It was a long sweeping approach to JFK, almost like an IMAX movie. Clear Spring afternoon, freighters queued in the offshore anchorage, Manhattan stolidly anchoring the backdrop. I come to New York with the spirit of a pilgrim. I love the place. Love the people. When I saw Lady Gaga’s Madison Square Garden show on HBO I was struck by the love she has for New York and New Yorkers. I’m with her.
On this trip I might have been crunched in the coach cabin for 5 hours, but the rest of the trip was prima classe, starting with the very reliable and competent folks from EmpireCLS Worldwide . Having a car meet you at JFK is a real treat and once you’ve done it, you’re hooked.
And if, as on this trip, you can stay at The Peninsula Hotel, at E. 55th and Fifth Avenue, well, it is hard to go back to that last “thrifty” hotel you tried to save money on. The suites will leave you breathless as will the culture of service. The art of good service is deft; not obsequious, never overdone. From General Manager Jonathan Crook to Guest Services Manager Johnny DeBrito and Front Desk Agents like Marie-Anne Pain, the hotel hums with quiet graciousness and elegance. The Concierge desk and room service personnel are just, simply, on it.
Add in the scene at Salon de Ning, the rooftop bar atop The Peninsula and Fives Restaurant ,serving breakfast lunch and dinner, plus the swimming pool and the Peninsula Spa by ESPA on the 20th floor, and you’ve got yourself a great base of operations in New York City.
Some huge extra value accrues if you use your American Express Platinum card at The Peninsula. The card gets you a complimentary room upgrade, when available, a daily continental breakfast for two and a $100 hotel credit that can be used anywhere in the hotel, Spa and restaurants. I figured that these benefits alone pay for the card’s annual fee. Just in one stay! And Amex has over 700 Fine Hotels and Resorts partners around the world offering these benefits, plus dedicated Platinum Cardholder concierge services, travel desk and lots more. I’m still trying to figure out how they can possibly offer so much on one card, and they are still adding benefits. I’ve recently been assisted by Danielle Van Dinter in the Atlanta office of American Express Travel and she is a total pro.
As I arrived and got settled in the very late afternoon, I decided to walk down E. 55th St. to 3rd Avenue and dine at the venerable P.J. Clarke’s, after a many-year hiatus. Somethings never change, thank heavens. And that includes P.J. Clarkes’ exquisite burger. Manager Brian Carter was overseeing a very busy night but made the time to talk with me a little bit about some of the restaurant’s history and point out the wedding photo on the wall at table 53. The photo is of Buddy Holly kissing his bride Maria Elena, and was presented to the restaurant by his widow. P.J. Clarke’s table 53 was where Mr. Holly proposed to Maria Elena.
In the morning I headed down the stairs of the MOMA subway station on W. 53rd, and, pushing a few right buttons on the MetroCard machine, I purchased a 7-day unlimited ride ticket good for buses and subways. And off I went to meet a friend for lunch at a French bistro-in-New York called Pastis. Great noisy place at the corner of 9th Avenue and Little West 12th Street in the West Village area. Loved the fish and chips and the fluffy herb omelet on two visits. Ask for an outside table on a sunny day.
It is a short walk from Pastis to The Highline, and this is a must-see. In the 1930’s, in order to get railroad freight switching operations off the city streets, the tracks were elevated 30 feet above the street and some spurs ran directly inside the factories and other buildings. This went on for 50 years until the tracks were abandoned in the 1980’s and fell into decay. A group of influential “Friends of the High Line” got together in 1999 and today The Highline is a wonderful above-the-street promenade for all New Yorkers and visitors. It is another example of what makes New York a world-class city.
A stroll on The Highline is a great feeder event for a visit to the thriving Chelsea Market, 9th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets. This fun and delicious food hub is housed in the old National Biscuit Company complex, dating from the 1890’s. Just walking through the former hallowed baking home of Oreos, Saltine Crackers and Barnum’s Animal Crackers is a treat and the preservation that went into morphing this property into The Chelsea Market is remarkable. You’ll find professional kitchen supplies, special pastas, fancy cookies, fresh seafood, a great wine store and bakeries galore. Bring a shopping bag and an appetite because you are in for treats and dazzling foodie visuals.
