Concierge.com's insider take:
Dubai-based hotel group Jumeirah spent $90 million renovating the Essex House hotel on Central Park South after acquiring this Art Deco dowager in 2006. But unlike its opulent Middle Eastern sibling, the Burj Al Arab, the Essex House doesn't aim for seven stars; in terms of price and luxury, it sits a notch below the nearby Mandarin Oriental, Ritz-Carlton, and Four Seasons. That means you can get a handsomely decorated, nice-size hotel room with a direct view of Central Park for $400 or so, well below what competitors charge (check the Jumeirah Essex House Web site for frequent special deals). The renovation preserved and updated the lobby's 1930s elegance, with coffered ceilings, fluted travertine columns, and a striking pair of large Central Park photographs by artist Atta Kim (courtesy of the hotel's artist-in-residence program). Rooms are contemporary, if blandly so (lots of beige), with built-in wood desks, leather chairs, marble bathrooms, and very comfortable beds. High-tech equipment includes flat-screen TVs, Bose iPod docks, and a touch pad–controlled lighting system that's too complicated for its own good (one feature we did like: "stumble lights" that illuminate the floor when you get out of bed). Service is amiable and professional—our room service breakfast arrived well within the promised 25 minutes. The downsides: The modern American fare at the South Gate restaurant is mediocre (though it's worth stopping by for a park-view drink at the bar). Maintenance could be better (a smudge on the sofa, a sticky door, an ugly electrical box hanging from the ceiling). And the 300-square-foot interior-facing rooms can feel confined. Instead, splash out on a 750-square-foot Central Park Suite—we've seen them on third-party Web sites for as low as $850 a night, one of the best deals in town.—Peter J. Frank
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