New York City: High roller
Author: GEORGE EPAMINONDAS
Floating above the silver spires of Manhattan from the Four Seasons Ty Warner Penthouse suite, one experiences a farrago of emotions - awe, elation, envy and a dash of vertigo. Vistas from the 52nd floor of the iconic New York hotel are suitably staggering, particularly those offered by four glass balconies cantilevered over the metropolis. Peer downtown to the Empire State Building and beyond from the southern deck. Gaze north to Central Park, east to Queens or west to New Jersey. Spreading beneath you like a diamond duvet, the city is suddenly yours, all yours. But the illusion of ownership of an entire city does not come cheap. In fact it costs $35,000 a night.
To stand out in today's saturated market, hotels are amping up the luxe quotient to unseen levels, and catering to a clique of ultra-wealthy patrons whose ranks have swelled. In New York, hotels including The Peninsula, the Mandarin Oriental, The Carlyle and the newly retooled Plaza, as well as many other five-star properties, are frantically bidding for the same affluent customers. But the Four Seasons leads the way with this 400 square-metre castle in the clouds. There is currency in having the most expensive hotel room in the country. It grants you a competitive edge in an era of opulence, or 'opuluxe' as American author James B. Twitchell calls it, in reference to the fact that so many objects are accorded luxury status now.
The Ty Warner suite reinvents luxury with a triple dose of power: power views, power fittings and a power price tag. Suffused with regal tones of gold and ivory, arrayed with spectacular one-off furnishings and replete with spiffy high-tech accoutrements (including control panels in every room and private elevators), the suite is a cocoon fit for a tycoon. Surfaces of semi-precious stone, custom-designed fabrics and an arresting art collection whisper money, money, money. Every décor detail and piece of furniture has been individually commissioned. To wit, the dining table with a pair of brass rams for a base. The Macassar ebony and velvet dining chairs stamped with a gold geometric pattern. The cut-glass chandelier, a space-age stalactite that might have come from Superman's lair.
Floor-to-ceiling bay windows imbue the interior with constantly changing light levels and endless colours. The suite occupies the entire top floor of the hotel and includes a spa (personal trainer included), living room, library, breakfast nook and a powder room lined with tiger's eye. The library has toffee-hued lacquer walls, innumerable volumes on art and culture, and a Bösendorfer piano. Adorning the master bedroom is a Thai silk canopy bed of gold thread - Rumpelstiltskin eat your heart out - while the adjacent bathroom features sinks carved from rock crystal, an infinity tub of Chinese onyx and a heated floor. There's even a Zen garden, a sun-dappled nook for meditation with a kiwifruit-coloured bowenite wall and cascading waterfall.
"We're breaking new ground," says Leslie Lefkowitz, director of public relations for the hotel, when asked how many guests have actually checked in since the posh pad was recently unveiled. "There has never been a suite of this price before." The short answer is, only a handful of people have indulged so far, which suits the hotel just fine - better to keep it in pristine condition.
Unlike equivalent suites in Las Vegas, there are no discounts here. The rate is all inclusive: meals, spa services and phone calls are covered. A personal butler is available around the clock, a table at L'Atelier Joël Robuchon is assured (or you can order in), and guests have unlimited use of a chauffeured Rolls-Royce or Maybach. The typical lodger? Not Hollywood actors; aside from perhaps Michael Douglas, most couldn't afford it. Instead, it's entrepreneurs, financiers, Middle Eastern and Russian oligarchs. "Not people you would necessarily know," says Lefkowitz, guiding me into the living room, which is aglow with midday light.
As its name suggests, the sweet suite is the handiwork of Ty Warner, the Illinois-based entrepreneur who acquired the iconic New York hotel in 1999. Not content with the existing $17,000-a-night Presidential Suites (they're regularly booked), Warner went back to I.M. Pei, the original architect and he of the Louvre pyramid, to make over the top floor. Six years of construction later and a budget of $57 million, and a lavish new chapter was written.
Warner made his fortune hawking Beanie Babies - plush toys with names such as Legs the Frog and Patti the Platypus - but try as I might, I can't locate any of these in the suite, not even in the leather-bound wardrobes.
To feather the nest of the most sumptuous aerie in all of Manhattan, Warner enlisted stylemeister Peter Marino, whose client list reads like a Who's Who of Park Avenue. Marino has a curatorial approach to interior design, handpicking objects of exotic provenance, like a pair of Han Dynasty lamps or whimsical bronze sculptures of cats, monkeys and unicorns by renowned artists Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne. He's also big on enlisting artisans for astonishing installations, such as walls of straw marquetry in which each piece of straw is painstakingly arranged.
Though not the costliest lodging in the world - that honour is believed to belong to the Royal Penthouse suite at the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva with its nightly rate of more than $60,000 - the Ty Warner hideaway is the priciest in the US, for now at least. Some might find its King Tut-meets-Prince aesthetic a shade ostentatious but, sequestered in your polished 21st-century aerial perch, the fantasy of being master of the universe seems temptingly real.
Four Seasons Ty Warner Penthouse, 57 East 57th St, New York, +1 212 758 5700, www.fourseasons.com.