What is it? The Carlyle, named after an early resident - Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle - and operated by Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, is a combination luxury and residential hotel just off Madison Avenue, in Uptown Manhattan. It does things the traditional New York way, with confidence, but that means that, with the exception of the incredibly friendly receptionists and concierges, members of staff can come across as a little brusque. Nevertheless, if you are seeking a fitting base to anchor a classy Upper East Side experience, look no further.

What does "combination" mean, exactly? It means that the property, which opened for business in the early 1930s, is a co-operative. The majority of its rooms are hotel rentals, with a varying number of privately owned suites and apartments.

What are the rentable rooms like? They are all different in size and shape, and include, at the top of the range, four Central Park Tower suites, with captivating views of the park (pictured); Princess Diana's home when she was in Manhattan, the four-room Royal Suite; and the five-room, two-floor, art-deco Empire Suite (pictured). It may take you a while to get to your room if the creaky, uniformed-attendant-operated lifts are in demand and when you do arrive you're likely to find it decorated and furnished in conservative fashion - think heavy wooden furniture and large, gilt-edged mirrors. A nice touch is that all returning and suite guests are given pillowcases monogrammed with their own initials (above right; full first names for the children). The old US Mail chute that runs down the building, alongside the lift shafts, is still operational, should you feel like racing your postcards down to the lobby.

Is there somewhere to eat? The Carlyle Restaurant (traditional Western and a breakfast buffet), Bemelmans Bar (with live piano music in the evenings) and Cafe Carlyle are spread through an at-first disorienting warren behind the reception area. They are all of a kind: high-ceilinged and dark by design, with tables squeezed in close to one another. Underdressed without a jacket, the clientele in each seem generally blessed with both wealth and years. Ludwig Bemelmans was an illustrator who, in 1947, was allowed to stay rent-free in the Carlyle in return for decorating the bar with a series of murals depicting Central Park through the seasons. The murals are still there, although they have been restored in places.

What is there to do? That may sound like a silly question, given the many, many options available to a visitor even in just this small part of Manhattan - the Metropolitan (art) and Whitney (American art) museums and Central Park are but a stone's throw away, for instance - but making the most of a visit does take a bit of forward planning. Rosewood has approached this need in a novel way, by enlisting, for some of its properties, "curators": notable characters who know their way around their city. For New York, the insider knowledge of Colombian fashion journalist Nina Garcia has been called upon, and she suggests, among other things, visiting the reading room at the Met and taking in the sunset over the Hudson River from Battery Park. Cafe Carlyle's evening dinner cabaret is a disappearing type of entertainment but no less enjoyable for that. For 15 years, actor/director Woody Allen has been stepping up on most Monday nights with his clarinet, as part of the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band - no wisecracks, just music!

Anything else we should know? Rosewood, now owned by Hong Kong's New World Development, will be opening its first Chinese property in Beijing in the new year. Hong Kong film director Johnnie To Kei-fung has been drafted in as its curator.

What's the bottom line? At this time of year, prices range from US$720 a night to US$10,000 for a Central Park suite and US$20,000 for the Empire Suite. For more information, visit www.rosewoodhotels.com