JW Marriott Essex House Review | NYC

I grew up in NYC and remembered the Essex House as the place where Saturday Night Live housed their guests; I always thought of the Essex House and the Plaza as the fanciest hotels in Manhattan, partially because of their locations on Central Park South.

In recent years, after we moved to the PNW we ended up staying near Union Square – the W and the Hyatt, mostly the W Union Square because of my Marriott status. (Both hotels have been excellent; once, the Hyatt gave us another room for my partner because the only room they had was really cramped for 3 of us. And we were NOT Globalist.)

I’ve never lived downtown (my partner, an OG downtown art girl, spent far more time downtown than my UWS boring self) but really loved being so close to food and the Macy’s Parade, where our son marched. But for our last few visits we had a clinic we wanted to be close to, so Columbus Circle/Central Park South was more convenient.

And the Essex Hotel had availability at 60,000 points per night.

The hotel itself is really quite stunning especially if you’re an art deco fan. My wife took the time to appreciate the details on the elevator doors, and just walking around the pristine lobby feels like a different era in New York history. I spend a lot of time rushing through lobbies to get to and from my room, but this is quite lovely. It’s not my favorite style – more minimalist and modern styles like I find in Tokyo (looking forward to an Andaz stay next summer), but there’s an undeniable glamour here.

The location is a winner for convenience – Columbus Circle allows for great UWS/Washington Heights access, Chelsea and LES subway lines too. For us, perfect. And I often borrow a bike from a friend on Malcolm X and 116th St – easy 1/2 subway ride there and back, and then right out the door for laps in Central Park, or easy West Side bike path access to the GWB and Nyack routes.

Marea is right next door (Michelin starred Italian with an amazing steak), a bunch of solid if pricey midtown places nearby, and the Whole Foods for quick lunches. Room service back for our second stay with full tablecloth and silverware, but we only used it for late night berries & cream, to spend our ‘resort credit’. It’s not as good as NoMad for a food location, but it is close to Porter House and Per Se if you have the budget (pro-tip, go to Carne Mare for what may be the best steak in town, taking over Minetta Tavern and Wolfgang’s as my go to meat place).

Check in was smooth though sometimes a bit understaffed; we got suite upgrades to the junior suite both times for the week stays – the standard rooms look pretty big for NYC, but the suite made a stay for 3 adults in NYC far more luxurious than we have a right to expect. The staff was always helpful; they arranged for a reservation at Marea at our first stay, delivered GF pizzas that we ordered for our child’s Zoom tutoring sessions, and always were friendly. For those who care, Essex House did a few things above and beyond in recognition of my status, including clearing my suite upgrade for our second stay several days before check-in (no SNAs this time, used them all for the first stay). We were in town both times for medical visits, and I suspect that helped.

During our second stay, the hotel checked our vax status. Masks were supposed to be worn in public spaces as per local rules, but masking was spotty; we refused to let non-mask wearing people into our elevator. We felt vaguely reassured that they checked vax status, so at least the presumption was that all guests were vaccinated. We never saw staff enforce mask requirements on guests, though they all wore masks.

The Executive Lounge just opened at the end of our first stay (June), and was available our last stay (November). It’s an above-average standard US buffet; scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, lox, baked items, Chobani yogurt, fruit, so-so coffee (get the machine to make a double shot of espresso and add hot water for an Americano). The lounge is a windowless affair, with 2 large TVs running CNN and Fox news. I found myself wishing I sat somewhere else when I plopped down and saw the Fox programming in front of me; close captioned propaganda is still revolting. I’d be willing to forego any news.

I missed the Westin Tokyo breakfasts. It’s not fair to compare Japanese hotels, airlines with US counterparts, but a week of the buffet became somewhat repetitive. The Westin selection, with Japanese, Chinese and western breakfast options – feels like I could have eaten there for months. Still, better to fuel up and save your travel bucks for that gorgonzola dry-aged masterpiece at Carne Mare.

The gym was pretty standard and I used it for a core workout – my favorite hotel gym in North America is the JW Marriott Parq in Vancouver, but the Essex has Peloton bikes if you’re into that.


The Room

The location of the junior suites (end of hall) meant that WiFi was spotty in some parts of the room; during our first visit, we had a table brought up so that child’s laptop could be set somewhere where there was a good WiFi, since the desk seemed to have too weak a signal for good videoconferencing. Our first room had problems maintaining a good temperature; our second room had problems maintaining hot water in the shower (but not the tub). It had a bidet though (not a Japanese bidet, sadly).

I’m pretty tolerant of these quirks as a longtime pre-war Manhattan apartment owner. The building is old! You could see places where the paint was cracking, and while the living space felt updated, it was a little worn. Not as worn as the Westin Tokyo, but just a bit lived-in. And like NYC apartment living, there was definitely street noise we could hear (one window wasn’t quite tightly shut, and there’s garbage trucks, so many garbage trucks).

But like every Manhattan resident, it’s about the square footage. The room was huge. Living area separated from bed by a desk/TV floating wall. Two TVs (pulled the HDMI from one TV for my Amazon Firestick so we could watch everything). Walk-in closet so you never were tripping over your suitcases, big bathroom, separate shower and tub, a Mitchell-Gold pull out sofa (comfort report from child: ehh, but nice to be away from parents). My borrowed bike sat away from our living space.

It’s hard to tell, but even the standard rooms look pretty large (I meant to ask them for a peek but never found the time).

A big room in a crowded city is golden; that has made the Westin Tokyo my go to on almost every visit (until June 2022, when I think we’re going to try the Mesm because I feel like I know the Ebisu train station a bit too well). But unlike Ebisu, Columbus Circle is such a perfect location for uptown and downtown access (the subway isn’t back to its full capacity), that this feels like the best place to stay. Not near Times Square and the depressing crowd of tourists reminding me I too am a tourist not a resident (the Westin Times Square feels big and impersonal). Not downtown, making it inconvenient for cycling and taking the A train to the Heights (where our friends and chiropractor are!).

I think prices start around $460 a night; under Marriott’s old award pricing it’s about 60K points. Our next trip in February (if our doctor wants us back) has us staying at the nearby Le Meridien at a small suite with an extended stay cash rate. I’m less optimistic about the experience compared to the Essex House, but in theory I’m optimizing for space and location again. But it priced more reasonable than the nearby St Regis and Ritz Carlton – it’s quite a row of hotels starting at the Plaza. (We almost stayed at the St Regis last time, but I wanted to save points for Tokyo-Kanazawa-Nara-Osaka for June 2022.)

I’d like to try the Chatwal one day, Flyertalk people seem to think it’s Marriott’s best NYC offering.

Easy access to the park for quick walk or long stroll. Solid food options. Great service. Essex House is a little like a slightly aging Hollywood star/starlet. Wrinkles show, but it’s still a lot of glam, probably more than you deserve.

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