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.
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.”
Established in 1874, Westpfal continues to provide premium knives and tools for leatherwork, as well as to sharpen high-end knives for restaurants across New York City. The leather tools available are of the same ilk as the 1930s tools available oh-so-many years ago and are used by fashion designers from Coach to Dooney & Burke. On any given day, one can stop by and find a regular New Yorker, or even folks from out of town, coming in to have their own knives and scissors sharpened by the highly regarded team of workers.When the Manhattan Sideways stopped in for a visit during the summer of 2017, we had the pleasure of meeting Carmilla Wigman, who has been working at Henry Westpfal for over sixty-five years. She was kind enough to share some of the history of the shop. Carmilla pointed out a display board of vintage cutlery from 1931, which she referred to as “her pride and joy.” She also showed us a pair of scissors that was previously owned by John F. Kennedy Jr. and were used in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the reopening of Grand Central Station in 1998. Westpfal now rents these scissors out for similar ceremonies.Unfortunately, one can no longer watch and wait as knives are put on the machines, as they have had to move their factory to New Jersey. It is an example of the age-old story: Rent became a factor on the side streets of Manhattan for Westpfal.Who are their biggest clients almost 150 years later? The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is, as students majoring in leather purchase tools for crafting handbags, belts, and shoes, and numerous chefs who frequent Westpfal to have their personal knives sharpened.
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!