Always at The Carlyle

By: Jessica Goddard

Architectural opulence meets pop culture royalty in Matthew Miele’s Always at The Carlyle, a documentary about the literal ins-and-outs of the discreetly famous 88-year-old Upper East Side Manhattan hotel.

Opening its doors amid the infancy of the Great Depression, the Carlyle would go on to represent anything but the nation’s poor.  The now-iconic fixture on Madison Avenue has become a favourite of A-list actors, musicians, and models, as well as politicians, media personnel, and general one-percenters;  not to mention its history as the preferred accommodations of both America’s royal family – the Kennedys – and today’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  Through the film, the Carlyle is demonstrated to be more than a just a fancy place to stay – it’s a local landmark, institution of pop culture history, Art Deco time capsule, and living museum of Old World luxury and class.

The film opens with futile attempts to coax tight-lipped staff into revealing this-or-that juicy detail regarding potential shenanigans at their workplace.  Unfortunately for us, discretion and reliable professionalism is part of what draws the Carlyle’s famous guests.  This successfully sets up a deserved intrigue, but is there anything groundreaking to be learned from this documentary?  The answer is a hard no, but a soft yes.  A well-earned reputation is priceless, so it’s forgivable that we don’t get all the answers.  What we’re given instead is another kind of valuable, of course – stories from the charming staff who’ve worked at the hotel for decades and are personally known to the biggest stars, inside access to the most elegant suites with breathtaking views, and a nostalgic tour of celebrity decadence over the last half century.

An unexpected but welcome focus of the film are the three dining areas within the hotel walls: the Carlyle Restaurant, Bemelmans Bar, and Café Carlyle.  Each have their own charms and distinguishing features, with famous patrons to attest to their distinctiveness on camera.  And while exploring these avenues, we’re introduced to the hotel’s legendary entertainment figures, who give the Carlyle (and the documentary) undeniable character and energy.

At its heart, Always at The Carlyle is about the people of the hotel;  both the enamored guests and the dedicated staff who uphold its personality and prestige.  Between the animated dialogue with standout employees, the enthusiastic celebrity talking heads, and the classic beauty of the structure and its elaborate interior, it’s easy to enjoy your 90-minute stay at the Carlyle.


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