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Real-Life Eloises

Martha Camarillo Joey and Sally Betesh, poolside at their Mandarin Oriental address.

Photo: Martha Camarillo

One woman on the board of the cooperatives at the luxurious Pierre hotel, up the block from the Sherry-Netherland, raised her children there and doesn't recommend it.

"Kids shouldn't have to be that well behaved all the time," she says. "Let them be kids." Thirty-three years ago, when she moved into the Pierre, "it was larky for the boys to live in a hotel. We moved there from a large duplex uptown that needed lots of staff. We entertained, and it wasn't worth the agony of changing help in those days. We wanted to get out from under the burden of the lifestyle—which is now obsolete." Even then, the Pierre was filled with cooperative apartments. Today, there are 80 co-op units and 202 "transient keys," as they say in hotel lingo.

"This is the best apartment hotel," the woman says with some authority. "You're not really stuck for help. A lot of people don't have private help in the building." Once a month the apartment dwellers get a heavy-cleaning crew to polish chandeliers and mirrors, wash windows—the works. Otherwise, on a daily basis, there is maid service, paper products provided, bed and bath linens, and turndown service. "When you walk in from a long, weary trip, your place is clean, your bed is turned down, and you call for food and the newspaper." It does sound heavenly.

Jeff and Lori Shapiro have lived downtown since the mid eighties, before the Battery Park neighborhood became particularly child-friendly. After they started having kids, they decided the neighborhood had a great family feel, "like the suburbs in the city," Lori says. They moved into the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park condominium. Jeff, a dentist, is on the board, and he just loves it here. "It's very heavily staffed compared to an apartment building," he says. The Shapiros take advantage of concierge service ("They go through Ritz training," Jeff notes), borrow tables and chairs, use the valet parking, and enjoy Sunday brunches at 2 West, the hotel's restaurant.

To the Shapiro children—Luke, 14, Jake, 11, and Sophia, 9—"it's just an apartment building, not a hotel," according to Luke. And indeed, the place is divided up like a Manhattan apartment (with big picture windows looking out on the Statue of Liberty, creating the sense of more space than exists indoors). It also feels more like an apartment building than a hotel in that there are three other families living there who send kids to the same Brooklyn private school the Shapiro kids attend. Ta-da! Their New York City sense of community remains intact. Lori has the last word. "By living in a hotel," she says, "I'm getting ready for assisted living."

It's no surprise that the writer and Lawyer Michael Rips (author of The Face of a Naked Lady: An Omaha Family Mystery) has hotels coursing through his veins. His great-grandmother owned the Miller Hotel in Omaha, which was actually a brothel set up for the cattle herders who came to the city's stockyards and slaughterhouses. Okay: in fact, Rips's great-grandmother was the madam of the Miller, and his father grew up there. On his mother's side, there were actual hotels (as opposed to disguised houses of pleasure), in Kansas City and Chicago. "So when I—quote—finally settled down," Rips recalls over coffee at an Italian café in the West Village, "I moved into the Regency, where God would live if he had the money." He pauses. "It was an addictive experience"—one he savored and stretched to five years.

After Rips married Sheila Berger, the couple moved to the Hotel Chelsea because, Rips says, "Sheila is an artist and wanted to be downtown amongst other artists." The contrast between the gleaming Regency on Park Avenue and the more, um, bohemian Chelsea on West 23rd Street could not be more pronounced. And yet.

Rips describes an "admission process," which begins and ends with proprietor Stanley Bard. "You need a recommendation. It's unpredictable. We all represent different aspects of Stanley's mind, and we all fit together." Interestingly, in complete contrast to my earlier presumptions, the Chelsea, battered and colorful, is one of the only hotels—and a non-condo hotel at that—with more than one family raising kids. At the moment, there are three families with young children walking through the lobby of the place where Sid Vicious, Virgil Thompson, Patti Smith, and Andy Warhol used to live. Why didn't Michael and Sheila relocate when their daughter, Nicolaïa, was born?"We were so anesthetized by that point, we didn't consider leaving," he says. The families are all interconnected, through ages, schools, or the novelty of growing up Chelsea.

Some people who live in Manhattan hotels might refer to the lobby dwellers of the Chelsea as "characters," but the lobby life holds enormous appeal for the Ripses. "We always add fifteen to twenty minutes lobby time whenever we have to be somewhere," Michael says. He describes how his daughter was once assigned a paper at school on the British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Neither Michael nor Sheila was familiar with his work, so they suggested that Nicolaïa go downstairs and do some reconnaissance with the lobby people. "In half an hour she had pages of notes," Rips enthuses. "[Our apartment] is probably too small for us, but the trade-off is being part of the tribe of the people who are here. It's like a MacDowell Colony or a dorm, fostering collaborations."

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