Best classic hotels in New York City: Accommodation with history

If these walls could talk, you’d never get to sleep—these classic hotels will surround you with old-school elegance and NYC history.

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  • Photograph: Jesse David Harris

    Best classic hotels in New York: Algonquin Hotel

  • Best classic hotels in New York: The Chatwal New York

  • Best classic hotels in New York: Hotel Metro

  • Best classic hotels in New York: The Pierre

  • Best classic hotels in New York: Hotel Elysée

  • Best classic hotels in New York: The Plaza

Photograph: Jesse David Harris

Best classic hotels in New York: Algonquin Hotel

We admit it: We love gawking at the city’s celebrity homes—but staying in a storied residence is even better. And some of these classic hotels also have historic restaurants. Whether you want to re-create the Algonquin Round Table or just luxuriate in old-world opulence, these hostelries have a combined legacy to rival the New-York Historical Society.


RECOMMENDED: Full guide to New York hotels


Algonquin Hotel

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 3/4

Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker swapped bon mots in the famous Round Table Room of this 1902 landmark—and you’ll still find writer types holding court on the mismatched armchairs of the sprawling lobby. The Algonquin certainly trades on its literary past (quotes from Parker and other Round Table members adorn the door to each guest room and vintage New Yorker covers hang in the hallways), but a major 2012 renovation has spruced up the grande dame. Backlit vintage photographs of NYC in the rooms are nods to old New York but the sleek quarters could be in any corporate hotel, with faux leather headboards, Frette linens, iHome clock radios and slate-floored bathrooms. Although it’s now part of the Marriott-affiliated Autograph Collection, the hotel retains some of its quirky identity in the public spaces—in the lobby bar and restaurant, original paneling and some decorative fixtures remain and the hotel cat (always called Matilda or Hamlet depending on sex) still slumbers behind the check-in desk. Sadly, the iconic cabaret venue, the Oak Room, has closed, and the Blue Bar has been glitzed up with colored lighting, but it retains the original Al Hirschfeld Broadway-themed drawings, donated by the late habitué’s gallery.

  1. 59 W 44th St , (between Fifth and Sixth Aves), 10036
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The Chatwal New York

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 4/4
  • Critics choice

In a city awash with faux deco and incongruous nods to the style, the Chatwal New York opened in August 2010 in a Stanford White building whose interior art deco restoration is pitch perfect. Hotelier Sant Chatwal entrusted the design of this 1905 beaux arts building (formerly the clubhouse for the Lambs Club, America’s first professional theater organization) to Thierry Despont, who worked on the centennial restoration of the Statue of Liberty and the interiors of the J. Paul Getty Museum in L.A. The result is one of the most glamorous hotels in the Theater District, if not the city. The gracious lobby is adorned with murals recalling the hotel’s New York roots and theatrical pedigree—past members of the Lambs Club have included Lionel and John Barrymore, Oscar Hammerstein, Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne, Douglas Fairbanks and Fred Astaire. The theatrical past is further evoked by black-and-white photographs in the hotel's restaurant, helmed by Geoffrey Zakarian, which takes its name from the club. The elegant rooms feature vintage Broadway posters as well as hand-tufted Shifman mattresses, 400-thread-count Frette linens and custom Asprey toiletries; select rooms have spacious terraces.

  1. 130 W 44th St, (between Sixth Ave and Broadway), 10036
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Hotel Elysée

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 3/4

Since 1926, this discreet but opulent hotel has attracted luminaries from legendary Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz (whose grand piano resides in the premier suite) to (a discreetly unnamed) modern superstar who stayed for three months preparing to go on tour. You may bump into one on the way from your antique-appointed room to the complimentary wine and cheese served every weekday evening in the sedate second-floor lounge, or in the exclusive Monkey Bar , Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s restaurant that shares the building. Ask reception to reserve a table and your chances of eating among the power set rise from zilch to good—a few tables are set aside for guests every night.

  1. 60 E 54th St, (between Madison and Park Aves), 10022
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Hotel Metro

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice

It may not be trendy, but the Metro is that rare thing: a solid, good-value hotel that is extremely well maintained. Every two years, the owners start renovating the rooms, floor by floor, starting at the top; by the time they’re finished it’s almost time to start again. So even "old" rooms are virtually new. The stylishly contemporary quarters feature marble-topped furniture and beige leather-effect headboards; premier rooms have luxurious rain showers. Unusually for New York, the hotel offers 18 family rooms, consisting of two adjoining bedrooms (one with two beds and a table) and a door that closes. Also rare, a generous continental breakfast buffet is offered in the guests’ lounge (or take it to the homey adjoining library), outfitted with several large TVs. The rooftop bar (open Apr–Oct) has Empire State Building views.

  1. 45 W 35th St, (between Fifth and Sixth Aves), 10001
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The Pierre

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Price band: 4/4

The 1930 landmark overlooking Central Park became part of the posh Indian Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces in 2005, setting in motion a $100 million overhaul—but it retains delightfully old-fashioned elements such as elevator operators and original fireplaces in some suites. In contrast to the glitzy public spaces, including the mural-clad Rotunda and the Grand Ballroom, the classic rooms are understated, dressed in a neutral color palette and immaculate upholstery, with modern gadgets including Bose radio/iPod docks. The sumptuous Turkish marble bathrooms are generously stocked with Molton Brown bath products. The Asian influence is reflected in silk bedspreads from Bangalore and contemporary Indian art, but the hotel restaurant is a swanky new Italian spot designed by Adam Tihany, Sirio.

  1. 2 E 61st St, (at Fifth Ave), 10065
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The Plaza

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 4/4

The closest thing to a palace in New York, this 1907 French Renaissance-style landmark reopened in spring 2008 after a two-year, $400 million renovation. Although 152 rooms were converted into private condo units, guests can still check into one of 282 elegantly appointed quarters with Louis XV-inspired furnishings and white-glove butler service. The opulent vibe extends to the bathrooms, which feature mosaic baths, 24-carat gold-plated sink fittings and even chandeliers—perhaps to make the foreign royals feel at home. Embracing the 21st century, the hotel recently equipped every room with an iPad. The property’s legendary public spaces—the Palm Court restaurant, the restored Oak Room and Oak Bar, and Grand Ballroom (the setting for Truman Capote’s famed Black and White Ball in 1966)—have been designated as landmarks and preserved for the public; however, the Oak Room and Oak Bar are currently only open for private events. There’s also an upscale food hall conceived by celebrity chef Todd English, which includes both old and new cult NYC purveyors, such as William Greenberg Desserts and No. 7 Sub.The on-site Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa is the French grape-based skincare line’s first U.S. outpost.

  1. 768 Fifth Ave, (at Central Park South), 10019
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