By: Victoria De Silverio
Rumors spread that the city would revert to the crime-ridden patterns of the ’70s. It hasn’t. Or that with the steady drumroll of businesses closing in every neighborhood, some essential lifeblood would disappear. Not happening. And while here at Sherman’s Travel we mourn all (well, most) of the restaurants and cultural venues that haven’t survived the last year in our hometown, there is still reason to celebrate. Despite the continuing struggles of New York City’s main engines of finance, media, and real estate, new places are flourishing.
We set out to find the cream of this crop, and after much heated debate, selected our favorites to keep the list manageable. We focused our attention on Manhattan, though scrappy reinvention is happening in all five boroughs. And the picks are not just new, as in hot-this-season-but-soon-to-be-forgotten. They are redefining life for NYC and its landscape – like the Standard Hotel, whose ambitious design instantly became a new icon in the skyline, and Minetta Tavern, a reinvention of an old warhorse that is now heralded as the city’s best steak house (which is saying something).
Huge civic and cultural projects have reached fruition (just in time to jolt us out of our collective slump) and range from the snazzy revamp of Lincoln Center to two state-of-the-art baseball stadiums. Distinctive new green spaces such as High Line park, born atop a dormant railroad viaduct, create oases amid the buzz. This fall – the ideal time of year to visit – Manhattan’s theaters, music venues, and museums will, as ever, unveil a generous array of offerings. Standouts on the list include a fresh play by David Mamet, a new maestro at the Philharmonic, and a rock club where fine wines rule.
As much as New York City’s denizens welcome the new, they are equally, if not more, taken with the old. So our story includes some historic treasures like Grand Central’s Oyster Bar and the Staten Island Ferry that are essential to the rich mix that helps define Gotham.
Yes, the city’s financial sector is still regrouping, but in New York there is no such thing as backing down. This famously resilient city is in a constant state of reinvention and even with this current challenge, the best is still rising to the top.
View our New York City Slideshow by photographer Bill Phelps for glimpses of the shiny new side of the Big Apple.
Where to Stay
Architectural innovation, edgy locales, gentrification controversies. Welcome to the latest hotel scene.
Much has been made of this year’s phenomenal hotel boom. Almost 40 new ones opened their doors. A handful stand out as brazen experiments diverging from the old Midtown formula. Tucked in parts of the city like the Financial District and the East Village, they break the mold of the typical characterless tower or sleepy boutique. Their arrivals signal a return to New York’s architectural envelope-pushing, and their amenities aren’t shabby either. (Their impact on quickly gentrifying environs is another story.)
Cantilevering beside the Hudson and hovering 30 feet above the new High Line park in the Meatpacking District, the 18-story, 337-room Le Corbusier–style glass slab is the daring and sexy New York flagship of the mid-priced Standard hotels (other outposts are in LA and Miami). “The challenge was the interaction and insertion of a modern building in a very historic, rough-and-tumble neighborhood,” says hotelier Andre Balazs. The small rooms are models of ingenious efficiency, and floor-to-ceiling glass walls frame river and city views. Just remember to close the curtains to avoid offering a free show. (848 Washington St.; 212/645-4646, www.standardhotels.com)
The Greenwich Hotel
Robert De Niro launched his 88-room destination in his beloved Tribeca last year with little fanfare. That understated approach matches the atmosphere of relaxed luxury in the serene lobby, adjacent to a lush Tuscan-style courtyard. A guest might have the sense of visiting a friend’s rustic but elegant villa. You know, the one where the giant subterranean spa boasts a pool and a transplanted 250-year-old Japanese farmhouse? That one. (377 Greenwich St.; 212/941-8900, www.thegreenwichhotelny.com)
