Due to its close proximity to Grand Central, spending even a few minutes in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt allows anyone to experience the hustle and bustle of tourism in this fast-paced city. Families and business people from around the country and the world are coming and going, checking in and checking out over and over again. There is a fine bar and restaurant area a few steps up in the lobby that overlooks 42nd Street. In what was once the Commodore Hotel, opened in 1919, but totally refurbished in 1980, this is a fascinating place to sit down and relax with a cold drink for a few minutes.
Pod 51 offers an experience unlike most New York hotels. Rather than merely serving a necessary function, the hotel is a destination in itself thanks to its conceptually fresh architecture, stylish decor, and excellent dining options. The philosophy behind the hotel's design - small is beautiful - finds its roots in the Japanese tradition of capsule hotels. The Pod (and its sibling, the Pod 39) offers lodging that ranges from the "bunk pod, " a tiny but appealing room equipped with bunk beds, to the "studio pod, " a more expansive space, all for relatively affordable prices. Despite the low square footage, the rooms never feel cramped, thanks to bright colors, creative furniture (a hanging chair, window side counters instead of a table), and an economical use of space. The hotel offers a beautiful rooftop, replete with candy-colored deck chairs and a bar. Their cafe has outdoor seating in a lovely, unexpected bamboo garden. Finally, Pop@Pod, the result of collaboration between the hotel and Pop Burger, sits adjacent to the hotel.
In 2015, New York Palace Hotel was bought by the Lotte Group and has been rebranded as the Lotte New York Palace. What has become an iconic symbol of East Side elegance began as a row of townhouses. In 1882, Henry Villard, a successful German businessman, appointed the McKim, Mead, and White architectural firm to construct six private brownstones around a courtyard. The houses were modeled after the sixteenth century Palazzo della Cancelleria, thought to be the oldest Renaissance palace in Rome. Move forward almost one hundred years to the spring of 1974 when Harry Helmsley – a top real estate investor and broker – built a fifty-five-story hotel on the site of the Villard Houses. The Helmsley Palace Hotel opened in 1981 and was run by Helmsley's wife, Leona. Dubbed the "Hotel Queen" (or, alternatively, the "Queen of Mean") Leona was known for her quick temper and, later, for her criminal activity. In a massive scandal, the couple was indicted for evading more than $4 million in income taxes and for the misappropriation of hotel funds. Yet, through all this controversy, the Palace has remained a New York City icon. With a stunning exterior that is brightly illuminated at night, the 899-room hotel is just as beautiful on the inside. The palatial lobby boasts the famed Grand Staircase, a decadent chandelier, high ceilings, and intricate columns.
Together with its restaurant, Tenpenny, the hotel continues a level of intimacy, with a limited number of rooms per floor. The building is shaped like a sail with a curved front, allowing guests a unique perspective on the street below. The real strength of the Gotham lies in its details. Every room has a full glass corner window allowing for a panoramic view of Manhattan. In addition to either the private terraces or balconies in each of these rooms, they also have their own distinctive shelf of books bought from the Gotham Book Mart - a New York institution that lived in the vacinity from 1920 until it closed its doors in 2007. Books are available for guests to purchase, and the hotel restocks each room with new volumes on a regular basis.
Initially serving as a resting stop for Scandinavian sailors when they disembarked in lower Manhattan, the Swedish Seaman's Church opened its doors on Water Street in 1873. The neo-Gothic building in which the Church currently resides was constructed in 1921 for "The Bible House" before being sold to the Church of Sweden in 1978. The Church's nautical past is evidenced in the model boats placed among the large collection of Swedish books. With a chapel, a library, and a coffee shop, the Church's doors are always open to Swedes. While tasting their delicious Swedish buns, I chatted with the staff who spoke enthusiastically about the function that the center plays in people's lives. For families, it provides a "wind" of Sweden whenever they miss their homeland. There are also multiple weddings conducted in the chapel each week, and people come from all over to celebrate holidays and shop at their Christmas Bazaar.
Clinton Garden is a striking testament to the power of residential communities in New York. One of the earliest examples of urban agricultural reclamation, the garden was created in 1979 in a lot that had been abandoned for twenty-eight years. Seeing potential in the space and hoping to improve the area around the neighborhood, residents (with the help of Operation Green Thumb, which leased the lot from the city) transformed the VACANT property into a garden using reclaimed and salvaged bricks, concrete, and slate. Finding the gates open on a beautiful spring Saturday, I wandered in and strolled down the paths filled with magnificent flowers and shrubs. I also met committed people tending to their small plots of land, of which there are now over one hundred. I have since been back many times, as I think this is a magnificent retreat on those days that I am in a need of a place to rest while walking the side streets of Manhattan.
Tucked between a Swiss and an Italian restaurant, Scent Elate brings Eastern spirituality to the neighborhood. With the doors swung open, the aromas were an enticing trail that led me into this tiny boutique packed with an array of incense, candles, soaps, oils and lotions. Scent Elate also has books on meditation and yoga scattered among crystals, jewelry, chimes and hanging ornaments. In fact, it might just be "the" place to go when searching for sticks of incense - not only is there a vast selection, but Mo, the owner, makes a special effort to find the perfect scent to enhance each individual customer's environment.
Named after Bible verses in Isaiah (the wolf and the lamb shall feed together), this restaurant opened in Manhattan in 1998, and expanded to Brooklyn the following year. Initially a traditional kosher deli, it later reinvented itself as a steakhouse. The extensive menu ranges from matzo ball soup to salmon burgers, veal Bolognese gnocchi and, of course, includes a variety of steaks and chops. Drawing on influences as diverse as Vietnamese, Tex-Mex, and French-country, Wolf and Lamb adapts its more customary function to a cosmopolitan venue. "Just because you're keeping kosher doesn't mean you have to sacrifice on quality, " shared a waitress. And while we were told that the majority of customers keep kosher regularly, the crowded space was testament to Wolf and Lamb's broad culinary appeal.