A Tale of Two Hotels.
One of the world’s greatest playgrounds and a truly bustling metropolis, a holiday in New York is anything but relaxing, which isn’t to say you shouldn’t think carefully about where to stay. We discover two very different Manhattan hotels
No matter how strong the relationship, let’s be totally honest here, holidays are sent to test us. My partner, my mother and I are taking my 12-year-old to New York – where better to find something to entertain all of us in equal measure, right? Maybe so, but there’s still the question of where to stay. My mother craves old-fashioned service and luxury on a grand scale, while my other half (a former hip hop producer) is fixated on the Big Apple’s ‘city that never sleeps’ reputation; seeking hipster cool. I meanwhile just want to keep the peace. The pre-teen is little help in settling the debate, stating that his main requirement is to be close to the Disney Store (so help me). Finding it impossible to agree, we make the radical decision to split our stay between two very different hotels: the classic luxury of The Lowell on the Upper East Side, followed by the busy, buzzy Moxy Times Square (complete with its own nightclub). As different as night and day, yet they do have something in common: their unanimously favourable reviews.
Upper East Side
This is my third trip to Manhattan, but I don’t think the excitement of being here will ever wear off. There’s something so inherently cool about seeing those yellow taxis and walking streets that are so familiar from film and television sets, and I can’t wait to act as tour guide. We’re starting off in the sophisticated Upper East Side, where The Lowell is situated a couple of blocks away from Central Park. The hotel is the definition of old school glamour, from the stately, sun-filled conservatory, to the exquisite marble-floored foyer and the lavish bar and drawing room with its velvet banquettes and arresting artworks and sculptures. Genteel is the best word to describe it, and my mother is very happy indeed. Our room is in keeping with the rest of the hotel: traditional and homely, with a gorgeous open fire (The Lowell is the only hotel in New York to offer this particular luxury) and a bed that I want to climb straight into and curl up on for a very, very long sleep. The spacious en suite is stuffed full of luxury DDC28 bath and beauty products, named after Dina de Luca Chartouni, who owns the hotel. I might not be allowed to climb into the bed just yet, but nothing will stop me from having a restorative soak in that tub before any sightseeing takes place…
We don’t have far to go for dinner that evening, because the hotel’s own restaurant comes highly recommended. Called Majorelle, it offers French fine dining in an impressive room with Carrera marble columns and a vaulted ceiling. Highlights include exquisite seabass ceviche, and oxtail braised in Burgundy. Go easy on the piles of comforting mash that accompany the latter, though, because you’ll definitely want to save room for dessert (the chocolate mousse with Grand Marnier sauce and a light and fluffy pistachio soufflé really hits the spot). The restaurant is packed and lively, but not to the detriment of the service, which is utterly faultless. After a long flight, with serious jet lag setting in, conversation takes a back seat as we lap up the sight of New York’s high society enjoying their evening meal.
The city that never sleeps
I may be longing for that bed, but sleep is not forthcoming. New York being the home of hip hop, my partner enthusiastically cajoles me into sampling a weekly jam session called The Lesson at Arlene’s Grocery, a bar in Lower Manhattan. The night has become the cornerstone of the underground hip hop scene over here, and I can see why – despite putting up a fight over going, I end up genuinely enjoying myself. If you’re keen to discover the native delights of live jazz, soul and hip hop, I highly recommend going along; the venue is warm, and the vibe is friendly.
Finally, sleep is allowed, and it is deep and undisturbed. The next morning, breakfast is served in the genteel Pembroke Room, which is mirrored and light-filled. We enjoy amazing service from Marty, who tells us that today is his last day after an impressive 32 years working here (as good an advertisement for The Lowell as you’re likely to find). There are lots of healthy options on offer, with a whole section of the menu dedicated to superfoods, smoothies and parfaits, but we only have eyes for the full American breakfast. It is served with toast and marmalades made by Marty himself; he even gives us a jar of his Meyer lemon to take home.
Fortified for a day of sightseeing we don our sensible shoes and head out to explore. Day one sees us taking in Central Park, Carnegie Hall, Grand Central Station, and the Chrysler Building. Hey, they’re the most famous sights for good reason…On day two we take a wander through Midtown Manhattan. The sea of skyscrapers here is a jaw-dropping sight; it seems that after the first one (the Tower Building) was completed in 1889 on Broadway, each subsequent building has been designed to outdo the last. We don’t stop for long, though, venturing instead to Brooklyn, home to gorgeous old brownstones, rickety record stores, tasty little sandwich joints, vibrant bars and acclaimed restaurants. After walking through the Botanical Garden, we find ourselves at Blueprint bar, a charming little place where we rest our weary feet while enjoying a G&T (or two) while listening to some old soul, and, you guessed it, hip hop. We don’t have to venture far for food, as just up the road from Blueprint is the highly regarded al di la Trattoria. This intimate restaurant is an ode to all things farm-to-table and we’re won over by the traditional Italian cuisine. Reviewers have described it as the ultimate neighbourhood restaurant and I couldn’t agree more.