The Empire Hotel
This Upper West Side mainstay opened in the 1890s, so it’s not exactly new. But with a recent radical basement-to-roof renovation – and a location across from Lincoln Center and half a block from Central Park – the 420-room hotel has refreshed its appeal. A modern color palette has replaced faded florals, and the stunning rooftop lounge especially entices visitors with uninterrupted city views and a lovely pool. Some standard rooms are small, so consider splurging on a corner suite. (44 W. 63rd St.; 212/265-7400, www.empirehotelnyc.com)
The Cooper Square Hotel
The 21-story milky glass tower shaped like a shark fin is a spectacular newcomer to the once grungy East Village. “It’s intentionally modern but composed of smaller parts that break down the scale,” says architect Carlos Zapata. With its plentiful outdoor spaces for carousing, the hotel has found itself in hot water with neighbors. Check-in, though, is strife free: When guests arrive, they are led to a mod lounge to relax with a cocktail, instead of waiting at a front desk to sign in. Rooms are outfitted with sleek Italian furniture and exceedingly comfy beds that make it hard to get up and start the day. (25 Cooper Sq.; 212/475-5700, www.thecoopersquarehotel.com)
With an infusion of stroller-pushing parents and nighttime foot traffic, the Financial District has turned a residential corner. Gild Hall, the first boutique hotel in the area, is a logical next step in its evolution. Like its sister properties, SoHo’s popular 60 Thompson and the just-built LES Thompson, Gild Hall caters to design-conscious visitors who want to blend in with locals. Tucked away on a quiet side street, Gild Hall has interiors that are in tune with the Wall Street setting, with tufted leather couches and bookshelves holding weighty tomes. The spacious rooms come furnished with leather headboards that are downright sexy; a gourmet minibar of goodies from Dean & DeLuca completes the decadent tableau. (15 Gold St.; 212/232-7700, www.thompsonhotels.com)
GRAND DAME HOTELS
Staying at any of these classic hotels is like starring in one’s own movie, in which the plot revolves around extreme pampering, New York style.
The ne plus ultra of intimate elegance, this Upper East Side aristo-tution has a new spa – an Art Deco shrine to indulgence. (35 E. 76th St.; 212/744-1600; www.thecarlyle.com)
The Fifth Avenue French château with a 40-pound-a-week foie gras habit had a $100 million makeover to restore original architectural details and soaking tubs. (2 E. 61st St.; 212/838-8000; www.tajhotels.com/pierre)
This discreet spot, one ofthe few independent hotels left in the city, exudes the warmth of a private residence. The spacious rooms have wood-burningfireplaces. (28 E. 63rd St.; 212/838-1400; www.lowellhotel.com)
New York The 600-square-foot rooms always have been a draw at the I. M. Pei–designed tower. Now guests have primo access to the hotel’s new Calvisius Caviar Lounge. (57 E. 57th St.; 212/758-5700; www.fourseasons.com/newyorkfs)
Jumeirah Essex House
The Art Deco landmark gained new owners, Dubai-based Jumeirah, and a $90 million refurbishing. The large rooms now conjure grand cabins on transatlantic steamships. (160 Central Park South; 212/247-0300; www.jumeirahessexhouse.com)
The Mansfield Hotel
This recently restored beaux-arts palace channels old New York style. Along with luxury amenities, there’s a wood-paneled club room complete with an intimate library, classic table games, and a telephone nook. (12 W. 44th St.; 212/277-8700; www.mansfieldhotel.com)
Where to Eat
Reinvent an obsolete restaurant? Open an artisanal pizza parlor? Such seemingly risky ideas turned out to be acts of genius.
Gone are the days of expense-account extravagance. While steep prices persist in certain quarters, some restaurants are focusing on providing more value for the money and turning away from fussiness to a more casual vibe. When Daniel Boulud opened an haute diner called DBGB, a riff on CBGB, the legendary rock club that once stood up the block, the food gods smiled on those who may not want to part with a Benjamin for every transporting meal.
