Author Archives: Lisa
Author Archives: Lisa
What better way to take a break from the hard work of tourism than with a relaxing massage, a facial or a sauna at a high-end Midtown spa (but be prepared to splash out).
Enter the ornate and old-world glamour of the lobby of the Lotte New York Palace, then head to the spacious spa and fitness center on the eighth floor. Work out on a treadmill overlooking St Patrick’s cathedral, have a sauna or steam bath, and enjoy a hot compress massage or back treatment.
Located in a townhouse renovated with a high-end Asian feel, The Townhouse Spa has a cozy women’s area in the lower level, a restaurant and nail spa at street level, and a clubby atmosphere for men on the second floor. Enjoy a Shiatsu, Swedish and Stone therapy massage or the signature Townhouse Glow facial.
Skin Spa lives up to it’s name with customized facials, waxing and organic sunless tanning to get you glowing. Experts in lab coats analyze strands of your hair and get a microscopic look at your scalp, then decide what treatments and products might be best for you.
If your wallet is hurting but you’re looking for a high-quality spa experience, try the Dorit Baxter Day Spa near Carnegie Hall, popular with actors and journalists. Ignore the sparse lobby and head upstairs and enjoy relaxing European facials, blissful Dead Sea salt scrubs, and massages using bamboo sticks.
Once you’ve heard the beat of dancing feet on 42nd Street, keep heading west – to a block so chockablock with stages it’s known as Theatre Row.
Time was, no one with reputable intentions would venture too far west in sleazy Times Square beyond the brightly lit arcades of the big Broadway theaters. These days, though, some of the city’s most exciting drama is staged on what was until recently an especially seedy strip of 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues. Former sex clubs and massage parlors are now home to almost a dozen Off-Broadway theaters such as the Acorn and the Beckett. (Off-Broadway is a term invented to confuse just about anyone – it refers to theaters that seat between 99 and 500 patrons and has nothing to do with geographic location, though most Off-Broadway stages happen to be outside the theater district we think of as Broadway.) Several theaters on Theatre Row mount the productions of Playwrights Horizons, committed to the work of contemporary American playwrights. The block also has a suitably dramatic restaurant, the legendary Chez Josephine, where Jean-Claude Baker recreates the 1930s Paris of his adoptive mother, Josephine Baker.
Two other Off-Broadway venues, a little further afield, also ensure a good night at the theater. Hair, A Chorus Line, and some of the other most exciting plays of the past 45 years have emerged from the Public Theater (425 Lafayette St, tel: 212-260-2400, www.publictheater.org) on Astor Place at the edge of the East Village. The Public is especially known for avant-garde drama and Shakespearian productions, staged in the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park every summer. A Renaissance-style landmark that the Astor family, founders of the fur-trading empire, built in 1854 houses the Public’s five year-round stages and Joe’s Pub, a cabaret.
Les Mis and other blockbusters may pack Broadway houses to the rafters, but New York also nurtures excellent work that, as the old theater expression goes, will never play in Omaha. Modern and classic texts are given innovative interpretations by the Wooster Group (33 Wooster St, tel: 212-966-9796, www.thewoostergroup.org) at the Performing Garage, where productions often incorporate experimental uses of sound and video. La MaMa (74A E. 4th St, tel: 212-475-7710, www.lamama.org) has been presenting original performance pieces from around the world for almost 50 years, establishing itself as the beachhead of experimental theaters and a major force in presenting works by new playwrights.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music (451 Fulton St and other nearby venues, Brooklyn, tel: 718-636-7100, www.bam.org) was founded in 1861, making it America’s oldest continually running performing arts center, and over the years has welcomed such legends as Enrico Caruso. These days, BAM is best known for its innovative productions, and, as if to demonstrate just how avant-garde BAM is, many are mounted in a former vaudeville house that has been dramatically deconstructed down to brick walls, peeling paint, and exposed masonry.
On the west side of Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 40th streets you’ll pass a monumental staircase flanked by two marble lions, Patience and Fortitude. They are the unofficial greeters to the New York Public Library and were named by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia back in the 1930s for the qualities he wished New Yorkers to demonstrate. The city seems to have collectively rejected the first and embraced the other.
