While the red door is bright and unmistakable, it doesn’t even begin to speak of what is inside. Through a darkly lit and colorfully painted stairwell, we come upon the lobby of Ye Olde Carlton Arms Hotel. Wood paneled walls and colorful ceiling lights become the backdrop for the many painted murals. A dressed-up skeleton, a smiling Mona Lisa, and an old television transport this inn back in time, gesturing towards the long history that hides behind each door. Also known as the Artbreak Hotel, this 52-room building was once gas-lit, housing farmers and businessmen alike. The lobby was once a speakeasy during Prohibition, later a “hang out for drag queens, prostitutes, and drug addicts,” and then, a single-room occupancy hotel for the poor in the 60s. In 1983, owner Ed Ryan chose to redirect its future, and brought masses of art into the building - soon enough each room was muraled, sculpted, designed, and transformed by different artists. Today, each room is unique and colorful – a true art exhibit that happens to also act as a bedroom.
Calvary-St George’s church moved to Gramercy Park in 1832. It has a strong history of influential members and it was here that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was set. In addition to movie nights and summer programs for children, we witnessed a small, delightful concert performance along the sidewalk while walking one day.
The Players, an organization founded in the late Nineteenth Century to further the careers of talented actors by linking them with established patrons of the arts, is a place of considerable national historic, artistic, and dramatic importance. Though founded by, and for, a small group of primarily American Shakespearean Actors, today The Players serves over 700 active theater and film actors, television hosts, arts patrons, and businessmen and women. Although a private club, non-members are given access to this simply remarkable townhouse that serves as its home - guests are invited to the occasional theater production and lectures that are held here. Edwin Booth, the most famous American Shakespearean actor of his time, purchased the mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South and had it redesigned by famed architect Stanford White to house a monumental club and theater for actors and a residence for himself on the upper floors. The ornate chandeliers, wooden parquet floors, gilded ceiling wreaths, Tiffany Glass windows, open circular staircase, indoor stage, library, and dining room are lined with portraits of Edwin by John Singer Sargent and paintings of the faces of every distinguished member of the club throughout its history. From founding member Mark Twain, to Frank Sinatra, to Carroll Burnett, to Uma Thurman, the breadth of actors and theatrical personalities covering the old, intricately carved walls was awe inspiring. A particularly memorable painting was a full-length portrait of the late, celebrated theater patron Helen Hayes wearing a brilliant, crimson velvet gown. Hayes was the first female to be admitted in 1989. The building is still filled with many of the original decorations, objects, and pieces of furniture used by the founding members of the club: the simple wood “club tables” by the bar in the dining room; humidors and personalized drinking mugs for the famously heavy smokers and alcoholics of the old Shakespearean crew; and mosaic tiles carved with words of wisdom for the actors themselves. “Dear actors, ” reads one – “eat not onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath. ” And another, a particularly revealing line from Shakespeare, “you shall not budge, you go not till I set you up a glass. ”And for the real history buffs – Edwin Booth had an older brother, John, another famous Shakespearean actor. The brothers disagreed and competed over everything, from their individual claim to particular theater venues to politics (Edwin was a Unionist, John a Confederate). They settled on a compromise to divide the country into two theatrical spheres for each to work in – Edwin in the North, John in the South. And as for their political disagreements, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. When we visited in late 2012, The Players was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary. After asking our tour guide, the knowledgeable assistant executive director of the Club, John McCormick, how he felt about his job, he responded “I get goose bumps every time I think about this site that I work in. ”
Adereth El is considered to be the oldest synagogue in New York that is still operating out of its original location. German Jewish immigrants founded the congregation in 1857, and the building was constructed in 1863. To this day, Orthodox Jews attend services on a daily basis. Until his passing in 2013, Rabbi Sidney Kleiman had been the head of the congregation for sixty years - the longest serving rabbi in the country. Not all of the original architecture remains, as the shul had to be renovated twice during the 1900s, but its old world charm is prevalent throughout. The stained glass windows, the wooden seating, and even the prayer books took us back in time.
