Wednesday, February 4, 2015

On the Eighth Day of Christmas bestie gave to me,
the Plaza Hotel Christmas tree.

A word about The Plaza Hotel. This place is fancy. Under the history tab of their website, they claim that someone once said, "Nothing unimportant ever happens at The Plaza." And considering that less than a week after we visited, Prince William and Princess Kate would be calling The Plaza home during their stay in New York, I'm sure that's true.

The Plaza is located at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South and first opened its doors in 1907. It was designed to be the most luxurious hotel in the world. Its 19 floors reached skyscraper status in those days and the $12 million price tag was unfathomable. Over 1600 crystal chandeliers were installed and the largest ever single order for gold-encrusted china was ordered from L. Straus & Sons. Naturally, the super-wealthy and famous wanted to live there and so Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Vanderbilt were the first to sign in. If you only wanted to stay one night, that would've been $2.50 out of your pocket; a hefty sum when the average wage was 50 cents per day.

The Plaza has also served as the set for several movies, the first being Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest (which I saw in a high school film class but failed to appreciate it as I would now so it's on my to-do list). The Way We Were, The Great Gatsby, Funny Girl, Cotton Club, Barefoot in the Park, Crocodile Dundee I and II and Home Alone 2 were filmed on this location, as well. The Plaza received its designation as a NYC landmark in 1969 and is the only hotel in the city to be listed on the register of National Historic Landmarks.

Today, the hotel continues its dedication to luxury by providing a free iPad in each room, which can be used to communicate with the concierge, order room service, arrange wake up calls and even print boarding passes. Bathrooms feature 24-karat gold plated fixtures and handcrafted solid marble vanities, designed especially for The Plaza. And if you get hungry, there are several restaurants downstairs where you can grab some grub or a drink, including The Palm Court, The Rose Club, The Champagne Bar and The Plaza Food Hall (y'know, for the rest of us). The Palm Court hosts an afternoon tea (with or without champagne) that comes with a multi-level tray of finger foods. Well..."finger foods" sounds a bit barbaric. Really, it's outrageously expensive and delicate bites that you put into your mouth using your fingers. The "New Yorker" afternoon tea (bagels and lox, chicken salad, egg salad, etc.) runs about $65 and the Champagne Tea (foie gras, lobster, peekytoe crab - confession: I don't even know what peekytoe crab is but I'm envisioning a bunch of 8-toed crab running amok in the kitchen) rings up at $105. I know...steep.

But so worth it just one time...preferably when you're old enough to appreciate the food more than the champagne and have the time to sit and enjoy instead of treating it as a rest stop between 2 other tourist destinations.

The first time I visited Shana, I stayed for 10 days. Neal was deployed and Blue was nothing but a hope and a prayer at that point. I was self-employed and only working part part part time. I saw an opportunity. Shana, as always, had planned a perfect itinerary of sight-seeing, exquisite dining and down time. Tea at The Plaza was on that list. I wore a dress with a petticoat and a flower in my hair and off we went. And it was truly amazing for a country girl to dine in such an opulent setting. As well-traveled as I was, it still felt luxuriously foreign. And I've thought about it ever since.

Christmas at The Plaza is no small affair, either. After dinner, we stopped by to check out (and, of course, photograph because we're those people) their holiday decor. The lobby tree stretched toward the ceiling and featured beautiful porcelain and blown glass ornaments. A small crowd was taking turns snapping selfies in front of it. At one point, a mother placed her 2 young sons, both in dress shirts, ties and blazers (with accompanying pajama bottoms) in front of it and offered up every bribe in her book to get them to smile long enough to capture the perfect Christmas card shot.
And, granted, it is beautifully symmetrical...not at all as if a toddler helped to hang the ornaments. Perhaps next year, I should place a velvet rope around our tree when I'm finished with it. (Don't send me hate mail. I'm only kidding. I cherish every year that our tree is naked from the waist down by the time January rolls around.)
Moving past the lobby and The Palm Court, we made our way downstairs in search of other signs of Christmas. 
One of us should have stood by this fella to give you an idea of scale, but he towered over everyone in our party. Standing guard in the food hall downstairs. Although, again, food hall sounds so suburban. The vendors sell everything from savory lobster rolls to mouth-watering macaroons. In other words, The Boston Market it is not
We also found Eloise hanging around The Palm Court. 
Somehow, as a wee Ally, I missed this entire series of books. I put the blame squarely on Nancy Drew. But I'm determined to introduce them to Blue (mostly because something needs to balance out all the dinosaurs and trains around here). Eloise resides in a penthouse at The Plaza and spends her days seeking out adventure, as most 6-year old children tend to do. This painting, though, has an interesting history. According to Eloise at the Plaza, the illustrator of the Eloise series, Mr. Hilary Knight, presented his painting of Eloise to hang outside of The Palm Court in the late 1940's. And there it stayed until it disappeared after a fraternity party. The matter probably would have been forgotten, but Princess Grace was so disappointed to find it missing when she toured the hotel with her children that Mr. Knight completed another copy, which hangs in the hallway today. (As a side note, although the Eloise author has passed away, Mr. Knight continues to draw Eloise and is currently on staff at Vanity Fair.) The website mentions that mothers and daughters come from around the world to sip tea at The Plaza and visit Eloise's painting. I'm fairly certain my daughter would have to be about 28 before I would bring her to The Plaza for lox and egg salad, but I can appreciate the sentiment. It's almost better than getting a pony. 

We bid farewell to The Plaza and all of its doormen, hustling to secure taxis for guests bracing their little black dresses against the whipping rain. We had one more stop to make before our drive home. Shana was taking us to FAO Schwartz; home of the Big piano. And just like that, it's 1988 again.

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