Hotel Review: The Setai Fifth Avenue, New York

Exterior

The Setai Fifth Avenue marks the first foray into a major U.S. city by luxury hotel company Capella, headed by Horst Schulze, the former top dog and 20-year vet at Ritz-Carlton. Schulze’s company now owns or manages a dozen of the finest new hotels around the world, from the Schloss Velden in Austria to Capella Ixtapa in Mexico. Because of that, and because Ritz-Carlton still operates two highly acclaimed hotels in Manhattan, the 214-room Setai is widely being judged as Capella’s—and Schulze’s—make-or-break moment…

            The hotel (rates from $895; 400 Fifth Ave., 212.695.4005) occupies 30 floors of a new 60-story skyscraper in Midtown, just east of Bryant Park. It includes a destination spa and an Italian restaurant, Ai Fiori, by celebrity chef Michael White. In a press announcement back in April, Schulze promised to “raise the bar even higher on the New York City guest experience.” 

            As soon as I’ve made a reservation, I’m assigned a personal assistant who works with every department in the hotel—from the valet to the concierge—to begin planning my stay, coordinating everything from hard-to-get dinner reservations to stocking the minibar with my preferred brand of water.

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            The hotel doesn’t set limits on arrival and departure times, so I check in early and plan to check out late. My PA ushers me to a corner room on the 14th floor and—after showing me how to turn on a TV that’s hidden inside the bathroom mirror and how to operate the electronic drapes—offers to press my clothes and bring me a cup of coffee (both complimentary).

            Moments later, a call to my PA to figure out the high-tech iPod scheme—which is supposed to involve the plasma TV and a specialty cord—results in an army of technicians ultimately failing to connect either of two iPods or an iPhone 4. An hour later, the PA delivers a brand-new Bose iPod docking station, old-school style. I’m guessing he went out and bought it on the spot.

            Most rooms measure at least 700 square feet; the suites and penthouses, from 925 to 1,900 square feet. Sunshine floods in through angled windows, creating a Zen-like effect on white walls, grayish carpets and neutral tiles, and dark walnut paneling in the hallways, foyers and closets add moments of drama. Duxiana platform beds are wrapped in Pratesi linens. Looking out my window at the Empire State Building is like sitting in the front row at IMAX.  

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            Over two nights, my only downer comes at Ai Fiori, whose celeb chef (also at Marea, Convivio and Alto) has spread himself too thin. But all’s not lost. The ground-floor Bar on Fifth more than makes up the difference. Chef Dale Schnell (formerly of Artisanal) cooks exceptional Euro-American fare, including a series of cocottes filled with slow-cooked short ribs, lamb shanks and pork belly.

            So, has The Setai raised the bar on luxury hospitality in New York? Well, given the powerful competition from St. Regis, Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons—and, yes, Ritz-Carlton—that’s a close call. But, as promised, the service at every turn is truly exceptional. To be sure, the choices have just gotten more complicated. And the top competitors will certainly be on their toes.

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