Jody Ness and the Wine Portfolio team have visited some truly amazing places in their travels, but few are as impressive as The Pierre, located on New York City’s Upper East Side.
Recently, Jody filmed a segment for Wine Portfolio in The Pierre’s beautiful Bar 2 E – and contributing writer Roland Hulme took the opportunity to sit down with The Pierre’s Director of Public Relations to find out a little more about this stunning hotel.
Meeting The Pierre
By Roland Hulme
I’ve always been fascinated with The Pierre.
This beautiful and historic hotel ranks amongst New York’s finest – every bit the equal of the famous Waldorf Astoria and The Plaza – and in my mind, just a littlebit more exciting than either of those two.
For me, part of The Pierre’s mystique stems from the hotel’s colorful 80-year history. Even the story of its founding is a classic American rags-to-riches tale – Corsican busboy Charles Pierre Casalasco worked his way up from scrubbing dishes to schmooze Wall Street financiers into financing his towering hotel.
Later, oil baron John Paul Getty would rescue The Pierre from bankruptcy during the Great Depression. He sold off accommodations to a litany of celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor and Yves St. Laurent. If walls could talk, I wonder what tales those of The Pierre would divulge? I’ve heard rumors that John F. Kennedy himself would take his mistresses there.
Years later, and no less notoriously, The Pierre earned its place in the Guinness Book of Records as site of the world’s largest hotel robbery – committed by mobsters Samuel Nalo and Bobby Comfort in 1972 (a record that’s yet to be beaten.)
And even more recently than that (or less, if you follow the show’s chronology) The Pierre has become the impromptu headquarters of Mad Men’s fictional advertising agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
But what I discovered when I visited was that The Pierre remains thoroughly up to date, despite a history stretching back eight decades. This is largely due to a two-year renovation by the Taj Hotel group, who took over management of The Pierre in 2005.
“The Pierre underwent a $100 million renovation,” explains Director of Public Relations, Nora Walsh. “It included the addition of a new restaurant, Le Caprice, and a new bar, Two E.”
Two E I was already familiar with – I met Nora there while filming a segment for Wine Portfolio. What I didn’t know was that Two E was leading the charge in challenging The Pierre’s traditionally staid reputation. Twice a month, it played host to a thoroughly modern dance night called Rumor – a far cry from a previous era, in which guests would huddle in The Pierre’s sedate piano bar instead.
In fact, it was where the piano once stood that you’ll now find restaurant Le Caprice. As a Brit, I was surprised and a little thrilled to learn this elegant eatery shared more than just its name with the more famous Le Caprice of St. James, London. This Le Caprice is actually the British restaurant’s sister venue.
Indeed, the menu even shares many of the London restaurant’s signature dishes, like Thai-baked sea bass, crispy duck and watercress salad and Scandinavian iced berries with hot white chocolate sauce.
But the new bar and restaurant are just the beginning.
“In addition, every guest room has been renovated,” Nora boasts. Despite being on the most historic hotels in New York, every room now features a state of the art lineup of accessories and appliances.
“Like a 40-inch flat screen television,” Nora explains – a far cry from the nineteen-inch Zenith TVs guests used to have to squint at, “and an iPod docking station, WiFi internet, a working desk with built-in data and power outlets, plus large sound-insulated, energy efficient windows with blackout draperies and sheers.”
In addition, for those who remember The Pierre’s infamous claim to fame as the location of the biggest hotel robbery in history, security’s been beefed up.
“Access to all guestrooms has been upgraded to a new state-of-the-art electronic key system. Closets are outfitted with an electronic safe complete with power outlet thataccommodates laptops.”
Mobsters Bobby Comfort and Sammy Nalo would go home empty-handed if they tried their old tricks today.
But the mod-cons make up just part of the renovation – equally enthralling are the additions that truly identify The Pierre as a Taj Hotel.
“These include original Indian artwork in the guest rooms and public spaces,” Nora reveals, “and details like imported Indian silk comforters.” An impressive collection of Indian art also pays tribute to the Taj Hotel group’s cultural heritage – and makes a appealing treat for guests and visitors to The Pierre.
In fact, that’s one of the best things about the new-look Pierre. Although a stay at the luxury hotel is a real treat, you don’t need to book a suite to make the most of the newly-renovated facilities.
“You can come in for drinks at Two E, or dinner at Le Caprice,” Nora suggests, “or come in for tea, and take yourself on a tour of our artwork.”
That artwork includes the stunning new Indian art, but also The Pierre’s famous Rotunda, which still features its signature trompe l’oeil murals created by American artist Edward Melcarth.
Elegance and opulence are the watchwords when it comes to The Pierre’s impressive renovations – but for me the hotel’s appeal is still tied to its colorful past.
While this historic hotel is now utterly comfortable and contemporary, I still got a thrill as I stepped across the famous black-and-white checkerboard tiles in the art deco lobby. It was an almost imperceptible anticipation – the feeling that romance and adventure were lurking just around the corner.
And to me, that’s one of the timeless appeals of The Pierre, and one that the $100 million renovation hasn’t diminished in the slightest.