New York City is experiencing yet another glut in addition to the nearly 60 million tourists now arriving each year to selfie themselves in Times Square—hotel rooms. Now topping more than 100,000, with more in the works, the number has also led to increased competition for the dollars, inspiring hotels to come up with creative ways to entice guests further.
The Westin New York Grand Central, about two blocks from the iconic train station, has partnered with one of New York’s most loved institutions—Saturday Night Live—to create a unique experience. No, you won’t be hosting the show, watching it from the audience, or even roaming the corridors of 30 Rock, but you will get two anytime tickets to check out the on-going Saturday Night Live: the Exhibition, about a 10-minute walk from the hotel.
Structured around a week in the life of the show, the exhibition takes you through the process from meeting the week’s host Monday to show time on Saturday night, all while throwing clip after classic clip at you from mounted TVs in the rooms. Along the way, props and costumes from the best-known skits inspire more giggles. Highlights include the sets from Wayne’s World, Celebrity Jeopardy, and Weekend Update, plus the costumes for Landshark., King Tut, and Dick in a Box.
The crew backstage also get their due through exhibits that show how the costumes and sets are conceived and constructed, which is all the more amazing considering the tight schedule. Finish the tour at a replica of Studio 8H, where a screen is rolled center stage on which Tina Fey is projected to give the impression of a live show, with an opening monologue and all. Whether staying at the Westin or not, it’s a fun experience, although the $29 fee is perhaps a bit much, especially considering the MoMA is $25.
Whether the SNL Package at the Westin really represents a savings, however, comes down to timing and math. For example, you can currently nab a room for $239 per night (and with special discounts, even less), while the starting rate for the SNL package goes for $339 per night, albeit with Wi-Fi in the room (otherwise $14.95 per day), so it is entirely possible to get the room and tickets separately and save money. What makes the package worth it, though, is a complimentary room upgrade, but this is “based on availability,” so target your visit for less busy times, i.e. mid-week or off season.
Stepping into the hotel, it does look every bit a 4-star property, with a spacious, glossy lobby that exudes a corporate atmosphere, including dark-suited staff who stand at the ready to help. Beyond the sweeping white curves of the ceiling, a wedge of back-lit faux marble behind the reception desk, and the odd plant, there’s little to distinguish the lobby design-wise. Instead, the focus is on efficiency, which for many guests, particularly those on business, is the top priority. No doubt they’ll also appreciate the attached mini-mart for any forgotten supplies.
For sustenance, the hotel’s restaurant—THE LCL: Bar & Kitchen—has a decent menu of bistro dishes, from roasted red pepper hummus to a griddled turkey Reuben sandwich to the house LaFrieda burger. As the name suggests, ingredients are often sourced locally. In fact, many come from the hotel’s rooftop vegetable garden. Nonetheless, in a city like New York, where the entire world’s cuisine is available on a single block, it’s undoubtedly hard to convince guests to dine in-house, but it’s worth it to stop at the LCL’s bar for a few deftly made cocktails, especially the “New Fashioned” and “Girl Next Door.”
Upstairs 774 rooms in four classes—traditional, deluxe, premium corner, and suite—spread across 41 floors. Number 3115, a deluxe (starting at $339 per night), is laid out in classic fashion, with a short corridor (curved in this case) that passes the bathroom first and leads into the main area. To the left is a king-size “Heavenly Bed,” (“10 layers of pure-white comfort”) made exclusively for Westin by Simmons (buy your own for about $1,800), and to the right, a work station, Starbucks coffee and tea, and 42-inch flat-screen HDTV. At the back of the room, where the windows bow to provide a lovely sweeping view of Midtown East, is a second seating area with a sleeper sofa and armchair. Altogether, it’s a clean, comfortable, and bright space, but like the lobby, doesn’t dazzle in color or design. If that’s what you’re looking for, aim for a fifth star or a smaller boutique option.
What the Westin Grand Central does have going for it is location, which in New York, matters more than just about anything. It’s far enough from Times Square to avoid the worst of the crowds (except at rush hour) and close to the major transportation hub at Grand Central to easily connect to any part of city and beyond. Plus, the hotel indeed operates like a well-oiled machine and easily satisfies the basics of hospitality and comfort at a reasonable price. The biggest smiles, however, are reserved for Saturday night.
Lead photo by SNL: The Exhibition. All other photos by Mike Dunphy
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the Westin New York Grand Central