An intimate look at what was once a hopping midtown Manhattan hotel, the Drake — and its sky-high replacement
This photo shows the Drake Hotel in New York City.
Where one hotel goes, a high-rise follows.
The Drake Hotel opened during the Roaring Twenties as a 21-floor complex with an unimaginable 495 rooms. By the 1960s it featured one of the most popular disco halls, Shepheard’s at the Drake, where visitors danced the Jerk, Watusi, Frug and the Monkey until 3 a.m.
By the ’80s it was called Swissotel The Drake and when 2007 rolled around, its historic walls were torn down.
Once located at 440 Park Ave. at 56th Street, the Drake was considered a luxury hotel for the entirety of its existence. New York Magazine, in its visitors guide (which points out that the “venue is closed”), writes that the hotel was erected during New York’s “Golden Age,” and when it was renovated in 1999, still retained its Art Deco aesthetic appeal.
Still, New York Magazine notes, it was made “more business traveler-friendly.” The Drake’s suites once held appealing perks to lure in the business meeting crowd. These suites were equipped with workstations, fax machines, speakerphones, meeting facilities with “blackout shades” and an impressive boardroom, the magazine notes.
The room sizes varied depending on floor and type, like many New York hotels.
The visitors guide notes that the Drake’s décor had “a consistent modern European, big-hotel sensibility, with a color scheme ranging from shades of butterscotch and moss to deep purples and blues.”
Lastly, the guide mentions that the Drake’s guests, “after a busy workday,” would frequently head over to Q56 restaurant and lounge.
“Direct access to French gourmet food shop Fauchon elevates an otherwise unremarkable lobby,” the guide adds.
The entrance to New York City’s Drake Hotel.
On ETU: Global Travel Industry News, longtime hotelier Stanley Turkel, an authority and consultant on the hotel industry, informs readers that he was once the general manager of the Drake— under the Loews Hotel Corporation, which bought the place in 1965.
Turkel describes his two and a half years at the Drake as “exciting” and traces its long history.
He writes that when the Drake first opened in 1927, from builders Bing and Bing, it featured “automatic refrigeration and spacious, luxurious rooms and suites.”
Bing and Bing owned and operated the Drake for 35 years until it was acquired by William Zeckendorf, who added guest rooms and “New York’s first discotheque, Shepheard’s.”
Turkel served as general manager (GM) shortly after, under Loews.
According to Turkel, the Drake’s restaurant, the Drake Room, opened in December 1945, the “pet project of hotelman Walter Redell.”
Turkel says the restaurant was successful right from the onset and featured a “ceramic tree, great food and impeccable service under the direction of Maitre de Nino Schiavone.”
The Drake Room became the talk of the town, featuring an assortment of eclectic, high-profile guests.
Turkel notes that Redell hired Cy Walter to be a featured performer — a pianist — at the Drake and the musician served in that capacity for six years.
Turkel said that as GM, he brought Walter back and had a LP made with MGM Records of Walter at the Drake.
Turkel points out that all signs point to the Drake as being the kitchen which revealed Steak Nino to the world. A 1953 New York Times article by Jane Nickerson notes that the Drake (along with two other N.Y. hotels) could have been the originator of the tableside steak dish, which was cooked in butter and wine and mixed with chives.
And then there’s Shepheard’s, which was opened seven days per week for cocktails and dinner — plus Sunday brunch and weekday lunch — and a whole lot of dancing in between. Shepheard’s closed at 3 o’clock in the morning.
RT for Drake Hotel (New York City)
During the lunch hour, the hotel also featured fashion shows and a talk radio program with Metropolitan Opera’s Mimi Benzell as the host.
The guest list that Turkel recalls includes names like musicians Alicia del la Rocha, Arthur Rubinstein, Dame Myra Hess and Glenn Gould. Then there were celebrities like Milton Berle, Leon Bibb, Paul Anka, Muhammad Ali and politician Barry Goldwater.
Silent film star Lillian Gish was a tenant at the hotel from 1946 – 1949. Other guests included Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Jimi Hendrix.
Toots Shor, the proprietor of the Manhattan saloon and restaurant Toots Shor’s Restaurant, lived at the Drake during his final years.
During its heyday as a pop culture hub in the 1960s, Led Zeppelin and The Who stayed at the Drake.
Led Zeppelin reportedly had $203,000 in cash stolen from a safe deposit box inside the hotel.
British rock band Led Zeppelin (left – right): John Paul Jones, John Bonham (1948 – 1980), Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, pose in front of an their private airliner The Starship, 1973.
The British rock band Sweet also lived at the Drake during the ’70s.
Actress Julie Newmar and socialite/sister-in-law of JFK Lee Radziwill frequented Shepheard’s during this era, to dance to music played by an on-site DJ.
Zurich company Swissotel purchased the hotel in the early 1980s and renamed it Swissotel The Drake. They also commenced a $52 million renovation which encompassed each room.
In 2006 it was sold for $440 million to developer Harry Macklowe.
It was demolished in 2007.
The 2012-2013 ABC supernatural drama “666 Park Avenue” is set at a fictional Drake Hotel along Park Avenue. It tells the story of new co-managers of the Drake who move into the hotel (999 Park Avenue) and find that there’s more to the mysterious billionaire owner Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn, “Lost”) than meets the eye. Although set at a “Drake Hotel,” the building used for the show was the Ansonia on the Upper East Side. The show was cancelled after one season (13 episodes) after dipping from 6.9 million viewers in the pilot to 1.5 in the final episode.
Some have suggested, over the years, that the Drake may have been haunted. New York Yimby writes that, “Whether rooms at the Drake were haunted or not is up for speculation, but any ghosts that did reside in the hotel are now homeless.”
A view of 432 Park Avenue October 15, 2014 the day after it earned the distinction of being the country’s tallest residential skyscraper. The 104-unit condominium tower with its 96 stories will officially tower over the rest of the Western Hemisphere topping out at 1,396 feet.
What stands on the ground today is a mixed-use residential building, but not just any building. It is the tallest skyscraper in New York by roof height, the third tallest building in the United States and the tallest residential building in the world. It is called the 432 Park Avenue tower.
Construction on the property began in mid-2012. It was designed by noted Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly Beceiro.
Construction on the high-rise tower topped out in October 2014 and the roof height (1,396 feet) exceeded that of One World Trade Center by 32 feet.
The pencil-thin residential tower, designed by CIM Group, features 104 condominium apartments. The construction was finalized two days before Christmas, 2015.
The building at 432 Park Avenue towers above older and wider buildings in Manhattan, New York, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016.
The window grid and interior space of two floors between every 12 occupied floors are open to let wind pass through, set in place to minimize the effects of harsh gusts.
On September 15, Curbed New York profiled the tower’s 86th-floor model unit — 1,100 feet off the ground.
The penthouse has three bedrooms, four bathrooms, an eat-in kitchen and a library.
The Real Deal also reported that the penthouse unit was recently closed for a whopping $87.7 million. The buyer is a Saudi retail magnate named Fawaz Al Hokair, who closed on September 9 for what amounted to $10,623 per square foot. CIM Group, the tower’s co-developer, also reportedly provided a $56 million loan to the buyer for the purchase, Real Deal reports.
A member of the the Mikati family also closed on a three-bedroom condo for $28 million at the end of August. The buyer is believed to be CEO of M1 Fashion, Maher Mikati, according to Mansion Global.