Ward Morehouse III has written a book that should appeal to New Yorkers intrigued by the city and its history. “Life at the Top, Inside New York’s Grand Hotels” is not only an intimate portrait of the most famous inns, but it is spiced with anecdotes about the notables who have stayed there over the years. The book is truly an insider view.
The author is in a unique position to write such a volume. Not only is he a diligent researcher, but as the son of the late theater critic and columnist Ward Morehouse, he spent part of his early life in hotel living and being acquainted with the charms of the renowned and historic Manhattan hotels. As a writer in his own right, he has a breezy, very readable style that affords pleasure even as it solidly informs.
The top ten hotels that he ranks in order of personal preference are The Plaza, Waldorf-Astoria, St. Regis, Algonquin, Palace, Pierre, Essex House, Peninsula, Sherry-Netherland, Carlyle, Four Seasons, Intercontinental The Barclay New York and the Lowell. He provides a further list of other recommendations.
A book like this that treasures the past as well as the continuity of the present is particularly important at this time. Many are disturbed by the redevelopment plans for the temporarily closed Plaza Hotel, a particularly important and distinguished landmark. While the outside is protected, the developer has elaborate plans to change much on the inside, as well as convert the building to fewer hotel rooms, with the rest condominiums. By reminding us of the Plaza’s glories, Morehouse, without getting embroiled in the controversy, can stimulate a reader to think on one’s own about how important it is to uphold the tradition of the grand dames of Manhattan’s illustrious hotel world.
But the book’s chief pleasure is its wealth of detail about the hotels and the people, famous or infamous, who have occupied their bedrooms, patronized their restaurants and bars and attended celebrated events during the various eras of their existence. The book is also helpfully indexed. (BearManor Media, 208 pp., $19.95)