The Empire Hotel Strikes Back
You can stay in a hotel worse than The Empire. You’d be unlucky to stay somewhere more disappointing. The Empire is a one hundred year old legend, part of New Yorks hotelscape and it’s just had an expensive revamp. The Empire is somewhere New Yorkers hold dear they don’t want to stay there but they want to recommend a visit to other people so that they can stay there. The Empire should be all that’s great about New York. At first glance, you think this is going to be good. In fact, it’s all that’s gone wrong in New York. And the world.
A quick look at the website should have tipped me off. When a hotel brags it offers a full in-room mini-bar (rather than what – an empty mini-bar?), up-to-date movies (can a movie, like a prawn sandwich, go out-of-date?) and oversized towels (would anyone advertise the fact that they have undersized towels?), I should look for somewhere else to stay. These are the kinds of things a 2-star Holiday Inn Express lists to distinguish itself from a downtown, no-star flophouse. If I was dull to the nuances on the list of amenities, my first look at the lobby made it clear that this place doesn’t have a clue what it’s on about. There’s no opinion, no authorial hand. Instead it looks like a cuttings file of the last twenty years of hotel styling. And every last cent of the hotels redevelopment budget seems to have been spent on the decor because there wasn’t enough spent on training the hopeless, hapless, charmless staff in the basics.
When I walked up to the desk, three guys stood talking to each other in a huddle, one of them eyeing me suspiciously over his co-conspirators shoulders, perhaps in case I tried to muscle in and join their happy circle. When I was eventually served, I pondered that there are stones in this world who give up their blood more readily than this woman gives out smiles. I asked whether I could make a local call to tell a friend I had arrived in town. She refused. When I offered to pay, she said it was forbidden. When I asked to speak to someone who could authorise the call, she said I could make the call from my room but only after she had wandered listlessly through the lengthy check-in process. I thought, there’s a world recession going on and this kind of place is pretty much what caused it: borrow the money, dress it up, don’t worry about making it work.
Dinner in the restaurant. The place is polished and brassy, the food is nutritious. Busy but then they were discounting dinner as part of a city-wide promotion and drawing people in and getting them out again quickly. Tables were turned over two or three times while we eat. The Empire has a glass-sided, roof-top party space. Tonights party was Finance meets Fashion. The perfect metaphor for the antics of the last ten years then. There are D-list bankers (the kind of boring banker who went into banking because every other boring profession in the world thought they were too boring) with watery noses, standing in groups, drinking beer, talking about Nietzsche, no doubt. Up at the DJ booth, there are C-list models spinning the decks, cueing the next tune in their cans, swaying their chicken bones to the phat beats they just laid down. One of the organisers told me proudly that Sasha (or whatever her name was) was Israels third most famous supermodel. I forget the name of the other two but you get the picture? And wasn’t it nice of her, when she’s doing so well to take a moment out of her packed schedule to spend a night sharing her love for DJ-ing? Except she isn’t.
On closer inspection, every tune that evening was coming out of an iPod, limply hanging out the back of the decks. It’s all a phoney, the girls are just salad dressing and so heaven knows what they’re listening to in their headphones (put index finger of right hand on deck, spin the deck a quarter turn to left the deck is the round shiny thing in front of you, now close your mouth, look like you have a clue). Purely in the name of investigative journalism, I approached one of the models to ask them more about their DJ-ing experience. A meathead bouncer, hoping that his muscles might finally outshine money, cut me off, grabbed me by the arm and told me that if I wanted to talk to anyone, I had to talk to him. Babycakes, I don’t need to talk to anyone, I’ve got the Empire wrapped.