The lions are both proud and welcoming, as befits one of the world’s great knowledge institutions, and they beckon passersby to come in and wander through marble hallways and handsome exhibition galleries to admire rare volumes, maps, prints, and photographs from the vast collections. The Rose Main Reading Room is furnished with 42 long oak tables and comfortable chairs, and warmly lit by tall windows, glowing chandeliers, and brass reading lamps. If you fill out a call slip, one of the library’s 10 million volumes will be delivered to your seat from the 128 miles of shelves that wrap through the cellars and beneath adjacent Bryant Park. It’s also nice just to sit back and take in the surroundings, appreciating the fact that a great city like New York has a fine library like this in its midst.
Bryant Park, behind the library, is one of New York’s smaller but most appreciated public arenas. Throughout the year, a jaunty carrousel revolves to the sound of French cabaret music. In the winter, skaters glide across a skating rink; in the summer, office workers splay themselves on the lawns to steal a few moments in the sun, and filmgoers gather in the evenings to lie back and enjoy outdoor screenings.
One of the architectural gems of New York City, Grand Central Terminal is worth spending time in even if you aren’t going anywhere. Completed in 1913 after nearly a decade of construction, the beautiful Beaux-Arts station ushered in the era of electric train travel. Many of the grand apartment buildings and hotels in the area were erected around the new terminal, including The Roosevelt Hotel, The Park Lane, and The Waldorf-Astoria. By 1947, Grand Central Terminal was one of the most important transportation hubs in North America. That year more than 65 million people passed through, equal to about 40% of the US population of the time. But car travel and suburban living in the 1950s drastically reduced station traffic, and the building fell into disrepair. By the mid-1960s the roof was leaking and soot and grime covered the walls. Wrecking crews stood by while a protracted battle between conservationists, led by Jackie Onassis, and developers raged on. The station was finally saved by a Supreme Court ruling in 1978, and in the 1990s, a $425 million renovation project restored it to its original magnificence. Today Grand Central Terminal is once again a valued central hub of the city thanks to an efficient commuter train service, a steady stream of tourists, dozens of high- end shops, five restaurants, a cocktail lounge, and more than 20 eateries on the lower level.
The magnificent illuminated zodiac on the vaulted ceiling, painted in gold leaf on cerulean blue oil, now gleams like new. All apart, that is, from a dark patch on the northwest lower corner. This was left untouched to give an understanding of the extent of the restoration effort. The gold-and silver-plated chandeliers were designed to show off the cutting-edge technology of the early 1900s: the light bulb. A marble staircase was added to east end of the concourse, matching that of the west end (both modeled on the staircase of the Paris Opera) and the marble flooring is sprung like a dance floor – which explains the strangely muted sounds of travelers threading their way across the vast concourse. Free architectural tours are given every Wednesday at 12.30pm (meet at the central information booth).
Downstairs, outside the wonderful Oyster Bar & Restaurant (an architectural and culinary landmark), is the Whispering Gallery: two people standing in opposite corners of the archway can speak to each other while facing the wall. Try it! For a quick snack, choose from any of the quality eateries.
Return to ground level for a cocktail at the grand Campbell Apartment by the southeast entrance near Park Avenue, formerly the private office of Jazz Age business magnate John W. Campbell, now one of the most elegant bars in New York.
Round off your visit with some shopping at the station’s high-end boutiques, or check out the temporary craft exhibits in Vanderbilt Hall near the 42nd Street main entrance.
Much of Midtown evokes the 1930s, a decade that, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, ‘was the best of times and the worst of times’ for New York. Though reeling from the Great Depression, the city was gripped by a building spree. A forest of new skyscrapers, mighty symbols of American enterprise, began to soar above Midtown.
The 14 Art Deco towers of the Rockefeller Center, between 48th and 51st streets off Fifth Avenue, constitute a city within the city. Walk down the Channel Gardens, a beautiful promenade that separates the French Building from the British Building, and raise your eyes along the 70-story height of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. You can’t help but feel as though you are gazing up at a great temple of commerce. Meanwhile, the spires of St Patrick’s Cathedral across Fifth Avenue seem to lift you from the pavement toward heavenly heights.
