Here & Now
The waldorf=astoria has opened in Naples. Sort of. If you take away the double hyphen, that is. And if your imagination can make the leap from Art Deco spires in midtown Manhattan to palm-shaded, chickee-roofed cabanas on the Gulf of Mexico. Most critical of all, if you think it’s okay to put golden raisins in the immortal, the iconic, the sacred Waldorf salad. It’s a slippery slope. I mean, what’s next? Black truffles? More on that in a minute. The big news is that sometime in the coming days, a 17-foot-wide by 12-foot- high, elegantly lighted bronze WA monogram will appear atop the roof, and the Naples Grande, nèe The Registry Resort, will be no more. Just think—a Waldorf Astoria here in Paradise!
Back in the Land before Twitter, a colleague of mine named Bob Milne sent his mail in envelopes that read, simply, "At the Waldorf=Astoria." No city, no state, no zip. It didn’t even have the street address: 301 Park Avenue. It didn’t have to. It’s kind of like saying "At the Phil." No clarification needed.
Many longtime locals mourned the loss of the beautiful scripted R that graced the top of The Registry Resort. It was an elegant beacon visible at the I-75 exit into Naples. And this is the Waldorf Astoria.
Society brothers John Jacob Astor IV and William Waldorf built the glam, celebrity-studded Waldorf and Astoria towers in the 1890s where the Empire State Building now stands. Reincarnated half a century later as a single hotel on Park Avenue, the Waldorf=Astoria has hosted kings, queens and their respective paramours; every U.S. president since Hoover, and thousands of legendary artists, filmmakers, movie stars and blue bloods for more than 100 years. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Frank Sinatra and Cole Porter lived there (not together). Andy Warhol partied there. Scenes from The Godfather Part III, Scent of a Woman and The Great Gatsby were filmed there.
At the top of its long list of historic symbols is the sensational, glitzy bronze and mahogany lobby clock tower, topped by a miniature Statue of Liberty. Queen Victoria sent it over for the Chicago World’s Fair. There’s also the see-and-be-seen promenade called Peacock Alley, and the romantic Starlight Roof. And, of course, the Waldorf salad.
The original salad, thrown together not by a chef, but a maitre d’, was nothing more than some chopped apples and celery tossed with mayonnaise. Maybe a couple of walnuts. The world embraced it. Today that humble salad has evolved into a culinary objet d’art. The apples must be Granny Smiths. Plain celery is out; celeriac is in. Mayo is out and yogurt-based crème fráiche is in. It’s garnished with candied walnuts and red grapes. And, in a move that surely would have shocked Cole Porter and friends, it’s topped with froufrou micro-greens sprinkled with black truffles.
Now comes the Waldorf Astoria Naples, the fourth hotel to be unveiled in the top-tier Hilton brand called Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts. Comparatively speaking, they’ve been extremely conservative with their Waldorf salad, tossing in the aforementioned raisins. And I’m being generous when I mention the way-too-modest WA-monogrammed wall clock behind the concierge desk. Whether they bring in a Peacock Alley or a Starlight Roof isn’t earth-shattering. But the clock! There must be a lobby clock!
As I’m writing this, Frank Cavella and the management team at the new Waldorf Astoria Naples are deep in secret planning for this month’s grand rooftop monogram unveiling, and to consider the historic Waldorf=Astoria traditions and symbols that might be re-imagined for Naples.
"For 25 years, we’ve been rooted in this community," he says. "Our goal is to once again be the social center of Naples, with galas and balls, honeymoons, weddings, beach and spa getaways. People say we’re bringing the Waldorf Astoria to Naples, but our view is, bringing Naples to the Waldorf Astoria."
You’re right, of course, Frank. I’m just respectfully saying, there simply must be a lobby clock.
Polish It Up
It’s true about change. Even small changes, like raisins in a salad (or even better, locally grown kiwi or star fruit?) can elevate the mood. We tend to live with petty little annoyances that could be fixed in seconds for next to nothing. Like the back door that squeaks. You know it squeaks, it annoys you every single time it squeaks, and it’s been squeaking for, oh, I don’t know, four years, two months, 22 days and 17 hours now. A squirt of WD-40 would take care of it. But you’re busy and you don’t plan to use that door again today anyway. So it will squeak again tomorrow, and the next day, and eventually your brain will explode.
Okay, I confess, I own that door. But you know what? As of 1 p.m. today, it opens and closes as sweetly silent as butterfly wings.
This month brings one more enhancement to our quality of life—and another great reason to look above the horizon. Soon after the Waldorf Astoria rooftop lighting ceremonies comes the first-ever Balloons Over Paradise festival. Thirty-five balloonists from around the country are signed up to paint the skies over the Immokalee Regional Airport the weekend of April 13-15. That number may not sound impressive compared with the hundreds of balloons that soar over Albuquerque, N.M., each fall, but in fact, that festival started with just 13 balloons and is now the largest in the world. The Seminole Casino, organizer of Balloons Over Paradise, has some pretty ambitious plans for its first year out. The dawn ascents will be accompanied by a live 15-piece orchestra. There will be sunset descents, a parade, food, concerts and a farm and craft market, along with festival activities for kids.
In case you’re wondering, the current price of Cole Porter’s former suite at the Waldorf Astoria New York: $140,000. Per month. A Waldorf salad at the new Waldorf Astoria Naples: $12. A weekend of Balloons over Paradise: absolutely free.
Have a glorious April. Make a change for the better, no matter how small. And keep your eyes on the skies.