As we saw the good exiting the kitchen while seated at their Lisbon lounge, we felt uninspired to order but compelled to stay. The vibe of the space kept us hanging on, hungry. And that’s kind of the metaphor for it all.
We didn’t want this to be a negative reflection of our stay at the TWA Hotel – so, let’s just call it a candid one.
As a preface to this review, we didn’t bring any of these points to the attention of the staff or management while we were staying at the space. How they handle + respond to feedback is an entirely different conversation – but, it’s important for us to also note that we don’t believe we are deserving of any rectification for our experience. In fact, we’ll go back and pay full price again next time. To complain on-site could have potentially gotten their staff in trouble – who we don’t blame in any way – and also would have made the review less genuine.
What we noticed, and intend to share, was a flaw in the system overall – that they haven’t taken the time to create the high-end drinking + dining experience they’re selling through an impeccable atmosphere and interior. Showcasing this divide – and the detriment it can have on a brand’s perception overall – is our goal with this reflection.
To start with a background of our relationship with this unique New York destination, we visited for the first time right when it opened. Frank is a lover of all things aviation and vintage travel, so a 1960s hotel built around an original TWA terminal with rooftop, poolside views of the runway seemed a natural fit to celebrate his birthday. This was back in August 2019 – ah, what a blissfully unaware summer, brimming with potential.
We enjoyed our stay, back then.
There was a but.
The atmosphere captivated us. We spent an afternoon running around exploring the many activations, photo-ops, and hidden corners with negronis in hand – our excitement and awe masking the bitter taste of poorly made drinks. The menu was bland, but after a few cocktails, tolerable. We chalked it up to the woes of a newly-opened space, and vowed to return every year for Frank’s birthday to “see how far they’ve come.”
Of course, 2020 had other plans.
For that, we approach this article with compassion.
Now, here we are in October 2021.
Two months late from Frank’s birthday, we hoped that those few extra weeks with New York’s lifted lockdown policy would give the property even more time to make us say, daaamn.
TLDR; it didn’t quite go down that way.
After unloading our bags and freshening up, we hit the lobby bar first, for a glass of bubbly and a craft cocktail.
First impression: A deadpan lobby bartender laments that they’re out of all things bubbly and bubbly-adjacent.
Second impression: the same bartender pours a free-handed medley of bourbon and various other liquors that left Frank unexpectedly buzzed before 6PM. While a stiff drink can be a bonus sometimes, this aggressive cocktail poured with obvious and resigned contempt hit differently.
Ah, so the “craft cocktails” aren’t crafted at all, we thought.
We remember this from last time, and share a knowing look.
Personally I’m an easy diner and wasn’t miffed about the missing champagne — a martini would do.
Mysteriously though, when we dined at the upper bar later – close enough that the bartender could have pointed directly at it when I asked – many shades of bubbles were available and had been there, just a few feet away, when I’d inquired about them earlier that day. We can’t speak to how inventory works between their bar stations, but it seemed odd not to mention it.
Let’s curb our questionable cocktail experience for a moment and approach the stay from a different perspective:
The interior is NEXT LEVEL CHIC.
It’s architecturally incomparable in that it was built in the exact era it’s intended to transport you to and every experiential detail appears immaculate.
The music is accurate to the decade, a calm hum as you mill about the spacious property.
There’s an air of un-hurried-ness that feels transformative after a day of travel.
The stemware is high quality, shining, and plentiful.
The rooms themselves are beautifully built, comfortable, and well-equipped.
The cocktail menu is thoughtfully designed from the recipes to the clever names.
We heard a fellow guest exclaim, “this is one of the most gorgeous hotel restaurants I’ve ever seen!” And… he’s right.
They have invested in creating an internal experience unlike anything we’ve seen before.
But, it ends there.
We witnessed many dinner dishes come out (most priced between $25-60 USD) looking passable but lacking enthusiasm from the presentation to the service. When you’re in a restaurant where the food is GREAT, the energy is audible. Not just by the aesthetic of the plate – it’s in the scent in the air, the animated description, and the satisfied hums of patrons.
And that’s… kind of the metaphor for it all.
By Frank’s birthday next year, do we have faith they’ll have shifted their surly service mentality and lacklustre dining experience? Perhaps not.
Will we return? Absolutely.
The atmosphere is intoxicating, worthy of a visit even with our tempered expectations.
As happenstance goes, we bumped into an ex TWA pilot who was staying in the room across from us. Over drinks, he regaled us with stories from a time when the terminal was active, describing an atmosphere so authentic of an airport in the 60s. People clambering around a packed bar for one last bev before boarding, calling out to buddies and strangers alike to join them. This feels so critical to the experience – this urge to meet someone new and squeeze in one more memory – and yet is poignantly absent.
The TWA Hotel feels inhabited by ghosts who haven’t quite figured out how to haunt it.
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October 28, 2021