I was a much younger man when I wrote this letter and yet it feels like only yesterday. Back then, I was lucky enough to be working in the United States quite a lot so I spent a fair bit of time in the Big Apple – but I usually stayed in the cheapest hotels I could find. So, when I took the family for a trip in 2004, and we got free flights using my Air Miles, I decided to splash out on a super-cool hotel.
Obviously, that was a really stupid idea….
The Hudson Hotel
356 West 58th Street
I should begin by explaining that I am a regular visitor to New York. Being a regular visitor, I have spent my fair share of time in some pretty nasty hotels so when, in 2004, I decided to bring my wife and my children with me, I thought it would be a good idea to avoid the usual hovels and find somewhere ‘interesting’ to stay.
As someone who actually spends some of his time designing hotels, I had heard about the Hudson. Naturally enough, I was aware that the hotel had been designed by that most renowned of self-publicists, Philippe Starck1 so I was assured that at the very least, the hotel would be interesting (if rather over-priced).
This belief was encouraged by my familiarity the Sanderson Hotel in London, another of Starck’s crimes against humanity, where out of sheer curiosity, I had once chosen an appetiser consisting of a single prawn2 which turned out to be the biggest prawn the world had ever seen. It was probably fished from the outfall of a nuclear power station. It was also perfectly awful. It tasted of nothing at all and had the texture of a ribbed condom.3
If the lighting level had been lower, the radioactive prawn would probably have glowed in the dark! And here we reach the point of my little sidetrack – it wasn’t dark at the Sanderson. I could see the prawn (and everything else) without the aid of infra-red night goggles.
The same is not true at the Hudson.
Your hotel has the darkest lobby of any hotel in the world (see photo to the right taken in broad daylight).
Monsieur Starck evidently couldn’t figure out how to hang any more lights below the glass roof and so he simply didn’t bother. The fact that the whole place is also covered in thick climbing ivy like the set of some bizarre gothic horror film doesn’t exactly help matters.
I must confess that my annoyance was somewhat offset by the fact that the hotel was hosting a modelling convention at the time so there was a degree of pleasure involved in constantly walking into people when most of those people were sweet-smelling six foot goddesses. Nonetheless, it would have been even nicer to actually see them.
For most of the time, the pitch black lobby was nothing more than a constant and completely unnecessary irritation. However, the irritation of the lobby paled into insignificance when compared to the irritation caused by the bedrooms.
It began within seconds of arrival when we discovered that you had managed to book my teenage son and daughter into a double room instead of the twin we had reserved. The prospect of Pugsley and Veruka sharing a bed was the stuff of nightmares and it was probably worth waiting the four hours or so that it took your staff to find them a twin bedded room and paying the obscene premium that they demanded. When we finally were able to ascend to our bedrooms, I was suddenly aware just how fortunate the children had been.
I had no problem at all with the glass bathrooms. My wife is a very attractive woman and I rather enjoyed standing on the bed and watching her take a shower.
Of course, I would have preferred to stand on the floor. It was just about possible to do so if I tucked my toes beneath the bed with my heels against the wall but I was worried that if I fell forwards due to the exciting view in the bathroom, I might break both ankles – and that would have ruined the ice skating trip to Central Park planned for the next morning.
At night, the size of the bedrooms became even more of an issue. During the day, regular opening of the bedroom door admitted fresh supplies of oxygen into the room. During the night, opening the door every so often to prevent asphyxiation was tiresome to say the least. Any ‘nocturnal activity’ would obviously use up the oxygen in no time at all and as it didn’t seem appropriate to indulge ourselves with the door ajar, we very quickly gave that up as a bad job.
Worse was yet to come however and it is these later paragraphs which are the main reasons for my letter.
Allow me to explain.
Having spent so much time in the USA, I have grown to love the people and I can count many Americans amongst my very best friends. Since the Mayflower sailed from our shores however, two fundamentally important cultural differences have developed between Europeans and Americans.4
First, we like our coffee to taste of coffee. The quantity of coffee we use to make a single cup is enough to supply American coffee to the whole of the Upper West Side of New York for a week. America’s obsession with diluting coffee to homeopathic levels remains a complete mystery to us. We regard the global spread of Starbucks as a scourge on the face of the planet. We need at least a dozen triple-tall-lattés to get the vaguest of caffeine hits.
