The big trip

Hard Rock Hotel New York review: a pitch-perfect slice of the Big Apple

Tune into the musical sounds of the city at the global hospitality group’s latest launch

Frank Sinatra loved “spreading the news” about the city so nice they named it twice, while born-and-bred New Yorkers Jay-Z and Alicia Keys revelled in their Empire State of Mind.

Countless singers have paid tribute to the Big Apple, but it’s the latter duo’s track about the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” that pops into my head when I arrive at Hard Rock Hotel New York. A yellow Max Azria Atelier dress once worn by Keys takes centre stage in the newly opened venue’s lobby.

And a memorable live performance ensures her hit song worms into my ear too, during my recent stay at a hotel perfectly in tune with New York’s music scene. 

Hard-rocking venue

Hard Rock Hotel New York sits in the centre of Midtown Manhattan, just round the corner from landmarks including Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center and Broadway. 

Aptly, the site of the newly built hotel was once home to a record store on what was then known as Music Row. And in another “written in the stars” moment, the developers had to hack through a giant rock before pouring the foundations of the global hospitality group’s latest launch.  

After a few more rocky moments during the pandemic, the hotel finally opened its doors in April to reveal 36 floors packed with music memorabilia and entertainment spaces, along with 400 guest rooms and 46 suites.

Hotel bedroom

The hotel, which finally opened its doors in April, has 400 guest rooms and 46 suites

Each room is equipped with high-spec amenities including Lavazza coffee machines, while the decor hits just the right note with sound-wave carpet patterns and sculptural artwork above the headboards. Sliding interior doors are printed with images of artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Lady Gaga, and the colour scheme is glitzy golds and rich browns with pops of cobalt blue, red and green.

The glam gets dialled up even higher in the Rock Star Suite, a glass-enclosed penthouse with a 2,000-square-foot personal terrace and outdoor bar that has already hosted A-listers including Halsey. 

Sadly, most guests probably can’t stretch to the $15,000 nightly rate for a stay up on the 36th floor, but guests and locals alike are flocking to see the likes of Halsey performing in the hotel’s basement. The Venue on Music Row spans two lower-ground floors and combines speakeasy-style design with cutting-edge tech. Up to 400 people at a time are packing in for weekly shows and private events at the already popular entertainment and party space.  

The Venue on Music Row

Up to 400 people at a time pack in for weekly shows at The Venue on Music Row

But for a more intimate gig, I joined five fellow visitors and former American Idol contestant Najah Lewis in the adjacent performance and recording studio. As a Hard Rock music ambassador, Brooklyn-born singer and guitarist Lewis leads an impressive line-up of local musicians and DJs soundtracking the city throughout the hotel. For our special show, she strummed self-penned soulful songs as well as covers of tracks including Empire State of Mind, which I was still humming a week later.

Guests can channel their own musical talents with Hard Rock’s Sound of Your Stay experience. Like all of the group’s hotels, the New York venue offers free in-room loans of Fender electric guitars and amps – though in what may have been a teething glitch, demand was exceeding supply during my four-night visit.

The in-room entertainment also includes Rock Om: yoga sessions set to DJ-curated soundtracks available at the click of a button on the Hard Rock TV system. And guests may want to hit the hotel’s well-equipped gym as well, given all the fine dining on offer in the Big Apple.

Big appetites

The Hard Rock food operations revolve around Sessions, which is also the heart of the hotel’s vast collection of music memorabilia. Accessible by a grand staircase from the lobby, the all-day restaurant and bar extends across an open-air terrace and a light-filled atrium dotted with momentos from everyone from Sinatra to Madonna and Nicki Minaj.

Sessions restaurant

Sessions is the hotel’s all-day restaurant and bar

While the setting is ritzy, the meals and snacks served here are more down to earth, with salads, steaks and pasta dishes for lunch and dinner, and staples such as omelettes for breakfast. And of course, there’s a tasty array of real-deal New York bagels (a waiter recoiled in horror when I showed him a picture of a UK supermarket version). Simple fare, but the ingredients are ultra fresh and the final results are ultra tasty, if a little heavy on the salt for European tastes.

The same is true of the food at the hotel’s NYY Steak, a wood-panelled restaurant down on the ground floor. The steakhouse is a joint venture with the New York Yankees, so along with speciality cuts of meat and fresh seafood, diners are treated to a feast of memorabilia from famous baseball players.

The restaurant is further set apart by an unexpectedly good plant-based menu. In fact, while some Kobe steaks won high praise, my party of both meat eaters and vegetarians agreed that the star dish was a cauliflower steak flavoured with vadouvan, a French spin on Indian curry spices.

Other exotic flavours are on offer on the bites menu at RT60, a stylish bar and lounge up on the 34th floor. But though undoubtedly tasty, the mezze dishes are overshadowed by the bar’s fantastic range of cocktails, including New York, New York, a bourbon, vermouth and grapefruit bitters blend that Sinatra would surely have given the stamp of approval.

Views from one of the terraces

RT60’s terraces are perfect spots for drinking in the sight of Manhattan’s many landmarks

Ol’ Blue Eyes might have been less sure about the DJs spinning tunes when our party popped in for a nightcap, though we had no quibbles. And everyone was enjoying the views from the bar’s two terraces – perfect spots for drinking in the sight of Manhattan’s many landmarks. 

City that never sleeps

The bustling streets surrounding Hard Rock Hotel New York are a constant source of real-life dramas, day and night. But for entertainment of the conventional variety, guests can take a short jaunt to Broadway, only a five-minute walk away. I get my theatrical fix at MJ: The Musical, a spectacular new show that alone is almost worth the airfare across the Atlantic, whatever your feelings about the personal allegations against Michael Jackson.

The entertainment keeps on coming in nearby Central Park, where an eclectic range of buskers display their skills out in the fresh(ish) air. Strolling along a winding path through the 843-acre park, I overheard a sharply dressed saxophonist proudly telling tourists: “We have the world’s best musicians in the world’s best city.”

The Big Apple also hosts world-famous music festivals including Electric Zoo and the Governors Ball. I catch big-name acts including rapper J. Cole during a fun-packed afternoon at the latter, staged at the New York Mets’ Citi Field stadium in Queens.

Exterior of the MoMA

The MoMA is about ten minutes by foot from Hard Rock Hotel New York

Kena Betancur/VIEWpress via Getty Images

Anyone looking for a hefty hit of art should set aside plenty of time for a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, aka MoMA, back in Midtown Manhattan. About ten minutes by foot from Hard Rock Hotel New York, the renowned gallery began life back in 1929 with a gift of eight prints and one drawing but now houses a collection of more than 200,000 artworks of every variety.

As every style-conscious observer knows, New Yorkers have also turned everyday fashion into an art form. Hard Rock guests inspired by this sartorial flair are just a few steps from the shopping mecca that is Fifth Avenue, home to famous clothing and jewellery stores including Bergdorf Goodman, Saks and Tiffany & Co.

Or for less pricey retail therapy, there are bargains galore to be had at Macy’s, just around the corner from the Empire State Building. I spend a very enjoyable final morning splashing cash at the historic department store before refuelling at one of New York’s many “like a set from a sitcom” diners.

Then, after yet another unbeatable bagel, I amble over to the art deco skyscraper and up –  by elevator, thankfully – to the 102nd-floor observation platform to gorge on the stunning views.

Of course, playing tourist at the Empire State is hardly rock‘n’roll. But like my stay at Hard Rock Hotel New York, it’s an experience that’s hard to top.

Hard Rock Hotel New York introductory nightly rates start from $475;  


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