Magazine article Newsweek

Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, JFK Secret Moments Revealed in Documentary on Infamous 'Palace of Secrets' Hotel; 'It's Completely Awesome-And Frankly Nutso,' Says Anthony Bourdain of New York's Palace of Secrets,' the Carlyle Hotel

Magazine article Newsweek

Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, JFK Secret Moments Revealed in Documentary on Infamous 'Palace of Secrets' Hotel; 'It's Completely Awesome-And Frankly Nutso,' Says Anthony Bourdain of New York's Palace of Secrets,' the Carlyle Hotel

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Kaye Schilling

Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs walk into a bar. Actually, it was a hotel elevator, and this isn't a joke. The operator closes the door. The four stare ahead; no one utters a word for several floors--until Diana cuts the tension by breaking into "Beat It."

As power elevators go, it's hard to top that trio--though, given this happened at New York's infamously discreet Carlyle Hotel, there are likely juicier ensembles and tales, never to be told. (The New York Times once referred to it as the "Palace of Secrets.") Regulars at the Carlyle have included numerous presidents, John F. Kennedy Jr., Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Condoleezza Rice, Jack Nicholson, George and Amal Clooney, Lenny Kravitz, Sofia Coppola, Roger Federer and on and on.

It's hard to find another hotel that is preferred by the British royal family (see Will and Kate's visit in 2014) and Tommy Lee Jones; a hotel that can provide the unofficial runway for the Met Gala (Naomi Campbell recalls that her floor was "bangin'" in 2016, when she shared it with Stella McCartney, Rihanna and Cara Delevingne) as well as a war room. Another rare anecdote goes: When the Iraqi delegation to the United Nations stayed here during the second Gulf War, the FBI wanted to plant agents in room service and tap the phones. Peter Sharp, then the owner, responded, "Under no circumstances. I wouldn't let you do it to Warren Beatty, why would I let you do it to the Iraqi delegation?"

All of this is recounted in Matthew Miele's new documentary, Always at the Carlyle. The film, filled with bold-face names, does a good job of capturing the hotel's suis generis elegance--a formal whimsy reminiscent of the fast- disappearing old school luxury establishments celebrated in director Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson, a champion of timeless, erudite caprice, says that the Carlyle was a "big influence." Anthony Bourdain, another devotee, equates the Carlyle's appeal to falling in love with a person. "It's the eccentricities you embrace as much as anything else," he says in the film. "It's completely awesome--and frankly nuts."

Several people quoted in the documentary refer to it as quintessential New York. That is true, but to a very particular demographic. The asking price for the hotel's opulent, two-story Empire Suite, for example, with its jaw-dropping views of Central Park, is $20,000 a night. During an interview with Rice, she is told her suite goes for $4,000. With a wry smile she says, "That's better than $10,000."

Everyone who stays has their initials monogrammed on their pillowcases by a woman in the basement. That is her job. (She seems happy in her work, though not easily impressed. The imminent arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was met with a shrug; Michael Jackson, however, produced a huge smile.) Those pillowcases are then stored for your return, assuming you are a regular, and there are many. The hotel has been Jack Nicholson's New York pied-a-terre since the '70s; after each visit, he sends an orchid to the head telephone operator. Nicholson is beloved by the staff, though not as much as George Clooney, the hands-down favorite. (Sorry, Jack.)

Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson stayed at least once, enjoying cereal, a bottle of scotch and a bowl of cocaine for breakfast. (It's unclear whether the latter was on the room service menu.) Paul Newman began concocting salad dressing recipes in the Carlyle's kitchen. Twice a week, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, who lived around the corner, came to the restaurant for the same lunch: Cobb salad, gin and tonic, a cigarette. …

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