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.
A boutique luxury hotel, run by the Spanish company, Eurostars, Dylan brings a European flair to midtown hospitality. The connected Benjamin's Steakhouse, one of the finest in the city, offers breakfast and room service for hotel guests. The building that the hotel occupies was once the Chemists' Club, which played host to a group of chemists meeting for reasons professional and social but ultimately moved further north. The building still bears the Chemists' Club name outside, which adds an air of alchemy to the facade.
I would never have thought that all the basic necessities that one needs in a hotel room could fit so compactly in a bite-sized well-decorated room. Mini flat screens, a desk, space to hang a few things, even a safe were in each of the rooms that we entered. The bathrooms were sleekly functional, including a strong shower. In our increasingly globalized world, a Japanese concept has found a new American home and is flourishing in the heart of Manhattan. The Pod is modeled after Japanese capsule hotels that feature a small bed for sleeping and little else. Hospitality is stripped down to its necessities, all the while maintaining guests' comfort. This keeps pragmatic travelers happy and prices down, as who really wants to spend time in their hotel room when they can be walking the side streets of Manhattan?
The private club, since 1921, for Williams College alumni was acquired and renovated in 2010 to create an extended-stay hotel. (The Williams Club now shares space with the Princeton Club on West 43rd Street) The downstairs, which has retained its classic design and charm, houses the British-themed restaurant, The Shakespeare. On the main floor, with stained hardwoods forming the backbones of the spaces, there are several rooms to either dine or have a relaxing drink in front of the fireplace with book-lined walls, cushy armchairs, and lushly colorful wallpaper. Upstairs was more heavily renovated, and as such was remade into more modern areas: sleek white geometric rooms are graced with bright decor and plentifully mirrored surfaces. The vividly blue hued spacious rooms allow guests to feel more like they are residing in an apartment rather than a hotel room for their minimum length stay of thirty days. In our conversation with the staff, we learned that the clientele is a mix of people who are in Manhattan for a long period of work, those fortunate enough to have four weeks of vacation, New Yorkers in between homes, or in the middle of renovations. To quote one of the managers, the extended stays mean that people "come as clients and leave as friends. "
As someone who once owned a bookstore, I was delighted by each of the little surprises and details hidden throughout the Renwick. I walked into the lobby to find a multimedia mural on the wall, designed by Gregory Siff, decorated with items that were found when the original hotel was renovated. There were yellowing letters attached to the wall along with depictions of New York landmarks and pieces of the lives of John Steinbeck and Thomas Mann, both of whom lived here when it was filled with artist studios and lofts. I was eager for Tom and Olivia to arrive, as I knew that they, too, would appreciate the hotel's celebration of writers and artists, which begins with the name: James Renwick is the man who, with no formal training, was the main architect behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the nineteenth century. The artistic flourishes continued along the walls of the lobby. A bookcase had a clever column of Steinbeck’s books lined up with a painting of the author on their spines. On the stairs down from the door, which looped around to become a bench, there were succulents in glass cubes perched on top of additional piles of books. David Israel, the Asset Manager, explained that the hotel brought in seventeen local artists to work on the overall design. He pointed out the outline of people at the park made out of string and nails just to the left of the door. David informed us that the piece took the artist five nights to create on the wall and that it represented a snapshot in the story of her family. “There is art everywhere, ” David said simply. To prove his point, he took us outside where Gregory Siff had tagged all four sides of the hotel’s temporary water heater with graffiti. From the art to the amenities, everything is made in New York. David told me this while pointing out that the wood paneling behind the concierge came from the building’s original water tower. The bed linen, the bath products, and the room fixtures all come from within the city. Even the hotel restaurant, Bedford and Company will serve New York distilled spirits when it opens at the end of 2015. Stepping into the almost completed space, I could already sense the warm atmosphere that the midcentury design would produce. It felt like a club where the artists of New York’s Golden Age would sit around and swap ideas. Each of the rooms upstairs had details that were artsy and playful. David explained that the Renwick is trying to “bring a more edgy, Soho feel to Midtown. ” He went on to say that the hotel has tried to create a room both for the creator and for lawyers and businessmen, making it perfect for weekday and weekend travelers. David was proud to announce that there are no double beds in the hotel: the smallest size is a queen. He opened the door onto a room that was decorated in honor of Thomas Mann, with his face painted on the white wall and his quotes scattered around the room. I found it fascinating that the Time Magazines on display throughout the hotel were found during the renovation, and that the New York City skyline painted on the blinds is common to all rooms, but that each one is unique. “There is no framed art in this building – everything is functional, ” David said. My creativity was sparked everywhere I looked: the cup holder was made from paper mache pages of the great Gatsby, the robes mimicked artist smocks with an embroidered dash of paint on the back, and the Do Not Disturb signs took the form of paintbrushes. Even the notepad, a staple of most hotel rooms, doubled as origami paper. We thought that the Mann room was creative, however we were blown away by the next room, which David told me was specifically crafted for the artist in all of us. Easels were scattered throughout the room with different size canvases. The cup holder, which in the other room held pens, was filled with paintbrushes of every size and shape. On the notepad, there was a little drawing. David said that many of the housekeeping staff, whom he refers to as “creators, ” are artistic themselves, and are encouraged to leave their work for guests. Though we did not see it, David informed us that there is also a writer’s suite, complete with a typewriter. Even though the Renwick had only been open a month when we visited, he said that he had already had repeat guests requesting specific rooms. After showing us the Hemingway Suite, which has a little rooftop balcony, David led us back down to the lobby, pointing out the original mail chutes and elevators. On our way out, I could not help noticing that there really was art everywhere: on the walls of the fitness room, in the bathrooms, in the stairwell. I was reminded of the quote from Andy Warhol that I had seen on the wall of one of the guest rooms: “Art is anything you can get away with. ”
Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.
Opened on May 23, 1911 on the site of a former reservoir, this main branch of the New York Public Library is a true wonder of the city. Upon its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the United States, and the classical design elements ensure that it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. In 1965, it became a National Historic Landmark. The Main Reading Room is an enormous hall, with murals and intricate relief work lording overhead and large, open windows allowing for bright sunlight to pour across the books being huddled over. Small exhibitions to art and cultural histories pepper the halls. The entire structure is truly a pleasure to explore, one of the grandest and most wonderful buildings in the entire city, and we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the halls in a book-drunk daze trying to absorb it all.
Known as the "Center for Social Change, " the Ford Foundation has been committed to helping the world be a better place since 1936. They work diligently to "protect human rights, reform governments, provide education opportunities and create space for artistic creativity and expression. " Without a doubt, one of Manhattan's finest atriums greets visitors. Entering the glass structure from either 42nd or 43rd Street, a world of green awaits. There are trees, plants, a fountain and short paths to wander through. The atrium is a hidden oasis in the middle of the city.
As part of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in the late '90s, Pershing Square Cafe opened under the Park Avenue viaduct. The fare is American and straightforward, with burgers and chicken pot pies, steaks and fish. The pancakes, served all day, are a big crowd pleaser. Up front, commuters sipping coffee, reading, and chatting while awaiting the next train, inhabit a more cafe-esque area. When speaking with the manager one day, he was proud to tell me that both Friends with Benefits and the Avengers were filmed at Pershing.