Film Review: Always at the Carlyle

Staff and guests at New York’s Carlyle Hotel talk about its mystique in what amounts to a feature-length promo.
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With a reputation for luxury and discretion, the Carlyle Hotel has an aura of exclusivity that its more famous Manhattan peers lack. Home of Bemelmans Bar and the Café Carlyle cabaret, the hotel has hosted noted celebrities over its history.

Many of them sit down before cameras in Always at the Carlyle, a movie that feels like a feature-length commercial for the hotel. Spending downtime with stars may help viewers weather long stretches of Carlyle (now officially known as The Carlyle Hotel, A Rosewood Hotel) minutiae.

Built by Moses Ginsberg, the Carlyle opened in 1930 on the Upper West Side. It wasn't until the post-World War II years that the hotel began attracting a fashionable clientele. Politicians as well as musicians, composers, designers, theatrical performers and movie stars took to the Carlyle because it offered protection from the public.

Writer-director Matthew Miele trots out the expected archive photos and newsreel footage of guests like the Kennedys, Marylyn Monroe, Jack Nicholson and various British royals. Miele also interviews a cadre of established celebrities who can afford the hotel's steep rates.

George Clooney is on hand to praise the staff, and mention that his wife also loves the hotel. Seen in much shorter glimpses are Bill Murray, Tommy Lee Jones, Anjelica Huston, Jon Hamm and the like. Harrison Ford is at least candid about what's going on. Seated in one of a collection of suites that can cost $10,000, he says, "I didn't know there was a room like this before," adding that he was typically given rooms "with peeling radiators for $1,100 a night."

Miele also interviews several staff members past and present, from Bemelmans bartender Tommy Rowles and concierge Dwight Owsley to communications directors and international sales executives.

While everyone lauds the hotel's discretion, they are also quick to divulge gossip: the table where Jackie Onassis had lunch, the time Alan Cumming posed naked in the lobby doorway for a photo shoot, Paul Newman making his own salad dressing for dinner. One apocryphal story has Princess Diana, Steve Jobs and Michael Jackson sharing an elevator.

A segment about the Café Carlyle offers snippets of performers like Steve Tyrell, Herb Albert and Woody Allen. The documentary celebrates longtime hotel icons Bobby Short and Elaine Stritch. Miele also includes an anecdote in which Donald Trump scoffs, "This place is a joke."

The Carlyle is a New York institution, but one that's largely out of reach for most viewers. Maybe they won't mind celebrities telling them what they're missing.

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