With grandiose entrances spanning the block between 56th and 57th Streets, Thompson Central Park (formerly known as Le Parker Meridien) has much to be seduced by when stepping inside their doors. After having had a stupendous breakfast at Norma's inside the hotel, Marisa Zafran, the director of public relations & marketing, took us on a grand tour, sharing some of the fascinating history along the way. Coincidentally, while chatting about Jack Parker, who built the hotel in 1981, and has since passed away, we crossed paths with his elegant ninety-three year old wife, as she stepped out of the elevator. Apparently, she now resides on the top floor while her sons run the hotel. When entering the elevators, ourselves, we immediately glanced upward to stare at the constantly looping classic films being shown. On any given ride, guests are treated to Charlie Chaplin films, Laurel & Hardy, the Three Stooges as well as old-time favorite cartoons. Marisa explained that the aim is to eliminate the awkward elevator silence and make it so that people feel completely at home at every turn in the hotel.On the top floor, there is a beautiful and inviting lap pool surrounded by glass windows, and stepping outside onto the terrace we had 360 degrees of breathtaking views of New York, including overlooking Central Park in its entirety. Back down in the lobby, we bypassed the line that was wrapping around the space, despite the early hour, to get into Burger Joint. This tiny, hidden restaurant is considered by many to be the best place for hamburgers in the city. I also fully appreciated the exquisite burgundy-draped Knave where people were quietly sitting over a cup of coffee. Later in the day, the bar opens and guests are invited in for a drink and some elegant "nibbles."
New York has its own version of the palace of Versailles and it is called the Baccarat Hotel. If anything in the city can be called “exquisite,” it is this luxury destination on 53rd Street. The first time I entered the intriguing vestibule, I was greeted by a charming gentleman who immediately had me turn my head towards the “vertical chandelier.” He proudly told me that it was made up of 2016 Baccarat crystal glasses stacked on one another, lit up in ever-changing patterns. Lined with mirrors, this small hall seemed to extend infinitely in either direction, but the magnificent chandeliers above my head echoed upwards into eternity. And then the doorman recommended taking the elevator one flight up to see the lobby.This is where the real sensation presented itself. As the elevator doors opened, I found myself in one of a series of salons lined with crystals, glass, and statuettes. I was breathless, feeling more like I was in a museum with artfully placed display cases filled with shimmering antiques on loan from the French government. The windows themselves, which are also visible from the street, resemble the ribbed exterior of a crystal decanter. This comparison is probably no mistake: the “Baccarat” of Baccarat hotel is indeed the same Baccarat of the world-renowned crystal company. Under new management, the brand has been expanded to include luxury hotels. Though New York is their first, there are already plans to open locations in Morocco and Dubai.As I continued to explore the veritable palace, I found a smaller room with a ceiling that seemed to be covered in cracked glass. It offered an extra level of privacy and sophistication. Back in the main room, a long table stood covered in breathtaking globes made of roses and a fountain of wine bottles surrounded by multicolor flutes. Guests sat in chairs lined with fur, drinking out of crystal glasses. Continuing down the hall, there was a pristine bar room with blindingly white chairs and an outdoor balcony with elegant monochromatic seating.Despite the elegance and grandeur of the Baccarat, there is not one drop of pretension. Every staff member I met was extremely friendly, and the sentiment was one of whimsy rather than austerity. An alcove demonstrated this playful character with shelves holding pure white books each marked with a different year. Every one was blank, except for page numbers. I discovered that their purpose is so that guests can write secret messages to future visitors. All the writer needs to do is give the recipient the year and the page number. The hotel hopes to see many wedding proposals made this way. On the last shelf there is one red book, marked with “2015,” the year the hotel was opened. One red item is a Baccarat trademark: Before exiting, I entertained myself by gliding through the rooms identifying the red jewel in each of the glittering chandeliers.It did not take me long to find an excuse to return to this sophisticated fairyland with my family. I chose my daughter's birthday to dazzle them. Only this time, we sat at the sixty-foot bar, ordered cocktails and champagne and a favorite, gougeres - scrumptious cheese filled puffs. After this, we headed downstairs to dine at the splendid Chevalier Restaurant.
The building that houses Flute Bar & Lounge was once home to a speakeasy called Club Intime, run by the notorious chorus girl Texas Guinan. Today, Flute's owners pay homage to their predecessors with 1920's music and drinks served in mugs, as was the custom during Prohibition. The underground champagne bar has no windows and dim lighting, and its seating - plush sofas and ottomans clustered around low tables - give it a far more intimate feel than a traditional lounge.With countless brands from which to choose, champagne may be the focus, but Flute also serves a wide variety of cocktails - many of which feature champagne - and small accompanying food plates. Texas Guinan once called the speakeasy business an "essential and basic industry." Though her Club Intime was shut down after only six months in business, she would certainly be heartened that its spirit lives on in Flute today - especially on the last Saturday of each month when Wit's End celebrates jazz music and dancing with an assortment of talent.
The Neighborhood Playhouse is both a great community resource and an old-fashioned reminder of the timelessness of great theater. Virtually invisible from the street, the only clue to its existence is a red, unmarked door and a modest sign. Once inside, however, I discovered that this almost one hundred year old building holds within it a proscenium theater, a full-size dance studio, and plenty of dressing rooms and classrooms. What a fascinating tour I was treated to by Emily Duncan, the admissions administrator, where I learned about their history and mission.The lobby, with its shabby elegance, features photos of famous graduates, as well as scenes from plays over the course of the school's history. The top two floors of the building are devoted to a beautiful dance studio with wood floors and soaring ceilings. A lover of dance, I was particularly moved when Emily announced that I was standing in the former domain of dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, who taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse alongside actor and teacher, Sanford Meisner.I was also enrapt by Christine Cirker, the librarian, who proudly discussed their vast collection of plays and theatre criticism. Incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the world of theater, she told me that she also teaches classes on script interpretation. Christine went on to explain the playhouse's claim to fame: the Meisner Technique, a method of acting that emphasizes that one should "live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances." Sanford Meisner developed his famous improvisation-based technique at the Playhouse in the mid-1940s, which continues to train actors to this day. It counts among its list of prominent alumni names: Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall and Steve McQueen; and more recently, it has added to its roster, Allison Janney and Chris Noth.The playhouse trains about one hundred students at any given time, seventy-five first-years and twenty-five second-years who have been invited back as a result of a unanimous faculty vote. According to Emily, graduates have an easier time finding work than most aspiring actors due to their alma mater's extensive network of influential writers, directors, and actors. Much of the faculty is closely involved in the theater world, and as Pamela Moller Kareman, the playhouse's executive director, shared, "It's a big leap to become a professional actor; we want people to know that you can do this with your life." And from the time that I spent here, it became apparent that the staff at Neighborhood Playhouse is there to guide and support students every step of the way.