NEW YORK - There's nothing like ending a long journey on a high note. I did that by spending the last night of my round-the-world trip at the Pierre, the famed Beaux Arts luxury hotel on New York's Central Park.
Opened in an elegant, Georgian-style building in 1930, the Pierre has changed hands several times in its history. At one point it was owned by oil zillionaire J. Paul Getty. It was operated for years by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. In July 2005, management was assumed by India's Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces, which operates 5-star properties in Asia. I stayed at the company's flagship, century-old Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, in Mumbai, early in my RTW trip. Shortly after taking over the Pierre, Taj started refurbishing the property. By the time the re-do was finished this past summer, Taj had spent what it says was $100 million U.S. on the Pierre, remaking the interior of the guest rooms, updating the bathrooms, expanding and brightening the lobby reception area and opening the first branch of the London destination restaurant Le Caprice outside the United Kingdom as the hotel's fine-dining redoubt.
My wife and I stayed at the Pierre during its soft opening in early June. It was clear then that the hotel would return to excellence, but soft openings are by definition uneven and incomplete. Le Caprice wasn't open yet and there were still traces of the construction done throughout the hotel, which left apparently unwashed windows in a handful of spots. The ensuing five months of operation have taken care of all that. The place gleams from top to bottom, the hospitable and personable staff have got their act polished to a high sheen, and Le Caprice - which opened in September and has its own entrance onto Fifth Avenue - looks great, done up in black and white Art Deco-ish style, with lots of mirrors to catch the light.
The 41-story Pierre, in its present configuration, has 189 guestrooms, including 49 suites. I stayed in one of the suites. It didn't have the park view of the room that my wife and I stayed in five months ago, but it was much roomier, boasting three wall-mounted flatscreen TVs, formal but comfortable Old World furniture, an expansive, marvelous bed covered in high thread-count linen, a spacious bathroom with separate shower and bath and a big desk in the 'living room.' I set up my laptop on the desk and spent several productive hours writing and Web surfing.
The Rotunda, on the ground floor, has lovely murals painted on the ceiling. Located right nearby is Two E, the Pierre's stylish, edgy-in-the-good-sense bar, with its smart-set clientele. Le Caprice, where I had a Sunday morning breakfast of Scottish salmon, scrambled eggs and good coffee, can be accessed inside the hotel through the Rotunda.
The physical property is impressive, befitting a hotel of the Pierre's stature and history, but what I really like about the hotel is the warm service and a lack of pretention that is not always found in grand hotels. Abby, the young woman who checked us in back in June, checked me in again, greeted me by name and remembered me, lo, these months later. All the hotel elevators are run by elevator operators - a traditional touch that brings an air of graciousness.
In its short time back in business - the guestrooms were closed for months while they were being refreshed - the Pierre earned a 5-diamond rating from the American Automobile Association, one of 113 hotels and resorts in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean to win that coveted rating. Now that the hotel is operating at full-service, it has special holiday promotions and a package keyed to the Winter Antiques Show on offer.
In short, the Pierre is back. I felt fortunate to stay there. I slept like a baby on the last night of my month-long, globe-girdling trip, went for a brisk morning constitutional in Central Park, just across Fifth Avenue, before check-out, and left New York feeling like a million.
For more information: The Pierre is located at Fifth Avenue and East 61st St., New York, NY 10021. Web: www.tajhotels.com/pierre/. Telephone: 212.838.8000.