Introducing the new TWA Hotel – ‘Twas all That I Expected (and More!)

Taking advantage of a longish layover at JFK, I was excited to check out the TWA Hotel, which opened earlier this year to much fanfare. Situated in the iconic Eero Sarrinen-designed terminal of the now-defunct airline, this 512-room project was ambitious, to say the least. Never mind the obvious convenience of (finally) having a civilized hotel on airport property, this is way more of an experience, rekindling the sex-appeal of travel from a bye-gone era.

You can’t miss the building’s groovy signature curves, but it’s not as well sign-posted as one would think, and thus not obvious as to how you actually get there from the inter-terminal Sky Train. I got off at the stop for Terminal 5 and then walked outside through a parking lot. But it is also possible to enter from within the Jet Blue Terminal itself. It was a gorgeous fall day, and a spiffy 1963 blue Lincoln Continental convertible parked just outside the lobby instantly created the retro-vibe. I had to pinch myself as I entered the hallowed halls of TWA, as it’s been over 30 years since I’d connected through these portals.

Check-in takes place at the former bank of ticket counters with the luggage conveyor belts still ferrying luggage around. A 1956 BMW Isetta 300 conceals a grab-n-go coffee stand.

Vintage travel posters adorn the walls advertising distant and exotic locales like India, Switzerland, and Florida and what was then state-of-the-art aircraft like Boeing 707’s.

Steve, from the sales office, gave me an informal site inspection, and we went upstairs to take a look at a room. It is not a complicated room product: standard rooms, executive rooms (which are four feet wider), and two big suites – one named for the Finnish architect, Mr. Sarrinen, and the other for Howard Hughes, the billionaire owner under whom TWA flourished.

You’ll pay a premium to have a room facing the runway, and no worries about noise – the floor-to-ceiling windows have seven layers of glass with argon gas in-between, a technique borrowed from the U.S. Embassy in London for top-notch soundproofing. Rooms are on the small side; bathrooms have showers only, and there are no closets (average stay is less than one night). There are good connecting options and a variety of bedding options (including ones with two queens, which is so good for families) with high-quality Serta mattresses.

Partly high-tech and partly “Throwback Thursday,” every room has rotary dial telephones, back issues of “Life Magazine” from the 1960s, martini bar, a Sarrinen-designed “womb chair,” and as a final nod to the past, the minibar is stocked with cans of TAB, my favorite soft drink from college days!

There is an enormous high-tech subterranean gym with every machine imaginable including a fleet of Pelotons, a shop selling a myriad of TWA-branded goodies, and the former first-class lounge is now a museum of old TWA flight attendant and crew uniforms inspired by designers like Balmain, Valentino, and Ralph Lauren.

There are several “watering holes” where a weary traveler could enjoy a meal, such as Paris Café by Jean George, or find a drink. My favorite is called “Connie.” This requires stepping outside and boarding a retired Lockheed Super Constellation aircraft parked on the tarmac flanked by TWA baggage carts full of old Samsonite suitcases. The 1958 propeller-plane is fitted out as a full-service bar with servers wearing vintage flight attendant uniforms. This was especially meaningful to me, having grown up on tales from my mother’s short stint as a stewardess on a super-connie, making 19-hour, multi-stop flights across the Atlantic in the early ’60s.

The coup de grâce, though, is the rooftop outdoor bar and swimming pool, open year-round, proudly bearing the TWA logo and heated to 110 degrees.

For security reasons, all purses, bags, etc. are checked at the door. Trust me, it’s pretty swell to sip on your favorite libation, dangle your feet in the warmth of the pool and watch A-380’s crisscross the runway.

So, you no longer have to sweat a tight JFK connection or dread a forced overnight stay. Try out the TWA Hotel for the ultimate walk down memory lane.

Know the Facts:

  • There are overnight rates, as well as partial and full-day, day-use rates
  • There is no room service
  • This is a “cash-less” hotel – everything is transacted via credit card
  • It’s possible to just book a day pass without a room which is $40 and includes access to the gym and pool
  • Reserve a table in their restaurant and/or bar (including the pool bar) with $50 minimum spend (without having to book a room)

Some photos courtesy of MCR.

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