Some people shop for hotel rooms the way I shop for wine: If it's more expensive, it must be better. Using that criterion, I had every reason to be excited when I checked into the Setai Fifth Avenue, one of a handful of high-end hotels to open this year in New York.
A big part of the allure comes from the Fifth Avenue address, just down THE STREETn from the landmark New York Public Library and Bryant Park..
I stood back to admire the Setai building's silver crown and huge teardrop-shaped sculpture by Santiago Villanueva. Then I pushed through the revolving door into the lobby, which has the uncluttered marble-clad calm of a national monument. The adjoining Bar on 5th serves fancy mixed drinks and doesn't charge a cover to hear a jazz quartet in the evening. (Ai Fiori, the second-floor dining room by noted restaurateur Michael White, hadn't yet opened when I visited.)
Staff members were solicitous, no doubt having graduated from charm school with a degree in circumlocution. "How would you like to establish credit, Ms. Spano?" is the way I was asked to produce my plastic. I'd booked the least expensive room available, a superior for $595 — brother, the $90 tax alone will kill you.
What did I get for that, precisely?
— A strikingly large, tastefully decorated, neutral-toned room with all extraneous details hidden away and built-in custom furniture to maximize space. The closet was half the usual length, and the room had neither a good reading chair nor a luggage stand. But, honestly, I could have played shuffleboard within its walls.
— A sleek platform king bed, garbed in Pratesi linens, with the remote for an outsize flat-screen TV close at hand and a huge coffee table book on the Setai that described the style: "aesthetic restraint, even rigor … a design that is at once incredibly simple and abundantly sufficient." Fair enough, though some would call it chilly.
— A really cool bath with a big, cut sunken tub and white marble floors. The Lorenzo Villoresi toiletries were divine, and in the drawer I was impressed to find a tube of Marvis toothpaste, an Italian brand I discovered while living in Rome.
— Switch-controlled draperies and a TV screen set into the bathroom mirror.
— Free Wi-Fi, nonalcoholic beverages, Nespresso, ironing for five garments on arrival, use of the fitness room and a tour of the exceptionally outfitted Auriga Spa on the fourth floor.
Of course, to use the spa's plunge pools, sauna, steam and showers cost an additional $50. In the evening, no one turned down my bed or changed the towels; I had to call guest services twice to get a robe; and there was only a scrap of rug in the bath, so my footsies froze on the icy marble.
Perhaps I should cut the Setai some slack, because it had been open only a week when I visited. On the other hand, don't you think it ought to do better for six big ones a night?
Setai Fifth Avenue, 400 Fifth Ave.; (212) 695-4005, http://www.setaififthavenue.com. Rooms are large and sparely modernistic, baths plush. Doubles will start at $595 in January.
Call me bourgeois, but I had the best time at Eventi, a middle-of-the-road addition to the scene from Kimpton. The boutique hotel chain, founded in 1981 in San Francisco, knows all the little touches to make guests happy, without driving the room rate into the stratosphere.
Eventi occupies a new building on workaday 6th Avenue at West 30th Street. The neighborhood, straddling the Garment District and Chelsea, has no particular embellishments, and the furnishings in the small lobby look as if they came from a yard sale at a house recently vacated by a member of the Rat Pack.
Oh, well, there's no accounting for taste, and the style cools down in the guest chambers. Mine was a double on the 12th floor, priced about $375 in November, with a roomy entryway but barely enough space to squeeze around the bed. The bath had a large, walk-in shower, but no tub, and I couldn't find a switch for the curtains so I had to open them by hand, revealing the room's up-side: a floor-to-ceiling view of the Manhattan skyline from the Empire State Building to the gold-roofed New York Life Building on Madison Square Park.
I liked the view so much that I started thinking about ordering room service — one of my favorite self-indulgences — so I could watch the city lights come on during dinner. Instead, I decided to go out. I deliberated between Bar Basque and FoodParc, a to-go market next door operated by the hotel. I decided on Basque, but the place was so packed that I almost turned back. I'm glad I stayed because the wine list features a sizable selection of red Riojas by the glass and delicious paella, served on a sizzling plate of rice covered with shrimp, calamari and clams.
Then I went back to my room, put on the robe — terry cloth with a leopard-spotted collar — lay in bed and watched three episodes of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" back-to-back. The curtains were open to remind me where I was. If you ask me, holing up in a good hotel room is the ultimate guilty pleasure in New York.
Eventi, 851 Avenue of the Americas; (866) 996-8396, http://www.eventihotel.com. Midcentury Modern hotel with 287 guestrooms and the amiably over-the-top Bar Basque. Doubles will start at about $223 in January.