Our time at The Lowell is over all too soon, but there’s none of the usual sadness of checking out. Rather than heading to the airport, we are simply making the move downtown to the Moxy Times Square. Having only opened in September 2017, the hotel still feels very shiny and new. It is huge, with over 600 rooms, each designed in a functional and thoughtful space-saving way, with every creature comfort taken care of. Think tables and chairs that can be folded and hung on the walls, and a walk-in rain shower (with cheeky tiled messages like ‘no diving’ and ‘deep end’). It’s a real lesson in capsule living and we find ourselves making furtive notes about some of the more inspired storage solutions we want to recreate at home.
The public spaces are vast; Bar Moxy has a triple-height atrium skylight and a huge copper-wrapped bar. Indeed, this is very much a party hotel – the earplugs placed on every bedside cabinet are a pretty big clue. While the hotel might be in its infancy, the rooftop bar and club already attracts enormous crowds; boasting iconic views, its theme is an urban amusement park concept with a decidedly grown up vibe. Every night at midnight the roof retracts and Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind is boomed out to the city. Legasea is the hotel’s main restaurant. Styled as a classic brasserie with antique mirrors, leather seating and the obligatory and flattering copper lighting, the menu focuses on local and sustainable choices.
We celebrate my mother’s birthday here and couldn’t ask for better service, or food. Huge portions of fresh seafood and a birthday serenade from the waiter (sung in true OTT Broadway style) make for a very memorable meal. For breakfast we head to Egghead. The hotel’s teeny, tiny take-out serves only egg sandwiches, but it does them eggs-tremely well (sorry, had to be done). We discover that potato bread stuffed with bacon and sausage, topped with a perfectly fried egg and served with a hash brown stuffed with cheese really is the best way to start the day.
Feeling energised (or perhaps needing to walk off the excess), we take a stroll along the High Line, the 1.45-mile-long elevated linear parkway ingeniously created on a former New York central railroad spur. Taking in the stunning sights from here gives a very different perspective on the West Side of Manhattan, and we find plenty of photo opportunities as we walk, stopping to enjoy a number of little music and art festivals along the way, too. Finally, we stumble upon the treasure trove that is Chelsea Market, where my son is delighted to pick up some poster prints of vintage Marvel comics (better than the Disney Store, any day).
We spend the late afternoon and evening on a sunset Champagne cruise around New York Harbor. After a tiring day (with a record-breaking 20,000 steps noted on the Fitbit), we find this to be the perfect way to put our feet up while continuing the hard work of sightseeing. ($58, sail-nyc.com) It’s a 90 minute trip around the Hudson and East Rivers, travelling under the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and passing very close to the Statue of Liberty just as the sun sets. With a glass of Champagne in hand, it doesn’t get much better than this and our Instagram feeds suddenly get very busy indeed…
New York bars
Of course, you needn’t walk everywhere in New York: the Subway is so easy to use and navigate (especially for Londoners). And there is the ever-present Uber option, too, of which we make use to cram in some final New York sights that night. Keen to make the most of the city’s electric nightlife, my other half has arranged a visit to a couple of bars: first Death & Co and then later, Please Don’t Tell. Located in oh-so cool Lower Manhattan, both are very popular (be warned: if you don’t book in advance, it’s unlikely you’ll get in). In fact, my partner had to call Please Don’t Tell around 30 times before finally coming off the phone with a triumphant smile on his face, then asking with some trepidation if I wanted to hear the good news or the bad news… the former being that we had a booking, the latter, to my initial horror, being that it was at 2am!
Both bars are tiny little venues serving creative cocktails to the obligatory chilled old school hip hop soundtrack. Entry to Please Don’t Tell is through a phone booth in Crif Dogs – the finest hot dog joint in the city (a selection of exclusive hot dogs are sold only to customers of the bar – if you’re lucky enough to get that booking, of course). It is a night to remember, on what has turned out to be a holiday of a lifetime.
Our trip is over but we’ve packed in an enormous amount, and by staying in two such different hotels we feel as if we’ve been here for much longer than we really have. I vow never to holiday any other way.