The lobby. Credit: Supplied.

NEW YORK CITY: Four prominent water marks lay stained into the long, leather-stitched table top in my hotel room; one a spirit glass – probably a whiskey neat – another most definitely a late-night glass of cabinet sauvignon. There’s not a coaster in site at Gramercy Park Hotel, but that’s the point. The residue from evenings gone are encouraged to evoke “that lived-in feel”, I’m told.

If you look closely though, there’s faint markings of other glasses of liquor – dim nods to nights of debauchery or passion or both – and all adding to the storied history and authenticity of this once-musty, raucous and idiosyncratic bastion. After a refurbishment in 2006 by lauded American painter and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Julian Schnabel, today the GPH is wildly rococo in style and bohemian in spirit: The raspberry velvet curtains in the rooms are heavy, the walls (in some) are jade green, the upholstery is opulent and overstuffed, the cerulean throw is messily splayed on purpose across the enormous bed and the room’s carpet is a take on the custom Schnabel-designed Aubusson rug that consumes the hotel’s foyer. But beyond the velvet headboards and tasseled chairs – and the fact the Italian bedding is actually like sleeping inside a marshmallow – you just know these walls have seen some things (and heard some recaps over the excellent eggs the next morning).

The lobby. Credit: Supplied.
One of the hotel rooms. Credit: Supplied.

To truly appreciate the lavish furnishings, however, is to understand the property’s rock n’ roll history. Nicknamed “The Glamercy” in the 70s, the hotel was known as a top-tier party spot – a rockstar’s paradise if you will – given its permissive atmosphere. At the time, it became good business for the proprietors to turn a blind eye to the fact guests could order a cheeseburger, a guitar pick or cocaine via room service. The rooms were also reasonably priced for record labels who felt their talent were too high-profile for The Chelsea on West 23rd but not quite the sell-out concert that would warrant a stay at The Plaza uptown.

“We like this place, the Gramercy Park Hotel,” Clash lead singer Joe strummer once said. “It’s economically viable to stay here, not like uptown somewhere. That means five nights of hotel rooms ain’t no problem. And we like to get some vibe of New York, you know, because we’ll put that information onto a record.”

At the height of the hotel’s popularity, guests included everybody from Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, Bowie and Blondie (the latter lived in the hotel for three years) to Aerosmith, Madonna and U2 (who were completely starstruck to see The Clash coming out of the elevator one day. “They were so cool, and we knew we weren’t,” recalled Bono some years later.) And yes, the GPH is the place The Rolling Stones infamously threw that television out the window.

But if musicians knew what they were getting every time they stayed, today and post-refurbishment, a repeat guest never experiences the same hotel twice. The property has the largest private collection of over-scale art works in New York and one of the most impressive in the world, with over $50 million worth of art rotating at any given time. Hello Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Enoc Perez, Keith Haring, Fernando Botero, Tom Wesselman and Damien Hirst, Mel Ramos, the list goes on.

Credit: Supplied.

If you’re not taken by the grandness and distance between the soaring wood-beamed ceiling in the lobby and the checkered floor tile at your feet, you will be by the enormous Damien Hirst paint-on-canvas masterpiece to your left; hundreds of butterflies arranged, pressed and glossed in the form of a stain glass window. Or a Notorious Nude cocktail in the Jade Bar adjacent might instead be your speed – Belvedere, Apple Cider and Hibiscus-Lemon Cordial, arranged, pressed and glossed (with Champagne).

The Rose Bar next door is aimed at the young, trendy, moneyed clientele – the tastemakers of Manhattan – who would like their $21 Wendy Peppercorn cocktail with a 22-cocktail-high picture of Britney Spears as seen through the lens of David Lachapelle. In fact, the dusty pink, suede walls and velvety settee of the Rose Bar are mere objects to the 13 confronting Lachapelle celebrity portraits hanging around the lushly dark room: Eminem, Tupac, Leonardo DiCaprio, Uma Thurman, Sarah Jessica Parker and Paris Hilton (who was reportedly – and ironically – banned from the Lexington Avenue hot spot along with perennial party gal Lindsay Lohan in 2006).

The bar is home to fashion week after-parties, private film screenings and invite-only live and intimate music showcases known as the Rose Bar Sessions. To date, acts include BØRNS, James Arthur, Rainsford, Gun N Roses, Bastille, Bleachers and The Dandy Warhols. As I tour the space in the light of a Monday morning in March, that feeling comes over me again: These walls have seen some things (and heard some more things over the clinking of these custom-cut crystal glasses).

The Jade Bar. Credit: Supplied.
The Rose Bar. Credit: Supplied.
The Rose Bar. Credit: Supplied.

Upstairs on the top floor, 4,400 light bulbs create a low hanging canopy in a space known as the Drawing Room. If there’s one piece in the entire hotel that stops people in their tracks and encapsulates that bygone era of elegance, glamour and opulence, it’s this one. Schnabel with the help of Brooklyn artists Annika Newell and Tom Schultz designed this piece which sits as a prelude – along with many a Damien Hirst creation – to the majestic private terrace. Peer out across the Manhattan island, New York is today looking dreary and tired. The historic and storied Gramercy Park – the city’s only private park – looks like a collection of fine sticks and grey gravel from this far up. But given a stay at the GPH affords you a key to the private enclave that no one can get into, it’s doesn’t matter that it isn’t leaf-lined on this winter’s day. Built in the 1830s, the homeowners of the 39 surrounding buildings have keys to the park. The locks are changed every year, and if you fail to pay the annual fee, you lose your key privileges. So far, this hasn’t occurred, I’m told.

The Drawing Room. Credit: Supplied.
The Drawing Room. Credit: Supplied.
The Terrace. Credit: Supplied.

Everywhere you look – a venetian chandelier, a painting, a chair – its all bathed in history, in a story. A stay at the GPH is truly like no other and worth every penny. Of late, Barack Obama has eaten at the restaurant downstairs, Maialino. Jennifer Aniston is another. So too was the late Karl Lagerfeld.

From Bob Marley smoking in the hallways to Bob Dylan writing lyrics in his hotel room late at night after the breakdown of his marriage, the water marks on the leather top tables are just the beginning.


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The water marks. Credit: Jessica Bailey.