Hanamizuki had an unexpected beginning in 2014: it grew out of a laser hair removal business. Jumi Fujiwara, who originally hails from Osaka, Japan, desired to combine beauty and health and open a healthy Japanese café adjacent to her hair-removal studio. Most things on the menu are traditional food items from her homeland, but with a twist. As she explained, “Rice balls are simple, but can have a lot of ingredients.” Part of what lures the customers (and myself) in is the décor. Jumi shared that she teamed up with a “Green artist” from Japan who has expertly made the café look like the inside of someone’s lofty garden shed. Ivy and other plant life frame the space while dried herb and flower displays are nestled next to rusted accessories. The café is a little rustic watering hole in the center of the bustling city.
After visiting the newly opened Renwick, Olivia, Tom and I walked west to its sister hotel, the Gregory. Originally built in 1903 and known as “The Gregorian,” its purpose was to house spillover guests from the Waldorf Astoria. It was designed to be reminiscent of Upper West Side homes, with rooms that were double the height of normal hotels. In the mid-twentieth century, the Gregorian closed and the building passed through the hands of different hospitality groups. In 2015, however, the Gregory opened with the goal of recreating the hotel’s former glory. Susan Richardson, the Director of Marketing at the time, was pleased to give us a tour of the newly renovated hotel and to share some of the history, while also pointing out the various amenities and features. The overall design of the hotel is inspired by elements of the fashion world, as it is located in the garment district. Susan also mentioned that the Gregory is the only hotel that is a member of the Save the Garment Center movement and that they have recently formed a partnership with Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).Susan explained that the hotel was designed with the goal of feeling "homey." The lobby was built to have the comfort of a living room, complete with the bar, called “The Liquor Cabinet.” The whimsical idea behind the name is that guests can “raid the Liquor Cabinet” during happy hour. While chatting, the bartender made one of their signature drinks, the Ginger Bootlegger, made with Bootlegger vodka, Cointreau, and ginger beer. The cozy, home-away-from-home atmosphere is enhanced by the concierge desk, where guests are encouraged to sit down in an armchair as they check-in and to feel the warmth of the fireplace during the colder months of the year.Similar to the Renwick, the Gregory focuses on trying to manufacture many of the features of the hotel in New York City. The lobby’s wood floors were not only made in Manhattan, but cut right here in the building. The shelves, which held fashion books, sewing machines, and other relics of the design world, were also cut in the lobby. Adding to their strong link to its history, we observed the pictures of the original hotel on the wall, along with an old menu and various artworks from the early twentieth century.Before heading into the elevator, we stopped into Brendan’s, the lively Irish pub connected to the hotel. The restaurant used to be the Gregorian’s Palm Court. “They are a great neighbor,” Susan said. Upstairs, we stepped inside an impressive guest room. It was remarkable how different the Gregory and the Renwick are, but with the same careful attention to detail and emphasis on guest comfort. Where the Renwick has eclectic images and outside-the-box design, the Gregory has clean lines and simple patterns. As Susan so aptly described it, “The Renwick is the artist and the Gregory is the tailor.” There are hints of the fashion world everywhere, including Do Not Disturb signs made of ties and framed clothing patterns on the walls. Like the Renwick, each of the beds are custom made for the hotel. Although both hotels are designed for the transient traveler, Susan feels that the Gregory appeals to a slightly younger crowd - one that wants a warm, communal place to work and network. With that in mind, guests are encouraged to come down to the lobby for coffee in the morning and mingle with one another. The tech industry has started drifting into the neighborhood and Susan feels that members of the tech world appreciate the chance to meet people and work in the living room environment of the lobby. “We are creating a culture of offering guests an experience,” she said, smiling.
At Gallery 35, we were charmed, entertained and educated on the staff's commitment to their own work and the art community as a whole. Sharing space, one flight up, with others affiliated with the Community Church next door, Gallery 35 is only open on Saturday evenings. Each week they showcase the work of a collective of artists, using media and styles across the board – water colors, digital media, glass painting, quilts, wood cuts. Once a year, the gallery hosts shows featuring artists from around the world. The most recent rendition featured paintings and quilts from Cuban and Brazilian artists. I was particularly taken by the story behind the art that was exhibited in the winter of 2013. Vidho Lorville, a native of Haiti, who had been painting for over twenty years before the earthquake struck his country, was chosen to be the guest artist. His commitment to the people and the celebration of the rebirth of Haiti were not only displayed in his work, but he also chose to donate a portion of the proceeds from Gallery 35 towards programs in Haiti.
Stepping off the elevator on the 18th floor, we had the feeling that we might run into the Queen of Hearts lounging and looking out over the city. Our visit was not during peak hours, so we missed bumping elbows with the chic crowd that normally populates Monarch, but we did get a sense of the futurist atmosphere and the ever-lovely views afforded by a visit. The Empire State Building, long a favorite of our crew, towers majestically in unimpeded splendor to the south. Brick walls give way to geometric, angular wooden walls and ceilings. Lights hang down in mobile-like formations, while chandeliers drip aquatically nearby in a tented heated area that can be utilized throughout the year. The furniture is comfortable and swoopingly high-backed. When our friends want to feel like City royalty, we certainly know where to send them.
Situated somewhere between Irish and American, straddling, too, the distinction between refinement and seaminess, Playwright offers food, drink, sports and a place to rest. The fare is traditional American with a few British accents thrown in - Shepherd's Pie and Fish & Chips to be exact. On the main floor, there are flatscreens aplenty above a long bar bursting with ales. American sports games are shown and, of course, Playwright is always showcasing European soccer games. On the second level, a more traditional dining area in the front gives way to a comfortable seating area in back. With its mixture of old regal furniture pieces collected over the years, in faded burgundies, beiges and browns, and an electric fireplace, Playwright has provided an inviting atmosphere for many to cozy up.