Travel bites – Manhattan: Flatiron, West Village and the High Line
I am a little bit in love with NYC. It is different, exciting, easy to criticise and compare to London, full of things to try and do. Spending a few days here in November and again in April has made me fall in love once more, and I am now longing to be back and walk through the streets of Manhattan pretending I live here for a while.
It is hard to come up with anything original about the city, so I thought I would rather put together a mish mash of observations and ideas on a couple of areas where I ended up spending a lot of time during my recent trips. The first is quite wide, from Flatiron District to the West Village via the High Line, basically my favourite area of Manhattan.
The High Line Hotel, 180 Tenth Avenue, Chelsea
I think this hotel is an absolute gem. We visited in winter, and it was perfect. It has character, it has charm, the rooms are beautifully decorated in period details such as a postcard stamp machine and vintage telephone. You heard creaky noises from the wood flooring but no traffic, and the fact that is only a few storeys high and has a pretty courtyard with water features, comfy cushions and an artisan coffee van complete the picture. Inside, there’s no reception, rather a warm and welcoming lounge where people enjoy an Intelligentsia coffee (oh so trendy) and sit for hours having loud, I am so important, skype meetings on the free wi-fi.
Check in and check out is done on an iPad. Downsides are the lack of reserved areas for hotel customers (I run across the road to Underline coffee to have a cuppa) and no hot drinks are served in the evening, which for a Brit, is a major fault (there is no kettle in the room). The rooms are very comfortable and larger than the average NY hotel room, and offer local chemist’s products, Bigelow. I would not hesitate to come back but we were lucky back in November and found a great deal; it is on the pricey side but so worth it. The location is fantastic too, it’s a short walk from Gansevoorth market (now closed), Chelsea Market, the High Line is just across and for those like me who love Punchdrunk, is also walking distance from Sleep No More at the Mc Kittrick Hotel. Plus is dog friendly so since we were missing Amber a lot, we made sure we lovingly patted every dog that we met at the hotel.
The Redbury (formerly Martha Washington), 29 East 29th Street
I booked a week at Martha Washington, and ended up at the Redbury. Indeed, the hotel changed name and ownership in the few weeks between booking and staying but apart from an initial confusion (“excuse me, I am looking for the Martha Washington hotel…”) it was no problem at all. Really enjoyed my week here, although a very different feel to the High Line. This is cool funky modern and a little loud Madison Square crowd. The location was great for me as I could walk Midtown to my local office and could also stroll to the West Village and the High Line in pretty much the same time (around half an hour). It’s a couple of minutes from Madison Square and its food delight (from Eataly to 3* 11 Madison) and fairly well connected to a few subway lines.
Rooms are on the small side; I was upgraded from the basic single I had book and I am very grateful as one week would have been a little tough given the size. The bathroom was on the other hand enormous and very clean too, with Ciel products which I did not particularly like as they are made in China (where animal testing is mandatory). The hotel reception is dark with lounge music, but this is cool, isn’t it? The ground floor Marta pizzeria is always, constantly busy and has wood fire ovens and a decent quality pizza (roman style) with great ingredients and a mean wine list. Service is friendly and the take away coffee and teas are fairly priced and artisan too. The only let down is the ‘fitness centre’ which is nothing more than a room stripped of furniture with a step machine, a treadmill and a couple of weights. Nevermind, I still loved staying here and would come back for sure.
Both hotels worked out cheaper than renting an air bnb for one or for two in the area.
I am not a big shopper particularly when using a different currency yet this is New York so money just goes out the window. Bleecker street is fun, with loads of independent shops and small, fashionable chains and second hand record stores. Magnolia Bakery, Li-Lac chocolates are in the area, while my favourite shop is probably jewellery designer Laura Lobdell which has a to die for ‘champers’ collection. Yet the best record store isn’t here (Rebel Rebel where I picked up a warped and scratched Blondie vinyl is here, I blame the tequila I had just had), no, the best record store is by Union Square and it’s called Second Hand Rose Music. Look through the jazz and find some rarities such as first editions Bowie or New York Dolls. Across is the historic and famous Strand Books and further up on Broadway, quirky homewares and trinkets store Fishs Eddy. I dare you not to find something you really need.