Over on Park Avenue are two monuments to another hope-filled age, the 1950s. Lever House, at 390 Park Avenue and the Seagram Building, across the street at 375 Park, are sleek steel-and-glass towers that rise from airy plazas. Together they secured a place for the functional glass office tower on the American landscape. They have inspired hundreds of imitators, none of which are as beautiful or as suggestive of corporate might as these two Park Avenue neighbors.
Art and Observation tours of the Rockefeller Center show off murals, statues, and architectural highlights, and end on the observation platform of Top of the Rock, an exhilarating open-air viewpoint 70 floors above the city (90 mins, www.nbcuniversalstore.com, Mon–Sat 10am–2pm)
A pair of beauties
The Empire State Building, at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, long ago ceded the world’s tallest title, but the beloved granite tower is still New York’s most popular skyscraper. A very close second place goes to the Chrysler Building with a shiny stainless-steel crown that evokes the wonders of the machine age and rises high above Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street. Their presence on the skyline is testimony to a longstanding rivalry. The Chrysler Building was the tallest structure in the world, the first ever to surpass 1,000ft, when it was completed in 1929 – the spire, which was secretly assembled within the upper floors then hoisted into position, jostled a newly completed tower at 40 Wall Street out of first-place position. Just two years later the Empire State Building surpassed its neighbor by 250ft. Though skyscrapers pierce the clouds above cities around the world, none can match the appeal of this pair of Art Deco beauties.
The 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building (daily 8am–2am) treats 3.5 million visitors a year to eagle’s-eye views; among the standouts is the nearby Chrysler Building, whose gargoyles fashioned in the shape of radiator caps and hood ornaments shine brightly on a sunny day.
At 49th Street, Fifth Avenue lives up to its lofty reputation with the Rockefeller Center, one of the world’s biggest business and entertainment complexes, and a triumph of Art Deco architecture. Rockefeller Plaza is dominated by the 70 floors of the soaring GE Building, number 30 Rockefeller Center, or ‘30 Rock’ – headquarters of NBC. Anyone can be part of a live audience any weekday morning during NBC’s long-running Today Show, which is broadcast from a glassed-in studio on the corner of 49th Street, but to get a good spot you should arrive about 6am.
If you want to see where hit shows like Saturday Night Live, NBC Nightly News or The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon are made, sign up for the NBC Studio tour at the NBC Experience Store. These behind-the-scenes tours depart every 15 minutes and give you a chance to see the corridors and rooms that influenced the hit show 30 Rock. Each tour lasts about 70 minutes and takes you into a control studio, make-up room, and several studios.
If you’re a fan of political comedy, you can join the studio audience of a weekday taping of Trevor Noah’s satirical news show The Daily Show. In 2015 Noah replaced presenter of 16 years Jon Stewart, whose deadpan political punditry made him a star in the US and abroad. Will Noah’s star rise just as high? Grab a ticket and find out!
You need to book tickets well in advance, then be prepared to line up – rain or shine – for 2-3 hours outside Comedy Central Studios (11th Ave and 52nd St, off map) for the tapings that end about 7pm. Order the tickets online at www.thedailyshow.com/tickets.com.
Step west off Broadway at 155th Street, climb the short flight of steps, walk through the tall iron gates, and you’ll be transported to one of the most elegant yet little-known corners of New York, Audubon Terrace. The assemblage of colonnaded Beaux-Arts limestone facades rising above a handsome brick walk was erected in the early 20th century by railroad heir Archer Milton Huntington on the former estate of John James Audubon, the famous American wildlife artist.
The Terrace is home to the Hispanic Society of America. Beyond the proud portals of this august institution you will be transported even further, into a dark Spanish palace hung with works by El Greco, Velázquez, and a Goya masterpiece, the portrait of his mistress, the Duchess of Alba. The high-ceilinged galleries surround an inner court modeled after the courtyard of a castle in Spain. Audubon Terrace exudes an air of faded glory and forgotten grandeur, making the place all the more charming, and one of the city’s most welcome retreats.
