by Barbara Ramsay Orr |
Like Rome, New York City is a place of pilgrimage. Visitors are not in search of religious inspiration, however, but rather a cultural baptism. And they come for one of two things – to soak in the elegance of classic Belle Epoque-era New York City, or to wonder at the latest trends in food and culture that seem to spontaneously emerge throughout.
Whether searching for the classic or iconoclastic, visitors to NYC will find much to revere in North America’s eternal city.
Where to Stay…
One of the most gossiped-about hotels in a city with many secrets, the Carlyle is redolent with innuendo. Did JFK smuggle Marilyn Monroe through the hotel’s underground tunnels? What decisions were made in his apartments, the New York ‘White House’? The Carlyle was one of Princess Diana’s frequent bolt-holes as her marriage to Charles disintegrated. What did she get up to while she was here? The Carlyle continues to be a favourite with the Royals. Several members of the British monarchy have stayed here, including Meghan and Harry. If these walls could talk!
You walk in history when you cross the lobby floor of this hotel and sleep with legends. Just outside its doors, the Upper East side, sometimes labelled the ‘Silk Stocking’ district, awaits, with luxury shopping, museums and Central Park within easy walking distance.
The Pierre is another Upper East Side classic, with white-gloved elevator operators, grand bouquets of fresh flowers in the lobby and a discreet desk manager who can get you reservations and tickets to almost anything in town.
St. Regis New York
It’s old but it’s new. This iconic hotel has been completely refurbished, managing to hang on to the golden age feel while reinventing its rooms as palettes of modern design. This was the first hotel I stayed in when I came to New York many years ago and I have a fond connection to it.
Each of these hotels reflects the sophistication of a time when New York was the mecca for wealthy industrialists looking for culture, entertainment and a platform to display their prosperity.
For a more forward-looking stay, there are new hotels that play much more creatively with the concept of hotel culture.
The Aman New York
It’s new and cool, and well placed in the Crown building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. With only 83 rooms, the hotel is intimate yet luxurious, with a comforting Japanese-influenced design. Its garden terrace, blessed with bonsai trees and Canadian maples, is an oasis-like place to dine.
Virgin Hotels New York City
Freshly opened, Sir Richard Branson’s hotel adventure in NYC welcomed limited guests in February and will open to the public in the spring. The hotel hasn’t been reviewed yet, and I have yet to stay there, but the Virgin vibe has always been a big draw, making guests feel as if they’re members of a special club. The signature Virgin red colour shows up in many places, including on a stunning staircase. There’s an outdoor pool club exclusive to guests. With 460 rooms, an impressive art collection and a red Smeg mini-fridge stocked with street-priced treats in several rooms, Virgin Hotels New York hits all the right notes.
Where to Dine…
New York has always been a dining paradise, with almost every world-class chef headlining restaurants here. The sheer volume of great places to eat is overwhelming, but here are a few that never disappoint.
Located inside the timeless Beekman Hotel, Chef Daniel Boulud’s casual dining spot aims to duplicate the ambiance of French country bistros. Marble floors, comfortable banquettes and flowered tiles on the walls aim to replicate the experience of dining in Boulud’s hometown of Lyon. Be sure to order the namesake dish, Gratin Dauphinois Comme Marie, a special recipe from Boulud’s mother.
Grand Central Oyster Bar
The menu changes daily at this seafood emporium, depending on what’s fresh in the Fulton Fish Market. It opened in 1913 to serve the rail passengers coming through the terminal. Surviving through the decline in train travel and a disastrous fire, the oyster bar continues to be one of the best places in NYC for fresh oysters, seafood and crab cakes. Nothing says New York more than a plate of Oysters Rockefeller!
It’s new, but it’s been around since 1995. The chain of Italian restaurants specializes in classic dishes like tableside Caesar and pasta served from a wheel of Parmesan. The latest Seraphina opened in February at the NH Hotel on 38th Street. It offers excellent comfort food at affordable (by NYC standards) prices.
Food trends flourish here – and one of the coolest is the Singapore ‘urban hawker’ concept that Anthony Bourdain originally dreamed of recreating in NYC. It’s open now, and it’s a foodie’s delight.
Based on the food hawkers of Singapore and duplicating the culinary diversity and excellence of the Singaporean food stalls, this ambitious eating adventure features Malay, Peranakan, Chinese and Indian dishes, and many more, served up in a busy and raucous casual scene. Everything is fresh and cooked to order – chilli crab, shrimp fried rice, and prawn noodle soup. Don’t miss imbibing a Singapore Sling at the Sling Bar.
What to Do…
NYC is the capital of culture in the United States and some would say it’s also the place to discover trends before they go mainstream. There are famous museums that will always be more than worth a visit, and the lights of Broadway are twinkling once more. But there’s always, always something new.
MoMA is spotlighting the work of Georgia O’Keefe, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be running Van Gogh’s Cypresses, and the Frick, Madison will continue to show its permanent collection.
Broadway shows sparkle this Spring and summer. Life of Pi debuts at the Schoenfeld Theatre, while Bad Cinderella, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s new musical, opens at the Imperial.
In addition to just seeing a Broadway show, visitors can learn more about the history and background of the city’s famous theatrical tradition.
Museum of Broadway
Newly opened in November 2022, the Museum of Broadway is very contemporary, a hands-on self-guided experience that highlights the history of New York’s Broadway scene. Seeing a play on Broadway is the second most important reason that visitors state for coming to NYC (shopping is first) but this is the first museum to showcase its story. Artifacts, famous costumes, stage sets and memorabilia are part of the displays.
The latest and one of the coolest new areas of the city is this shopping and entertainment complex near the river. The complex’s central feature, The Vessel, is both an art piece and an observational climbing structure. However, the Vessel is closed for now for safety reasons. The Shed offers brilliant and experimental theatre and music, the shopping is exceptional and the Highline is close by for a good hike. The adventurous can do the City Climb, an adrenaline-raising adventure conquering the highest open-air building ascent in the world.
Ahoy New York Food Tours
For something a bit more grounded, try this tour company that specializes in the history and cuisine of Chinatown and Little Italy.
Iconic or iconoclastic, the charms of NYC never fail to draw us in. It’s a city that remains a classic but is also continually evolving. Visiting soon is sure to renew the wonder.
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