Here’s the diary of one travel writer’s 48 hours in New York City…
Let’s play word association: I say ‘New York’, you think… Bright lights, big city… Cocktails on rooftops… Hip hotel lobby bars… Delicious big brunches… The Museum of Modern Art… The Statue of Liberty… The skyline at sunset…
Well, I’m delighted to report all of these wonderful images were part of my recent action-packed trip to the USA where I discovered sights I’d previously dismissed as tourist traps are in fact must-sees. Thanks, Virgin Atlantic, for having me fall in love all over again with the city that never sleeps.
Day one, 10am Collected from my West London home by a Virgin limo, to whisk me to an Upper Class flight* to NYC (see previous press trip post)…
7pm We arrive at recently refreshed boutique hotel classic, Royalton at 44 West 44th Street. Of course there’s a gorgeous female DJ soundtracking the sexy lobby. A quick peek at my soothing pale-grey boudoir, luggage ditched, and it’s straight out again, into a limo and across Times Square to the Hudson hotel on West 59th Street…
8pm Rocking up at Hudson Hall for supper and we have to squeeze our way through the invite-only white-dress-code party guests there for a hip magazine launch. So far, so Manhattan. Opened this summer, Hudson Hall has the look and feel of a cool spin on a college canteen, with a vibe more hip downtown hangout than midtown hotel restaurant. It’s a fun way to eat: you grab a tray and choose from a selection of small mouthwatering ready-to-eat dishes. Cans of beer and decanted house wines echo the Ivy League theme, but be assured the cocktails are a step up from any frat-party shenanigans. And the DJ behind the decks on our visit? Lady Starlight, a cohort of Lady Gaga, naturally. Fast forward through a blur of tasty tapas-y wagyu beef and crab rolly treats nightcapped with cunning John Lermayer-devised cocktails on the Hudson’s rooftop in the esteemed company of Marc Gordon, president of Morgans Hotel Group and I’m well and truly ready for my Egyptian cotton-clad Royalton bed. (For a detailed phototour of the rooms, see this post from my co-press-tripper James ‘I like boring things‘ Ward.)
Day two, 7am Jet lag is your friend in this town – being up and at ’em early is never a bad thing with so much to see and do. And breakfast doesn’t get perkier than at Brasserie 44 in the Royalton. Especially if you treat yourself to the caviar-lavished lobster omelette. Positively spoiling.
9.30am: Our date at Downtown Manhattan Heliport means only one thing: Wow! We get to see the city by helicopter. I knew Manhattan is an island, but seeing it from the sky in a bird’s-eye-view style puts a whole new spin on your perspective of this building-packed swathe of the five boroughs.
11am With an hour free, it feels mandatory in this town to grab an hour of retail therapy, so it’s a quick cab ride across TriBeCa to Century 21 – entrance on Cortlandt Street. (It can’t go unmentioned that this department store stands right on the edge of heart-stirring site of Ground Zero, now a hive of building activity. Personally I find it hard to relate to people flocking to this sad, sad place as though it’s a conventional tourist landmark, but I understand a site of such an unconscionable tragedy should not go unacknowledged and it is poignant to see it in person.)
My top tip at Century 21? Fashion-loving NyLon ladies, make your way through the scrum of bargain hunters and head for the third floor; turn right top of the escalator and have a poke around the European section for some serious bargains. (I picked up fabulous dresses from Antik Batik and Marlene Birger and even a Pucci jacket for next to nothing.)
12.30pm Lunch is at Cipriani Dolci in Grand Central. You don’t need to be a trainspotter to appreciate how glorious this iconic terminal is. Take a gander at the hallmark clock in this the largest train station in the world, then grab a seat in the modern classic Italian restaurant overlooking the magnificent main concourse.
Fast forward past an afternoon of hellos to a few lovely press contacts (where better to hold an informal meeting than in a corner of the lobby of the Royalton?) and it is time for our next exciting excursion… On the Hudson River.
7pm I have to confess it would never have occurred to me to wine and dine afloat in the city that never sleeps. I’d be scared it was too tacky a way to pass precious time somewhere packed with so many cool bars and restaurants. But you know what, our Bateaux New York River Cruise was fantastic fun. And our galley-prepared three-course meal wasn’t half bad. OK, so there was a small wedding party next to us from Milton Keynes which didn’t feel quite as cosmopolitan as one might want from New York escape, but the live singer belting out all the classics (‘Start spreading the news’, etc) while we floated past the world’s most recognisable cityscape at dusk is as memorable as evenings get, no?
11pm Guestlisted at new club SL, we pitch up to be greeted by a sour-faced clipboard mook who couldn’t have been ruder, so we sidestep this showy nightspot for a divey bar in the Meatpacking District… Surely far more fun than any evening spent with suited and booted chaps picking up young over-made-up young things at SL anyway? (Ooh! Hark at me!)
Day three, 8am After a short but sweet snooze in my fantastically quiet super-comfortable Royalton suite, refreshed by the full range of Korres bathroom products and revived by another fit-for-royalty Royalton breakfast, the legacy of our wine-and-whisky-drenched previous night ebbas away… and I’m braced us for an especially edifying morning at the Museum of Modern Art.
11am A private tour at MoMA, hey? What a way to take in one of the world’s most incredible art collections. Our personal guide regales us with the insider story… I have stared at those Jackson Pollock canvasses a few times and never noticed the detritis embedded in Pollock’s Abstract Expressionist pieces. (I will now forever more play, ‘Can you spot a key, cigarette butt or coin stuck in the oil paint of ‘Full Fathom Five’?)
12pm And what better finale to our New York press trip than lunch in MoMA’s elegant eatery The Modern? Not just a pretty space befitting its gallery-heart location, butthe purveyor of some mighty fine French-American dining.
Now, what a charmed existence you travel writers lead, you are no doubt thinking. I confess it’s a part of my job that makes me feel ever so lucky… But it’s not always so: plenty of time is spent glued to computer screens too, bringing you these insider tips. (And I promise the travelling part doesn’t always run so smoothly. Once, after a heavenly few days at Laluna in the Caribbean, Grenada Airport ground-staff drove a stair-truck straight into the side of my plane home; I ended up having to stay there solo another 36 hours, in a cockroach-riddled hotel… I’ll save showing you the photos from that escapade. It’s much more fun sharing the good stuff…)
Having grown up in Manhattan with spells spent in New York on and off ever since, I confess that this press trip showed me the city in a glorious new light – from the air, on land and from water. Thank you, Virgin and the Royalton for having us.
*Virgin Atlantic flies from London Heathrow to New York five times daily. Fares start from £1,559 in Upper Class and can be booked either online at www.virginatlantic.com or by calling reservations on 08442 092 770
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