Michael Romei is one of the most renowned hotel concierges in the world. He spent 25 years at the famed Waldorf-Astoria Towers, during which time he started a training program called Creating Service Magic, designed specifically for luxury hotel staff; he was also general secretary of Les Clefs d’Or International, an association of hotel concierges. Romei, first-generation Italian American, hails from West Haven, Connecticut, but has worked and lived in New York City for most of his life. We caught up with him to get some insight into the life of a concierge and to ask for his inside tips on NYC.
So what does a hotel concierge do?
Michael Romei: A concierge provides the ultimate in professional service, with a specialty in local expertise. The concierge is devoted to creating magical, memorable experiences for guests.
What’s your number one tip for guests to maximize their experience with a concierge?
MR: Trust the concierge’s knowledge and expertise. They have dedicated their lives to becoming local experts and ambassadors of their city, country and hotels.
What are some of your favorite hidden gems in the City?
MR: I particularly like Greenacre Park, which is located on East 51st Street, between Second and Third Avenues. Here one can find peace right in the heart of Midtown. The pocket park is beautifully sculptured and landscaped with a trickling waterfall and a small café and espresso bar.
Any suggestions for guests who want to explore areas of the City outside Manhattan?
MR: The boroughs have become increasingly popular. Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood has a lovely promenade park along the East River, complete with various art installations. There’s Jane’s Carousel, a vintage glass-enclosed flying-horse carousel on the waterfront. There’s also St. Ann’s Warehouse theater, nearby hotels, new restaurants and the famous River Café, which is probably the most romantic restaurant in all of NYC thanks to its spectacular view of the Lower Manhattan skyline. The area has become much more accessible via the increase in routes on the NYC Ferry, and you can walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get there.
What about interesting spots in Queens and the Bronx?
MR: Queens has delicious restaurants within its various ethnic neighborhoods: Greek, Italian and Latin ones in particular. The Bronx offers the famous Bronx Zoo, the beautiful New York Botanical Garden and the borough’s own Little Italy on Arthur Avenue, a great dinner stop before or after a game at Yankee Stadium.
What’s the most memorable request a guest has ever made?
MR: An older couple from Italy who did not speak English asked me to help them search for a long-lost relative here in NYC. After several days, I actually found their relative and contacted her. I not only made all of the arrangements for their meeting and visit, but also stayed with them to translate.
NYC in winter is such a special time. What are some of your favorite things?
MR: All the wonderful outdoor ice-skating rinks! And also it’s the height of the Metropolitan Opera’s season.
Do you have any suggestions for LGBTQ-owned or popular venues that guests may not think of?
MR: Jackson Heights in Queens is one of the largest gay areas of the City and has a Latin flavor. NYC also celebrates many parades and festivities throughout the year that are very popular with LGBTQ folks, such as the Halloween Parade, Wigstock, Broadway Bares and the Gay Pride March.
Can you talk about some queer-specific needs that you were able to address as a concierge?
MR: I put together last-minute marriage celebrations and arrangements such as finding gay ministers, LGBTQ-friendly church services, catering services, florists, pastry chefs for wedding cakes and special invitation-only events during Pride.
Some LGBTQ travelers may feel more comfortable engaging with a queer concierge. Can you recommend some for our readers?
MR: LGBTQ travelers will find that all hotel concierges are completely open and embracing to everyone who visits NYC. Our local organization, NYCAHC (New York City Association of Hotel Concierge), as well as our Les Clefs d’Or (The Golden Keys) concierge members follow a simple yet profound motto: “In Service Through Friendship.” Therefore, all are welcome and very much embraced.
What is your proudest moment as a concierge?
MR: When I first became a member of Les Clefs d’Or 25 years ago, and being blessed twice personally by the Dalai Lama.