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Remembering a Night and Day at the Waldorf

The famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at 301 Park Avenue closed its doors Tuesday for a renovation said to last two years, and the word "indefinite" is thrown around, but I definitely remember the night I spent there. It was not an ordinary night. It was New Year's Eve, December 31, 2012.

The occasion was unusual. Back in my blogging youth, I had the opportunity to do writing work for a major overseas airline company. The company had started a website that needed travel tips about New York City, so they thought I could help. Instead of paying me in cash for my work, the airline paid me in points that added up to travel miles.

Reflection in a window,  Park Avenue at night. Waldorf-Astoria. December 31, 2012

I would write lists of things to do in New York that were similar to places in the major city of their country. The idea was that I could eventually cash in my points and fly wherever my points would take me. Being somewhat city-bound at the time, in circumstances beyond my control that included the care of a beloved and aging dog, I waited until the last moment to decide what to do with the benefits of my in-kind payments.  

Flying overseas was out of the question. I was tired from work and the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy that autumn, or the combination of both, so I needed some sort of getaway however brief. With a month or so away from the expiration of the benefits, I discovered I could use the points to stay at a hotel of my choice. A really nice hotel, if I wanted.

Lobby, Waldorf-Astoria. December 31, 2012

On a whim, I decided to spend New Year's Eve at the Waldorf-Astoria. I would go by myself but check in on my dog in the morning. I had someone who could walk her. She wasn't that far away, after all. I lived near Washington Square Park at the time.

On New Year's Eve, late in the afternoon, I took the subway to the Waldorf. When I checked in, the clerk disappeared for a few minutes and returned to the desk. For a moment, I thought something had gone wrong. He said that they had upgraded the reserved standard room, way more that I could afford in real life, to a suite. 

Suite 17A
If you watch the classic movie channel, I bet you've seen one of those Depression-era Hollywood movies where women in dressing gowns throw open double doors in a grand hotel suite to host a fabulous party. This was my fantasy unlocking the doors to Suite 17A. I already felt under-dressed.

I wasn't totally unprepared. I had previously invited a couple of friends to drop by "my room at the Waldorf" that night, and I bought the ingredients for their favorite cocktails. Other than that, I had planned to spend the night quietly reading a book given to me as a Christmas present, one of the great walking memoirs by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and just observing whatever goes on in the Waldorf-Astoria on New Year's Eve.

I imagined I would hear ghost music of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians wafting up from the ballroom, as that is what I remembered from youthful New Year's Eves watching the TV growing up in Texas.  

Suite 17A
Suite 17A was a little overwhelming for a person with a book and a small overnight bag. The double doors opened onto a large paneled foyer with dimly lighted sconces. I never figured out what to do there except to greet a large party of imaginary guests. To the left of the foyer was a handsome bedroom with a plush bed and an adjoining spacious bath.

To the right, the reception area opened onto a large parlor decorated in an old-fashioned but pleasing aesthetic arrangement of plum, red, and gold furnishings. The drapery and the crown moldings matched my expectations for a grand old hotel. Oddly, the fireplace area was lit with one of those fake fires of glowing scarlet-colored coals. Most everything seemed just right, except for the inauthentic hearth.

My friends stopped by for cocktails, and we spent a fun time admiring my fantasy space for the night and opening doors to closets and drawers and things. We did not exactly have wild plans for the night. We did take in one of the great under-the-radar pleasures of the city on New Year's Eve - the midnight organ concert at St. Bart's Church, which is literally next door to the Waldorf.

Suite 17A
Shortly after midnight, I walked across the street back to the hotel. I looked at the holiday lights on Park Avenue. For a New Year's Eve, the atmosphere was subdued. You can see the glow of Times Square from there, but the sounds are dim from this area of Midtown. I read some of my book and did my best to fall asleep upon a mountain of pillows, but I worried about my dog and slept fitfully through the night. The next morning, I got up early and dressed, made hotel coffee and jumped on the subway to go downtown and walk my dog. She was fine and glad to see me. Then I went back to the Waldorf for the remaining hours of my stay.

New Year's Day brought mist and fog. The suite had excellent views of Park Avenue to the north - St. Bart's just below, Charles F. McKim's stately Racquet and Tennis Club in the distance, and then Lever House, and to the east, a canyon of tall buildings in various architectural styles that leads to the East River.

Down in the lobby, the hotel staff was setting up a luxurious brunch for the holiday, the kind with mounds of cheese, carving stations under heat lamps, and a tiered chocolate fountain.

When I left Suite 17A and checked out at the hotel desk, it was hard to believe that I had no bill to pay. I thanked them heartily for a great night and went back downtown to a happy dog.


I still don't remember the circumstances of how and when a red balloon appeared in my suite on New Year's Eve at the Waldorf.    

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from December 31, 2012 and January 1, 2013.





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