The Brancatelli File



May 1, 1989 -- The curious tale of the erstwhile “ghost hotel” on New York’s Fifth Avenue has taken still another dramatic turn. The oft-renovated, 84-year-old former Gotham Hotel is now owned by the Peninsula Group, operator of the much-loved Hong Kong Peninsula.

The storied Peninsula name was hoisted above the beaux arts façade in October. That was just months after the once-fashionable hotel had celebrated a glorious art nouveau rebirth at the 254-room Maxim’s de Paris. Of course, Maxim’s opened only after its owners had spent two years and $50 million reversing the bizarre effects of an abandoned renovation that had consumed seven years. Despite nine guestless years—and the short life of Maxim’s—the Peninsula Group paid $127 million for its first hotel on U.S. soil.

The Peninsula retains all the physical charm of Maxim’s. There are opulent touches everywhere: hundreds of one-of-a-kind lamps, antiques and drawings; guestrooms with custom cherry-wood furnishings and oversize marble bathrooms (some with splendid views). Much of the management is new, however, including the chef and maitre d’ at Adrienne, an alluring 76-seat French restaurant overlooking a chic stretch of Fifth Avenue. Also new is a three-level rooftop health spa with an indoor swimming pool.

Nothing at the Peninsula reminds guests of the Gotham, a threadbare dowager that closed in 1979. And there’s certainly nothing remaining of the Nova Park, a nightmarish hotel that Swiss entrepreneur René Hatt envisioned for the 23-story building. He gutted the Gotham’s interior and then squandered another $100 million installing violet carpets, lacquered maroon ceilings and sunken pink and purple bathtubs with gold-plated fixtures. Hatt’s bankers were so appalled by his vision that the Nova Park never opened.

Rates at the Peninsula New York (700 Fifth Avenue at 55th Street) range from $210 for a standard double to $800 for a parlor suite. For reservations, call 800-223-5652 or 212-247-2200.

This column originally appeared in Travel & Leisure magazine.

Copyright © 1989-2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.