Hitting the mean streets of Manhattan, Englishman in New York, STUART PRITCHARD, took a 24-hour bite out of the Big Apple…
New York: The City that Doesn’t Sleep – expansive, overwhelming, expensive and, for anyone that’s ever switched on a television or been to the cinema, always excitingly familiar. People fall in love with New York. People fall in love in New York. Some people even fall in love with mermaids in New York. Others, meanwhile, battle Stay-Puft Marshmallow men or swing from webs through the streets. Yes, there’s always something to see and do.
It also happens to be my favourite city in the world, and although the idea of covering even a fraction of the Big Apple’s ample charms in 24-hours borders on the ludicrous, I popped over in November to try out British Airways’ new Business Class only service from London City to JFK and managed to pack in quite a bit, like a muppet taking Manhattan…
Whilst I’m not exactly old enough to remember the golden age of air-travel, I am aware that there was once a time when flying from A to B didn’t involve an almost Sisyphean ordeal at the hands of some savage orange or yellow and blue clad airborne yobette, or having to consider the basic human requirement of visiting the lavatory a “frill” that should cost extra.
Thankfully, reviving both that golden age and the spirit of Concorde by use of the old 001 flight designation, British Airways now operates a service from London City to JFK. Using spanking new A318 jets containing just 32 Business Class only lie-flat beds, there are frills galore included in the ticket price here, from an in-flight meal menu created by Lawrence Keogh from London’s famous Roast restaurant, seats with enough leg room to accommodate even giants like myself and wide enough for even the most colossally stereotypical American ass.
Other personal perks included attractive stewardesses with ample, ahem, gin and tonic, but the real deal maker, the hot-app if you will (and you probably shouldn’t), is the fact that while the plane lands at Ireland’s Shannon airport to refuel, you disembark briefly and pass through U.S. Immigration there and then, quickly and painlessly, leaving you free to simply pickup your luggage and leave once you land at JFK, rectal probe-free, as though it was a domestic flight. Ingenious.
Where to stay
Unsurprisingly, New York is not short of top-notch accommodation, from the designer art gallery absolute chic of the recently redesigned The Mark, with its easy access to all of the Upper East Side’s finest attractions, to the subtly situated boutique affair that is the Plaza Athénée, boasting effortless luxury and a location mere minutes from Central Park and Madison Avenue.
Both The Mark and the Plaza Athénée belong to the Leading Hotels of the World group, as they should. But when it comes to that perfect fusion of 21st century sophistication, old world charm and ideal location, for me it had to be The Pierre.
Situated on Fifth Avenue and overlooking Central Park, The Pierre is a hotel for which the term ‘grand’ seems to have been invented. Having recently undergone a $100-million renovation, everything from the marble lobby to the epic, sprawling guest rooms – complete with revamped bathrooms, 50-inch HD plasmas and Bose sound systems, and beds that take some getting out off – to the easy elegance of the 2E Lobby Lounge and the exceptional service for which the hotel is renowned, The Pierre is quite simply the epitome of hospitality perfection. I’d defy even the most prolific of curmudgeons to find fault in anything… and we had with one on the trip with us.
Where to eat
As it happens there’s one more facet to The Pierre that should make its appeal impossible to resist: it also houses the Le Caprice restaurant – an eatery so in demand with New York’s beautiful and elite that even Barry Obama would struggle to get a reservation.
Fortunately for me as a Pierre guest (and esteemed member of the international press corps, or course), I was treated to breakfast and lunch here; a breakfast and lunch that, effectively, ruined all other breakfasts and lunches for me ever since. Firstly, the breakfast menu contains every plausible item you could want to put in your mouth first thing in the morning, cooked to absolute perfection and served up with endless supplies of coffee. Which was lucky, because I’d had gone back tobed otherwise to sleep my gluttony off.
Lunch also sets out to test your resolve, offering starters such as Nantucket bay scallops, sautéed foie gras, pappardelle with wild boar ragu, and mains like prime NY strip joint, Yellow-fin tuna and, yes, my choice (as recommended, mind), Fish and Chips with minted peas puree, washed down with Henriot Brut Souverain N.V. Textbook.
The atmosphere at Le Caprice is casual and conversational, but if you fancy a livelier feel for the evening, then all the trendy kids are heading to the Time Warner Center for some Italian finery courtesy of A Voce.
One of two NY outposts, The Time Warner location is the baby, having only opened in September of last year. With perfect views of Central Park, A Voce is stylishly modern and undeniably sophisticated, whilst the food is something else – overseen by executive chef, Missy Robbins, the location of this branch (inside a shopping mall) might seem a little at odds with the cool image, but only an absolute fool would allow that to stop them from enjoying a truly memorable culinary experience.
What to do
I love Central Park. It’s possible to spend entire days just wandering around it, ice skating at the Woolman Rink, touring the zoo, taking lunch at the famous Tavern on the Green, and if you’re a bit weird, you can even rollerskate round it. However, ever since I first saw it in a film I’d always wanted to go through in a horse-drawn carriage… so I did.
Naturally, this is normally a pastime reserved for happy couples and not dangerous loners who may or may not have had too much champagne with lunch, so I managed to press-gang my lovely Leading Hotels of the World PR hostess PR, Anita, into joining me, threatening bad reviews if she declined…
The whole trip lasts around 20-minutes and costs $34 plus tip, but you’ll also be allowed to feed carrots to the horse afterwards, so worth every cent!
Next, head up to the Rockefeller Plaza and take in a view of the city that most people miss – one which includes the Empire State building. The scene from the Top of the Rock is far more striking and more likely to be mercifully free of furious giant apes too, which is a definite plus.
More movie-based fun can be had with a walk down 5th Avenue from The Pierre. Within minutes you’ll hit FAO Schwartz (next door to the new Apple store), the toy shop that’s home to the giant keyboard as seen in the Tom Hanks’ film Big – what’s more you’re allowed to play on it! For free! Even as a middle-aged man in a suit!
Carry on from Schwartz to the corner of 5th and 57th and you’ll then find yourself at the famous Tiffany & Co building. And while you can’t actually have breakfast in it, you can eat a bagel just outside, which is good enough for me. I went in too, but a dizzying fear and sudden tightness around the wallet meant I didn’t stay for long.
Speaking of shopping, if that’s your bag, then New York is ready to fill that bag and many more besides. The likes of Bloomindales, Sacs, Macy’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s and countless others besides will welcome you with open tills. However, on a short visit, would you rather shop or see the sights? Weight it up carefully.
Leaving New York
As to me, that’s pretty much all I managed to cram in on this particular visit; and I think for such a short amount of time in a place of NYC’s incredible scale, it’s not too bad at all. After all, I stayed in splendour, ate like a king, fell in love with a mermaid and fought a giant ape on top of a skyscraper whilst dressed as some kind of man-spider thing. Although images of the last two items seem to have been sadly wiped from my camera’s memory card somehow…