Only in New York could a five-star hotel be as much a celebrity magnet as it is a neighbourhood hangout.
The Mark in Manhattan has been a favourite among the city’s well-to-do since it opened its doors 95 years ago.
With a distinguished address at the corner of 77th Street and Madison Avenue, and mere steps away from Central Park, the property was reimagined for the 21st century in 2009.
Unparalleled levels of privacy ensure that the contemporary hotel is a firm favourite with celebrities, and every May it turns into The Met Gala’s "other red carpet" as models, stars and the who’s who of fashion pluck, preen and mingle in The Mark before and after the show.
But this contemporary abode isn’t only about celebrity residents.
It’s also the go-to spot for Upper East Siders, many of whom pass by with their pets in tow, as well as for New York visitors who want a stay far from the hustle of Downtown Manhattan.
The National checked-in expecting a sophisticated stay.
A sleek black Mercedes collects us at JFK Airport which is about 30 kilometres from the hotel, and the journey takes in a good helping of New York’s snail-like traffic before the driver drops us directly outside the Renaissance Revival-style building that is The Mark .
Stepping into the lobby, we get our first glimpse of the interiors by renowned French designer Jacques Grange, who has also designed homes for Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and the Princess of Monaco.
The blackest black and purest white marble-striped floors lead the way to reception, which is tucked snugly on the left hand side.
Check-in is unfussy and staff chat easily with guests. The concierge greets us as we head to the lift, introducing himself and letting us know that the team is here to help with any requests, big or small.
Up on the fourth floor, our luggage is already waiting in our room alongside a beautiful welcome set-up containing fresh roses, refreshments and cookies shaped like a New York yellow cab.
Discreetly tucked away on 77th Street between boutique-lined Madison and Fifth Avenues on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the hotel avoids the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan, but is entirely walkable if you do want a night on the town.
Just one block from Central Park, it’s also easy walking distance from New York’s Museum Mile.
The safety measures
Nothing of note, in keeping with the city's Covid-19 measures during our stay.
There are 106 rooms, 46 suites and a 1,000-square-metre penthouse where Serena Williams hosted Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex’s baby shower.
We’re staying in a 77 King room, named because its sash windows frame views over East 77th street. With an entrance foyer, king bedroom and spacious bathroom, the room covers 46 elegant square metres.
Dripping in high-end understated luxury, expect polished marble floors in the bathroom, large-scale modern art on the walls and a single gadget to control lights, temperature, curtains and more.
The space manages to retain a sense of home away from home, thanks to thick plush carpets, a soothing colour palette of rich creams, whites and browns and [we soon discover] a cloud-like, king-size bed.
Playful details such as cheeky illustrations on La Botega toiletries and coasters, and an American candy-stuffed minibar of dreams show that The Mark doesn't take itself too seriously.
The hotel’s personalised service and privacy draws celebrities at the same time as its Upper East side location draws well-heeled locals.
Fashionable holidaymakers also flock here, perhaps attracted by the hotel’s partnership with the extravagant Bergdorf Goodman, which allows guests to shop at the swanky store 24 hours a day, or its in-house salon from celebrity stylist to the stars Frederic Fekkai.
But in true New York city style, anything goes at The Mark and we don’t feel out of place even when traipsing through the hotel in sports gear on our way to climb one of Manhattan’s tallest skyscrapers.
Children are more than welcome and there are custom-designed Maclaren strollers available for the smallest guests, and slumber party set-ups for families staying in a suite.
Dogs aren’t forgotten either, and each furry visitor gets an in-room dog bed and bowls, plus an amenity kit filled with waste bags and a leash and collar.
The Mark bar, with its hide-printed stools and sparkling ceiling, comes alive every evening for after-work, before-dinner and post-theatre beverages.
There’s a large fitness centre on the second floor, and guests can reserve a session with one of New York's top personal trainers, Dan Flores.
Branded bikes line up outside the hotel and can be rented free of charge. If you want to take them to Central Park, let staff know and they can prepare a Jean-George Vongerichte-designed picnic to take along.
There are also orange and black pedicabs for hire, an eco-friendly way of scooting around Manhattan.
Led by one of the world's best-known chefs, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, The Mark Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Our dining experience revolves around breakfast, which we enjoy first in the main restaurant discreetly located at the back of the hotel, and then pavement side under monochrome-striped parasols.
The menu spans classics and modern favourites such as buttermilk pancakes, avocado toast, pastries, cereals, eggs and granola.
The Mark Breakfast ($46) is a sizeable platter of organic eggs, seasonal greens, Applewood smoked ham and a bagel, served with freshly squeezed juice and specialty coffee and all perfectly executed by executive chef Pierre Schutz.
The Russ and Daughters Norwegian Smoked Salmon platter ($36) served with a toasted bagel, cream cheese and red onion also comes highly recommended.
A highlight of any stay at The Mark is the service. It’s personalised, welcoming and entirely down-to-earth with staff who are constantly courteous but entirely unintimidated by the hotel’s celebrity clientele.
Little touches — such as finding a Laduree macaron on your pillow, complimentary John Lobb shoe shining and fresh flowers delivered daily to your room — elevate the stay.
And playful elements, such as the TV being tuned to a Jazz channel when you return from a night on the town, are in keeping with the hotel’s spirited persona.
The concierge staff are a fountain of knowledge. Hit them up for recommendations and suggestions that you won’t find in a guide book.
Highs and lows
Without any of the pomp and ceremony often associated with luxury five-star hotels, The Mark offers contemporary luxury in an excellent location, and there's something entirely refreshing about staying in a hotel that’s as popular with local residents as it is with out-of-towners.
Everything seems well thought out and nothing is too much trouble.
The only downside is that there’s no swimming pool or saunas in the hotel.
The insider tip
Get your New York street food fix with a side of style at the Jean-Georges’ haute dog stand.
Right outside the hotel, the black and white striped cart is adorned with orange bunting and serves organic chicken and grass-feed beef hot dogs with kimchi relish and classic condiments for $6 apiece
It’s the most affordable Michelin-lauded meal you’ll find in the city.
Every so often, you come across a hotel that hits all the right notes. The Mark in Manhattan’s Upper East Side is one such place.
Blending sophisticated elegance and a fondness for fun, it’s easy to see why it retains an almost cult-like status in one of the world’s most crowded upscale hotel markets, and is entirely refreshing when you realise that its celebrity-magnet status hasn’t gone to its head.
The bottom line
Stays start from $1,075 a night, excluding taxes. Check-in is from 3pm and checkout is at noon; www.themarkhotel.com
This review was conducted at the invitation of the hotel during the global coronavirus pandemic. It reflects hotel standards during the time. Services may change in the future