High Life at Low Rates
E. L. BACON
From the Scrap Book
IN THESE peculiar days a clerk on a salary of thirty dollars a week may live in a palace much more splendid than most of the royal residences of Europe. He may have at hand all the luxuries and all the conveniences that twentieth century ingenuity has been able to devise, and have a thousand servants at his beck and call. There is no king in the world with quite so many household servants as that. And in the evening, when he has come from his desk in his employer’s office, or perhaps from the counter of a store, or from whatever it may be that his humble job holds him, he may stroll through the marble corridors of his home, admire the works of old masters on the walls, smoke his cigar on a silken divan under a spreading pàlm, wander about through parlors whose furnishings, cost one hundred times as much as his yearly income, and rub elbows with fifty millionaires before bedtime.
This is no mere fancy. The thirtydollar-a-week clerk not only may do all this ; he does do it. His luxurious home is one of the great first-class hotels .of New York, and it would be hard to find a place that is more luxurious anywhere in this world.
You are under a sad misapprehension, my gullible friend from the country, if you have the impression that all these gorgeous caravansaries that dazzle your eyes are the homes of only the rich. Fifty per cent, of the permanent patrons whom you see strolling about with the bored ex56
pression of the indolent plutocrat may be scraping together their last pennies to buy clothes with. Drop a silver dollar and you would see a hundred pairs of eager and covetous eyes watching its twisting course along the marble floor. Everywhere in the glittering dining-room, in the tapestried parlors, in the marble halls and lobbies, is poverty masquerading as wealth and straining every nerve to carry out the deception.
There are all kinds of paradoxical situations in the great New York hotel. In one of the newest and biggest of these palaces, for example, there are any number of small-salaried bachelors living there in twodollar-and-a-half-a-day rooms on the same floor, and often only next door, to men worth millions. You may wonder how a thirty-dollar clerk manages to spend even that much for his room, for two dollars and a half a day is seventeen dollars and a half a week and the remaining twelve dollars and a half wouldn't go very far in the hotel restaurants..
The explanation is simple enough : he dines at some little place on Sixth Avenue, where twenty-five cents will buy a square meal and where a mealticket will save him ten per cent, and insure him against starvation until pay-day.
lie then goes back to his room in a hotel where the marble decorations alone cost more than a million dollars. the furnishings two millions, and the silverware two hundred and fiftyfive thousand. In the kitchens arc eighty-four cooks, in the dining-rooms five hundred waiters, vand there are five hundred other employes in the building.
Yet the thirty-dollar clerk is not the only patron who goes to Sixth Avenue for his meals. Up to a few months ago there lived at one of the fashionable upper Fifth Avenue hotels a man who paid five thousand dollars a year for his rooms, and who went around the block to a dairy lunch three times a day. On the few occasions when he did dine at his hotel he criticized the food so severely that the .waiters were glad he came so seldom, particularly as he never gave a tip. He is dead now. The man at the dairy lunch says he died of too much luxury at the hotel ; the hotel manager says he died of privation at the dairy lunch.
In all the fairy-land of New York there is nothing quite so wonderful as these modern hotels. The Plaza is not only the largest hotel in the city, but it is the newest of the great ones and it is as luxurious as any. Probably more very rich people are to be seen there than in any other hotel in the world. It is in the heart of the wealthiest residential section of the city, looking out on Fifth Avenue from one side and on Central Park from another, and many of the society people who live in the neighborhood drop in there for afternoon tea. Any afternoon the poor patrons from the two-dollar-and-a-half rooms may see in the parlors and diningrooms dozens of men and women whose names are known throughout the country because of the millions they own. Probably, too, among the nine hundred patrons who sleep under its roof there are fifty millionaires. Of course it is a shifting population. Sometimes there might be a hundred millionaires spending the night there. At any rate, there are at least twenty among the permanent residents.
Some men spend twenty thousand dollars a year at the Plaza. One or two even more. There is one suite
of rooms that costs much more than that. And, by the way, that suite is worth describing. It is the state suite, which would be set apart for a king in case such a potentate ever came to the Plaza. Nowadays it is occupied by all kinds of people, some who don’t have to won_y a moment over the price of it; others who must live economically for many moons to fill up the hole it has made in their bank account.
You don’t have to eat in the public dining-rooms when you live in the state suite. You have a private dining-room all to yourself. This dining-room has gold Circassian walnut trimmings, green satin tapestries on the walls and green velvet upholstery on the chairs. On the floor is a green Persian rug that cost a few thousand dollars. Set into the wall is a closet filled with glassware that cost two thousand dollars. In this two-thousand-dollar collection are dozens of varieties of wine and cordial glasses. In the mantel over the fireplace there are wenty-two different colorings in the Italian marble, and around the walls are oil paintings and frescoes worth more than the furnishings. The windows look out over Central Park, and dining there you might fancy yourself in some palace in the country, for you are up so high and the walls are so thick that you hear not a sound but the muffled steps of the two liveried waiters, and the click of the electric dummy that carries the dishes back and forth from the kitchens.
