By Terry Trucco
Publicity is catnip to hotels. Still, I can’t imagine the Sofitel New York is thrilled with the reason it’s suddenly the most talked about hotel in town.
In case you were sequestered over the weekend, on Saturday afternoon International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn was pulled off a plane bound for Paris and arrested for sexually assaulting a 32-year-old maid in his suite at the Sofitel hours earlier. Strauss-Kahn had checked into Room 2806 on Friday. Though the rack rate is $3,000, the IMF has since said their leader paid $525 on Travelocity, news that will no doubt cause potential guests to flee the Sofitel reservations Web site and visit aggregators like Expedia, Orbitz and Quikbook.
Since opening in 2000, the Sofitel has been a favorite with European visitors, particularly the French, as well as government and corporate officials. (I saw former New York governor George Pataki descending the stairs a while back.)
Situated on West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, it shares the block with the Harvard Club, Mariner Club and the New York City Bar Association as well as five other hotels, including the historic Algonquin, Iroquois and Mansfield, stylish City Club and nightclubby Royalton.
In the company of the boutique hotels that make up 44th Street’s Hotel Row, the Sofitel looks like a grown up. It occupies a gleaming 21st-century tower, is equipped with contemporary heating and air-conditioning, offers slightly-larger-than-normal-for-New York-size rooms and has a terrific fitness room if you don’t mind that it’s in the basement. It offers a floor of ballrooms and conference rooms. It has security cameras in the entrances and surveillance cameras in the hallways.
For added cachet, the Sofitel is French, an attribute it cherishes. The uniformed desk staff, dressed like Air France flight attendants, is for the most part bilingual. The sprawling restaurant, called Gaby after one Gabrielle Chanel, boasts bi-cultural offerings from burgers to cassoulet. And the black-and-white photographs in the rooms include a series showing the construction of the Eiffel Tower.
The lobby, a green marble, ormolu-inflected, neo-Deco expanse that’s grand without being stuffy, invites guests to plop on a velvet sofa or leather club chair and settle in with a newspaper, an iPad or a friend. Luggage is deposited with porters at the entry so you’re not seated next to your bags. Ceilings are high; the curving staircase is eye-catching. An imposing floral arrangement with real blooms – a rapidly disappearing luxury at hotels – commands a side table.
Rooms are priced in part according to location, with those on low floors, ie the least expensive, starting at $398 at present. The sweetener is the shape. Due to the tower’s curves, rooms aren’t as boxy as those in most high-rise hotels. The look is contemporary French – white duvet-dressed beds, dark-wood rectangular headboards, sleek wood desks, mirrored closet doors, floor-to-ceiling curtains with sheers. Bathrooms are showpieces. Even the smallest have a separate stall shower and a soaking tub. In addition to bathrobes, guests receive Evian water at turndown and L’Occitanne bath products. But WiFi costs $9.99 a day.
Suites, depending on the layout, are like apartments, with long hallways, a separate living room, those big bathrooms and a bedroom where a throw is tossed nonchalantly on the bed. King suites, the kind favored by IMF executives, are most desirable on floors 24 through 29 and are at least 650 square feet; some come with a terrace. The 28th floor, where Strauss-Kahn stayed, is a smoking floor.
In short, the Sofitel is the kind of hotel where you can experience comfort, anonymity and, if you’re on a high floor, spectacular views. You can even smoke, if you must. But as the managing director of the IMF learned the hard way, you also have to behave.