At Home at The Carlyle

Since opening its doors in 1930, The Carlyle Hotel has perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the Upper East Side. Its luxury, sophistication, prime location, and jovial staff have made it both a New York City icon, and a favorite among celebrities, royals, and presidents alike. To toast its 90th anniversary, Assouline just released its newest tome, The Carlyle, which includes an introduction by Vanity Fair writer-at-large James Reginato and a foreword by rock musician Lenny Kravitz. The book shares memories from its most prominent guests and photos that commemorate the hotel’s storied history and most glamorous moments.

An illustration of guests departing The Carlyle to attend the Met Gala, by Kera Till.
Assouline’s The Carlyle

The Carlyle was conceived in the Roaring Twenties by real estate tycoon Moses Ginsberg, who envisioned an understated yet luxurious Upper East Side residential hotel. Ginsberg invested millions of dollars into the project and hired architect Sylvan Bien to design the 35-story limestone-clad art deco tower and Dorothy Draper to design the bold, neoclassical interiors. Ginsberg’s daughter named the establishment, paying homage to the work of British philosopher Thomas Carlyle. However, by the time the doors opened in 1930, the boom of the 1920s was decisively over and the hotel was forced into foreclosure. It was sold to the Lyleson Corporation, which kept the original management and maintained the hotel’s staid reputation. It was not until the next postwar boom that the hotel took on its more lavish, high-society status. New owner Robert Whittle Dowling, who was known for owning properties in the grittier parts of town, used the acquisition of the hotel to transform his own reputation—requiring references for first-time guests of the hotel. Dowling opened the famous Bemelmans Bar in the hotel and attracted elegant Europeans, celebrities, and U.S. presidents as clientele, ultimately making the hotel “the New York White House.” In 1948, Harry Truman became the first president to visit The Carlyle, with each of his successors through Bill Clinton following his lead. Famously, President John F. Kennedy maintained an apartment at the hotel where he was known to sneak Marilyn Monroe into through the service entrance and where he enjoyed his last breakfast before his fateful plane trip to Martha’s Vineyard. 

Pedro Caballero, a bartender at The Carlyle. (Courtesy of Andrew Moore)
The Carlyle building. (Courtesy of Andrew Moore)

In 1967, real estate scion Peter Sharp took over the hotel, and notably revamped the Café Carlyle, which originally opened in 1955. Although the romantic décor featuring murals by  Marcel Vertès, the Oscar-winning art director of Moulin Rouge, was a draw, Sharp noticed that the venue was lacking in exciting music. He hired piano prodigy Bobby Short in 1968, setting the musical standard of the lounge for years to come and giving birth to the venue as we know it now. Short became the soul of Café Carlyle for four decades, and its current cabaret experience still features acts from top-of-the-line performers like Isaac Mizrahi, Judy Collins, Alan Cumming, and Rita Wilson.

Tom Sturridge and Jason Sudeikis at The Carlyle. (Courtesy of Rebecca Smeyne)

Today, The Carlyle is part Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and recently underwent significant renovations to keep guests comfortable and attract a younger generation, while maintaining the charm that gives the hotel its magical character. Doormen with biscuits in their pockets stand ready to welcome furry companions and longtime staff members know guests by name. “The whole staff—the doorman, the bellman, the housekeepers—they’re like my family. You just want them to be sitting on your bed, chatting about this and that. They’re such characters,” said author Charles Finch.

Orlando Bloom leaving The Carlyle. (Courtesy of Dave Kotinsky)

It’s the combination of its rich history and charming staff that make the Carlyle Hotel the icon that it is today. Current managing director Anthony McHale puts it best. “Over 90 years of history have contributed to this authenticity. There’s nothing like it that exists anymore in New York. The Carlyle has such a whimsical quality and the most eclectic mixture of guests that I’ve ever seen in a hotel—movie stars, presidents, royalty, artists and on top of that, locals and families with their children and their dogs. It all comes together, in a sense of home, and everybody’s like family.”