New York Hilton
Don Draper, distant and sad, slinks off from the forced reverie of the wedding party and explores the venue – an opulent, labyrinthine Long Island country club. In the club lounge, he finds a charming, grey haired Southerner behind the cocktail bar. Draper offers to fix an Old Fashioned for each of them and the man seems only to happy to let this suave interloper take mixing duties.
They shoot the breeze, and since he’s talking to a stranger and not his wife or work colleagues, he tells a heart-felt anecdote about his real past, as the illegitimate son of a rural prostitute who died giving birth, Dick Whitman. This one concerns serving rich people, as a kid. Anyone who follows Sixties suave-fest, Mad Men, will know that the barman turns out to be Conrad Hilton. The great man’s appearance cannily served the Hilton brand, fusing the hotel chain’s historic resonance with the smoke-haze sheen of mythic televisual New York. That Conrad became an integral character is somehow fitting of his contribution to the city that never sleeps.
Located on the Avenue of the Americas, near the bottom of Central Park, the 60’s behemoth Hilton New York is still the biggest hotel in NYC and still exudes a classic aura. It IS Manhattan. The Beatles stayed there, as did JFK, as did a roll call of truly famous faces. The classical lobby is merely an interior imprint of the city outside. A polyglot representing every nationality and American state, bustling here and there, somewhere important to go. Though built in ’63, the place has had many $100 million makeovers in the last 20 years. Four to be exact, and it shows. Over 40 suites – some of 2000 square feet – and the odd penthouse with grand piano and spiral stair case, if you like sweep to match to the view.
I really don’t think I’ve ever been in a busier hotel. Breakfast at the 44th floor Executive Lounge actually was like walking into a leather and taupe diner. People. Talking. Eating. Everywhere. With over 1,900 rooms, the Hilton brand has to cater for a very wide demographic.
So you’ll find very distinctive aesthetics across the rooms. The classic Guest rooms are a veritable vintage vibe. Stripey wallpaer and floral curtains. The Suites seem more Mad Men chic, sleek and grey. The Accessible Rooms are pure business travel pragmatism. Ergonomic office chairs, easy throws on the bed, big walk-in shower. Of the many interior restaurants, Etrusca is actually a really good bet. Whilst a lot of New York’s bistro action is downtown, Mid-town is the preserve of the fancy spots. So an honest, nicely relaxed Italian, with big portions and a decent wine list is a safe bet for that one night or lunchtime when you don’t want to go too far afield.
The Big Apple may have fancier and more exclusive hotels. This city caters for a hip traveller like no other. But, like Mad Men itself, Hilton New York acts as reminder of a world we may still not be quite ready to let go of.