Ever since I interviewed Tom Storey, president of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, for this month’s cover story, I’ve been wanting to tell you of my early experiences at The Plaza in New York. Throughout our interview, Tom referred to the many memories people have enjoyed at Fairmont’s hotels—and I’m no exception. I grew up about 70 miles north of Manhattan in a town called Brewster. As a teenager, I spent much of my time trying to get out of town and into New York. Luckily, Brewster had train service running right through it.
As often as I could, I’d grab my best friend Kelly and insist we go to the city for the day. My goal was always to end up at The Plaza, if only to stand in its lobby and watch everyone walk by. (It also had an easily accessible great ladies’ room, important for a suburban visitor. Others of note were, and remain, The Waldorf=Astoria, the Grand Hyatt and Citicorp.) But The Plaza was the best, and one day, when we were just 16, I insisted that poor Kelly and I actually have tea at the Palm Court, my ultimate dream.
Once there, we managed to muster up the courage to ask for a table. We were instantly seated and handed menus. That was enough to cause intense anguish because as unemployed teenagers we couldn’t actually afford any of the food that was offered. Kelly insisted we leave; I insisted we stay and order a cup of tea and a clear broth of chicken. This would literally clean out our budget for the day, but what the heck. The waiter took our order and I sat, utterly in awe of my surroundings. This was New York society and I was a part of it.
The broth came, as did the tea, both on fine china. Then, an attendant came around with a silver tray that held a pitcher of cream and exquisite wedges of lemon. Going for the full experience, I squeezed a lemon into my tea and added some fine cream, which curdled as violently as any cream has ever curdled when introduced to lemon. The waiter looked down in horror and walked away. Kelly calmly sipped her tea, and I sat in utter misery, embarrassed, disappointed and starving.
But I’d done it! I’d had tea at The Plaza and the place remains a landmark to me to this very day.
After it went through its recent dramatic renovation, I heard many grumbling about how its public spaces had changed, and for months I didn’t go uptown to see it; I was too nervous to see what they’d done. But when I finally went, I thought it was just swell. I was swept into the lobby by the most welcoming doormen and wowed by the open expanse of public space. There was a buzz in the air, people were doing all of the things you’re supposed to do in a Grand Dame’s hotel lobby: conferring with the concierge, sitting down for meetings, joining up with friends and dashing through the open doors to get to an important appointment. I was relieved: New York had survived the remake of one of its great hotels, and I had, too.
So now I hear that the Palm Court has reopened and, truthfully, I haven’t been back since that day I added lemon and cream to my tea. I promise to give it a try again, since the experience can only get better from here. I’m all for creating new memories in great hotels.
For more on Fairmont and what’s happening at The Savoy in London, go to pages 50-53.