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Archive for January, 2010

Musings on where to stay in Manhattan…

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on January 25, 2010

A friend of mine (a Singapore born Australian currently living in London) is visiting NYC soon, and put out the general Facebook call asking for recommendations on where to stay.  The first thing I always want to ask in response to this question is “what are you looking for?” as I notice that, strangely, no-one ever volunteers this sort of information up front.  Knowing where you place your greatest emphasis is so important, as it will give the ‘advisor’ an idea of what you’re hoping for in your holiday, and they can tailor trheir advice accordingly.  Is it sight-seeing, architecture, galleries, shopping, fashion, theatre, night-life, film classic spots, cultural history, particular sub-cultures that you’re interested in, or what exactly…?  Anyway, I started typing a rather long email to my friend, before thinking, well, I really should just put this up on my blog (yes, I’d almost forgotten I had one!), so it’s out there for others to read if relevant.  So, in an attempt to answer some of my friend’s questions, and maybe offer something of interest to others along the way, here goes…

I think the first question you need to ask yourself when visiting NYC, and a relatively easy one to resolve quickly, is whether you want a hotel or an apartment.  Apartments can offer greater savings, especially for families, and there’s a massive range of options available on-line. It seemed like there are quite a few good ones in Chelsea, which is a quiet sort of district (well, by NYC standards only, I suppose) with a lovely village feel.    However, if you’re visiting Manhattan sans child, you may want to indulge more in eating out, and experiencing all the diverse food options NYC presents, and if so why bother having a kitchen of your own?   As I stay in self-contained apartments quite a lot across Australian capital cities, for business and recreation, the idea of a hotel seemed quintessentially ‘special’ and therefore the obvious choice for my much anticipated dream visit to the mega-metropolis.  For me, the ambience and character of my hotel is also almost as important as the city itself, so I guess you could say I’m rather particular.  We stayed at 3 different hotels in Manhattan, so as to survey the 3 different parts of town, and of those my favourite was definitely the Hudson Hotel, which is pure Phillip Stark in interior appointments and probably a tad too dimly lit, all things considered.  For a temporarily childless couple such as us, this was perfect for what we wanted: very sensuous, urban cool and sexy.  The rooms were tiny, but very thoughtfully constructed, making sensible egonomic use of the teeniest of spaces.  Interestingly, of all the hotels we stayed at, the Hudson gave us the best view, over the city streets, looking back down-town toward Hells Kitchen (disarmingly now being renamed Clinton in the city’s attempt to gentrify this authentic and slightly gritty NY district: personally, I like it just how it is).

But ultimately the most important question when planning your trip to NYC is where on the island to stay…  Up-town, Upper Mid-town, Mid-town, Lower Mid-town or Down-town…   In relation to transport though, this question is fairly irrelevant.  If you’re just worried about how you’ll get yourself to and from places of interest, you shouldn’t be: almost everywhere on the island is a very short walk from a subway entrance, and the subway is good value and very easy to use.  Taxi’s are plentiful and cheap.  And you’ll probably want to do a lot of walking around to see things anyway, and Manhattan is a highly walkable city.  It’s really well laid-out, and you can walk across the island from side to side in less than two hours.  You’d probably only want to walk North or South for a few distrcts though before you find yourself in a daze, and needing to sit down.  It’s not so much the distance that knocks you out, but all the visual and emotional stimuli that you find yourself confronted with that takes it’s toll.

As for what defines the three main choices of regions to reside in (down-town, mid-town, up-town), it’s really the pace and tone of these regions that you need to pick between.   And it’s also the sort of question you’ll need to be able to answer socially as well…  Everyone seems to imply that you can define yourself (or at least that they can define you) by which region you like the most.  This is, of course, ridiculous, but you know how people like to categorise each other, or at least try to.

Down-town is jam-packed with interesting things to see, and is fairly diverse in its environmental offerings as well: Seaport, Civic, Tribeca, Soho, Greenwich Village, Chinatown, and so on are all so different to each other.  There’s a hotel in Tribeca that several work colleagues of mine (all publishing folk like me) have stayed at and rave about, called Duane Street Hotel, and it looked gorgeous, but a little exxie.  The definitively hip, star spot to stay down-town is of course the Mercer in Soho, which you’d need Scarlett Johansson’s income to be able to afford, of course.  Being not at all shy, I had no qualms about inspecting it’s uplifting lobby, divine bathroom, inviting restaurant, and all parts that are accessble to the public.  I loved it, but back to reality…   Where I actually stayed was the far more humble Washington Square Hotel in Greenwich Village .  The Village is sweet, and nice and close to Soho which is great because we loved all the private art galleries in the old cast iron district, and could have happily spent half a day just in Dean & Delucca’s (Manhattan’s main gourmet providore mini-market).     The hotel was also really close to the Comedy Store where ideally I’d love to go once a week, for tension relief.  I’ve never laughed so much in my life.  Anyway, I liked the Village, and the whole Washington Square NYC University scene, but I wouldn’t stay there again, to be honest.  Truth is I’m probably a bit to old for the Village!  If I were staying down-town again, I’d choose Tribeca, partly because it actually feels like you can taste the sea breeze from there, and I absolutely love its fashionista edge, and its clean streets.  You really do see film crews crossing the road holding naked manneqins, and there’s lots of great design warehouses in Tribeca as well, for window and ideas shopping…  It’s the sort of neighbourhood where they have parking bays for prams marked on the pavement outside cute as a button cafe’s.

Mid-town is very, very racy, and a lots of the eateries are pricier than they should be, just coz they’re close to Times Square & Broadway. We thought it was that bit too intense. Amazing to visit, but not the best spot to stay: sort of Kings Cross (Sydney) multiplied in intensity 3 dozen times over, mixed in with a sort of corporate, concrete CBD feel (if you can picture this strange combination!).  The Theatre District is simply unbelievable: teeming with people every afternoon and evening, like a surreal, glittering ant-hill.

The part of the Island that really captured our hearts, and where we will definitely stay again one day, is Upper Mid-town, either west or east, because it’s so close to all the art galleries and cultural spaces, the endlessly enchanting Central Park, interesting boutique stores, as well as still being close to land-mark sky scrapers.  So it’s ‘leafy’ and upmarket, while still being close to a zillion things to see and do.  The Buckingham Hotel was recommended to me by a friend, and looks like a really great option – I think I might stay there next time in fact.  More writing on this to come – I just need to do something else for a few hours now!!!

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