A Sculpture Garden
Another peace-inducing New York oasis is the Noguchi Museum (32–37 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City, tel: 718-204-7088, www.noguchi.org, Wed–Fri 10am–5pm, Sat–Sun 11am–6pm) in Queens. A former gas station and photogravure plant have been fashioned into a museum-garden to house the stone, steel, wood, and paper works of Japanese-American sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi (1904–88). The serene surroundings are an island of calm in the industrial neighborhood, all the better to show off the beautiful mastery of Noguchi, whose works grace urban spaces around the world. His Red Cube is a colorful landmark in the Financial District, at 140 Broadway.
Should you find yourself on Riverside Drive at 121st Street on Sundays at 10.30am, 12.30pm, or 3pm, you will be treated to a free concert – a very loud concert provided by 74 bronze bells, including a 20-ton monster that is the heaviest bell ever cast, presented to Riverside Church by John D. Rockefeller in memory of his mother. The bells are installed in a carillon that rises 392ft above the city, gracing New York with a skyscraper bell tower that is, quite fittingly, the world’s tallest. Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, and other world figures have spoken beneath the church’s acres of stained glass.
Sakura Park, at the base of the tower, is one of the prettiest patches of greenery in New York, and with its tidy gravel paths and orderly rows of trees, seems like an elegant square in Paris. In fact, a soft gray Parisian melancholy washes over this quiet stretch of Riverside Drive, providing suitable surroundings for Grant’s Tomb, the somber mausoleum of the Civil War general and 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant.
Just up the street is a more humble, yet touching memorial ‘to the memory of an amiable child … 5-year-old who fell to his death from these rocks on July 15, 1797.’
The schist that begins to emerge in the neighborhood becomes more pronounced the farther north you go. By 181st Street, the island’s rocky underpinnings erupt in a tall cliff that was a strategic stronghold during the Revolutionary War, when patriots lost the Battle of Fort Washington from ramparts that are now outlined in granite blocks.
The Cathedral of St John the Divine is usually described in superlatives that refer to the church’s enormous size – St John’s is the fourth-largest Christian church and largest Gothic cathedral in the world, and the rose window, best appreciated from Broadway and 112th Street, is the largest stained-glass window in the United States, containing more than 10,000 colored pieces. You’ll get a sense of the sheer vastness of the place – two football fields long and 17 stories tall – as soon as you step inside.
Like the rest of ever-changing Manhattan, the cathedral is a perpetual construction site, and has been a work in progress since 1892. Unlike many of the great European cathedrals, set off in greenery, St John is squeezed onto its urban site, giving the impression that the church is even bigger than it is. Provided you don’t succumb to vertigo, you can get a good perspective of the overwhelming vastness of the church on a Vertical Tour. You will climb high above the nave on spiral staircases, cross the flying buttresses, and emerge next to the gargoyles on the roof, peering at carvings and stained glass as you go.
Two fine old institutions, one appealing to the soul, the other to the stomach, will introduce you to the spirit of Harlem. You can experience them in half a day – provided the day is a Sunday, and you are willing to make an early start to attend one of the Gospel services at 9 or 11am at the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Ethiopian seamen founded the congregation in lower Manhattan in 1818 (choosing the ancient name of their homeland). Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr moved the church to its beautiful neo-Gothic home in 1923; his son, Adam Clayton Powell Jr, became the first black congressman in US history. Abyssinian is still a vigorous voice for social justice, and the church also puts on one heck of a show when the beautiful sounds of the choir ring out in a sanctuary lit by a sea of stained glass. Visitors are asked to wait for admittance in a special queue and to dress appropriately – that means arriving early and wearing your Sunday best if you expect to fit in with the congregation.
Sylvia’s Soul Food (328 Malcom X Blvd, tel: 212-996-0660), several blocks south, serves a post-service brunch of such stick-to-your ribs basics as fried chicken and sweet potato pie. Sylvia’s has been a Harlem institution since it opened the restaurant in 1962, and is still run by Sylvia Woods, the ‘Queen of Soulfood,’ and her children and grandchildren.
You’ll need to walk off that meal, so head back up Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard to 138th and 139th streets, collectively known as Strivers’ Row. Some of New York’s most beautiful blocks were built for wealthy whites in the 1890s but, as the neighborhood became black, were sold off to black middle-class professionals known as ‘strivers.’ Today, Strivers’ Row is prime real estate, and you will easily see why.