The InterContinental Barclay Hotel is one of New York City’s most renowned hotels, opening in 1926 with much fanfare and rising to fame for its well-heeled clientele as well as a birdcage filled with songbirds in its domed lobby. Those songbirds may be long gone, but the hotel looks better than ever following a $180 million, 20-month renovation undertaken by InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, who purchased the hotel in 1998, in partnership with interior designers HOK and architecture firm Stonehill & Taylor. We had the opportunity to spend a night there at the invitation of the hotel, and couldn’t have been more impressed with the service, dining, hospitality, and the redesign’s timeless elegance.
Located on the corner of 48th and Lexington, the 704-room hotel’s lobby is sprawling and graceful with a comfortable seating area under the former dome (which has been replaced with a flat, LED-illuminated laylight to accommodate a ballroom upstairs), reception to the right, Gin Parlour bar (more on that later) and an opulent new Club Lounge to the left, and a new grand staircase made with Carrara marble leading up to two new ballrooms and numerous meeting and event spaces on the second floor. The floors now have a black and white marble checkerboard pattern, and though the space still retains its vintage ambiance, it’s much brighter and fresher than before (here’s a before shot and an after shot).
The rooms still retain their vintage doorplates — a nice touch — and our room, an executive king, was the perfect size. The bed was very soft, the furnishings were elegant, and overall the room gave off a very tranquil vibe. A 42-inch LED flatscreen TV was very nice, as was the subway tile-lined bathroom with a spacious shower (bath products were custom-designed by Caswell-Massey, a tenant in the hotel from 1924 until 2010). The room was essentially soundproof thanks to new double-paned windows, and I slept like a rock. The hotel also offers 31 suites, a 3,600-square-foot presidential suite, and a brand new 4,500-square-foot sky suite and terrace on the roof that’s essentially an apartment unto itself. The rooms are tied together with antique maps of New York and full-wall murals of Hudson River School landscapes.
The hotel’s 1920s-inspired lobby bar and restaurant, The Gin Parlour, is home to the city’s largest selection of gins (88, for those keeping count), which are being utilized in some delicious cocktails, served at a round bar surrounded by a plush lounge. The restaurant beyond is comfortable and well-appointed, serving an ample menu categorized into bites (soft pretzels with beer cheese dip, house-smoked salmon and carrot rillettes, cheese and charcuterie); shellfish (shrimp cocktail, carb and corn croquettes, oysters Rockefeller, and oysters Reuben); small plates (green herb falafel, mussel and oyster “pan roast” soup inspired by Grand Central Oyster Bar, DiPalo’s burrata, roasted beet salad); between the bread (housemade veggie burger, a “blended” burger made with a blend of mushrooms and beef, Maine crab cake with shrimp remoulade on an English muffin); and greens & entrées (salads, seared Maine scallops, braised pork cheeks, steak au poivre).
The crab and corn croquettes were full of crab, nicely complemented by cucumber-mint gazpacho, and brightened by a hit of lime. The Reuben-style oysters were tasty, but the oysters themselves were overwhelmed by the addition of Gruyère, house corned beef, Thousand Island, and pickle relish. A fluke crudo with kumquats, radish, crisped black rice, and avocado purée brought out by the kitchen was a clear source of pride, and had every right to be: The fish was super fresh and all the components nicely harmonized with each other. The scallops were perfectly cooked and complemented by flavorful smoked cauliflower and romesco, and summer beer braised pork cheeks served in a bowl with black eyed peas were hearty and comforting, but could have benefitted from the addition of some herbs. For dessert, warm cinnamon doughnuts were sadly saturated with grease due to not being fried in hot-enough oil, but assorted mini-eclairs (dark chocolate, pistachio, maple pecan, vanilla and berry, and coffee) ended the meal on a high note. There were far more hits than misses, and overall the menu was much more creative and thoughtful than it had a right to be.
Same goes for the breakfast buffet, dubbed the Natural Power Breakfast, the following morning: Components are organic, seasonal, and locally sourced whenever possible, and offerings include house-made baked goods, bagels and bialys from the legendary Kossar’s, house-smoked Skuna Bay salmon, scrambled organic eggs, congee with braised Berkshire pork, McCann’s organic Irish oatmeal, nitrate-free bacon, and lemon-ricotta pancakes with New York State real maple syrup.
That philosophy of going above and beyond the expected is infused throughout the entire hotel, and I have a feeling that’s what makes InterContinental such a respected brand. The Barclay is a legendary hotel, and many were afraid that it would lose its Old New York charm when the renovation was announced. We can safely say that that charm is still there, along with a healthy dose of elegance and class.