Kung Hei Fat Choy. Happy Chinese New Year.
It is the Year of The Rooster, AKA THE COCK and coincidentally we are just back from New York City, where we narrowly missed the protesters at JFK airport after Trump’s truly shocking decision yesterday to ban immigration from a string of Muslim majority nations. This has understandably sparked fury and anguish around the world. Already refugees and migrants are being prevented from boarding flights to the US.
Just absurd when you think that 11,000 people died in gun crime in the USA last year. Why isn’t he focusing on that?
The president has in his first week set about fulfilling the most controversial pledges he made during his election trail. With an aggressive use of executive power early on, as my friend in the US says, he must be getting writers’ cramp as he signs a flurry of orders covering refugees, NATO, repealing Obamacare, fossil fuels, trade and women’s rights. I also understand that he’s put a freeze on federal hiring and banned the EPA from putting out any information, the public comments phone line to the White House has been disconnected and the Global Gag on Abortion is back, defunding any women’s health charities if they even mention abortion, regardless of whether or not they actually provide them.
What on earth is going on?
It is too soon to predict where this is all going amidst all the confusion, anger and fear so we will just have to watch this space for a while and see how it all unfolds. We are all in this together now and share the same sense of pride and community as the New Yorkers do, so we need to “go high when they go low” as Michelle Obama suggested in the best political speech of last year and assume that “there’s going to be a festival of lawsuits about almost every controversial action that he takes, perhaps a case for taking him before the UN’s human rights council.”
Whilst we were there, it was mostly business as usual in NYC according to the locals I talked to. Without fail they all adhere to the belief that the American idea of possibility and opportunity for all, with many multicultural voices must not change. New York City reflects immigrant populations and encourages variety and vitality and even with everything they’re dealing with it feels relatively positive. New Yorkers are sadly now used to dealing with trauma, but are tremendously welcoming and upbeat, so no matter what kind of experience you are after, there is something for everyone.
So what a privilege it was to spend a few days in New York City with my daughter. Part work for me, part 21st birthday treat for her. The overall mood of the city seemed surprisingly buoyant whilst we were there (but this was before Trump had finished his first week) and there was a tangible spirit of hope that “this too will pass.”
There was lots of building work going on with a very active hotel development programme and lots of cranes around, which is always a good sign.
My daughter and I were there together five years ago to cover the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. This time the general mood and feeling was different, but the eternal vibrancy remains.
So we decided to grab the bull by the horns and see what NYC had to offer a mother and daughter combo to keep us busy for three full days. Believe it or not I also managed to fit in some meetings. Busy times! Our flights were relatively cheap owing to the time of year, but thanks to our woeful exchange rate, the city was not. This meant that shopping was pretty much off the agenda.
We landed at JFK at 7pm and were keen to not miss a moment, so we dropped the bags at our hotel and headed on out for dinner. We had chosen a great little New York hotel in mid-town called The Roger Smith Hotel at 501 Lexington Avenue that we were really happy with. It is one of the longest-running family-owned Midtown hotels in NYC and you can tell. It is intimate, quirky, relaxed and confident, unassuming but with lovely touches. Bowls of green apples, yoghurts and baskets of goodies. The bar is cool and they have a rooftop bar as well that sadly was closed as too cold.
The hotel is very close to Grand Central Terminal and within walking distance of lots of attractions. Close proximity to the shops on Fifth Avenue and the staff were great and the beds gloriously comfortable.
We went straight out to the iconic Balthazar Restaurant, super trendy and inside as beautiful as ever, but the outside is currently boarded up, which weirdly made it feel even better walking in somehow.
Great food and cocktails:-
A proper little oasis with lots of atmosphere, soft lighting and gleaming wood. It is one of the best places to get a snapshot fishing-net-catch of New York’s beautiful people. Couples, families, hipsters, business gatherings, even a lone person waiting for his online date to show up.
He or she did not appear.
It was surprisingly mild for January. We had blue sky and 11C. It was warmer than London and so we became urban wanderers for the day aiming to lose ourselves in the different neighbourhoods, safe in the knowledge that you cannot actually go too far wrong, thanks to the unbelievably easy design of the city.
We were up bright and early so set off on a walk from our hotel, via Grand Central Station up to Central Park. This in itself is a wonderful way to get a feel for the 8.49m New Yorkers in 304 square miles all going about their daily business. Walking, talking, listening to music, carrying their coffees, determinedly going somewhere. No-one loitering. All groomed. All with purpose.
Grand Central Station is grand indeed. A place that takes you immediately back to the spirit of early 20th Century New York. Swathes of natural light. Felt very peaceful.
We took a walk in Central Park, the wind hitting us suddenly as the buildings disappeared to make way for the urban miracle laid out between 1859 and 1870. It’s huge, spanning 840 acres from 59th Street to 110th Street and Fifth Avenue to Central Park West. There are fountains, lakes, an ice-skating rink, huge lawns, a carousel and a conservatory. It works in every season, whether it’s covered in snow or bathed in sunlight and dotted with sunbathers.
It is another great space to check out the locals, walking dogs, chatting, commuting and communing, taking photos, sitting still, running fast, and wherever we went, you can see the park from afar – a glorious bit of space in the centre of a concrete jungle. Magnificent old trees, gnarled and flourishing. Everywhere we went my daughter mentioned Gossip Girls.
We just had to go back to have breakfast at Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien to check out whether the orange juice I remembered was still the best I had ever tasted.