The National Arts Club has been promoting American artists and educating the public about the arts and art criticism since its founding in 1898. Located across from Gramercy Square Park, the Club is housed in the Tilden Mansion, a stunning, double-wide sandstone rowhouse built in the 1840s that was redesigned and re-ornamented by Calvert Vaux in the 1870s. The National Arts Club was a pioneer in showing multiple types of art in the same space and for bringing artistic mediums other than painting and sculpture to the cultural forefront. Throughout the years, a long list of highly acclaimed painters, photographers, musicians, architects, and actors have worked extensively with the National Arts Club, including Robert Henri, William Merritt Chase, Alfred Stieglitz, Stanford White, Walter Damrosch, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, and Uma Thurman. Members of the Club have also included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Dwight Eisenhower. While the public is invited to view various art shows throughout the year in the galleries down below, members have access to the upstairs dining room, and to the exclusive Gramercy Square Park.
Though we did not see anyone entering or leaving this mysterious, magnificent marble building, something about its high-columned entrance and grand, stone stairs made me walk up to the entrance and open the high front door. I could not have made a better decision – this is the New York State Appellate Division Courthouse, a historic landmark, architectural wonder, and site of many important rulings and government decisions. The limestone Beaux-Arts building was designed by James Brown Lord in 1896, and its exterior is surrounded by white marble sculptures, while the inside is painted with absolutely stunning allegorical murals by multiple American artists. All of the artwork and original furniture in the building have been restored to excellent condition. Equally stunning are the twenty-seven stained glass windows, including a massive ceiling dome consisting of sixteen radiating panels – the building resembles a sort of temple to the American justice system. This is the building where Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt cracked down on city corruption; where the development of New York’s railroads, subways, and famous libraries were decided; and where every graduating class of the New York Bar Association is sworn in. This building is bursting with history and beauty.
With all the centers we have discovered dedicated to children, pets, students, and shoppers, it was refreshing and intriguing to come upon Senior Planet – “the country’s first technology themed center for over-60s. ” The center offers courses, skill-shares, workshops, special events and lecture series that help senior citizens deal with the ever-changing technological world. 22 computers, 3 Skype stations, a gaming area, a projector, mobile devices and a lounge create a space that one might think is fit for a youngster, but is, in fact, the perfect space for the senior folks. “Aging with attitude” is their motto. Computer basics, advanced computing, introduction to the iPad, digital photography, social networking and more are all taught in a welcoming environment. What a brilliant concept!
A favorite of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Sarah Jessica Parker, New York Vintage is what co-founder Shannon Hoey describes as “a leader in fashion. ” Shannon has spent the past twenty-three years amassing an extensive collection of vintage clothing, which includes a downstairs retail space open to the public and an upstairs industry archive open by appointment only. Over the years, Shannon has dressed red carpet actresses and world-famous singers, and has worked closely with costume designers on a range of films and TV series, including Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama made a historic appearance in a New York Vintage Norman Norell dress, and since then, Shannon has dressed her on many occasions. When I first visited New York Vintage, I could not believe my eyes. The window display was stunning, as was the old-fashioned décor, complete with richly upholstered chairs, gilded mirrors, and ornate chandeliers. I was captivated by the wall of Vogue photographs, each one featuring a piece from Shannon’s collection, and of course, by the true treasure of New York Vintage: high-heeled shoes, flamboyant hats, and endless racks of beautiful dresses from designers around the world. Upstairs, the industry archive upstairs was filled with even more outrageous items, from a dress owned by Ulysses Grant’s wife to intricate McQueen headpieces. “Every piece here has historical significance, ” Shannon told me. “We’re an institution, a working museum archive. ” In fact, she added, many of the items at New York Vintage have been purchased from museums, and each piece is meticulously documented and entered into a database. Today, Shannon is one of New York’s foremost experts on fashion as an art form, so I was surprised to learn that she never set out to work with vintage clothing. “Fashion discovered me, ” she told me, explaining how her husband’s career in antiques first sparked her interest in vintage. It quickly became her passion, and within a few years, she and her husband co-founded New York Vintage. “He handles the business side of things, and I’m the creative director, ” Shannon explained. “So I get to do the fun part. ”But the vintage business can be difficult, too, and it took years of hard work for Shannon to build her collection. “The kind of fashion we seek is not easily found, ” she said. “It takes patience and