Having visited every rooftop bar on the side streets, I arrived on the twelfth floor of the Empire Hotel eager to experience the view of this most recent one, and it did not disappoint. Overlooking one of my favorite scenes in the city, I stared out at Lincoln Center, and the surrounding Lincoln Square. It was a beautiful clear afternoon and I was able to gaze straight uptown and imagine walking as far as my eyes were taking me, and telling myself, it won't be long until I get there.
"In a family business, everybody works, " Robyn Pocker announced when I first met her. She went on to tell me that her first job as a little girl was making paperclip chains in her family's framing establishment. Over the years, she was promoted through the ranks, learning to wrap packages with bakery string, how to please customers, and simply to absorb advice from her parents, until she became a full employee, fresh out of college. Robyn went on to say that she feels "very rooted on 63rd Street. " Asking her to transport me back in time, as I knew that the Pocker's had been in this area for generations, Robyn spoke of when the Lexington Avenue subway was being constructed and the city wanted to get rid of the building where her grandparents had begun their business. Many important clients, however, including Mrs. Rockefeller, wrote to City Hall declaring that they should not drive J. Pocker out of its home. Although they did have to move just around the corner onto the side street, the company has been able to remain on the Upper East Side since 1929. Not only that, but the business has expanded, opening multiple locations in Connecticut and Westchester County, including a 10, 000 square foot factory in Mamaroneck. Robyn proudly stated that despite the expansion, J. Pocker is still the "friendly neighborhood framer. " When I asked Robyn where she pulls her inspiration for the variety of frames that they construct, she spoke of her travels abroad and told me that they send scouts to museums to take pictures of certain historic styles so that they can be replicated. Robyn has also been known to wander into the antique stores in London to find unique pieces to mimic. Along with period framing, using classic Spanish, Dutch, and tortoise-shell frames, the company effortlessly steps forward in time and has framed flat-screen TVs and a photograph of an eighty foot whale. One of the main reasons why Robyn believes J. Pocker has successfully remained in business through the years is that they treat every item to be framed like a priceless piece of art, and every client with the same care and precision.
Within a serene, residential environment, the Lowell’s goal is to make its guests believe that they are living in a luxurious private townhouse - a glamorous “home away from home. ” The landmark building, which was built in 1928 and became the Lowell in 1984, has a reasonably small number of guest rooms with twenty-seven deluxe rooms and forty-seven suites emphasizing quality over quantity with no two stays being exactly alike. Before guests arrive, a story is developed for the time they will be on 63rd Street, including bedding, food, and drink preferences. And when welcomed, guests are provided with age-appropriate amenities, a welcome beverage and an in-room orientation. “Guest relations is one of the most important jobs, ” explained Marketing Director Sarah Bolton. Each room has its own set of unique décor, handpicked by designer Michael Smith, revered for his cohesion of European classics with American modernism. Even the bathrooms are garnished with DDC 28 amenities from the hotel owner’s exclusive line, and rare urban amenities like terraces and wood-burning fireplaces are included in many of the rooms. Five of the suites are also themed: the garden suite, the Hollywood suite, the Manhattan suite, and two Lowell suites. The penthouse suite, complete with a full kitchen, Mac computer, and four terraces, controls the seventeenth floor, and every inch of the 2500 square foot space is tastefully decorated. Hand-painted de Gornay wallpaper lines the master bedroom, depicting a natural environment in soft hues. Patterned-rugs interact nicely with specially selected furniture, and shelves are filled with books and intriguing sculptural objects. The suite can also be used as a private event space when not reserved for guests. On the second floor, the Pembroke Room offers breakfast, a daily afternoon tea, and pre-theater dinner. Seating sixty, the room is filled with delicate chandeliers, adorable teapots, beautiful flower arrangements, and cushy seating. The chef de cuisine, Michael Fred, prepares French and American fare. When asking friends to describe the experience that they could recall from their stay at The Lowell a few years back, the words that came to mind for them were elegant, small (in the best possible way) and the phrase "attention to detail. " They described the rooms as being decorated so beautifully that they felt as though they were a guest at a friend's elegant Upper East Side penthouse apartment, rather than at a hotel. "Nothing uniform or commercial about the Lowell. " They went on to say that the Lowell staff was the ultimate in professional and met their wants and needs before they even realized that they wanted or needed them. And, my favorite was the comment from their daughter, who said it was her favorite hotel and her best memory is of the fresh fragrant smell of flowers in the lobby. A glamorous “home away from home, ” the Lowell is a perfectly situated on 63rd street - a tree-lined, quiet location just a few blocks away from some of the city’s classiest commercial centers. The hotel prides itself on being timeless – it blends classic and contemporary styles to best create a residential character, and does so impeccably.
