By Monique Burns
Words like “grand” and “luxurious” rarely describe boutique hotels. Most are too small for such outsized superlatives. But they fit The Benjamin, one of New York City’s premier boutique hotels, to a tee.
A muscular 25-story Renaissance Revival structure in buff-colored brick, The Benjamin rises majestically in Midtown Manhattan at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 50th Street. Its monumental façade is an ornate tableau of columns, crenellations and owl carvings, graced with a clocktower and eight-petal stone rose window, and capped with a verdigris copper crown.
Built in 1927, The Benjamin was designed by Emery Roth, perhaps New York’s greatest pre-war architect. How great? Take a walk around Central Park West or the Upper West Side. There’s the San Remo, the city’s first twin-towered apartment building; The Ardsley, a Mayan-style creation with black brick bands, and The Eldorado with metal finials so distinctive that architects named them “Flash Gordon finials.” The list of Roth masterpieces goes on and on. As for The Benjamin, the incomparable Georgia O’Keeffe immortalized it in her 1929 work, “New York Night.”
Stand outside The Benjamin for a spell, craning your neck to take in all the stylish details. Inside, even more grandeur waits. With dark wood paneling, framed mirrors and wing chairs, the lobby looks like the foyer of a posh apartment building or private club. But toward the back of lobby, there’s a front desk where well-attired personnel check you in with efficiency and a charming stream of banter that’s warm but never intrusive.
Excellent service is a hallmark of The Benjamin. In the 1930s, Benjamin “Bud” Denihan, Jr. worked at his father’s laundry and dry-cleaning store in Manhattan. Serving the likes of Marilyn Monroe and the Vanderbilts, Bud pledged to remove any stain. When he couldn’t, he’d call the fabric manufacturer, have a swatch sent to his storefront, and have it discreetly woven into whatever shirt, slacks or dress required perfection. That kind of service made Denihan a legend in the dry-cleaning business. It’s also made his hotel company a legend in New York.
Today, the Denihan Hospitality Group includes more than a dozen luxury boutique hotels. There’s the Affinia Hotel Collection, with five Manhattan locations as well as the Liaison Capitol Hill hotel in Washington, D.C. Also in the group, The James Hotels, with properties in Chicago and New York’s SoHo, and a new hotel opening in the trendy West Hollywood section of Los Angeles in 2016. The Denihan group also owns The Surrey, New York City’s only Relais & Châteaux property, known for its 17th-floor roof garden, as well as its Michelin one-star restaurant, Café Boulud, where celebrity chef Daniel Boulud holds sway. Three Manhattan-based affiliate hotels complete the group’s portfolio.
The company’s first luxury property, The Benjamin was acquired in 1997 as the Beverly Hotel and given Denihan Sr.’s first name. After a $30-million restoration, it reopened in April 1999. In September 2013, Lauren Rottet of Rottet Studio completed a $10-million renovation. Named a “Design Giant” by Interior Design magazine, Rottet said her aim was to make you “feel as though you are coming home to your own pied-à-terre.”
The Benjamin really does feel like home, especially if home is a luxury New York City apartment. All suites—from studio, and one and two-bedroom suites to balcony and terrace suites—feature kitchenettes with refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, dishware and stemware, and all cooking and dining utensils. There’s an honor bar with more than a dozen healthy gourmet snacks like North Fork Potato Chips (from Long Island), Baked in Brooklyn Sea Salt Pita Chips, and Mast Brothers Dark Chocolate Bar (from a Brooklyn-based chocolatier). Have a Coca-Cola—it’s actually Coca-Cola de México made from pure cane sugar—or one of R.W. Knudsen’s organic orange or cranberry nectar juices. There’s stronger stuff, too, like Grey Goose vodka, Jack Daniel’s, Macallan 12-year-old scotch and Bailey’s Irish Cream, along with wine, champagne, and craft beers like Sixpoint “Sweet Action” Cream Ale from Brooklyn and Evil Twin “Falco” India Pale Ale from Copenhagen.
In your spacious sitting area or living room, decorated in a low-key palette of whites, silvers, minks and golds, with contemporary canvases and sculpture, lounge in an easy chair or on a full-length sofa, turn on the 42-inch HD flat-screen TV and watch the morning news over a quiet breakfast. Better yet, book one of the newly redesigned terrace suites and, if it’s a nice day, have coffee, tea or a glass of wine while taking in Manhattan’s skyscraper-etched blue skies. Stay 30 or more days, and the Extended Stay Program gives you a range of perks, including a minimum of 20 percent off the best available room rate.
