As general manager of New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel, Elizabeth Mao appreciates her job from the moment she walks in the door each day. "What I love most is that every morning I am greeted by the bright smiles of our doormen, and I walk into our stunning lobby with a crackling fire and original works by Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Fernando Botero," she says. "What could be better than that?"
It’s a suitably artistic career for someone with such a creative background. The Long Island, New York native originally trained to be a professional dancer, performing as an understudy with Shen Wei Dance Arts and taking classes at Trisha Brown’s and Merce Cunningham’s studios. The need for a day job led her to a front desk assignment at 60 Thompson, where she caught the hotel bug and worked her way up to general manager, preparing her for the responsibilities she shoulders today.
These are exciting times to be at the Gramercy Park Hotel, she says, as it’s being upgraded to ensure that it remains one of the city’s top hotels. "We have made subtle, yet tangible, meaningful improvements to our guest rooms, and we are renovating much of Gramercy Terrace," she says. "With an expanded kitchen, Danny Meyer’s team will continue to provide a superior culinary experience."
The renovation even extends to attire. "We are outfitting the entire hotel staff with new uniforms, in order to keep the look fresh, crisp, and modern," she explains. "Sophie Theallet has designed stunning dresses for our cocktail waitresses, and they are gorgeous."
Where did you grow up, and what were some of your interests as a kid?
I grew up on Long Island, in Port Washington, specifically. My father worked as a commodities trader and was based in the World Trade Center for a number of years. I have fond memories of visiting him there as a small child. I remember looking up at these enormous structures reaching into the clouds, and feeling an overwhelming sense of opportunity and excitement. I begged my parents to take me into “the city” at every opportunity, and for as long as I can remember I wanted to move out of the suburbs and into Manhattan. As a kid my sister and I were involved in countless activities. She spent the evenings at soccer and lacrosse practice while I had dance class at least three times per week. In high school she was on multiple sports teams, I was captain of the kickline, and we were both members of multiple clubs. I attended Cornell University and studied psychology and modern dance, and I ended up in the hotel business. She went to Rochester University to study psychology and is now getting her PhD in counseling psychology at Columbia. I could not possibly be more proud of my little sis.
How did you wind up at the Gramercy Park Hotel?
After Cornell I moved to Manhattan, where I shared a tiny apartment on St. Marks Place with a friend. I was an understudy with Shen Wei Dance Arts, and I was entirely focused on pursuing a career as a modern dancer. I had just come back from a summer at ADF, the American Dance Festival, where I was fortunate enough to perform repertory works with Ming Yang and John Jasperse. As a starving artist I, of course, needed a day job. I wound up taking a job as a front desk agent at the recently opened 60 Thompson hotel. Over the next number of years I moved up through the ranks in the hotel business, and gave up the dance career. One of the things I love about the hotel business is that it is one of the few remaining industries where you can truly work your way up the ladder. I did my time working the overnight shift behind the front desk, I relocated to Miami for two years when the opportunity to become front desk manager came up, I worked in sales, and I trained in housekeeping. Eventually I became general manager of the same hotel where I had started as a desk agent years ago. Now the Gramercy Park Hotel is my fifth General Manager assignment. I am absolutely thrilled to oversee the Gramercy Park Hotel, as I have been utterly enamored by the property since it re-opened five years ago. I remember visiting while I was working elsewhere and being stricken with a case of hotel envy. From the moment I first entered the lobby I knew I belonged here. There is simply no other hotel in New York that is as magical as the Gramercy Park Hotel.
What are you doing now? What is an average day like for you, if there is such a thing as an average day?
My job title is general manager, which means that I oversee the operation of the Gramercy Park Hotel. My average day starts when my alarm rings and I pull up the daily reports that the night manager provides via email. I quickly review our financial performance from the night before, as well as the managers’ logs of any notable occurrences. This gives me a snapshot of what happened in the hotel in the last 24 hours. Then at 9am I gather my managers for a daily morning meeting where we review the plan for the day, including all guests due to check in that day and any special requests they may have. After that, every day is different.
Do you have any funny or interesting anecdotes that have happened while on the job? Any celebrity stories, or guests-gone-wild incidents?
I most certainly do, but in my job you learn to be discrete.