Fred A. Bernstein

Room With a View . . .

And not much else (a review of a new Ritz-Carlton)

Published in The Washington Post, February 10, 2002

Room With a View

Published in the Washington Post, February 10, 2002

Have you ever arrived at a hotel, with a confirmed reservation, only to be told your room isn't quite ready? And been sent to the bar for a drink you didn't want? And spent an hour at the bar only to be told you'll have to wait a while longer? (This at 6 p.m., a full three hours after check-in time.)

And then, after expressing your displeasure, been given a suite so large (much larger than your own apartment) that you feel like Howard Hughes holing up at the Desert Inn? And almost wish for something a little smaller, but don't want to disappoint the assistant manager, who is by now desperate to please you?

All of this happened to me at the new Ritz-Carlton New York Battery Park, at the foot of Manhattan, on Feb. 2. Normally, it's unfair to review a five-day-old hotel, but this was an exception: After the hotel's October opening was delayed (the World Trade Center site is all of 200 yards away), the staff had to hang around for months. "We're happy to have guests at last," said one assistant manager, who arrived in August. August to January -- plenty of extra time for training. Plus there's the vaunted Ritz-Carlton reputation.

So why wasn't everything perfect? When I made my reservation, I was asked if I'd like a concierge to call about restaurant reservations. "Yes," I said. But no concierge called. And when the assistant manager finally escorted me to my room at 6:30 (nearly an hour and a half after I had arrived -- a delay she blamed on "housekeeping errors"), the key card didn't work.

"You're not the only one," she assured me of the glitches -- as if that made things better.

But then I saw the suite -- with sweeping views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty at dead center. The decor, in mint and coppery colors, seems calculated to connect foreground to background (that is, to the statue), and it does.

The public spaces are less impressive. The 14th-floor bar is tiny. The lobby lounge is standard-issue (streamlined moderne), and the restaurant, 2 West, luxurious but hardly cutting-edge.

But it's the views that make this the place to stay, especially if the weekend discounts continue. (I reserved a standard room for $179 -- barely enough to cover the apothecary in the bathroom.) Although the building is 39 stories high, the hotel occupies only the first 14 floors, but that turns out to be an advantage: From a modest elevation, the ferry boats, Lady Liberty, Ellis Island, even the planes gliding toward Newark Airport seem close by.

It's a shame to leave the room, but I couldn't afford room service breakfast. Bacon and eggs is $30 -- with tax, the mandatory 18 percent gratuity and a $4 service charge, that's $41.87. So I went wandering the neighborhood, looking for a bagel -- not easy in the one part of Manhattan that is deserted on weekends.

Back in the suite, with the wall-to-wall views of New York Harbor, it's hard to believe that anything could be amiss. But from the health club, on the city side of the building, I was able to look up West Street toward a shocking sliver of Ground Zero.

Serene on one side, chaotic on the other -- the hotel is a microcosm of the city. And that's the real reason to give the place a try: $179 is a small price to pay for the sense that even in the face of tragedy, New York is getting back to normal.