The Society of Illustrators leaves anyone who enters with a yearning to create. At its core, the Society seeks to “promote the art of illustration through education and exhibitions, ” as described by Executive Director Anelle Miller. This mission takes many forms. Visitors can attend a regular Sketch Night, where novice and advanced artists alike can gather to draw nude and costumed models or still-life pieces. As the only illustration society in the world that also houses a museum in its space, those seeking inspiration may meander through the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, peruse the illustrated exhibits on display, and watch video shorts in the screening room as they wait for the muse to strike. Under Anelle’s tenure, the Society has reached out beyond its doors to offer art programs for underserved and incarcerated youth and a wealth of online work-shops and lecture series. “We embrace everyone, and that’s what art is supposed to do. ”Even those who have not personally visited the Society may be familiar with its reputation for hosting four of the biggest illustration competitions in the world, including the Illustrators Annual, a student scholarship competition, and a children’s book illustration competition — which Anelle referred to as the “Academy Awards for children’s illustrators. ”In 2014, one of the best children’s books selected, Papa Is A Poet, was written by Manhattan Sideways founder Betsy Bober Polivy's mother, Natalie S. Bober, and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon.
The greatest treasures on the side streets often take the form of art studios, theaters, non-profits, innovative exercise spaces, and specialty lodging. I was delighted, therefore, to find all of these facilities inside the West Side YMCA. According to Wyndy Wilder Sloan, the senior director of the Y, I was not unlike numerous others who admitted to having had no idea that this extraordinary building existed on West 63rd. Sharing the fascinating history of the Y with me one morning while touring the building, Wyndy simply stated that not many people stroll down their street and those that do rarely notice what has been here since 1930. Wyndy was crowed that they have at least 5, 700 active members, 397 guest rooms, an off-Broadway theater, and an art space in addition to its vast array of fitness facilities. At the start, the Y even owned the McBurney School next door, which is still marked with a sign for "BOYS. " Wyndy informed me that the West Side Y is the largest YMCA in the country. My first stop on the tour was on the newly renovated tenth and eleventh floors to see the selection of guest rooms, which Wyndy described as "a hostel that is not a real hostel. " Wyndy shared with me that guests are frequently European travelers, mostly form the UK, with the average age between eighteen and twenty-four, but national youth groups, like the boy scouts, also take advantage of the facilities. Traipsing down the white walls marked with shapes in cheery bright colors and the names of countries from around the world, I peeked into a room and found a spotlessly clean bunk bed that had a view of Central Park. Descending down some flights, I went to the fitness floors, which were astonishing. There, I found enormous studios that offered classes from Aerobics to Zumba and everything in between. Learning that the YMCA "invented" basketball and volleyball, I gazed upon the spacious court encircled one floor up by an elevated track. When I commented on the spectacular racquetball courts, squash courts, and, particularly the original machinery still decorating the walls in the boxing room, Wyndy proudly admitted that they were available for promotional shoots. In the gym, I was met with one of the most enormous collection of ellipticals and treadmills I have ever seen. "You never have to wait for a machine, " Wyndy said. "We have every piece of equipment you can imagine, " and she went on to tell me that all Y's in the country lease their machines for three years so that they can easily update to new models. Through the clean, flower-filled women's locker room, I arrived at the magnificent pool. The space is a palace, decorated with red and yellow tiles in a stunning mosaic pattern. Wyndy explained that King Alfonso of Spain donated all the tiles to the Y as the building was being erected. Slipping inside to view the smaller pool - used more for classes and therapy sessions than for laps - was possibly even more extraordinary, with dazzling white and blue designs covering all four corners. Tearing myself away from the pools, I walked into the art annex to see a painting class in progress. Down the hall, students filled a ceramics studio that boasted two kilns. I now understood from where the cases full of colorful mugs for sale in the lobby hallway came. On my way to the "Little Theater, " which sported sloping bannisters and comfortable audience seating, I caught a glimpse of rounded traditional Spanish doors and more of the magnificent tiles in an event space named the "King Alfonso" room. After a whirlwind tour, where I saw so much original architecture, artistic craftsmanship, first-class facilities, and happy members, I was shocked that I had not heard more about the building as a lifelong New Yorker. Though I knew of its existence, I had no idea of all the valuable resources and facilities inside. Wyndy conceded that is a challenge that the West Side Y is trying to overcome: "When you're a landmark building on a side street, it's hard to maintain visibility. " It is, however, definitely worth seeking out. As Wyndy noted, "We are unique among other gyms because we are non-profit. When you sign up as a member, you know your money is going to a good cause. "