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The Coastal Traveler – Trump Central Park

Trump Central Park, New York City

Towering over Manhattan’s Columbus Circle is Gaetano Russo’s 1892 statue of Christopher Columbus. He’s a controversial figure. To some, Columbus was a heroic discoverer – to others, a vile conquistador. Adjacent to his likeness is a different kind of monument, recalling another disputatious icon: Donald Trump.

As much commotion has Trump generates, not everything associated with him divides. Even the fiercest critics can agree that Trump International Hotel & Tower – Trump Central Park as it’s known – is a deft combination of  everything that makes a world-class luxury hotel.

Its location at the southwest corner of Central Park is the choicest spot in that part of town. At present, it is the only 5-star, 5-diamond hotel in Manhattan (in North America, actually) with a Michelin 3-star restaurant on premises. The staff has elevated service culture to its peak expression. The guestrooms blend opulence with a homelike aspect, in a way uncommon among urban luxury hotels. It’s gotten the highest hospitality ratings, from AAA to Forbes to The New York Times.

Of course, none of this will convert Trump’s detractors. They abhor him and everything he stands for, including his many brands. Happily for them, Trump himself doesn’t greet you at check-in, nor does he prepare the food, ready the rooms, or even run the hotel day-to-day. His name may be on everything from the marquee to the soap, but a stay at Trump Central Park is free of The Donald incarnate. For hotel-loving Trump haters, that’s one way to look at it.

On the other hand, a great many people actually like Trump, as evidenced by years of public opinion polls. For them – and for those who have no position on this man one way or another – Trump Central Park is simply this: a splendid luxury hotel at a perfect location in the greatest city on earth. For now, let’s go with that.

Trump Spa Couples Treatment Room

The best thing about staying at Trump Central Park is being in your room, which may be the greatest hotel compliment of all. Averaging 700 square feet, with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer immersive views of the park below and skyline all around, the one-bedroom Executive Park View suite is airy – even inspiring.

From its cozy kitchenette with pre-stocked Sub-Zero fridge and Keurig brewing system, to its two bathrooms, to its elegant furnishings (like Schonbek crystal chandeliers over the dining area), it’s more pied-à-terre than hotel suite. Minutiae like coffee table books are assiduously chosen for intimate charm.

Suites come in a variety of bedroom configurations (useful for those who travel with nannies), and the hotel is pet friendly. The rooms are ideal for Gordon Gekko style power tripping, letting the energy of the city seep in past the motorized blackout drapes. Or you can just watch the 55-inch HDTV, raid the snacks, and chill.

The concept of residential appeal differentiates this hotel from its competitive set. The Mandarin, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and The Peninsula are magnificent, and most of them beat Trump on lobby grandeur and the ambiance of common areas. But none has duplicated Trump’s upscale condo-like quality. Maybe that’s because the room are condos, privately owned and leased back to the hotel. Of its 176 guest rooms, only 30 are standard-sized (averaging 440 square feet). Management is fond of saying that for the same money as a standard room in comparable hotels, Trump Central Park gives you a suite. This is arguably true.

Other details one expects to find at 5-diamond properties are present, naturally. Bed linens are carefully selected, as are the beds they cover. General Manager Suzie Mills personally vetted the beds used in the hotel, at the risk of becoming a fairy tale cliché in the process. “I felt like Goldilocks,” she says. “One was too hard, one was too soft. Then I found one that was just right. In hotels, it’s all about the bed.”

Mills and her staff deserve praise for the way they operate Trump Central Park. It’s a human story in an often-inhumane town. Mills – who ran a small hotel in Wales with family before being trained at The Savoy in London – has been with the organization for nearly 19 years. She is widely recognized as one of the leading hoteliers in the world. It’s not uncommon to find other double-digit personnel here, from the front desk to the kitchens to the dining rooms.

Whatever Trump (the man) may do to displease critics, the staff a
t Trump Central Park seems to like him. That translates to how they treat guests, which accounts for their stars and diamonds. “We strive for personalization and a warm, genuine feeling,” Mills says. “We try to create ‘wow’ moments for people.”

