There's only one room with a balcony at the Roosevelt Hotel, and it's a wraparound terrace in the Presidential Suite. That's on the opposite end of the hall from the Roosevelt Suite, where Conrad Hilton lived when he took over the hotel in the 1940s. Those are just two of the 1,015 rooms inside of the massive hotel—which takes up a full city block—and despite of all this Presidential talk, not one President has ever stayed in any of them. At least not to the knowledge of my guide, who took me through the hotel last month—he did point out, however, that Eva Mendes was the last big name to stay inside the Roosevelt Suite, which they don't just offer to anyone.

In April the Roosevelt invited me for a one night stay at "The Great Dame of Madison Avenue"—the hotel has been open since 1924, and despite my frequent use of nearby Grand Central Terminal, I had never even noticed it before. And if I had, I doubt I would have bothered to look inside—the bar on hotel lobbies is set at subterranean these days. They all used to be so much more impressive. Thankfully, however, this one—like some other nearby old schoolers—has managed to keep its grandeur. There are chandeliers, massive vases filled with flowers, a grand piano, and detailing you only really see in old architecture—Hilton called it, "a fine hotel with grand spaces."


(Courtesy of the Roosevelt Hotel)

And it's the spaces that are really the draw here. The rooms are nice enough, starting at around $200/night, but the hotel's rich history is the reason to walk through its doors.

You don't need to be a guest to enjoy the lobby and its surrounding areas, which are not only the centerpiece of the place, but also the best refuge when you have time to kill in Midtown. In there you'll find a bustling scene (tourists, sure), with a bar overlooking it... but go even higher, to the mezzanine level, to escape it all—there you'll find one of the most perfect spots in all of Midtown. You can bring a book, or even a drink from the bar up there, where you'll find tables for two (paired with old sunken, comfy chairs) overlooking the lobby. In the 30 or so hours I spent at the hotel, I rarely saw anyone utilizing this space.

There is plenty to explore, including entrances to secret passageways from Old New York, a billiards room, bars, restaurants, long hallways leading to ballrooms, mail chutes from another era, and other nooks which hold artifacts like an old vinyl of Guy Lombardo performing at the hotel. There's also a rooftop bar, which aside from being packed on certain nights with finance bros, is worth a cramped elevator ride up to the 19th floor for the view alone.


Guy Lombardo performing at the hotel. (Courtesy of the Roosevelt Hotel)

FUN FACTS

  • Those tunnels once served as an escape route for a thief at the hotel, who stole $5,000 from a clerk in 1940.
  • The hotel was designed by George B. Post & Son, and opened with a housewarming on September 22nd, 1924. The NY Times reported that many prominent New Yorkers attended, including Mayor Hylan, who declared: "You have fittingly chosen a name that stands as a tower of strength."


(Courtesy of the Roosevelt Hotel)

  • In 1926, the hotel offered a Christmas dinner to the largest family residing within the five boroughs.
  • It cost $12,000,000 to build, and "the Mayor's private office in the City Hall furnished the general design for the dining room. Other decorative features of the City Hall have been copied in the designs of the new twenty-two-story hotel."


(Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

  • It was the first hotel to incorporate storefronts instead of lounges in its sidewalk (it did open during the Prohibition Era, after all).
  • It was also the first to house a pet facility and child care service in The Teddy Bear Room. There was also an in-house doctor.
  • The hotel was one of the first to have TVs in their guest rooms—then called: Hotelivision. The NY Times reported in 1947 that forty guest rooms at the hotel now had television reception, and 300 were invited for their debut.
  • Guy Lombardo performed there for the first time on October 3, 1929, and kept doing so for 30 years. His famous performance of “Auld Lang Syne” was recorded live at the hotel’s Roosevelt Grill.
  • Lawrence Welk began his career there, performing during the summer while Lombardo would taking the stage on Long Island.
  • Hugo Gernsback (of Hugo Award fame) started WRNY from a room on the 18th floor, where he would broadcast live.
  • While a President never stayed there, from 1943 to 1955 the hotel served as an office (suite 1527) and residence for Governor Thomas E. Dewey.
  • In the 1948 presidential election, Dewey, his family, and staff listened to the election returns in the suite. He lost to President Harry Truman; it remains one of the greatest political upsets in U.S. history.
  • Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Men's Grill at the Roosevelt refused to admit women until 1970, when a NYC law was passed prohibiting banning women.

In more recent history, the Roosevelt has been used in a number of films and TV shows, including The Taking of Pelham 123, The French Connection, Hanky Panky, Quiz Show, Malcolm X, Wall Street, Maid in Manhattan, 1408, The Dictator, Men in Black 3, Man on a Ledge, and Broken City. You've seen Mad Men's Don Draper pitch Heinz in one of the hotel's suites (he lived there after separating from Betty):

The hotel, located at 45 East 45th Street, is within the Vanderbilt Corridor rezoning area. According to Architectural Record, "If the Vanderbilt Corridor rezoning proposal goes through, as many expect, other historic structures in the Vanderbilt Corridor, including the 1,015-room Roosevelt Hotel" could be in danger. Phillip Howard, Chair Emeritus of the Municipal Art Society Board of Directors, says, "My instinct is that the new zoning would be the end of the Roosevelt."

At the end of March, the City Planning Commission approved the Vanderbilt Corridor text amendment with modifications (PDF). At that time, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer stated that both the Roosevelt and the Yale Club—both considered possible development sites—are worthy of landmark status. We've reached out to the rep for the Roosevelt Hotel (which is currently owned by the investment arm of Pakistan International Airlines) for their comments on the plan and what it might mean for them, and will update when we hear back. All of that is to say: you might want to enjoy the lobby now, just in case.