James Shillinglaw | July 13, 2015 2:05 PM ET
Mad Men at the Roosevelt and More!
The invitation came back in April—a dinner at The Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue in New York, where we could experience the property that has served as the setting for the AMC TV hit “Mad Men,” which was just about to run its final episode. I’ve been a bit distracted by other column topics over the past few weeks, but I’ve wanted to write about the hotel for quite some time.
In Season 2 of Mad Men, Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, lives at hotel during several episodes while he is having marital troubles, though all scenes were actually shot in Los Angeles. Specifically, there are scenes of Draper and Roger Sterling, played by John Slattery, having drinks on a set that looks very much like the distinctive long Roosevelt bar just off the lobby.
Now I have to admit I’m not really a “Mad Man” fan. It’s something I missed, mostly because I’m on the road much of the time and often don’t remember to set my DVR to record TV programs. But I am a huge fan of historic hotels—and the Roosevelt has history and classic public spaces to burn.
Yes, the Roosevelt’s lobby has seen its share of history (and not just drinks for a couple of Mad Men). Located on the second floor in a vaulted, two-level space, it really is one of the most iconic public spaces in New York City. Its clock, which hangs high overhead, is a beautiful piece of art deco art. And it all seems appropriate for a public space that is the quintessential New York hotel lobby, with guests and local New Yorkers meeting up in droves every day and night.
PHOTO: The Roosevelt features one of the most iconic New York hotel lobbies. (Photos courtesy The Roosevelt)
Indeed, The Roosevelt, a four-star property, truly looks the part of the busy New York hotel that it is. That may be why it’s served as a popular film location for a number of movies, including “The Taking of Pelham 123,” “The French Connection,” “Hanky Panky,” “Quiz Show,” “Malcolm X,” “Wall Street,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “1408,” “The Dictator,” “Men in Black 3,” “Man on a Ledge” and “Broken City,” among others.
Of course, the Roosevelt is much more than a TV and film location. It has served as the real life setting for quite a lot of history. The hotel opened on Sept. 22, 1924, named after President Teddy Roosevelt (not Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who at the time had not yet held any major political office).
Designed by George B. Post & Son, the Roosevelt was the first to incorporate storefronts instead of lounges in its sidewalk facades due to the Prohibition era. It also was linked directly with Grand Central Terminal by an underground passage that still exists to this day, although it remains blocked off. High-end guests of that era could move discreetly from their private rail cars through that passage into the basement of the hotel. I guess I just need my own private rail car and they’ll open up the passageway again!
The Roosevelt also is notable for other reasons: Guy Lombardo performed his iconic “Auld Lang Syne” for the first time in the Roosevelt Grill, which was open from 1927 to 1958, and Lawrence Welk began his career at the Roosevelt in the summers while Lombardo took his music to Long Island. And I’ll give readers brownie points for knowing who Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk are—they predate even me!
Conrad Hilton purchased the Roosevelt in 1943 (he eventually owned many other hotels in New York, including The Plaza and The Waldorf-Astoria). He even selected the Roosevelt's Presidential Suite as his home for a time.
Oh, and another thing given the hotel’s current association with a hit TV program: In 1947, the Roosevelt became the first hotel to have a television set in every room!
From 1943 to 1955 the Roosevelt served as the New York City office and residence of former New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. He used Suite 1527 to conduct most of his official business in the city. During the 1948 presidential election, Dewey, his family and staff listened to the election returns in that suite as he eventually lost to incumbent President Harry Truman (even after being declared the winner by a headline in the Chicago Tribune).
Beginning in 1979, the hotel was leased by the Pakistan International Airlines through its investment arm PIA Investments Ltd., with an option to purchase the building after 20 years. Prince Faisal bin Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia was one of the investors as well. But in 1999, PIA bought the hotel outright for $36.5 million, after a legal battle with owner Paul Milstein, who claimed it was worth much more.
In 2005, PIA bought out its Saudi partner in a deal that included the prince's share in a Paris hotel in exchange for $40 million and PIA's share of the Riyadh Minhal Hotel. PIA continues have a controlling 99 percent interest in the property.
The Roosevelt was completely renovated three years ago, including all public rooms and accommodations—and it’s been updated even more since. It has 1,015 rooms, including 52 suites, making it truly one of New York’s largest hotels. The 3,900-square-foot Presidential Suite has four bedrooms, a kitchen, formal living and dining areas, and a wrap-around terrace. The rooms are traditionally decorated, with mahogany wood furniture and light-colored bed coverings.
The Roosevelt Grill serves American food and regional specialties for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while Madison Club Lounge, located just off the lobby, has a 30-foot mahogany bar, stained glass windows and a pair of fireplaces. There’s even a billiards room just off the bar, which we were lucky enough to spend some time in.
The Roosevelt also has 30,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, including two massive ballrooms, which have served as headquarters central for a number of election night rallies over the years, as well as 17 other meeting rooms.
And just when you start to think the Roosevelt is just another classic and historic property, the hotel throws a curve at you. The Mad46 Rooftop Lounge, located on the 19th floor of the hotel, has recently been revamped with a new decor and an updated vibe—which means a much trendier crowd every evening.
PHOTO: Mad46 is the Roosevelt’s rooftop bar, set in the middle of the canyons of New York City.
The rooftop bar also has a revised menu, created by Executive Chef Robert Hohmann, which offers a variety of small plates and signature cocktails. Indeed, the cocktail list pays homage to the hotel’s past with such options as the Teddy Roosevelt, Grand Dame, Mad Smash and Mad Mojito! My favorite!
While there are many rooftop hotel bars in New York, Mad46 is a bit different in that you are truly surrounded by the massive buildings of the city on all sides. While the lobby bar at the Roosevelt might have been favored by the “Mad Men” in advertising of the 1960s, I can see that today Don Draper and friends would certainly have made Mad46 their hangout today.
The Roosevelt: It’s a hotel with a great history and a classic property with an art deco décor that dates from the Jazz Age. But with Mad46 and other features, it’s also keeping up with the times to become a central meeting point for New Yorkers and visitors alike.
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