I’ve been visiting New York City with my family for three days, but I’ve yet to have what I consider to be an authentic Manhattan experience. We are the ultimate tourists: We’ve been staying on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, traveling into the city each day via bus that drops us off at the Port Authority. We’ve toured the mandatory sites: Central Park, the Central Park Zoo, the American Museum of Natural History and Ellis and Liberty Islands. But what I really want out of this visit to NYC is to step through the doors of a sleek and modern midtown hotel and be in the thick of the hustle, bustle and excitement that the city is known for.
So we do what very few people ever have the desire to do: we get into our SUV and drive right into the heart of Manhattan. Our trip is timed precisely to avoid any semblance of rush hour, and we arrive at our destination without experiencing much traffic and with zero wrong turns courtesy of our trusty GPS that we’ve affectionately named Zelda. We pull up in front of The Setai Fifth Avenue and turn ourselves (and our car) over to the capable hands of the Setai’s ultimate service professionals. Before we know it, we have sailed through check-in and Floyd is escorting us to our 26th floor Avenue Apartment Suite, our home for the next 24 hours. Our car is whisked away by the valet staff; I’m only slightly curious and worried about where they’re taking it, but I’m too wowed by my surroundings to really care.
But let me back up a bit. Before our visit even began, we were contacted by phone by our Personal Assistant, Kimberly, who ensured that all of our requests would be taken care of prior to our arrival. Personal Assistants are Capella Hotels and Resorts more personalized answer to a concierge. We had very few needs: a rollaway bed for our son and some advice on parking. Kimberly assured us that our request for a rollaway had already been noted in our reservation and she guided me through the hotel parking options and directions. To follow up on our conversation, Kimberly emailed the details to me including a map of the area.
The Setai Fifth Avenue is located in one of Manhattan’s most desirable neighborhoods on a relatively sane stretch of Fifth Avenue, within easy walking distance of the famed Empire State Building. We are delighted to explore every bit of our 1,100 square foot apartment suite, surely the most understated luxury accommodations I’ve ever had the privilege in which to spend the night. As I stand at the edge of the floor to ceiling windows (and I mean literally, floor to ceiling), I stare down in total amazement as the city twenty six floors below rises abruptly and falls sharply. While it’s not a view of the famed Fifth Avenue, it’s still quite cinematic.
The mattress looks much too thin to offer a restful night sleep, so I’m shocked at how dreamily comfortable the low profile, heavenly King-size Duxiana bed in the sprawling master bedroom is. Our contemporary apartment is sparsely decorated in the sleekest sort of way, right down to the rich woodwork and flooring and luxurious looking and feeling furnishings and fabrics. There is a full kitchen with Miele appliances, not that we plan to use it other than to enjoy the fridge stocked with complementary water and soda for our sipping pleasure. But when traveling, it’s so civilized to be able to reach into a cabinet and pull out a proper drinking glass and silverware to enjoy beverages and leftovers from dinner.
We experienced one ever-so-slight service hiccup that was resolved so satisfactorily, it’s barely even worth mentioning: The hotel had run out of rollaway beds. The resolution? The housekeeping staff transformed the oversized L-shaped sofa into a cozy nest-like bed for our son. The bed was outfitted with the same luxury Italian Pratesi linens, pillows and comforters found on the regular in-room bedding; hardly a consolation prize. When the housekeeping manager called later that night to inform us that a rollaway had become available, we refused because we were so pleased with the original solution.
My favorite touches in the enormous bathroom: all of them! From the wide and deep soaking tub, to the in-mirror TV that my eight-year-old hasn’t stopped talking about, to the miles of counter and storage space in the double-sink vanity, and the glass enclosed rain shower and water closets, the bathroom was an attraction in itself. Thanks to the expert guidance of Katie in guest services, the in-room Nespresso machine pulled an impressive shot of dark rich liquid, crema and all.
Our room exploration complete, I’m anxious to hit Fifth Avenue. Our destination: The mesmerizing views from the Empire State Building’s 86th floor observation deck. But the Setai is never far from our memory or our sight. From the breezy outdoor viewing platform of the Empire State Building, the Setai Fifth Avenue is in full glorious view.
When we return to our room that night, it has been transformed into an evening refuge thanks to The Setai’s refreshing version of a turndown service like no other. His and her slippers are situated beside the bed on crisp, white linen. The touch-of-a-button blackout drapes have been drawn. Light jazz music wafts from the television speakers. On the bed, fine cardstock displays the weather outlook for tomorrow. A bottle of Saratoga Spring Water has been placed beside two glasses perched on leather coasters. A bag of small chocolate chip cookies tempts the palate, offering just one more treat. And of course, the towels and glassware had been refreshed. But the best part is the view of the surrounding nightscape, which is even more breathtaking than the visual show that presented itself earlier in the day.
Something about our room at the Setai gave me pause: There was no attempt to sell me anything; there are no placards describing the nightly specials in the restaurant or bar. There isn’t a sign telling me that if I decide to take the luxury Madison Collection bathrobe home with me, my guest folio will be charged $125. At luxury hotels of this caliber, these things go without saying. I know that there is a restaurant on premises – and a bar that serves cocktails. I know that if I remove items from my guest room that aren’t mine to take, I’ll be charged for them. The décor is minimalistic – no artwork on the walls – just a few carefully placed contemporary figurines. It’s these touches – or the welcome lack of – that give The Setai Fifth Avenue a decidedly residential feel that is appreciated for the sheer simplicity.
