There aren’t many places in the world impervious to time and trend—places whose identities are as reliable and consistent as a neighborhood bistro. But New York City’s Upper East Side is exactly such a place. Sure, it’s had its highs and lows, its intrigues, its gossip, its Kennedys, its ladies perpetually lunching—but for the past handful of decades, the grid of New York that rests roughly between 59th Street and 96th Street, between Fifth Avenue and the East River has been a pocket of great art, amazing food, and some of the best hotels in the world. This isn’t a place for skyscraping vacation factories; the hotels of the UES are small, tasteful, romantic. Three of our favorites have recently been refreshed, which means all the history and attentive service is still there, but now they come with updated amenities, redone bars, cozy restaurants, and in at least one case, a wall-size portrait of Kate Moss. They’re certainly all a tribute to the Upper East Side—it’s just that these days, they come with a touch of downtown, too.
The Carlyle’s location within the UES is near perfect: It sits on a prime stretch of Madison Avenue, a five-minute walk to the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park (probably why celebrities like Jackie Onassis, Princess Diana, and Audrey Hepburn were all regulars). We’ll tell you from firsthand experience: It can be hard to leave. Recently, 155 of the 187 rooms and suites were refurbished in a style inspired by prewar New York and all the glamour and elegance of the era. There’s a charming and singular feeling of Art Deco fabulousness (the hotel opened in 1930), with the polished, black-marble-floored lobby; the potted palms; and original Audubon prints that still hang on the guest room walls. But it’s really Bemelmans Bar that defines the Carlyle. This is where Ludwig Bemelmans (the creator of the Madeline children’s book series) created the playful murals that have remained untouched since he painted them in 1940, and where the live jazz bands, leather banquettes, and pisco sours give you that only-in-New York sense of nostalgia.