Back to The Peninsula for a swim in the 21st floor pool. Heaven. Joining friends at A Voce Columbus, 10 Columbus Circle, it is easy to see why Executive Chef Missy Robbins and Chef di Cucina Adam Nadel have made this modern, chic eatery a success. A light focaccia lands on the table right away, service staff are prompt and polite and my Corzetti (hand crafted pasta coins, crab, specks of pancetta and a hint of lemon) is delicious. The Misticanza salad, arugula, herbs, citron vinaigrette with a little ricotta is a reminder of how delicious simplicity can be. And off to the theater.
The reason we were able to get tickets for “The Best Man,” starring James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury and Candace Bergen at the Schoenfeld Theater, was that the American Express Concierge service pre-reserves a lot of theater and event tickets. Who knew? There were no more tickets available for this particular performance but they were available for Platinum cardholders. I’m not sure all those Platinum cardholders out there realize all this, but it is really terrific. Absolutely wonderful and funny show with Gore Vidal’s sharp-pointed humor well-delivered by a top-notch cast. Best surprise: Kerry Butler’s performance as a candidate’s wife.
There is a pilgrim’s route I always like to take on my New York visits. I take a subway (either the 2 or 3 train) to Clarke St. Station in Brooklyn (you can also take the A or C to High St. station) and then, depending on time, I like to walk on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which offers spectacular views of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.
After this stroll I like to walk around the Dumbo neighborhood and see the progress being made on the beautiful riverside public park, that now features a classic, glass-enclosed carousel in full operation. The re-habing of of old warehouses in Dumbo continues with many shops and eateries starting to move in. A bakery I love is Almondine at 85 Water St. Very French with a friendly staff and great pastries and sandwiches to take down to the park, just a block or so away.
Now the pilgrim heads towards the Brooklyn Bridge foot and bike path for the return to Manhattan. Get yourself to the base of the bridge and you’ll find the stairway up and then you’re off, above the traffic on the deck below. There is a separate bike lane so most of the time there is no problem with space issues. On a recent sunny Saturday, though, I think at least half of the population was on the bridge. Weekdays are nice.
As you come into Manhattan on the bridge, you’ll go by City Hall and then turn south towards the new One World Trade Center building going up at Ground Zero, and the Monument to the lives lost on 9/11/2001. This is, of course, an extraordinarily moving location. We will continued to be affected by the enormity of that tragic day and, for many, it will be a regular destination of remembrance.
Finally, a morning walk in Central Park soothes the mind and soul in a special way. The trees in the Park are so well-tended that the views in the tree canopy is especially beautiful. The tranquility of the park is enhanced by the amazing amount of birds and other wildlife giving you a glimpse from time to time. Benches in the Park have nameplates that hint of wonderful stories and it is interesting to speculate on what the whole tale is of a bench whose plate might say, “I love you Annette.” Central Park is to some a national monument. It has endured so long now, and continues to thrive, inspire and comfort. Thank you, New York, for keeping this gem polished.
Just a note about the fabulous museums in New York. You’ve got them on a big list, I hope, but just in case, here are just a few starting with the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd St. There is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park at 82nd, then along “Museum Mile” are The Frick Collection, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Guggenheim Museum, Cooper Hewitt Museum, The Jewish Museum and the Asia Society Museum on Park Avenue. One of my personal favorites is, you might guess, the International Center of Photography at 1133 Avenue of Americas at W. 43rd Street.
So, adieu New York City and let us be lucky to return to your busy and always interesting streets, parks, theaters, museums and culture…And a very special thanks to the folks at American Express who hosted much of this trip. The value is there and I’ve used my AMEX card for years.