The Zone, which is what Woody Allen calls the 10021 blocks between 72nd and 82nd Streets, from Fifth to Park, is Cole Porter’s Manhattan, and if you are a tourist here, the best place to experience that sense and sensibility – possibly the only place – is at the Carlyle. Certainly, Bobby Short, who has played at the Carlyle for 33 years, is a Cole Porter fan’s most significant destination. Then, a few feet away, there’s Bemelmans, the unreconstructed society bar, a monument in the history of suaveness.
But the Carlyle is one of those hotels that serve locals as much as tourists. Every morning, I get my paper at the hotel. Given real-estate prices in the Zone, you can’t easily find a paper unless they put one aside for you at the hotel. And at that, only familiarity, and a good relationship with Michael, the bell captain, will get you a courtesy paper.
Then, too, I’m kept in the know by the paparazzi who stake out the hotel. “Who’s here?” you ask out of the corner of your mouth. The skinny has always been good: Diana; Shimon; the king of Jordan; Mick; Monica.
I get to keep track, courtesy of the Carlyle, of the comings and goings of the world’s moguls. I always know when Barry Diller is in town. I know that Mrs. Redstone doesn’t want to leave the Carlyle apartment to Mr. Redstone. I know what Mort Zuckerman has had for breakfast. I have had cocktails on the terrace of the apartment maintained here by the Italian publisher Leonardo Mondadori. Mr. Mondadori, however, decided to sell his apartment some months ago, at least in part because the Carlyle itself was, disconcertingly, for sale – and who knew what that would mean for this very particular way of life?
Which is what I said to my wife the other day when I proposed we spend our anniversary in a room at the Carlyle – to have that experience before it was gone (for similar reasons, we once spent an anniversary in Hong Kong before China took over). So we packed our bags, left our children, and walked the two blocks. I was thinking that this would be something of a minor disappointment, as most hotel rooms are. But even that would be a story: the chipping paint at the Carlyle.
As it happened, just at the moment we presented ourselves at the desk, the two-year process of selling the Carlyle came to its end; the present owners, who’ve owned the hotel for as long as Bobby Short has played here, and a new buyer group were signing the papers.
Possibly for that reason – a sense among the hotel staff, almost all of whom have had lifetime tenure, of the masses storming the palace – or even, I suppose, because I faithfully tip 25 cents for my morning paper, our standard room reservation was upgraded to a suite of vast and romantic proportions. “We hope,” said the deskman, “you will find it amusing.”
This had been Princess Diana’s suite, we were told. And, if I know anything, the suite in which JFK, one of the Carlyle’s devoted guests, shagged Marilyn Monroe. Here, looking out the wide picture window, west over the lights of the park, south over midtown, and north to the George Washington Bridge; with a Steinway baby grand, multiple deep couches, and a proper English library (complete works of Macaulay, Gibbon, Dickens, Balzac); with petits fours and fruit, and the complimentary (and signed) Bobby Short CD in the background, we found ourselves in possibly the sweetest spot in the Zone.
It was only the next day, when I saw that the hotel had been acquired by a group called Maritz, Wolff & Company, owners of other luxury properties, that I wondered if, possibly, I had enjoyed a night as the Carlyle’s purported new owner.