Aby Rosen ruined the Gramercy Park Hotel and got away with it

Madonna, the Rolling Stones and John F. Kennedy slept there. Hunter S. Thompson hosted drug orgies in his room. And Humphrey Bogart married his first wife on the rooftop terrace in 1926.

But the storied Gramercy Park Hotel is now shuttered, mired in a bitter legal battle between two of the biggest titans of Manhattan real estate, and it’s not clear if it will ever reopen.

“We have a good relationship with the [Gramercy Park] hotel and we are sorry to see the restaurant on the ground floor closed,” said Ben Hartley, executive director of the National Arts Club, which is located across the private park from the hotel. The restaurant, Maialino was operated by Danny Meyer. A sign on the door said it was “temporarily closed” and referred patrons to its Twitter and Instagram pages for updates on when it will reopen.

“12 years ago this weekend we opened @maialino_nyc,” wrote Meyer in a Nov. 12 tweet. “Today we continue to wait for the GPH hotel to reopen so that we can get back to cooking for you. We miss you too, share the frustration, and can’t wait for the day we’ll be back.”

The hotel’s Rose Bar, also a celeb favorite, is closed as well.

“The Gramercy Park Hotel was a great resource and it’s a shame that it’s no longer open,” Hartley told The Post. “The hotel was really known as a creative space.”

Insiders are blaming real-estate tycoon Aby Rosen for neglecting a New York City gem in a battle of wills.

Gramercy Park Hotel
The Gramercy Park Hotel is not in business now, as owner Aby Rosen hasn’t been paying rent.
Alamy Stock Photo

But this isn’t the first time a Rosen property has been in high-profile turmoil — he’s caused controversy at Manhattan’s iconic Lever House and Seagram buildings, as well.

“He’s a philistine,” a Manhattan art collector told The Post of Rosen, 61. “He takes landmarks and he ruins them. He takes the soul of marquee buildings.”

A real estate investor who has known Rosen for decades noted his “hardball” tactics and “brash” style in buying and selling real estate in New York. With the city’s hotel industry still reeling from the pandemic and competition from AirBnB making it more difficult to capture huge profits, Rosen is likely trying to get out of the hotel business, said the investor.

“Aby Rosen is trying to negotiate a better deal for himself,” said the investor who did not want to be identified. “If he can’t negotiate better terms for the Gramercy Park Hotel, he doesn’t care about losing the building.”

Through a spokesperson, Rosen had co comment.

Solil Management, which owns the land lease on the property at 2 Lexington Ave. sued to evict the hotel, controlled by Rosen’s RFR Realty, over an $80 million rent tab racked up from November 2020 to April 2021. RFR had been leasing the land for $5.2 million a year, but stopped making payments during the pandemic — claiming the leasehold was “worthless” amid the city’s decimated tourism, according to a legal complaint.

On Sept. 30, Justice Robert Reed dismissed the suit against Rosen and RFR although his other holding company, GPH Ground Tenant LLC, may still be on the hook.

Hall of Gramercy Park Hotel.
The hotel has been a favorite of celebrities, including many rock ‘n’ roll bands and the Kennedys.
Alamy Stock Photo

As Page Six previously reported, in June 2020 Rosen was Instagramming photos of “himself and his wife on the beach in the Hamptons, shots from inside his sprawling modern art-filled Southampton mansion on the street named Billionaire Lane and also of the pool at his picturesque place in St. Barts during the pandemic.”

Now, one of the city’s most iconic hotels is at risk of being erased forever.

Built on the site where writer Edith Wharton and architect Sanford White once lived, the Renaissance Revival-style hotel was opened in 1925. Joseph Kennedy stayed there for months with his family, including 11-year-old JFK, before taking up his ambassadorship in London in March of 1938.

The hotel was long a favorite of celebrities. Bogart married his first wife, Helen Menken there, and Babe Ruth was reportedly a regular at the bar. But it didn’t become a rock-star haunt until 1973, when David Bowie checked in for two weeks.

