You may be familiar with Centurion Lounges , the high end clubs ubiquitous in major airports around the world, but now American Express is hoping to jump on the exclusive private club bandwagon with their newest offering, the Centurion Member’s Club. Located on the 55th floor of 1 Vanderbilt, adjacent to Manhattan’s Grand Central Station, American Express is attempting to create a luxury oasis high above the city. Originally the club was supposed to be accessible only to “Black Card” holders, but now it seems as though anyone can try their hand at securing a reservation through RESY (which is owned by American Express), though I think the likelihood of that happening is quite slim. Realistically the club is limited to Black Card holders and Platinum Card holders with priority granted to Black Card holders.
I have had a Black Card for many years, and while there are a lot of fabulous travel related perks, I am not sure whether the Centurion Club in NYC will become one of my go-to destinations.
I decided to book a reservation to celebrate my in-laws 60th wedding anniversary, a major milestone to be sure! There were two major draws in booking at the Centurion Lounge for dinner; first off the formal restaurant with a menu overseen by Daniel Boulud was reputed to have delicious food and excellent service as well as killer views of NY landmarks and second, it was new, so they had never been there before.
When I called Centurion to book the reservation I specified the occasion we were celebrating and asked whether we could bring a couple of bottles of special wine with us. They agreed as long as the wines we were bringing were not on their extensive list (they do have an excellent though pricey list ) and we would have to pay a $100 corkage charge per bottle. There were several back and forth conversations with the sommelier, and in the end we enjoyed the meaningful selections we had brought with us.
The reservation was booked for the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, which is not a particularly busy time in Manhattan, but the Club was packed. Perhaps they were all out-of-towners like we were, enjoying the last weekend of summer in the city.
Getting back to the details. The evening began with a little confusion. The official address of One Vanderbilt is located on Vanderbilt Avenue, so that is where we went. Unfortunately we were redirected to the Madison Avenue entrance which is not as attractive, and really feels as though you are heading to work in a tremendous office building. Upon entering we located the guard at the Centurion desk who checked our IDs and looked up our reservation. We were then escorted to a preprogrammed elevator that whisked us right up to the 55th floor. There is virtually no chance you can just wander in.
When we arrived for our 7 pm reservation we were initially shown to the more casual lounge, The Salon; we didn’t opt to have a drink there as our table was ready, but we did get to admire the stunning view.
In order to access the more formal dining room one has to pass through the Studio, a relatively casual restaurant with a large bar as its centerpiece. Dubbed the Gallery, the fancier space has killer views as well as white table cloths and a more buttoned up conservative feel. Once seated we took some time to study the options for a quick cocktail before dinner. Since we brought plenty of wine to enjoy with dinner we decided on a non-alcoholic “Big Apple” as well as a “Bissop”, both very tasty. The well orchestrated service is impressive, but the views still steal the show.
There are two routes one can choose when it comes to ordering, and the entire table needs to be on the same page. There is a five course set tasting menu, or a three course option with a myriad of choices. We ended up choosing the 3 course and adding in several extra dishes so that we could experience the full breadth of the menu.
We received an amuse bouche of whipped ricotta and salmon (mine was served on a corn meal crisp to make it gluten free). On the subject of gluten free, one major fail was the very sad gluten free bread I was brought, I mean honestly? By contrast, the “real” bread looked quite delicious. There were actually very few choices for someone gluten free/vegetarian which was also surprising, but at least they were more tempting than the bread.
I ended up with the Five Pea Salad which was fresh and tasty as well as the Fried Maitake mushrooms (coated in rice flour) which were very good. My husband decided on the Hamachi, the Rigatoni with Mortadella and figs, as well as the Ribeye. He felt the steak was under spiced, but good. My in-laws were very happy with their choices, but I was too far away to photograph them. Centurion has made it clear that there should be no photographing of guests, but food photos and shots of the view are ok.
Always the rule follower I kept my camera focused on our meal and the view. There is a dress code in the more formal restaurant (Jackets for men and chic for women) which adds to the festive atmosphere.
When it was time for dessert we were all pretty stuffed, but that didn’t deter us from digging in. The restaurant presented my in-laws with a complimentary chocolate confection which was very satisfying, while the other items we ordered were good but not outstanding.
As we prepared to leave we took a final glance at what is the best part of the Centurion Club (in my opinion), the spectacular view of New York laid out before you, glittering like a jewel box.
It was a very pleasant choice for a celebratory dinner, but that being said, as a Centurion Card holder booking a very special occasion, I don’t think we experienced anything particularly out of the ordinary, aside from the view. The Gallery menu was not inexpensive, and I think we could have gotten more of a “wow” experience elsewhere.
In conclusion, would I go return? Perhaps for a quick lunch while shopping or running errands in the city, but I definitely wouldn’t rush back for dinner, there are so many other special places to try!