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Meet 53rd Street

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53rd Street Library

When the Donnell Library, known for its collection of non-English works, teen literature, and Winnie the Pooh Dolls, closed in 2008, the neighborhood mourned its passing. Luckily, in its place, 53rd Street has received an innovative, welcoming new public library run by some of the kindest, most helpful people I have encountered on the side streets. When I visited the library shortly after it had opened in the summer of 2016, it was Olympic season, and the large, central amphitheater with staircase seating was live-streaming the games. Not only were visitors encouraged to borrow headphones if they wished to listen to whatever was playing, but those sitting on the stairs were allowed to have food, a rare occurrence in a public library. When I spoke to Genoveve, the head librarian, she told me that she was working on getting a Criterion films license for the library so that they could offer showings from a diverse, high-quality archive of films. As it is, Kevin, a library employee, informed me that the screen is “never black. ” Kevin and Genoveve were joined by Lauren, who is in charge of children’s programming. The trio showed me into a community room with comforting orange, puffy walls, which I learned are very adaptable for various acoustics. The room can be broken up into two smaller spaces, separated by a wall that doubles as a dry erase board. The group then walked me around the main floor, where the bulk of the collection is kept. The 53rd Street team has made excellent use of the space that they have been given. Each nook and cranny either has a bookshelf or a place for people to sit. There are outlets galore and many places where people can comfortably work on a laptop. Genoveve jokingly called the back laptop bar the “cocktail area” because of its sleek design. The library was built with modern technology in mind, but Genoveve assured me that there is a good balance of physical books to electronic materials, since, after all, “People still really love their books. ” I was curious if certain age groups prefer electronic sources to actual books, but I learned that there is an even mix of people who use both – including my three hosts, who described when they like to read stories on e-readers vs. when they like to turn pages. Though the space is very technical and Genoveve hopes to host coding events, International Games Day, and tech meet-ups in the future, the library is known as much for the arts as for its technological resources. “Film, Arts, and Music” is how Genoveve described the library’s programming focus. While it is a no-brainer to feature arts events, since the library is across the street from the MoMA (and has already begun collaborating with the museum), 53rd Street also reaches out to other sources in the arts. For instance, in September, the library hosted an event in honor of Roald Dahl during which the cast of Matilda on Broadway showed up for a photo opportunity. Genoveve and Kevin let me know that they are also planning on inviting opera companies, one-man/woman shows, and chamber music ensembles to perform at the library. I was curious to know who the library’s regular attendees are, considering that the building is located in the middle of midtown. Genoveve shared that there were a lot of residential locals: “I didn’t know there were so many families that lived in the neighborhood! ” she exclaimed. In addition to locals, the library attracts commuters, tourists, and even other librarians. “We’ve become a popular place for the internal department, ” she said, smiling. The crowning jewel of the library is the children’s room, which is cleverly tucked below the bleachers facing the giant screen. I was delighted when Lauren pointed out that the rug that covers the room is a cubic rendering of the island of Manhattan. The rug was provided by TEN, the architect that designed the whole library. Lauren is pleased with how much TEN listened to the librarians when designing the children’s room, especially when it comes to the sink in the corner. She explained that having a sink makes it much easier to plan activities and crafts with the children, citing a recent shaving cream project as an example. There are children’s programs everyday, as well as teen events in the space just outside the kid’s room. “We have a really robust story-time schedule, ” Lauren said proudly. No matter what room we entered, I was blown away by the friendly greetings and bright, cheery smiles that I received from the staff. When I mentioned this to Genoveve, she nodded and admitted, “We have received a lot of compliments about the team being friendly. ” She went on to say that when she was approached about being head librarian, she immediately started hiring the “cream of the crop. ” It also helped, Kevin added, that the staff “worked together for a month before the library even opened. ” Lauren chimed in: “Librarians exist because we’re there to help people. Our natural inclination, whether we’re friendly or shy, is to help. ” Genoveve nodded and told me that she wants everyone who walks in to feel comfortable and at-home. “This is New York’s Living Room. ”

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Baccarat Hotel

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.

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Cello Wine & Cocktail Bistro

Candles flicker from every corner casting a glow over the dark wood bar and tables at Cello, while softly illuminating the bottles of wine and liquor on display. Modernity intrudes in the form of a small TV mounted in one corner, but, otherwise, the atmosphere is quiet and rustic enough that it is easy to forget one is still in Manhattan. Tom, a manager and part-owner of Cello for five years, describes the bar as an "easy-going place" with a focus on getting people to try new wines. Patrons are encouraged to sample wines before they make a decision, and Tom stressed that there is no price incentive to buy a bottle rather than a glass. He went on to say that the bartenders pour four glasses per bottle - "you're getting a really full glass, " Tom added. Though they will sometimes keep a specific bottle in reserve for regulars who request it, Cello stocks a rotating collection of wines from "The Old World and New World" to keep their selection varied. One wine for sale when we visited came from a volcano caldera in the Canary Islands. Their list is meant to cater to wine aficionados and novices alike. Tom confidently declared, "We'll definitely be able to find something you like. " Cello also offers a well-stocked bar and a modest range of beer choices for non-oenophiles, as well as a pizza and tapas menu featuring meats and cheeses imported from France, Italy and Holland. Tom described the food as "very good, very well thought-out" with wine pairing opportunities in mind. There are a lot of "first dates" that stop by Cello, but otherwise, Tom characterized the clientele as a mix of businesspeople, local business owners and residents of the neighborhood and, simply, people "chilling out" late at night.