capital, and you need to know what you’re looking for. ” In the early days, Shannon spent a lot of time searching for new pieces in Europe, but nowadays, with three young daughters, she travels much less. When I asked about her children, she said with a smile, “They spend a lot of time here with me, and they love playing dress-up. ”Shannon, unsurprisingly, also loves dressing up, and she told me that she has a lot of opportunities to wear items from her collection. “Halloween is my favorite holiday, ” she explained, “And last year I went to Allison Sarofim’s Italian futurism-themed party in a pink Mohawk and mod clothing. ” But Shannon’s favorite era is the 1920s. “I’m obsessed with all of it, ” she said. “The mindset, the freedom, the departure from women being bound and put in corsets. ”Still marveling over Shannon’s list of celebrity clients, which includes Julia Roberts and Beyonce, I asked if she ever gets starstruck. When celebrities first started flocking to the store, she told me, it was totally overwhelming, “like running from a tidal wave. ” But since then, the only time she has really been starstruck was her visit to the White House with the First Lady. “Some celebrities still catch me off-guard, ” she said, “Like the time Nicole Kidman showed up unannounced. But otherwise, I’m used to it. ”When I asked Shannon about the future of New York Vintage, she told me that they are hoping to expand overseas. “We want to open our doors to global clients, ” she told me, “maybe by opening an outpost in Europe. ” But until then, she told me, she will continue to do what she loves here in New York, working with designers, inspiring them and feeling inspired. For Shannon, the truly fulfilling part of her job is working with designers and models, creating with them and helping to communicate their vision. “I’m always inspired, ” she said with a smile. “I have the best job in the world. ”
When I stepped into the lobby of Hotel Giraffe, decorated in warm beiges and oranges like the animal for which it is named, I immediately understood why Trip Advisor selected it as one of the top ten hotels in New York. With a bar stocked with muffins, lemon water, and coffee for guests and a surprisingly calm, quiet atmosphere despite the hustle and bustle outside, the hotel already felt to me like a home away from home. Ashley Van Goehring, the director of sales and marketing, met me as I admired the piano at the center of the lofty space. She explained that every day from 5pm to 8pm, wine and cheese is provided to guests and that live piano music is played during that time on weekdays. Knowing that, I was impressed before seeing any of the rooms. While riding up in the elevator, Ashley told me about the hotel’s origins. Unlike the other Library Hotel Collection properties, Henry Kallan, the owner, wanted to build Hotel Giraffe from scratch. He teamed up with an architect and started to design an Art Deco building with a modern interior. He chose to have a third of the rooms be suites so that there would be more spacious options for families, including larger bathrooms, not often found in New York hotels. Henry Kallan, being fond of giraffes, chose to christen his newest venture “Hotel Giraffe. ” “It was kismet, ” Ashley said with a smile. As I walked down one of the many hallways with Ashley, she pointed out that every floor has thematic modern photography. Although not obvious - “This is not a safari hotel, ” Ashley affirmed - every floor hints at the giraffe, including printed number plates on the doors. Ashley invited me into an impressively large suite and immediately escorted me onto a “tiny Juliet balcony” that provided a view of Madison Square Park. She then excitedly beckoned me back inside and shut the door. Shockingly, the sound of the busy street below was instantly muted. Ashley explained that the doors are double-paned and sound-proofed. “We understand it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep in New York, ” she admitted before mentioning the complimentary eye mask and earplugs that are offered to each guest. "We even provide the option to deliver Sleepytime tea to our guests, " she added. As I explored the room, complete with a pull-out sofa, roomy bedroom, and large windows, my attention was drawn to the bookshelf. As someone who owned a bookstore, I was excited to learn that the Library Hotel Collection works with The Strand to curate all the books in the guest rooms. Ashley let me know that while each room's literary sampling is different, a copy of Tall Blondes – a book about giraffes – can be found on every shelf. As we continued to explore the hotel, it became very clear that though every amenity had been carefully thought out, the real treasure of Hotel Giraffe is the staff. Ashley informed me that there is not a lot of turnover with employees and that the Library Hotel Collection tends to promote from within, meaning that not only is the staff very well trained, but guests can be assured of some consistency in management. I learned that the doorman, Jose, has been at the hotel since it opened in December of 1999. The company is also close-knit, and so employees are able to cycle through the properties. “I have the other hotels on speed dial, ” Ashley admitted to me. “We are all unique, and a little bit quirky. ”As we were saying our good byes, I mentioned my original shock at how quiet and calm the hotel seemed. Ashley nodded and said, “This is the perfect place in New York for an urban safari. ” Guests can set out on expeditions throughout Manhattan’s varied neighborhoods and then return at the end of the day to a place that “will always feel like home. ”