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Traveling In Style : It's A Small Hotel : A Tiny Jewel Set In The Big Apple, New York's Wyndham Makes Up In Friendliness For What It Lacks In Size

March 15, 1987|JERRY HULSE | Jerry Hulse is The Times' travel editor

It is known as New York's friendliest small hotel, which is surprising since it provides few frills. There is no room service, no turn-down service. No genie appears to place mints on one's pillow at night. Nor are there telephones in the baths or fluffy robes or imported toiletries. The owners never advertise, and they have yet to publish a single brochure. Yet, even though the front door remains securely locked, 24 hours a day, the Wyndham, a little hotel that faces that old dowager, the Plaza, enjoys an occupancy rate of 90% and up, year-round. It is a haven for celebrities in particular. In residence on a recent weekday were actors Peter Ustinov and Wayne Rogers, actress Maureen O'Sullivan, authors James Clavell and Philip Roth and TV newsman Roger Mudd.

Along with regular guests, these stars enjoy the Wyndham's home-like atmosphere and the warmth of a caring staff. Awakening at the Wyndham, which is not to be confused with the big, cheerless chain that bears the same name, is like discovering oneself ensconced in a private inn in Britain or in a charming auberge in the south of France.

Author Clavell sums it up this way: "I've been coming to the Wyndham for years, and it's always like old home week. It is a very private place. On a lonely, drab day the staff brightens one's life. Indeed, it is a privilege to be allowed in. Actually, I pretend that it doesn't exist, because it's too good to tell others about. I prefer to keep it a secret."

Actress Eve Arden says that the Wyndham reminds her of a "fine, small London hotel." Eva Gabor always requests Suite 1201, while the Laurence Oliviers prefer Suite 1401 with its gilt-edge mirror, Persian carpet, books, chintz wallpaper, chandelier and king-size bed. Celebrities began their love affair with the Wyndham after it was discovered in 1976 by Eva Marie Saint, who told Martin Sheen, who told Eddie Albert, who told Nanette Fabray. John Cassavetes introduced Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara to the hotel. Soon it was known by stars coast to coast.

By now the hotel boasts a celebrity roster of 250 names, including Dick Van Dyke, Julie Harris, Gena Rowlands, Stacy Keach, Jean Stapleton, Gore Vidal, Sheldon Leonard, Anthony Franciosa, Valerie Perrine, Glenda Jackson, Art Carney, Steve Allen, Dolores Del Rio, John Houseman, Brian Keith and Mel Ferrer.

Carol Burnett spent 18 months at the Wyndham writing her best-seller, "One More Time." Dick Cavett interviewed Laurence Olivier in Olivier's suite. Alec Guiness spoke to "Good Morning America" from the hotel, and Mike Wallace showed up one afternoon to tape a "60 Minutes" segment with Lena Horne.

Superstars and others find solace at the Wyndham, even though it refuses to shower guests with expensive amenities of the type provided by Manhattan's luxury hotels--the perfumed soaps and shampoos and skin-care lotions with their French and Italian labels (at the Wyndham guests make do with cakes of Ivory). On the other hand there is a pervading cheerfulness that provides the guest with a sense of well-being and a feeling of never having left home. Or perhaps pleased that one did.

At the Wyndham, the guest is treated not merely as another room number. Faces and names are matched by a staff that cares. Seldom must one tell the elevator operator a second time his or her floor. Niko Pesa and Ivan Peros, who grew up in Yugoslavia, match guests with floor with uncanny accuracy. Faces and names stick in their heads. The elevator operators, who also serve as bellmen, are responsible for security. No one gets beyond the lobby unless a guest is contacted first by telephone.

Arrivals are welcomed by doorman Miguel Ruiz, for nearly 30 years the unofficial greeter at this charming caravansary between fashionable Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas.

The Wyndham is a mom-and-pop operation, with owners John and Suzanne Mados residing in the hotel and operating out of an office behind the registration desk.

"You can't run a hotel effectively from an ivory tower," says John Mados, a graduate of Cornell who served his apprenticeship at New York's St. Moritz and Park Lane. Beautiful, Paris-born Suzanne is responsible for interior design. As the charming mistress of the Wyndham, her presence is sensed throughout the hotel. Indeed, it is her artistry that places the Wyndham well to the forefront of other small Manhattan hotels.

It is due to John and Suzanne Mados that guests enjoy the hotel's friendly, family-like staff; the Madoses keep morale in high orbit. When the daughter of elevator operator Mohammed Khan was married recently, the Madoses presented the employee with a check for $5,000 to help defray the cost of the ceremony.

"Suzanne and I have no children, so our employees are our family," John Mados says.

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