Luxe Life: The Plaza Hotel

James Gaddy

The Plaza Hotel is nearly as famous for its fictional residents as its real guests. A portrait of Eloise, the children's book heroine brought to life by Persian Room lounge singer Kay Thompson, occupies a prime spot outside The Palm Court, on the south promenade, while photos of the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe get space in the back. After the completion of a $450 million restoration in 2009 by El-Ad Properties, the hotel that hosted both Truman Capote's "Party of the Century" and Donald Trump and Marla Maples' wedding is open to the public again.

Indeed, the original plans of the greatest designers and decorators in New York—such as Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, Warren & Wetmore and L. Alavoine & Co.—look like they just emerged from The Plaza's own Caudalíe Vinotherapie Spa.

Even if an overnight stay is not in the plan, you can still feel like a million bucks in The Plaza's public spaces, whether you're having a glass of champagne in the lobby or a steak in The Oak Room—where countless notables, including Walt Disney, have lunched. The following tour of The Plaza leaves no doubt as to why it has earned the acclaimed status of national historic landmark—the only hotel in the City to own such a distinction.

Courtesy, The Plaza

Hotel Lobby and The Champagne Bar
The most noticeable part of the renovation involves a completely new lobby, which has been moved from the north side of the hotel to the easternmost part of the building. (The original lobby is now used for private residences.) Its cream-colored walls, golden curtains and gleaming chandeliers serve as a luxurious complement to the check-in desk and concierge area. A small champagne bar pays homage to the Champagne Porch that sat in the same spot when the hotel opened in 1907.

Courtesy, The Plaza

The Rose Club
Part of the new lobby, The Rose Club occupies the mezzanine above the check-in desk and overlooks the new Champagne Bar. Designed by Gal Nauer, the club is inspired by the Opéra national de Paris: crushed-red-velvet couches and leopard-print pillows are bathed in purple light, from bulbs encased in the ceiling like giant orbs. Behind the bartenders, a three-tiered case of top-shelf liquor glows.

Photo: Whitney Cox

The Palm Court
Surrounded on three sides by a promenade and separated from The Terrace Room by folding mirrored doors, The Palm Court boasts the most immediately gratifying part of The Plaza's restoration: the re-creation and installation of its stained-glass laylight (Conrad Hilton, who bought the hotel in 1943, had the original removed to install central air-conditioning). Botti Studio used a Hardenbergh sketch, black-and-white photos and shards of glass found during the cleanup to create the new design. The Palm Court, famous for its afternoon tea, serves breakfast, lunch and brunch.

Photo: Whitney Cox

The Terrace Room
The Terrace Room was added to The Plaza in 1921 and designed by Warren & Wetmore, the architects of Grand Central Terminal, known for their impressive perspectives. This deep, dramatic room is separated from The Palm Court by folding mirrored doors that, when opened, reveal its terraced steps and stone fountain. The Terrace Room's chandeliers, designed by Charles Winston (brother Harry was the famed Fifth Avenue jeweler), were modeled on chandeliers from the Palace of Versailles; any missing pieces were re-created and restored, and new wiring was added to modernize the lighting system in each. Also part of the restoration, grimy residue (the product of things like smoke, dirt and grease) was removed from the hand-painted Renaissance-style artwork on the ceiling.

Photo: Whitney Cox

The Edwardian Room
Try to count the number of permutations that The Edwardian Room has undergone—Prohibition-era tearoom, 1970s discotheque, Adam Tihany–designed restaurant—before finally being restored to its original condition: an English medieval cabin hall. It's a reminder that while the "lodge" aesthetic may be hip downtown, The Plaza did it first and still does it best. Originally designed by William Baumgarten in 1907, the restored version accentuates the room's panoramic views of Fifth Avenue; intricately painted, exposed beams overhead; and beautiful, rarely seen mosaic floor. Currently, the room is being utilized as an event space.

Photo: Whitney Cox

The Oak Room and The Oak Bar
A century's worth of smoke has been removed from The Oak Room, revealing detailed carved wood that remains clearly defined even among the highest reaches of the restaurant. Designed by famed Parisian firm L. Alavoine & Co., The Oak Room's interiors evoke a hilltop Rhineland castle, where frescoes decorate a wall like picture windows. (Legend says these paintings inspired Walt Disney to build his own castle.) The Oak Bar, which was added to the hotel after Conrad Hilton bought The Plaza and then made famous in the opening scene of Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest, retains its reputation as one of the most romantic meeting spots in the City.

Photo: Whitney Cox

The Grand Ballroom
The space that Truman Capote called "the most beautiful room in the City" has been renewed with a top-to-bottom cleaning that cost management $14 million by itself. (A kitchen was also added.) The extensive mirrors, cream and green colors, and gold incrustations are the clearest, most luxurious interpretation of the 1920s Great Gatsby aesthetic. It's a room where fantasy and reality easily overlap: Capote held his famed Black and White Ball there in 1966, and, 27 years later, it was the setting of then Plaza owner Donald Trump's wedding to Marla Maples.

Photo: Julienne Schaer

Pulitzer Fountain
The fountain immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald's impromptu swim (he also set scenes from The Great Gatsby at The Plaza), located between Fifth Avenue and the hotel entrance, largely contributes to The Plaza's cachet. Created with money donated by (and specific instructions from) Joseph Pulitzer after he died, the fountain is part of Grand Army Plaza, which was designed by Thomas Hastings, who also built such Fifth Avenue icons as the New York Public Library (with architecture firm partner John Merven Carrère) and the Henry Frick mansion. The bronze statue in the fountain—of Pomona, the goddess of abundance—was designed by sculptor Karl Bitter and was the last work he created before his death in 1915.

Photo: Marley White

The Shops at The Plaza
A key part of The Plaza's restoration was the addition of 160,000 square feet of retail space. In the mezzanine, across from The Rose Club, French bookseller Assouline features a wide range of art, photography, fashion and design editions, while the subterranean grand concourse comprises shops offering luxury goods and delectable foodstuffs. You can buy fitted suits from Seize sur Vingt, bold photographic works by Peter Lik, haute couture at Francesco Fino, sparkly jewelry from Anna Hu, stylish modern womenswear at Emanuel Ungaro and quality leather handbags from Ghurka. After all that shopping, relax and refuel with coffee and baked goods from The Plaza Cafe. 

Photo: Evan Sung

The Plaza Food Hall  
Todd English, the celebrity chef behind more than a dozen acclaimed restaurants all over the United States (and on the Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2 cruise ships) has opened a European-style food hall in the lower level of The Plaza. Groceries, prepared foods and even cheese from New York's own Murray's are available for purchase. Those looking to have a meal here will find separate stations for seafood, pizza, dumplings, sushi, and burgers and sandwiches. Prices linger in the reasonable range, especially for this level of quality and luxury. And since it's The Plaza, even simple dishes get a fancy twist—there's a Kobe beef burger and fig-and-prosciutto pizza. But one of the biggest hits is Curly Cakes cupcakes, a product of English's daughter, Isabelle.