Bowie’s label at the time, RCA, refused to book him at the more upscale Plaza Hotel uptown because his first US tour had been such a money-losing enterprise, according to Rolling Stone. The British rocker and his stage crew stayed on the Gramercy Park’s third floor — turning it into an extended dormitory where groupies snorting cocaine flitted in and out of the bedrooms.

The place became popular with bands like The Clash, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Blondie’s Debbie Harry reportedly lived there for a while, as did Bono.

He’s a philistine. He takes landmarks and ruins them. He takes the soul of marquee buildings.

Art collector on Gramercy Park Hotel owner Aby Rosen

It was just about the only hotel in the city where musicians could order a guitar string from room service or order cocaine “like a pepperoni pizza” from the doormen and chambermaids, wrote filmmaker Max Weissberg, whose grandfather Herbert Weissberg bought the 509-room hotel in 1958 and ran it until a year before his death in 2003.

Weissberg moved some of his family into the rooms, including Max, who would stay there for months when he returned to the city from boarding school, the filmmaker said.

After Weissberg’s death, Rosen stepped in with partner and hotelier Ian Schrager to take over the hotel. They hired artist Julian Schnabel to redo the interiors. Seven years later, in 2010, Schrager sold his interest to Rosen, who filled the space with works from his own private art collection, including pieces by Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Among the perks for guests of the hotel was access to Gramercy Park, the private park across the street that is, famously, only accessible to neighborhood residents.

Rosen, an Auschwitz survivor’s son who arrived in New York from Germany in 1987, is no stranger to controversy in the real estate world. “I have zero fear,” he told New York Magazine in 2008.

Years before he acquired the Gramercy Park Hotel, Rosen’s company negotiated a leasehold agreement on another iconic Manhattan building – the landmarked Lever House skyscraper on Park Avenue. But he defaulted on payments for so long that the building was threatened with foreclosure.

Seagram building
Rosen stirred up controversy at his Seagram Building, when he ditched a Picasso mural that had been in the the Four Seasons restaurant.
Stefano Giovannini

Rosen raised the ire of conservationists when he took over the Seagram Building, instituting design changes at the iconic Four Seasons restaurant. In 2014, he insisted upon getting rid of a 20-by-22 foot Picasso tapestry he dismissed as a “schmatte” that had hung in the restaurant for more than 50 years. Rosen wanted to stuff “Le Tricorne” into storage to alter the wall behind. After a nasty legal battle in New York State Supreme Court, the tapestry was transferred to the New York Historical Society, where it is on display.

RFR also stopped maintaining the hotel property, which has “deteriorated to a shocking degree,” according to court papers. The facade needs city-mandated work, and the hotel’s mechanical systems are in “poor repair.” The elevators need servicing and the HVAC equipment is “patched with duct tape,” according to court papers.

On top of that, Rosen, who tried to renegotiate the longterm lease in 2019, removed the hotel’s art collection and stopped paying taxes. Rosen’s companies owe nearly $2 million in city taxes, according to public records.

Rosen’s companies — RFR and GBH — that run the hotel received $6.3 million in loans from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program in 2020 and 2021, court papers say.

“Rosen has chosen not to operate the Gramercy Park Hotel and has kept it closed to paying guests,” say court papers, which also allege that Rosen housed his mother in a three-bedroom suite at the hotel as well as employees from his RFR Realty company during the pandemic. The lease agreement specifically requires that the building has to be run as a “first class hotel,” court papers say.

Celebrity fans of the once-great Gramercy Park Hotel:

For Solil, it’s all part of what they describe as Rosen’s hardball tactics to exert economic pressure on them to agree to his demands that include converting the hotel to condos or replace the lease “with a drastically different agreement.”

Rosen’s lawyers have tried to dismiss the case, and won a victory last month when a judge ruled that he is not personally liable for the ground lease at the hotel. He refused comment through a spokeswoman last week.

Residents of Gramercy Park, many of whom told The Post they had no idea of the protracted legal wranglings over the hotel, were eager for it to reopen.

“A lot of people used the spa and the other facilities,” said a doorman in the adjoining condo building at 50 Gramercy Park North. The hotel also featured an upscale David Barton fitness center and many residents were regulars at Maialino, he said.

“They are pretty upset that the hotel is still closed.”

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