LIVING IN LUXURY: When you envy yourself

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LIVING IN LUXURY: When you envy yourself

Frankly I've never understood why, if you are staying in some place that closely resembles paradise with a bar -- a quiet beach in Thailand or Vietnam for example -- you need a luxurious hotel to go home to.

It's hardly stressful lying on the beach and eating fresh fish by torchlight, so heading back to a neon-lit room just seems a mood-breaker.

However if you are in a city which boils with energy I can think of nothing better than having a refuge of intimate luxury to retire to after negotiating psychotic taxi-drivers, adrenalin-fuelled shoppers and the occasional belligerent noon-day drunk.

And so, when the Small Luxury Hotels of the World organisation offered me a couple of nights in an exclusive hotel in New York for having won a travel writing award, I hummed and hawed for two full seconds then said a polite, "Why, thank you kindly".

Chinatown_street2Out of earshot, I yelled, "Wheeee."

I've been to New York on a number of occasions and this time, as before, I started off staying at a cheap hotel downtown near Chinatown and Little Italy. It was a slightly threadbare place but it was clean. In fact it stank of ammonia and detergent. But better that than the other.

Our room was modest but had the essentials: aircon, a comfortable bed, and a functioning bathroom. There was a view of the Bowery with its lamp shops and restaurant suppliers outside the barred window.

Hey, s'my kinda town!

For two days my wife and I did what you always do in New York. Enjoy the buzz. We shopped, ate in Chinatown and at hotdog stands, walked through museums, art galleries and cheap clothing stores, took in a big sporting match, went to parties, did a boat trip around Manhattan, and explored tall buildings and low nightclubs.

And then we moved to midtown and The Mark, and everything about our New York experience changed.

14_Mark_Premier_Two_Bedroom_Suite_2000x1333Luxury is something you can get used to easily, but Upper East Side luxury is of a different character altogether.

From The Mark we could look out our window and see Central Park at the end of the road (well not really, but it was right there) and the young gentleman on the desk apologised the next morning when he forgot my name.

We'd met for mere minutes the afternoon before, but in subsequent days he never forgot again.

I won't embarrass myself by telling you how much the room was worth (about US$900 a night apparently, although you didn't hear that from me) but I did think it interesting that people from nearby Fifth Ave would book in here for a few months while their apartments were being renovated.

I stood in the lobby hoping a friend might walk past and see me.

We photographed every corner of our room, used the soap we'd brought so we could take the Molton Brown toiletries home to show off, and felt entirely comfortable opening some expensive French wine from the fridge in the kitchen - yes, a kitchen - while waiting for a cab to take us to dinner with some friends.

Megan soaked in the bath while looking at the skyline, I fiddled with the CD player and the television remote, and sent some faxes and emails from the leather-topped desk. We bounced on the bed a bit. We were like kids.

Built on the corner of Madison Ave and East 77th in 1926 - and renovated in '89 and '96 - it retains its Art Deco facade and is just a short walk from the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Or, if you prefer, Upper Madison Ave and Issey Miyake, Ralph Lauren and Gianni Versace.

Inside it glitters with elegance: prints by Piranesi, Biedermeier furniture, brass railings and neo-classical Italian decor.

Let me trouble you for a few moments with the details: The Mark has 176 rooms including 16 suites in ascending levels of luxury up to the Presidential which is larger than a villa in Grey Lynn and has lovely outdoor terraces. Each suite boasts 100 per cent Belgian cotton sheets and has a twice-daily maid service, there's a Wellness suite with a gym, saunas and steam showers, and a complimentary shuttle service to the theatre district around Times Square on Friday and Saturday nights.

6_Mark_iconic_staircase_1333x2000It also tells you something of its clientele that the Wall St shuttle stops here to take you down to the financial district.

Of course it has had its moments of notoriety (Johnny Depp trashed his room here after the breakup with Kate Moss) but it's said you are more likely to run into the Dalai Lama or Nicole Kidman in the lobby. We saw neither.

Of course it has won numerous awards: it has regularly been rated the best city hotel in all the Americas; has been consistently in the top five and top 10 of many travel magazines; and Mark's Restaurant offers French-American cuisine which attracts the Tony people with their gold credit cards.

The famous Mark's Bar is a small, dark and intimate place which has variously been described as "a bit of London" (as in like gentleman's club not a corner pub) and "cozy and warm". Believe me, it is.

We didn't do the afternoon teas which are served from 2.30pm daily - we were mixing it with sports fans up at Yankee Stadium or slumming it downtown - but quite liked the caviar potato chips in the Bar.

And whether it was just class by association or The Mark brought its own cachet, we went on the town one night with some friends who took us to one of the hippest bars in the city, then an Asian restaurant whose name impressed the concierge at The Mark mightily, and on to the fashionable W Bar just off Times Square.

It was a night of expensive cocktails and we fell out of the cab at the door of The Mark at some regrettable hour. A dignified man in a uniform opened the door and treated me like the Prince of Wales. I liked that.

One morning the charming executive assistant Christine Haag took me round a couple of the other suites. I particularly liked the corner one on our floor with the Romanesque pillars and lobby, separate office and dining room. I could see myself working here, my manservant could stay in a suite next door.

We bought a lottery ticket and made plans to get the family over for a few days.

Okay, The Mark isn't where many of us could stay in New York. Most of us would be at a place like that thoroughly disinfected hotel overlooking the Bowery near Chinatown.

So telling you about this isn't remotely helpful - unless you are loaded.

This is what we call envy-journalism and I am increasingly convinced there is a place for it. As long as it's me doing the journalism - and you doing the envy.

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