s most impressive properties, including the St Regis Lhasa in Tibet and the Setai Miami Beach.
“Blending the fast-moving life and energy of New York with the Aman DNA requires certain tricks,” the Malaysian-based architect tells me. “One of the best ways is acoustics. Whatever element was at our disposal — types of windows, frames, panelling and layering — we used it all.”
It seems to have worked. From one of the soaring windows in my tenth-floor room (ceilings throughout the hotel are 11ft high, a rarity for New York), Midtown resembles a silent movie (albeit one sponsored by Louis Vuitton and Chanel, with a cameo from Trump Tower). The soundproofing and the cloud-like bed behind me are likely to give the lie to the “City That Never Sleeps” moniker.
From here Central Park is just a few seconds’ walk, while the Museum of Modern Art is four blocks south, with the Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall just beyond; continue through the Diamond and Theater districts, and you’re suddenly in Times Square — the Aman’s perch is pretty unbeatable.
If the hotel’s pricey location is ambitious, so too is its layout. All 83 rooms are suites, with the smallest a whopping 775 sq ft — quite some feat in Manhattan, where 300 sq ft is the norm; the smallest rooms at nearby ultra-luxe properties the Carlyle and the Ritz-Carlton are 360 sq ft and 425 sq ft, respectively.
The suites are open-plan and uncluttered, with pivoting Japanese-style shoji screens so that guests can create privacy around the bed or the free-standing tub. In another nod to the company’s Asian roots, each room also includes a giant mural printed on rice paper and inspired by Pine Trees, a masterpiece by the 16th-century painter Hasegawa Tohaku.
Extreme pampering is at the heart of the Aman group’s ethos (its name means “peace” in Sanskrit), and this new property is no exception; an enormous spa and wellness centre is spread over three floors, centred on a 65ft indoor pool with glass fireplaces and day beds. Even more impressive, however, are the two spa houses (essentially, spas within a spa) — each has a double treatment room, marble steam room or sauna and private alfresco terrace with plunge pool. These can only be rented by guests or Aman members who want to feel like New York royalty for the day (being actual royalty would help — membership is a cool £170,000), but they seriously up the ante on the tired spas at neighbouring grandes dames the Mandarin Oriental, the Plaza and the Peninsula.
The food is similarly indulgent, particularly at the Italian restaurant Arva, where dishes are as cucina del raccolto rustic as Aman food ever will be. The menu is light on choice, but standouts include an exquisite tagliatelle with goat’s cheese, morel and chanterelle mushrooms, and an otherworldly beef fillet served with radicchio and Amarone sauce — and it’s surprisingly affordable, with mains from £24. As with Nama, the hotel’s Japanese restaurant, which is still under construction, Arva will at some point open to the public.
To read the full review of Aman New York, visit The Sunday Times.