The parlor has a different color scheme. The carpets are gray and pink, the walls in light gray flock. Solid Italian marble columns run up to the ceiling, and there is a gilded grand piano.
Then there are two bedrooms. In one the bed is about the most magnificent piece of furniture in the entire hotel. It is a large double bed of gold Circassian walnut, with elaborate inlaid work, and over it hang light brown curtains of heavy silk.
In the other room are two single beds.
And, of course, there is a bath— two of them, for that matter, each with a tub big enough for a hippopotamus. When, as sometimes happens, there is only one person occupying the state suite, he may take a hot bath in one tub and a cold bath in the % .other, besides various kinds of shower-baths.
A young honeymooning couple came from a small town in the west recently, to see the sights of New York. The young man was a bank clerk. He and his bride lived like royalty in the state suite for just twenty-four hours. Then they went back to the west to live on his salary.
In any one of half a dozen New York hotels you may find a state suite almost if not quite as sumptuous as this. In the state suite at the St. Regis there is one bed that cost ten thousand dollars.
In the borough of Manhattan alone there are one hundred and forty large first-class hotels and more than three hundred of the smaller ones. At the present rate of construction there will be in Manhattan within the next twenty years four hundred hotels with at least four hundred rooms each.
New York cares for three times as many persons in its hotels as London, six times as many as Paris, and ten times as many as any other city. Yet London is larger than New York. But consider the enormous floating population of the American metropolis. There are never less than seventy-five thousand visitors in the city in a day, and sometimes the number runs up to almost two hundred thousand. Then the New Yorkers themselves spend more money in their hotels than the Londoners. Every year thousands of families here give up the cares of housekeeping for hotel life.
Not one of the modern great firstclass hotels of the city cost less than four million dollars to build, with from one to two million dollars added for the furniture, paintings and decorations. And the running expenses of such a place are enormous. The Wal-
dorf-Astoria must take in ten thousand dollars a day before there is a dollar of profit. Consider all the employes in that hotel, seldom less than fifteen hundred, sometimes more— clerks, chefs, meat-cooks, pastrycooks, soup-cooks, bakery men, watchmen, detectives, engineers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, laundrymen, doormen, porters, waiters, butlers, stewards, decorators, messengers, telephone operators, scrubwomen, waiting maids, chambermaids, bartenders, wine and cigar experts, and workers in a dozen other lines. There are never less than one hundred and twenty ‘cooks.
The food bills alone amount to more than a million dollars a year, to say nothing of what it costs for wine and cigars. It costs one hundred thousand dollars a year to replace the broken china and glassware.
The St. Regis, which is not the largest hotel in the city, although one of the most luxurious, spends in the course of a year for meat, two hundred thousand dollars ; for poultry, one hundred and thirteen thousand dollars ; vegetables, eighty thousand dollars ; fruit, forty-two thousand dollars ; butter, fifty-seven thousand dollars ; eggs, twelve thousand dollars.
In the four largest hotels of the city the wines in stock cost a million and a half dollars, and one hotel has a staff of wine experts who spend all their time in Europe hunting up rare old vintages.
Still, when one considers what some of the patrons spend, it is not hard to realize where the profit comes in. While it is true that there are many men who spend only two dollars and a half a day for their rooms and not a penny in the dining-rooms, there are suites of rooms that bring one hundred dollars a day, and sometimes there is a patron who will spend fifty dollars a day for meals for himself and family. A man might almost spend that much on himself.
A man from Seattle came into one of these hotels recently and spent twenty dollars for lunch for himself. One of the dishes he ordered was a “Partridge Napoleon,” which cost seven dollars. It consists of four birds roasted on a bed of grapes, sliced apples and pineapples. The fruit is not served ; it is used merely to give flavor to the birds.
The American plan is a thing of the past in all the large first-class hotels. There is not one of them where you don’t have to pay for every dish you order, and living on the European plan at American prices is always expensive.
The great hotels are always devising new schemes for adding to the comfort of their patrons. At the Astor even the air you breathe is washed and dried by an elaborate system of air-screens which remove all the dust and smoke and disease-laden matter. At the Belmont are automatic ventilators by which a certain temperature is maintained in a room Dy a thermometer control of the heating apparatus.
All the large first-class hotels have a pantry and pantrymen and waiters on every bedroom floor. A patron’s order is served in his room as quickly as it would be in the dining-rooms. Tiny electric elevators carry the orders up from bar-rooms and kitchens at a speed of seven hundred and fifty feet a minute.