Jean-Georges, Nougatine

Along with Paris, Manhattan fine dining sets the standard by which the classification is measured worldwide. Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a familiar prince of the city’s food aristocracy, having won every imaginable award during his long career. The jewel in his crown remains Jean-Georges, opened in 1997. Columbus Circle is planted thick with Michelin restaurants – Masa, Per Se, and A Voce to name a few – but their forerunner was unquestionably Jean-Georges. It nabbed three Michelin Red Guide stars within months of opening, and continues to merit them.

Michelin defines a 3-star restaurant as, Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage, meaning “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” Granted, traditional haute cuisine may not be for everyone, but Jean-Georges is certainly worth the trip.

The scene on a recent Saturday night was urbane, bustling, sexy; an attractive mix of celebs, power brokers, and gastro-tourists. A woman sitting nearby holding a $20,000 Hermès Birkin bag helps paint a picture of “the dinner crowd” here.

Restaurant service is a human thing. Good, bad, or somewhere in between, it is personal. Service captains like Caitie Finch deepen the joy of dinner at Jean-Georges, with a prodigious grasp of a complex menu. Her articulation of the dishes informs an eager palate. Plus, she’s a delightful person.

For the amuse-bouche, Executive Chef Eric Lapico sent toasted egg yolk, caviar and herbs; then delectable diver scallops with caramelized cauliflower in caper-raisin emulsion as entrée; for le plat principal, crispy confit of suckling pig with baby beets and ginger vinaigrette; finally, tastings of strawberry, cherry, caramel and chocolate.

Somewhere in there were peekytoe crab dumplings with snow peas, black pepper, and mint. Dinner here is an elating mixture that stops being about food at some point. It’s experiential – the signature of great meals, from backyards to ballrooms.

For more casual dining, Nougatine is the bistro-style eatery with exhibition kitchen adjoining Jean-Georges. Same chefs, same quality – less ceremonial. Mills is not incorrect when she says, “The $38 prix fix lunch at Nougatine is the best deal in New York City.” The artisanal cheese and meat plate with raspberry compote is a satisfying mezze. Pan-seared hake in sweet garlic and chili broth with crunchy potatoes is light and pleasing. Vongerichten’s trademark molten chocolate cake is served here, too. Seasonally, the outdoor Mistral Terrace is a lovely way to enjoy Nougatine’s treats. When a breeze blows off the park and wafts across its tables, Manhattan sighs. Never, ever refuse the Blueberry Crumble.

for reflection in mirror w/o lampUrban Renewal
One luxury hotel spa is much like another. The real test is in the quality of therapies offered. That said, Trump Central Park’s 6,000-square-foot spa and fitness center was renovated not long ago, which apparently was a welcome upgrade. Its three treatment rooms and relaxation area are highly functional, if unremarkable.

That’s not a big deal when you get down to the actual treatments. While there’s nothing at Trump Spa that you can’t find elsewhere, you won’t find better therapists. Nowhere are effleurage, petrissage, and tapotement better applied. If you go, schedule a 60-minute Swedish with Merrick. She is a consummate practitioner.

As for the fitness center, it’s well equipped and has Manhattan’s only hotel-bound saltwater pool. It’s got one other thing that everyone likes in gyms: virtually no people. That’s largely because they don’t accept outside memberships.

Bitterman, You Know How I Love the Park
Time was that the Upper West Side was not much safer than the Lower East Side. That changed with the Disneyfication of Manhattan through the 1990s. Now, the neighborhood is as safe as it gets in a large city. That was helped along when the massive Time-Warner Center went up, and with it The Shops at Columbus Circle. There’s also Lincoln Center, the Museum of Arts and Design – so much to see and do.

Central Park itself remains the real draw, however. For many, the entrance at 59th Street and Central Park West is the most magical. Bordered by Billionaires Row and its inventive skyscrapers, the southwest corner of the park is both pastoral and chaotic. It all depends on where you stand, and where you chose to stay.

A crescent moon rising over the dark expanse of Central Park is a stirring, mysterious sight, especially when viewed from a high vantage. At moments like that, it hardly matters who owns the building. Trump Central Park is a true achievement in urban luxury hotels. It’s a pity if politics keeps anyone from the experience.

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