12 Secrets of New York's Iconic Plaza Hotel
This piece originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.
There's a reason why the storied Plaza is the only hotel in New York City to be named a National Historic Landmark. Steeped in a 110-year-old history, the iconic 19-story Fifth Avenue building comes rife with scandalous tales, hidden treasures, and a guest check-in list that spans socialites, actors, musicians, politicians, athletes, and literati like The Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. If walls could talk, here are 12 secrets they'd spill.
A night at the hotel once cost less than a subway ride.
Originally a residence for well-to-do businessman Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and his wife, The Plaza hotel rented rooms for $2.50 per night when it first opened its doors in 1907. To put things in perspective, today, rooms can run guests anywhere from approximately $800 to $30,000.
Home Alone 2 changed the lobby forever.
A myriad of movies have been filmed at the iconic New York City hotel (Almost Famous, American Hustle, Sleepless in Seattle), but perhaps the one that left the longest lasting impression is Chris Columbus and John Hughes' 1992 Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. In order to shoot a scene where Macaulay Culkin's character slides across the floor into an elevator, Trump (the hotel's owner at the time) permitted the crew to remove the wall-to-wall carpeting. Upon uncovering it, they discovered a mosaic tile floor so stunning, that the carpet got the boot for good.
Pop culture shaped the hotel's amenities in more ways than one.
Among the fictional characters that have inspired The Plaza's design is Eloise, the hotel resident who was dreamt up by author Kay Thompson in her children's book series. Two years after the book was published, the hotel even hung a portrait of Eloise, painted by the book's illustrator Hilary Knight, opposite The Palm Court. If you walk by today, you'll likely stumble across this whimsical work of art, but it's not the original. A new Eloise portrait was unveiled in 1964 after the first painting mysteriously vanished during a dance four years earlier. In 1956, the Plaza also created a red-and-white striped Eloise-inspired tricycle garage, offering hotel guests free bikes and tricycles. Today, Eloise's legacy lives on at the hotel—in the form of the Eloise children's menu, an Eloise suite designed by fashion designer Betsey Johnson, and the Eloise gift shop.
Lucky guests have their very own escape route.
The Royal Plaza Suite, which boasts three bedrooms and bathrooms, a carefully curated library, grand piano, dining room, kitchen, and jaw-dropping views, also comes with a stealthy secret door that leads outside from the master bathroom. The asking price? $30,000 a night.
It was formerly a skating rink.
Before The Plaza was The Plaza, it was the Fifth Avenue Pond. The pond, which was used as a private rink by the New York Skating Club, stood on the same property where the historic hotel stands today.
A lion once checked into the hotel.
Once upon a time—specifically 1908—Princess Elisabeth Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy of Hungary relocated to America with an impressive posse of pets that included dogs, cats, an owl, guinea pig, alligators, and a bear. While the Waldorf Astoria turned the Princess away, The Plaza welcomed her and her animal kingdom, making it one of the first pet-friendly hotels. A few years later, the Princess also acquired a lion cub that not only came to live with her at the hotel, but also got its own room. Just call it the king of the hotel.
The first motorized NYC cabs lined up outside the hotel.
On opening day, a shiny new fleet of gasoline-powered French Darracq taxis swung by the hotel to transport guests from point A to B. Owned by businessman Harry Allen, they were meant to replace all horse-drawn carriages. They even came equipped with fare meters—riders shelled out 30 cents for the first half-mile and 10 cents for each subsequent quarter-mile.
The hotel made its big-screen debut in a Hitchcock film.
The Way We Were, Home Alone 2, and The Great Gatsby were all notably filmed the landmark hotel, but the first film to be shot at the property was Hitchcock's 1959 classic North by Northwest. At the time, it was rare that a crew and cast shot on location—almost all were filmed on soundstages. The rest is Hollywood history.
A Broadway legend used to happy hour in the now-closed Oak Room.
Opened as a men's-only bar, the Oak Room shuttered during Prohibition and reopened as a restaurant in 1934. In its heyday, it hosted many hot shots including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bill Clinton, and most notably actor and playwright George M. Cohan. Cohan reserved a corner table—named The Cohan Corner—to unwind with pre-theater show cocktails every day from 4 to 7 p.m. To commemorate his loyalty, a bronze plaque was fixed above the booth after he passed.
Truman Capote threw the party of the century inside the property.
In 1966, Truman Capote rallied the troops—some 540 guests—for a black-and-white masked ball inside the hotel's Grand Ballroom to celebrate the release of his book In Cold Blood. Forking over an alleged $16,000, Capote invited a well-heeled crowd like Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow, and guest of honor Washington Postpresident Katharine Graham. Since then, it has become a top wedding venue for celebrities like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas and Donald Trump and Marla Maples.
Chef Boyardee honed his chops at the hotel's kitchen.
Before Chef Ettore "Hector" Boiardi was household name for microwavable beef ravioli, he was a chef at the prestigious hotel. An Italian immigrant, Boiardi worked his way up to head chef before leaving to open a restaurant in Cleveland. But don't expect Beefaroni to show up on the menu anytime soon.
The Plaza has been part of both Trump and Hilton empires.
Today, both Sahara Group and the Saudi Arabia-based Kingdom Holdings own the hotel. But it wasn't always this way. In 1943, Conrad Hilton purchased the property for $7.4 million (a whopping $101 million today), and in 1988, real estate tycoon Donald Trump acquired it for $390 million. After divorcing his wife Ivana, Trump sold it for $325 million.