If you must work, your room has high-speed Internet access, two-line speakerphones with dataports, voicemail, direct private-line service, and a streamlined Parsons desk with a power strip and comfy brown leather chair. If you’d rather work out, there’s a 24-hour Fitness Center with steam rooms as well as treadmills, elliptical machines, stair climbers and other equipment by Italian designer Technogym. Hotel personnel can book a personal consultation for you, including healthy menu choices, with the SIN fitness concierge team. SIN, by the way, stands for “Strength in Numbers.”
Comfort reigns supreme at The Benjamin. With only 209 rooms and suites in 25 stories, there’s a spaciousness rarely found even in New York’s biggest and best hotels. The pre-war building’s thick walls, along with excellent sound-proofing and argon-filled windows, keep rooms and hallways quiet, even hushed. After a day fighting city crowds, you’ll love returning to this stylish oasis.
A hotel’s basic mission is providing a place for guests to sleep—and The Benjamin takes its responsibility very seriously. In fact, there’s a comprehensive Rest & Renew Sleep Program designed by hotel consultant Rebecca S. Robbins, co-author of Sleep for Success! Big comfortable beds are swathed in 500-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, and plush down or hypoallergenic comforters, and guests can choose from a pillow menu with 10 choices. A popular request is Cloud 10 with over 10 million air beads. The Lullaby, with hypoallergenic fiberfill, has ultra-thin speakers that you can plug into any MP3 player. There’s even an Anti-Snore pillow.
The Benjamin’s obsession with giving guests a good night’s sleep doesn’t stop there. The $20 Power Nap, for people suffering from jet lag or sleep deprivation, includes an in-room aromatherapy treatment, a special sleep mask, a naptime turndown and a wakeup call. Robbins’ Sleep Team also recommends a light snack 90 minutes before turning in, so you can choose Bedtime Bites like fruit salad, peanut butter on toasted wholegrain bread, and homemade granola with skim milk, plus soothing teas like chamomile and antioxidant-rich rooibos à la verveine.
Little ones will sleep well, too. The free Winks’ Kidzzz Club, for children 2-10, includes a kid’s pillow (with a pouch for childhood treasures), a child-size robe, a Winks the Owl stuffed toy (reminiscent of the owls that grace the hotel’s facade) and a selection of bedtime books.
The hotel’s goodDog program provides a box of welcome amenities (including paw wipes and plastic bags), luxury treats by BarkBox, an in-room pet mini-bar with Bowser Beer (a beefy non-alcoholic brew with glucosamine for healthy joints) and snacks from Bocce’s Bakery, plus a London-designed Mungo & Maud water bowl and—what else?—a luxurious pet bed.
Did Bud Denihan coin the phrase, “God is in the details”? No—but he certainly could have.
Now, if you could just find a nice place for dinner…. Fortunately, The Benjamin is smack in Midtown Manhattan, offering all kinds of eateries. But one of the closest—and best—is right downstairs. An upscale American grand café with black-and-white tiled floors, wooden tables and chairs, and leather banquettes, The National is overseen by “Iron Chef” Geoffrey Zakarian, who also “curates” the hotel’s room-service menu, the honor-bar treats and the Bedtime Bites. Popular with both locals and hotel guests, The National offers stylish bistro dishes like oysters on the half-shell with apple-ginger mignonette sauce, braised lamb shank with quinoa, Atlantic cod with Bhutanese red rice, and pork chops with broccolini and cheese grits. Toothsome brunches—how about biscuits and gravy with a braised short rib, asparagus and sunny-side-up egg?—are served on Saturday and Sunday. There’s also jazz, blues and other live music every Sunday, 6-10 p.m.
While at The Benjamin, you will slumber blissfully, enjoy sumptuous meals at The National, and spend relaxing nights stargazing on your terrace with a cocktail or craft beer in hand. You might also treat yourself to a Swedish or stone massage, get a new hairdo at Federico’s, and enjoy a few SIN workouts.
What next? Well, how about sending that silk dress with the little wine stain down to the laundry? Though founder Bud Denihan is no longer on the scene, his legacy of superb service and attention to detail lives on.
IF YOU GO
The Benjamin. 125 E. 50th St. (at Lexington Avenue), New York, N.Y. 10022; 212-715-2500, or toll-free 866-222-BENJ or 888-4-BENJAMIN; www.thebenjamin.com