These elevators are regulated by a manipulator in the kitchen. At the bottom of the shaft is a round dial. If the order is to be sent to the tenth floor the cook turns the hand of the dial to the figure ten and at once the doors on all the floors but the tenth are closed and the car can stop only at its destination.
On its arrival the pantryman removes the order, passes it to a waiter who is standing in readiness, and it is rushed to the patron’s room in less than a minute affer it has left the hands of the cook.
Some of the hotels use the telautograph, an apparatus that communicates a message instantly in the sender’s handwriting. If a man comes to call on a friend in Room 200, the
clerk writes that number and the caller’s name on the telautograph, which rests on the desk before him. Instantly the message is reproduced in his own handwriting before the telephone operator in another part of the building, and she makes her telephone communication with Room 200. If the man in the room wants his caller to come up she writes “Come up” on her telautograph and the words are immediately reproduced before the eyes of the far-away clerk. Then the caller is sent up, escorted by a hallboy.
The entire transaction has taken only a few seconds. Under the old system it would have taken perhaps twenty times as long. The telautograph is useful not only as a timesaver, but as a recording machine. If the man in Room 200 wants to find out a month later just what day, what hour, and what minute his friend called on him, there is a record of it in the ofifice.
If you have the money to pay for it, there is nothing you cannot have in an up-to-date New York hotel—except a dog. Dogs are barred almost everywhere. They have to stay below stairs in the rooms assigned for them, often in spite of women’s tears and pleadings.
One might think that a pipe organ in a patron’s room might be beyond the possibilities of hotel life, but it isn’t. A few weeks ago Louis C. Krauthoff, who used to be AttorneyGeneral of Missouri, came to livebat the Plaza, and concluded that a pipe organ was the only luxury that he missed. He went to see the manager about it. The manager thought the matter over and decided that he would allow Mr. Krauthoff to have an organ built into the parlor of his room if he should care to pay for the necessary alterations. The walls of the room had to be practically rebuilt so that the strains of the instrument would not be audible in any other part of the building. A pipe organ makes a good deal of noise, but Mr. Krauthofif’s cannot be heard by even his next-door neighbor.
The latest innovation in one of the new hotels is a staff of linguists, who are supposed to know almost every language spoken in the world. The linguists meet foreign arrivals at the piers, look after their baggage, and escort them to the hotel. If a patron knows only Russian or Chinese he may transact all his business through one of the linguists, who will be at his side at meal times to tell him what is on the bill of fare.
Almost any notion that comes into a patron’s head can be gratified without his taking the trouble to leave his room. If 'he and a fair neighbor across the hall should suddenly make up their minds to be married on the spot, he could ring the telephone on his wall and tell the clerk to send up the hotel minister. If he should fall sick there is a hotel physician in readiness. If he should care to take a flier in Wall Stieet there is the hotel broker. If he wants to go to the theatre there is a theatre-office downstairs, and he can get any tickets he wants by telephoning to it. If he wants to make his will there is the hotel lawyer, and if he has a toothache there is the hotel dentist. There are also typewriters, manicures, chiropodists, valets, maids, and trunk-packers always on hand.
At the Knickerbocker fifty pages, a dress-suit department for patrons. The other dav a man who had come to the hotel from another town with very little baggage, was invited out to dinner. He telephoned that he couldn’t go because he didn’t have his dress-suit with him.
“Hold on a minute,” interrupted the manager, who happened to be within earshot. “I can fix you out. We’ve got forty-eight dress-suits for our patrons.”
He took the man to the evening clothes department, picked him out a suit that fitted to perfection, then rigged him out with a shirt, studs, collar, tie, patent leather shoes, and silk hat, all without charge.
It would be hard to estimate how ■many people all the hotels of the city can accommodate, but any one of half a dozen of the largest can take care of fifteen hundred guests a night at a pinch. Almost three thousand have been dined simultaneously in the restaurants and banquet halls of the Belmont, and at the Astor nine hundred and twenty banqueters have been en tertained in one room.
It is on New Year’s eve that the hotels of New York present their most dazzling aspect. At the Waldorf, last New Year’s eve, a bugler was stationed at the door of each of the nine supper-rooms that were in use to announce the hours. One minute before twelve o’clock each bugler sounded taps, and as the midnight hour was tolled each bugler changed from taps to reveille. Then the members of all the seven orchestras rose and plaved “The Star-Spangled Banner,” while the guests sang the words.
At the Knickerbocker fifty pages, each dressed as Father Knickerbocker, separated into squads just before midnight and matched to the various dining-rooms. They took their places in conspicuous parts of each room, and on the stroke of twelve the house lights were switched off and the figures “1909” appeared in electricity on the brim of each page’s cocked hat.
During New Year’s eve. at the Plaza, at least twenty-five thousand people pass in and out of the six dining-rooms, and among them are probably five hundred whose names are ...'.own throughout the country.