The first time I had a fancy hotel breakfast was at the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan. I don’t remember what I ate—the food itself is almost never the point in a fancy hotel breakfast—but I do remember exactly how the experience felt. Looking out on Central Park from a room with a nightly rate that neared my monthly rent, eating an exorbitantly overpriced breakfast, I felt pampered, and powerful, and elite.
I remember exactly how I accessed that level of luxury. An escort friend had come to town for work; the room at the Mandarin Oriental had been booked for her by her client. When her evening’s work ended, she invited me to come spend the night; the following morning we enjoyed that luxurious breakfast, charging the $80 bill to her client.
I have never been one for conspicuous consumption or status symbols: High-priced couture means nothing to me. I can barely bring myself to care about cars, and I am as happy at the corner dumpling shop as I’d be at a place like Per Se. The signposts of financial success that others seem to cling to hardly hold my interest—except, as it happens, for the fancy hotel breakfast.
What is the allure of the fancy hotel breakfast? For starters, there’s its inextricable connection to spending the night in an expensive hotel, another extravagant experience I must admit a weakness for. I love the obscene decadence of nice hotels—the high-end toiletries packaged in wasteful, single-use bottles; the invisible cleaning staff that whisks away any hint of the entropy caused by human inhabitants; the temporary access to coddled life of a member of the 0.01 percent. And the fancy hotel breakfast serves to cap off the whole thing: What is more hedonistic than paying a ridiculous amount of money to have a uniformed staff person bring you eggs and orange juice while you lounge, half-naked, in Egyptian cotton sheets?
Yet for all my fondness for the fancy hotel breakfast, there’s a dark side to it. As a writer whose budget doesn’t quite allow for stays in expensive hotels, let alone a room service breakfast, my access to this particular luxury has always come through the largesse of a particular sort of man.
Throughout my twenties, I eagerly sought out these types of partners. Older men, men with money, men whose career success could afford stays at Westins and Ws and Aces, who could provide me proxy access to the sort of luxury I craved. In my more romantic moments, I imagined hotel stays leading to something grander, something more permanent; a life where my access to the fancy hotel breakfast might be solidified through my connection to one of these men. Those dreams did not pan out, however, and though I love the fancy hotel breakfast, I suspect my days of fancy hotel breakfasts have come to an end.
The last time I had a fancy hotel breakfast it was at The Standard, where I found myself thanks to an ill-advised dalliance with a retired pro athlete. We ate breakfast in those white bathrobes you always find in hotel rooms, perched on a banquette, looking out of the hotel’s famed floor-to-ceiling windows at the foot traffic on the Highline.
Everything about my relationship with the athlete—if you could call our loose series of dates and texting a relationship—was fraught. I’d responded to his advances in the hopes that I might find myself in a fun, late-summer fling, one where hotel breakfasts would lead to paid-for pedicures and other trappings of a lifestyle I couldn’t readily afford as a writer. True, I barely cared about designers and couture, but it seemed only fair that a pretty young thing offering herself up to a wealthy older man might walk away from the relationship with, at the very least, a nice handbag or a pair of Louboutins.
It didn’t end up that way. What I got, instead of gifts, was a creeping sense being disposable, the knowledge that every aspect of our time together was at my paramour’s behest. When I spent time with him, he rarely acknowledged my wants or needs, treating me as one more person there to cater to his every desire. When I didn’t spend time with him, I was still expected to be at his beck and call, to answer his texts and stroke his ego and address his every whim—an expectation that was never allowed to be mutual. What I learned was how much power I ceded in my pursuit of luxury, and how little room there was for me, and my needs, and my safety, in that fancy hotel room at The Standard.
And I didn’t even get another fancy breakfast. The second time I made a late-night appearance at The Standard, I wasn’t asked to spend the night; when we met in person again, months later, it was a brief, angry brush-off outside of Penn Station. I’d long since figured out precisely what game this man was playing, and—breakfast or no breakfast—it wasn’t worth the cost of entry. I love a fancy hotel breakfast. But until it’s something I can afford on my own, I love me more.