If John Jacob Astor hadn’t tanked it in the Titanic, you can imagine he would have got a real kick out of seeing a Bentley Blower parked up outside his classic New York Hotel, the St Regis.
Built in 1930, the car matches the St Regis ethos – elegant, timeless, irretrievably fancy. Yet it’s also head-turning enough to cause a gazillion jaded New Yorkers to whoop, holler and stop to drool on the sidewalk as it roars its way down 5th Avenue. Richard Charlesworth, head of VIP and Heritage for Bentley Motors, has taken the car all around the world, from Saudi to Le Mans, and everywhere the adulation is the same. It’s a vintage bobby dazzler, built for speed and capable of blasting down the open road at 100mph. Its acceleration is still breathtaking. In fact, when Charlesworth took some members of the Bahrani royal family out in the Blower, he nearly blew their keffiyehs off.
Fittingly, the Blower is here for a big blow out – the opening of the Bentley Suite, the latest of the Starwood Group’s additions to the grand old hotel. There are already the Dior and Tiffany suites, of course, but as a Brit, the Bentley suite will make you sigh with patriotic pride. 7 years from conception to the final veneer, it’s classic New York – 1,700 square metres of black lines and dove greys – with daring dashes of Austin Powers-esque pizzazz. Designer Daniele Ceccomori talks us through it like a man possessed. Every detail has been painstakingly considered to compliment the brand. From the burnt orange sofa buttons to the tyre shaped chandelier studded with tiny LEDs – everything is very very Bentley. (Even the floor is black leather tile). They’ve even brought along Peter, a carpenter from their factory in Crewe, who is at the desk, making a cigar box. ‘Wood and leather are living materials, so they’re always changing,’ he burrs, carefully creating a walnut veneer. He tells us a story about a blind man who visited the factory and was in raptures about the plush interior of the cars, transported by the textures of smooth cowhide, polished chrome and Braille-like stitching. This is pure craft – passed down through generations. When he gestures to a sideboard that has inlays shaped like a Union Jack, I swear I’m getting a tear in my eye.
With all this attention to detail, there’s a symbiotic feel to the cosy Transatlantic relationship between the St Regis and Bentley. After all, the St Regis has been a symbol of old school swankiness since the 20s– a classic bellhop and butlers joint which has been frequented by everyone from Dali to Dietrich. History oozes out of the ornate plasterwork. The Bloody Mary was invented there, its name changed to the ‘Red Snapper’ so as not to offend English visitors with a swear word. But although the chandeliers and the Louis XIV furnishings might look a little bit Barbara Cartland in this age of infinity pools and touch screen entertainment systems, don’t be fooled into thinking the place is staid. It has a genuinely eccentric edge. Alfred Hitchcock rode the elevators, trying to freak out fellow guests with tall stories that ended on a suspenseful note just as the doors opened. Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior propped up the King Cole Bar downstairs, and once Dali accidentally disabled the 15th and 16th floors with a box of flies he was keeping in his suite for ‘artistic purposes’. That’s not to mention Nikola Tesla, who was asked to leave when a chambermaid discovered he was keeping pigeons in his room. Even now, there’s a feeling that behind those thick, cream coloured doors, guests could be up to glorious mischief.
With a great British bombast, Bentley takes over the block for the grand opening with a fleet of breathtaking cars. As well as the Blower, there’s a lovely gold Mulsanne and a silver fox with ipads built into the back of the seats. Oh yes, and the exclusive St Regis branded Mulsanne, with crests on the headrests and crystal champagne flutes, as you do. Such is the power of the Bentley brand, these cars can literally stop traffic, even in New York. According to our driver Jay, an ex-police lieutenant, taxis will brake to let you out ‘because they see a Bentley and they think you’re The Queen.’ Earlier on, we’d been taken out to Pennsylvania for a flying visit to the Hotel Fauchere in Milford, just to show how they can go when released from the Midtown gridlock. Queenie is a lucky old bird indeed.
To christen the $9,500 a night suite, (and let’s face, it, do a little bit of showing off) the St Regis and Bentley install a DJ on the canopy roof and a jazz band on the street. But the cars are the stars. A couple with a tiny coiffured pooch get their photo taken in the Blower. Women drape themselves over it. On the other side of the street, cordoned off, tourists take photos of these untouchable symbols of automotive elegance. And as a final tribute to good old-fashioned British style, the St Regis sets the beautiful brass cab counter above the canopy to ‘007’. Then it’s time to toast the new Bentley suite with a dash of eccentricity and a slosh of champagne – and celebrate a little bit of NYC that will be forever British.