A Friday night in Manhattan, and the ruby Ty Bar at the Four Seasons midtown is buzzing. Across the way, a more sedate crowd dines in the emerald Garden restaurant, amid lush trees made of real bark and silk leaves that belie the cooler season.
The restaurants flank a tiered, columned entrance — the building was designed by I.M. Pei — that suggests a modern version of a Doric temple.
Moody jazz pulls us up the entrance stairs into the angular, cream and caramel reception area, with its Cartier, Rolex and Bottega Veneta vitrines and an offside boutique of VBH luxury handbags and clutches, designed by Valentino alumnus V. Bruce Hoeksema. It’s all sleek, sophisticated and very New York — and we realize that the Four Seasons brand has come a long way from its beginnings in 1960-61 as a 125-room motor hotel in Toronto.
That property was the brainchild of founding chairman Isadore “Issy” Sharp, who notes in the elegant “Four Seasons: The Art of Hospitality” (Assouline), that “So much of long-term success is based on intangibles. Beliefs and ideas. Invisible concepts.”
His key belief could be called the Golden Rule as applied to hospitality, “the simple idea that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same.”
At the Four Seasons New York, this manifests itself immediately and continuously in a staff that is helpful and ingratiating not only to us — we are, after all, there to write this piece — but to wedding parties, tourists, families and other guests, whom, we hear, include Middle Eastern princesses and film stars. Indeed, the staff accedes to our every request, including a copy of the “Four Seasons” book that we quickly spy in the lobby. Soon it is delivered to our suite, which lays Central Park and all of midtown at our feet.
The suite itself is an intimate-yet-spacious affair in a neutral palette that embraces a dressing room; a marble bath with Bulgari products, the Four Seasons having been a pioneer in hotel amenities; a sitting area; and the comfiest king-size bed around — perfect for writing, reading the other elegant Assouline tomes that lie about and dreaming. It’s no wonder, then, that among the 125 paintings by Ignasi Monreal in the “Four Seasons” book is one of a king-size bed with pillow shams imprinted with the Four Seasons tree logo, floating in the heavens. (The logo cleverly features bare, full and sparse branches suggesting the four seasons, which were not, however, the inspiration for the hotel group’s name. Rather it was the eponymous luxury Munich hotel that Sharp and his partners so admired.)
As the “Four Seasons” book, with an introduction by Pilar Guzmán, makes clear, no two of the 116 Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and 44 residential properties are alike, in large part because the sites themselves are owned by others. (Toy manufacturer-philanthropist Ty Warner, creator of Beanie Babies, owns the Four Seasons midtown building, a relationship underscored by the name of the bar and the Beanie Babies boutique off the reception desk.) The Four Seasons Firenze is graced by frescoes that recall the world of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Florentine nobility. A rooftop infinity pool at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong puts that city in an adjacent lane.
Our only other experience of the Four Seasons was in Jakarta, which had the most elaborate Sunday buffet brunch we had ever seen.
The Four Seasons New York in midtown — there’s also the New York Downtown — is the only Four Seasons to host the L. Raphael Geneve Beauty Spa. (Its only other American location is at the Montage Beverly Hills.)
Founded by Ronit Raphael, who as a teenager suffered from second-degree burns from a chemical peel to reduce minor acne; scientist Meir Shinitsky; and plastic surgeon Raphael Gumener, the spa has a line of services and products that include an innovative Oxy-Peel Anti-Aging Treatment. It involves, among other things, a cold blast of high-grade oxygen used with L. Raphael’s LEC-40 Complex — a combination of vitamins A, C and E, omega 3 and pure lecithin. The oxygen allows for deeper penetration of the ingredients to nourish and restore the skin more effectively. Under the expert hands of aesthetician Tatiana Zarshevsky, our skin feels plump, hydrated, radiant and renewed. Meanwhile, our spirit is refreshed with spa front desk manager Kerry-Ann Vincent, who engages us in conversation as we relax with a cup of decaf.
“Spas are temples of wellness,” the “Four Seasons” book observes, “that offer guests tranquil settings to find balance after a day of adventure.”
Or, in our case, before a day of adventure. Glowing, we set out for St. Patrick’s Cathedral before returning to the Four Seasons to visit the Assouline boutique, filled with sumptuous volumes, and to savor a scrumptious afternoon tea of vanilla scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam, petite sandwiches (chicken Waldorf, prosciutto and fig, egg, and cucumber and Brie); and sweets, including a hazelnut Napoleon, cream profiterole, panna cotta and a lemon tart with adorable little meringue spikes.
Thus fortified, we are ready to scale the new five-floor Nordstrom that has just opened down from the hotel on 57th Street. Needless to say, all of New York is at the store and needs to buy designer duds and other products immediately. We nevertheless persist in our quests at the Beauty Hall and the food court.
After several hours that yield some Lancome makeup and a chicken Caesar salad, we are more than ready to walk the six blocks back to the hotel. The thoroughfare that is 57th Street is graced by venerable names that call it home and beguile — including Carnegie Hall, The Russian Tea Room and The Art Students League. But at that moment, nothing seems as prominent as the Four Seasons and nothing as good as the thought of our suite, its bed and a girl’s night in doing our nails, reading magazines and watching romantic movies.
Somehow, we imagine Isadore Sharp would approve.