Then we took the subway to the Meatpacking District. Love the subway, again a great way to people watch. At one point two 15 year old boys did the most amazingly acrobatic performance using the metal supports on the ceiling and breakdancing about in the space. Excellent and although an announcement came over the airways to say please do not pay them..I couldn’t resist when they came around with a hat. Enterprise at it’s best.
We had lunch and cocktails at Bubby’s:-
Then we went to the Whitney Museum of American Art in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan. The new wonderfully light infused nine story building does pure justice to it’s artwork, providing the first comprehensive view of it’s unsurpassed collection of modern and contemporary American art. The gallery space, both indoors and out works incredibly well. Outside, there are art exhibits as well as spectacular views to be seen across the Hudson river, inside, floor after floor of simply great contemporary art. The energy, creativity and wildly imaginative works that filled the new galleries was excellent. There is an amazing raw vitality in the arts and literary scene – which absorbs and embraces the value of multicultural diversity and is ever growing. A real sense of freshness.
Danny Meyer has created a very cool street level restaurant and cafe called “Untitled”.
This was followed by a leisurely walk up the High Line, which has an entrance right next door to the museum, so there’s no excuse. You can walk all the way to 34th Street on the elevated park, which is built on an abandoned railway line (you can still see original tracks peeking through the grass). Along the meandering path, were fantastic art exhibits, music performances, and empty benches and chairs to lounge on. It was warm enough for people to be lying around. Read the “I want a dyke for President” letter stuck to the wall if you’re eyesight is good enough! It’s great.
We then get the subway back to Time Square to check out the recently reopened Knickerbocker Hotel. A beautiful old style hotel hidden above Times Square. A nod to New York’s guided age and rumoured to be the birthplace of the martini in 1912 where Scott Fitzgerald used to drink.
The roof top bar called Knicks is stunning, even in January. They have heaters. They also have exquisite cocktails:-
We rushed home to change for dinner and went to Bar 65 for dinner, with incredible 360 views of the City of Light. On the 65th floor, this cocktail lounge offers top-tier drinks, small plates & outstanding views. Excellent cocktails.
Located in the Rainbow Room, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, 65th Floor, New York, NY 10112
Outside the Rockefeller building:-
Sarahbeths Central Park South for breakfast
5th avenue to admire the shops – Abercrombie and Fitch sums up the change in the place. No more dark moody lighting, no more loud music or bare torso’s AND clothing in black. It’s grown up, just like the city.
Trump Towers was a huge point of interest. Protected by a SWAT team with full on guns we watched people taking photos and simply staring. I like the fact that a bus with “Walking Dead” on was positioned outside as I took the photo:-
Victoria’s Secret is a must when you have a daughter. Each item like a little work of art. How do they do so well in this era of new feminism I always ask myself? But my daughter tells me that women can love fine underwear and still discuss politics.
Sephora, another girl heaven.
In general the clothes shops matched £ for $ so no point. For a quick break we tried out another rooftop bar on 5th Avenue.
230 Rooftop bar. Very tacky and not great, the rooftop space was strange and not very inviting. You can’t see over the edge, so only the Empire State Building is visible.
The only really traditional thing we did (aside from eating pancakes for breakfast every morning) was go up the iconic Empire State Building, bathed at night in different colour lighting. The tallest in the city at 1,454 feet now it’s not competing with the World Trade Centre. But I have a question – WHERE HAS KING KONG GONE?
Here we are now:-
Here we were 5 years ago:-
We stepped out onto the open air observatory on the 86th floor to gale force winds on one side, but still, so worth it as you can see the sights up to 80 miles in all directions (as does the hair):-
We were lucky enough to get the hot ticket for dinner. The Polo Bar for cocktails and dinner. Ralph Lauren’s much-anticipated new restaurant and bar, that recently opened on New York City’s East 55th Street in the beloved La Côte Basque’s old space, is very cool. Like an old-school gentlemen’s club. Everyone, the men in tweed jackets and turtlenecks, the women, size 6 an excellently turned out, together with their blazer donned children seem to be playing their roles. But nevertheless we didn’t feel out of place. Everyone is welcome. It’s just got a long waiting list.
We were on a night flight back to London so till time to fit in a full day of eating and drinking…
Breakfast in the uber cool Brooklyn at Five Leaves, the diner set up by Heath Ledger. Uber cool with insanely delicious food, so super popular:-
A stroll around Williamsburg with some of the most dynamic bars and restaurants in the city, as well as some excellent indie shopping. We wandered from Five Leaves along Bedford Avenue exploring the stores between the Williamsburg Bridge and McCarren Park. We visited Catbird where a family friend is currently working – the place for original jewellery and gifts – especially well known for her stack rings and frequented by Leonardo De Caprio and Courtney Cox from Friends.
Great restaurants and bars.
We headed via subway to Danny Meyers Union Square Cafe which has reopened in a brand new location. Excellent for lunch and um, more delicious cocktails.
Just enough time to hit the Gansevoort Hotel roof top bar called “The Plunge” on the way to the airport. They have an indoor, outdoor pool and a very cool space. Outside views feels like Gotham City.
Things to do next time:
Join the next march
See Hamilton (hopefully will now see it in London if I can get my hands on the hottest selling ticket in town)
Walk across Brooklyn bridge
Stay at the Bowery Hotel
Go to the bar at the Grace hotel and dance. The highlight is the lobby’s 22ft heated pool with a swim bar and DJ apparently.
Find more cocktails.
The Met Breuer, latest addition to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.