The next morning, New York City is bathed in grey skies and a light drizzle. I send my husband and son off to explore Bryant Park and Central Park with unsanctioned stops at just about every bagel, hot dog and donut vendor in their path. I’m off to do some exploring of my own and take the elevator down to the spa. Spanning the entire fourth floor of The Setai Fifth Avenue, the 11,500 square foot Auriga Spa features eleven private treatment rooms, wet rooms, sauna, and steam room. Four signature treatments reflect the varying energies of the lunar cycle to engage body, mind, and spirit in a natural and holistic restorative process. Auriga Spa is a tranquil respite from the chaotic rhythms of New York City, although I could still hear some traffic noise from street level four stories below.
I’m offered mint water at check-in while I fill out a simple form that touches on any health and medical concerns of the client, preferred massage pressure and skincare products currently in use. My locker is stocked with a robe, spa sandals and a Turkish wrap for use in the hammam. The spa has just opened for the day and I still have the entire place all to myself. I’m recalling the cool April drizzle outside and I’m content to be tucked away in the warmth and serenity for a few hours.
Auriga Spa calls on the same neutral color palate and natural materials as the guest rooms – dark woods, marble and tile, creams and beiges. There is nothing feminine about the clean and crisp minimalistically styled space. Flickering candles and frosted low mounted wall lights cast a shimmer off the iridescent tiles. While I brew myself a cup of tea (infused water, iced crimson punch herbal infusion, fresh fruit, walnut halves, and artfully arranged dried dates still on the stalks are also available), it dawns on me that I would normally be thinking about rushing back to my room after a morning spa treatment to finish packing and check-out. It’s so counterintuitive to a relaxing spa visit. But The Setai Fifth Avenue doesn’t have stated check-in and check-out times for hotel guests; we are free to enjoy our room until our self-selected check-out time of 2:00 pm.
Instead of a common waiting area, guests wait for their treatments in private “nooks” with wooden benches and cozy throw pillows. This is where Anna, my therapist from Poland, collects me for my 60-minute Moon Phase body massage. I am extremely encouraged when I learn that Anna is both an esthetician and a massage therapist, almost always a winning combination in my book. I was treated to the customized relaxation massage of my dreams: light, feathery strokes, assisted stretching and perfect pressure on silky soft sheets in a heated massage bed. The sweet fragrance of the jasmine & rose massage oil filled the room. My choice of peaceful music couldn’t quite drown out the noisy Fifth Avenue traffic below, but I would nevertheless still consider Auriga to be a tranquil respite from the chaotic rhythms of New York City.
If Auriga Spa falls short in any regard, it’s the absence a quiet, dedicated relaxation lounge in which to languish post-treatment. If you’re a hotel guest, you can head back to your guest room to relax or you can chill out in the co-ed Aqua Lounge with experiential showers (customizable settings including color therapy, water temperature/pressure and sound), ice cave, vitality pool and hammam.
While we didn’t experience celebrated chef Michael White’s restaurant Ai Fiori, The New York Times had this to say when it recently awarded the hot new dining spot three stars: “Ai Fiori is one of the best restaurants to open in New York in the last 12 months”. Enough said. We also missed out on the floaty sounds of jazz at The Bar on Fifth, with its elaborate bar menu and cocktails that span from the utterly classic to the hip and trendy, stirred up by celebrity mixologists.
Some of my favorite moments during my visit: watching my son go for a chauffeured ride on the luggage cart, with Bell Captain Floyd at the helm. The nearly full-size bathroom amenities by Lorenzo Villoresi Firenze for Botega that looked pretty and smelled even prettier, adorning every ledge and fixture in the bathroom. The unfailingly competent, obviously well-trained and passionate service professionals. The box of Tumbador Chocolates crafted for The Setai that greeted us upon arrival; after biting into a grapefruit flavored square I decided they just might be too good to share.
When you walk through the doors at the Setai Fifth Avenue, you’ll have no doubt that you’re in a luxury hotel designed to ‘wow’ you and make you feel deliciously special. This is a property that is clearly capable of providing an outstanding experience to business travelers or leisure travelers, singles or couples and families with children with the utmost grace and finesse and the same level of guest satisfaction. The Setai Fifth Avenue delivered to our family the one thing we had come looking for: a truly authentic Manhattan experience
The Setai Fifth Avenue
400 Fifth Avenue | New York, NY 10018
(212) 695-4005 or (877) 247-6688
The Setai Fifth Avenue is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. The Setai Fifth Avenue, a Capella Managed Hotel, opened on November 1, 2010 as the first true luxury hotel in midtown Manhattan. Located on Fifth Avenue at 36th Street, the hotel represents the new heart of the city and offers the most sophisticated access to New York for business and leisure travelers from around the world. Its beautiful limestone exterior wraps around expansive, faceted windows that project onto the street and flood guest rooms (among the largest in Manhattan) with natural sunlight.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary night stay and spa treatment for the purpose of writing this article. While this has not influenced this review, this publication believes in full disclosure.