Monday, November 30, 2009

Affinia 50:An oasis of calm amidst midtown Manhattan chaos

By Dwight Casimere

Affinia 50

An Executive Club Suite Hotelia50Club

Hote155 E 50th St, New York, NY 10022

(212) 751-5710

The sidewalks along Park Avenue were lined with protestors and idle passersby, all awaiting the arrival of the President’s motorcade. Even though they would only glimpse it for a few seconds during his trip from the United Nations to his suite at the Waldorf Astoria, many had been there for hours, enduring intermittent showers and the constant scrutiny and crowd control push-back of the police, mounted patrols and secret service.

Pushing my way through the crush of media trucks and cameras, skirting around the sidewalk barriers and gingerly stepping over the droppings left by the mounted patrol, I made my way to my hotel, the Affinia 50, which, thankfully, was only a couple of hundred yards away. I felt like a running back as I wove through the crowd, finally reaching the familiar entryway with its sparkling glass facade. It was such a welcome sight that, had I worn a hat, I would have tipped it back at the familiar logo on the door.

Rushing through the lobby toward the elevator, I was greeted warmly by the bellman, who had now become my new best friend after directing me to a terrific wine shop on third avenue(which also gave me a discount for being an Affinia guest), and the front desk manager, who earlier had (wisely) directed me to the nearby subway station for a quick trip uptown, rather than opting for a cab (which would have still been sitting on 50th, with the attendant crowds and traffic jam).

Upstairs, my apartment-sized One Bedroom Suite was an oasis of calm. I looked at the reflected glow of the sunset on the windows of the surrounding office buildings and relished the peaceful surrounding.

The best word to describe accommodations at the Affinia 50 is ‘home-like.’ The rooms and suites are larger than most New York apartments. The furnishings are modern, with warm colors and clean lines. Closets are big and there are plenty of dressers, cabinets and drawers. Flat-screen TVs are in every room. There’s a large work desk, sitting area and, for this wine connoisseur and gourmet chef, a fully equipped kitchen, complete with stove, oven and microwave, cooking utensils, silverware and flatware, some nice wine glasses and a full-sized refrigerator. There’s even a dishwasher. Toss in the super large bedroom and dressing area and the impressive marble bath and you have the perfect home away from home. If I had shown any of my Manhattan friends my room, they would have been amazed, especially because of the Affinia’s rates, which are quite reasonable compared to other Midtown hotels. (I understand from my New York friends that apartments with 650 square feet or more, which is standard for Affinia 50 rooms, are rare and full baths, rather than standup showers, also standard for Affinia 50 rooms, are even rarer.) I was so moved by the experience of my stay, I left behind a set of souvenir wine glasses I obtained at a Chef’s convention as a sort of ‘tip.’

The bed was a real treat. It was among the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in. Guests can customize their bed experience by ordering from a special “pillow menu.” The hotel staff also will satisfy your every whim with their compliments. If you’re in the mood for a guitar to strum or a putter to unleash the ‘Tiger’ within, the front desk will be more than happy to oblige with a loaner.

That’s probably why the Affinia 50 is such a different experience. Its not really a hotel in the traditional sense. Its more like staying at a private club. In fact, there’s a Club Room and lounge on the 2nd floor, complete with flat screen TVs, comfortable sofas and lounge chairs, where guests enjoy exclusive access. On the night I was there, the hotel manager had a small ‘tailgate party’ for the guests in honor of the World Series game on TV that night. Among the other hotel amenities is a personal Club Concierge, who will make dinner reservations, provide information on nearby attractions (which are mostly within walking distance. More on that later) and a complimentary light breakfast, endless coffee and tea service and a weekly wine and cheese hour hosted by the manager. There are computers available with complimentary Internet access, although, I can’t for the life of me understand why the hotel doesn’t offer free Internet access in the rooms, especially after creating such an otherwise superlative hospitality experience. Beyond having to pay for in-room Internet, I can’t see any reason for a guest to complain! (Okay, the elevators were a tad slow during peak hours.)

One of the purposes for my stay in New York was to cover the Opening Gala of the Metropolitan Opera. With the President in town and the unprecedented traffic jams, I actually wound up walking the two and a half miles to Lincoln Center in my tux. Truthfully, it wasn’t bad. The weather was beautiful and I got to walk past many of the restaurants, art galleries, museums and sights I had planned to visit and write about. I was amazed at how close they all were in proximity to my hotel. So, in a way, the unexpected walk turned out to be of great benefit. I even opted for a late night walk home from the Met, savoring the lights in Times Square and the regal elegance of Rockefeller Plaza at midnight. I was not alone, several other hearty souls making their way home from the Met or the nearby Broadway shows were similarly enjoying the balmy late night air. With police and various security foot soldiers positioned practically every 50 feet along my path due to the President’s visit, I couldn’t have asked for a safer midnight stroll. I even took my time, pausing to stop at a sidewalk cart for a slice of pizza and a yogurt drink. The vendor was really friendly. He even threw in a free potato knish for me to enjoy later. Arriving back at the Affinia to my comfortable apartment/suite, I made myself a late-night cappuccino and savored one last view of the stunning City Lights outside my window before turning in. I felt like the consummate New Yorker!

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