Second, Europeans like their food served piping hot.5 That is to say we like to see steam rising from our plates. In Europe, millions of plates of food are returned to kitchens daily because hotels and restaurants have allowed food to cool beyond the point where you no longer have to blow on it to prevent blisters on your palate. Blowing on our food is an important part of the whole culinary experience for us Europeans.6 With this in mind, we heat our plates before we put food on them. Serving hot food on a cold plate is the equivalent of farting noisily at the boss’s dinner table at whilst telling him that his wife is butt-ugly. You just don’t do it.7
So, to return to our story, imagine my reaction when, after an evening of walking into walls8 and a night of oxygen-deprived frustration, I saunter into the breakfast buffet to find both urine-coloured coffee and a pile of plates that have only recently been removed from the refrigerator!
In the circumstances, I was very calm. The coffee wasn’t going to be a problem because I have been doing this long enough to secrete sachets of instant coffee about my person when travelling in the United States. I was going to have to do something about the plates however.
I don’t know why, but I was definitely in the mood for some scrambled egg. The problem was that it was at least fifteen feet from the buffet to my table and I reckoned that as soon as the scrambled egg hit the freezing cold plate, it would probably only travel about four feet before it was stone cold and disgusting.
So I asked for a hot plate.
The reaction of the young man behind the counter was utterly fascinating. His eyebrows went up for a few seconds, then down for a few more. He put his head on one side, then he opened his mouth but no sound came out. He looked like he had seen or heard something quite incredible and completely outside his experience.
Eventually, he uttered “A hot plate?”
“Yes”, I replied.
“Just a plate – like, on its own – that’s, like, hot?”
“Quite so”, I said.
He wandered off and conferred with the other white cotton-clad staff behind the counter and after several minutes of whispered consultation and head-scratching, he returned with a colossal copper pan roughly two feet in diameter and proceeded to pour into it several gallons of ice cold water. He then lit one of the gas rings and placed the pan on the hob. For the next ten minutes, we both watched the empty pan as the water slowly progressed from cold to tepid. He then used a pair of giant tongs to carefully lift a plate from the freezing stack and lower it gently into the pan.
Then we watched it some more.
Had the guy been blessed with the right sort of intellectual equipment, I might have believed that he was relentlessly taking the piss.9 However, I genuinely believe that he was being both very stupid and very kind at the same time so I smiled at him and we carried on watching the giant pan together.
Of course, by this time, my family had finished their breakfast and were ready to go skating and I was wondering whether I’d need another shave before going out. In due course however, little bubbles started to rise and the plate started to rattle around inside the pan so I suggested that it might be hot enough by now. Taking up his giant tongs once again, he gingerly lifted the plate from the simmering water and presented it to me like a Michelin-starred chef might present a plate that actually had some food on it.
I added some scrambled egg and sprinted to the table in time to eat it before it went cold.
Now you may think that my behaviour was a touch obsessive but after everything that had happened, I was determined to experience something (apart from all the sexy models) that I wouldn’t get for fifteen bucks a night at the homeless hostel on West 95th Street.
So, may I plead with you on behalf of all self-respecting Europeans to install a plate warmer? It is a simple and inexpensive device that delivers every plate at the perfect temperature to receive hot food, and keep it hot long enough to be eaten. Please also stand out from the crowd by making some really good Italian coffee available for those who know what it tastes like.
I appreciate that you’re stuck with the claustrophobic bedrooms but I am curious to hear whether, in the intervening six years, you have had any more lights installed in the lobby. If not, may I suggest that you provide each of your guests with a luminous jacket and a head-lamp?
Perhaps you could get Philippe Starck to design them.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I didn’t receive a reply. Who knows, perhaps they installed a plate-warmer and an espresso machine. If anyone has been to The Hudson Hotel lately, do let me know.
Philippe Starck: The designer of the elegant but perfectly useless lemon squeezer shaped like a rocket ↩
Americans would call it a shrimp. What we Brits call a shrimp, Americans call a water flea ↩
Not that I have ever eaten a ribbed condom you understand – I’m just using this simile for literary effect ↩
OK, maybe not just two ↩
Unless it’s a salad, obviously ↩
So is holding the knife all the way through the meal ↩
Even if she looks as rough as a raccoon’s ass ↩
and sexy models ↩
I probably should have said “jerking me around” so that the hotel understood what I was saying here ↩