In the area are also a couple of branches of fitness sensation spinning studios Soul Cycle (even Michelle Obama is a fan). You can buy as you go, which means even if you are in town for a short while, you can still enjoy their sessions. It’s fun and it’s just spinning. My favourite cheap clothes brand which we do not have in the UK is Old Navy, and I usually stock up on their fitness products, which are good quality and fairly priced especially when you manage to get some of their sales on. I also paid a visit to the above mentioned Bigelow, the oldest chemist in the US, in their shop on 10th Avenue, which is interesting and has a mix of old and new to it.
Oh where do I start and where do I stop? I piled on the weight while in NY and not entirely sure why. It’s just the different food I guess, and different habits but also the fact that there’s food everywhere and there are some unusual things you just want to try. I had heard so much about the famous, chocolate babka from Breads Bakery. Under a drizzly rain we managed to find the Union Square branch and tried their rugelach, a small and manageable version of their full size babka. Impressed? not really. It was a ton of butter, a lot of chocolate and a little dough. The cut babka I picked up from Russ & Daughters deli in lower east side was so much nicer.
Between November and April we did eat out a few times in the area, the favourite perhaps being Daniel Humm’s NoMad restaurant within the eponymous hotel. Great cocktails, fantastic service and really memorable food, even if we did not try the supposedly amazing chicken dish. Nearby Cosme is my second favourite, Mexican fine dining at its best with creative flavours and beautiful dishes, perhaps a little too creative for @bmcboy who literally did not touch anything for the entire meal.
Thankfully, when I visited Empellon Taqueria in April, I was with my friend Sarah who is much more open to trying new food, and we both loved this place: informal, lively, with great cocktails and packed on a saturday night. I do love Mexican food, and in NY, is certainly more authentic than it usually is in London, even when is less expensive and more street food than fine dining: Tacombi for me hits the spot. With branches on Bleecker St and by Union Sq among st others, I love their tacos and their filling plus the relaxed and easy going atmosphere and their delicious guacamole.
I did not just eat Mexican however; I did have an expensive albeit decent Italian vegetarian meal at Eataly; I had a fun girlie evening at Untitled at the Whitney, with a colleague and friend over interesting and pretty good food and sparkling; I had some average burgers and ‘not as good as London’, slightly disappointing brunches (at ABC Cocina and Feast).
I spent a fortune in strange, weird and wonderful bits at the 24h delis which are scattered all over the city, where the real good value is a take away cup of tea: $1.50 for any tea, with any syrup or sugar or honey, or type of milk and even fresh lemon. I then travelled all over Manhattan in search of vintage dining, but that’s another blog post.
Details are everywhere in New York and I have learned to observe and notice. Above the big brands’ shops, beneath the souvenir crap, there is a huge amount to be discovered and appreciated. Despite not having the history we have in Europe, there is a lot of architecture from the 20th century which is fascinating and almost plays a background role until one stops and pays attention.
Thanks to the wonderful scoutingny.com website, I realised there is so much ‘hidden’ in plain sight in the city. So I started paying attention. And there you have it, history and quirky corners in a city full of surprises. For example, every evening, going back to the Redbury I would walk past the Castro Building on 14th: now a college it is a fairly old structure and the staircase inside, all in wood, is absolutely incredible. I went in one evening, and had a quick chat with the security guard. I felt too silly to actually walk up or take photos.
One of those evenings, I walked all the way back from the West Village, the evening was warm and I did not feel tired, besides I really wanted to enjoy the city as much as I could. I walked north on 8th avenue and among the lights of the delis and the closed down restaurants, I passed two art deco cinemas, still open and still functioning, one being the glorious Joyce Theater.
The subway is fascinating and extremely slow of course, let alone easy to navigate. Yet some of the stations are full of history, whether is because they were some famous movie set (who can forget the Warriors?) or maybe because they have little, fun bronze sculptures peeping out of corners and doorways such as the figures by Tom Otterness on 14th street – 8th avenue:
On my last night, I walked past 11 Madison, realising it was incredibly close to my hotel. It was about 10pm, and I had had pizza with my friends at Ribalta. Having read the dining room was a stunning art deco piece, I walked in to take a look. Two seconds and the incredibly polite maitre was with me, inviting me in and then asking me to stop for dessert. Or a cocktail. And I declined. I walked out, feeling sheepish and after about two minutes I thought ‘What the heck’. I guess the biggest New York city related regret. It might have set me back about $100 but gosh, the place is stunning, the food is supposed to be spectacular and the maitre was lovely. Serves me right, carpe diem and all.
I feel I haven’t really paid that much attention but only really scratched the surface of the city’s treasures. I cannot wait to visit again.