Pool Crashing

Clockwise from top left, Mandarin Oriental; Hotel Gansevoort; Le Parker Meridien; Hotel QT.Photo: Elizabeth Cline

Swimming in this city is a pain in the ass. Last summer, I encountered a body of water a grand total of once, at Fire Island, which required a two-hour drive and an LIRR trip back when my friends with a car had had enough before I did. And big city pools are infested with kids.

This summer, I decided to try hotel pools. They have fresh towels, poolside drink and food service, hair dryers and showers. But since I wasn’t planning on staying there, and didn’t have the cash to pay for entry, I’d have to bluff my way in.

I started at Le Parker Meridien. The pool is a glass-encased penthouse with neatly rolled towels on every perfectly positioned lounge chair. I walked into the lobby and trailed a guest to the elevator bank, which had a button marked pool. I stopped on the 36th floor to observe how the rooms were numbered: four digits, starting with the floor. I reached for the pool sign-in form before the attendant could say a word. Then I pretty much had the place to myself for the next two hours. I swam laps, blew bubbles, did the dead-man’s float. I was giddy. I tried to read a little Thus Spake Zarathustra on the sundeck but was distracted by clouds, building spires, views of Central Park, total silence, and the man nearby who was an amazing 50 shades tanner than me.

Next, the Mandarin Oriental. I’d neglected to fully dry off at the Meridien, so I had wet spots over my boobs. “Yooooou’re a guest here?” the pool attendant asked. I confessed. She offered me fruit, let me walk around the pool once, then kicked me out.

The middle-class vibe at the Holiday Inn on 57th Street was much more comfortable. This is the total package—poolside bar (with stiff daiquiris), a full menu (the mozzarella sticks!), and big-haired rednecks like the ones I grew up swimming with in rural Georgia. I faked a room number on the sign-in form and spent the afternoon chatting with a 70-year-old local magician named Mal Sparks. At the cozy QT hotel in Times Square, I eased past the front desk, took the elevator to the second floor, stripped to my suit, and plopped into the water. When I was ready to leave, I had to wander around sopping wet until I found a bathroom in the hallway and changed.

Last on my list was the Hotel Gansevoort. There are 360-degree views from this 45-foot rooftop swimming spot, plus the guests are terribly attractive, young, and wealthy. It’s the holy grail of hotel pools. And the hardest one to get into. The pool attendant has a list of every guest and his room number. I loitered in the nearby bathroom “putting on makeup” until a pretty twentysomething tourist named Rebecca from Los Angeles came in. I explained that I was a swimming-pool-deprived New Yorker and begged her to smuggle me in. “Oh, totally. Not a problem!” Exclusivity and staring at hot Lindsay Lohan types has its downside. Fourteen-dollar mojitos. A long wait for a decent lounge chair. Still, I was outside, in a pool, for free. If I hadn’t just ruined my own fun, I’d be heading back to the Holiday Inn pool this weekend. Or the Meridien. It’s closer to the office.

Pool Crashing