After Frank Bruni of The New York Times awarded Minetta a coveted three stars, a rumor circulated that its owner, Keith McNally, cried. The urban legend has since been strenuously denied, but we would have forgiven him a tear. Having one’s bistro hailed as the city’s greatest steak house is no small achievement. But, then, McNally is accustomed to success. Since opening The Odeon in Tribeca in 1980, he has been creating can’t-miss dining destinations with the regularity of a metronome. Bringing his Midas touch to this 72-year-old Greenwich Village institution, he transformed the faded red sauce eatery into another buzz-worthy epicenter. The Pat La Frieda beef is well worth the hassle of getting a reservation. (113 MacDougal St.; 212/475-3850, www.minettatavernny.com)
The John Dory
Restaurateur Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield – the team behind crazy-popular gastropub The Spotted Pig – have gone maritime. A tropical fish tank dominates their new venture, a small, high-energy Chelsea eatery, and fittingly sea creatures fill the menu. Go for the excellent crudo, like creamy sea urchin with blood orange dressing, or John Dory’s whole roasted namesake fish. Reservations are tight, so grab a seat at the bar and watch the cooks feverishly filet. (85 Tenth Ave.; 212/929-4948, www.thejohndory.com)
New York is having an artisanal pizza moment and the greatest excitement is over a simple white-oak-paneled Chelsea pizzeria. Pronounced Company, the joint has stellar credentials: Jim Lahey, the bread genius behind Sullivan Street Bakery, presides over the kitchen, and superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a part owner. Lahey lets the dough rise for 24 hours, hence the subtle yeasty kick and perfect crispy-to-chewy ratio. (230 Ninth Ave.; 212/243-1105, www.co-pane.com)
David Chang’s latest in a string of hits that started with Momofuku Noodle Bar is a paradigm-busting multicourse prix-fixe sensation. Since the new place has Chang’s standard no-frills aesthetic, all the attention goes to his innovative (“vaguely Asian,” as he calls it) flavor combinations, like coddled egg with onions, vinegar, caviar, and potato chips. The Web-only reservation system is refreshingly democratic, but since the restaurant has only 12 seats and strict rules, prospective diners will need patience to score a seat. (163 First Ave.; 212/475-7899, www.momofuku.com)
As a counterpoint to the current rustic-quaint design craze, Corton’s elegantly starched dining room seems important. A creation of restaurant guru Drew Nieporent (Nobu, Tribeca Grill, Montrachet) and British chef and neo-molecular wizard Paul Liebrandt, Corton exhibits a dazzling display of talent and taste. Menus might include uni with kombu gelée and cauliflower crème (a dish that Liebrandt says makes him “extremely proud”). Compared to the offerings at other restaurants of this ilk, the $79 three-course prix-fixe menu is one of the best deals in town. (239 W. Broadway; 212/219-2777, www.cortonnyc.com)
This tiny East Village sandwich shop, opened by Tuscan connoisseur Sara Jenkins (I Coppi, Il Buco, 50 Carmine), has six stools, nine menu items, and one star attraction: succulent roasted pork, or porchetta. The secret to the deliciousness is an intoxicating paste of wild-fennel pollen, thyme, sage, rosemary, garlic, and six hours in the oven to crackle the skin. Order with tasty sides like crispy potatoes or a chicory salad. (110 E. 7th St.; 212/777-2151, www.porchettanyc.com)
DBGB Kitchen and Bar
With his fifth restaurant in the city, Daniel Boulud took a detour, both in cuisine and location. After spending 16 years uptown, the celebrated chef launched a casual dining spot in the East Village. The central mission of DBGB, which stands for Daniel Boulud Good Beer, is to pair its homemade sausage with any of 50 international craft beers. Boulud calls the 140-seat venue “a cross between a French brasserie and an American diner – the greatest diner on earth.” (299 Bowery; 212/933-5300, www.danielnyc.com)
Into the Meatpacking District’s sea of overhyped lounges and eateries, Scarpetta brings a breath of fresh air. Chef Scott Conant delivers rustic but refined Italian soul food in a warm, airy setting. An ideal meal might include fritto misto, a tender veal shank drizzled with a lemony gremolata, and coconut panna cotta. Or go for Conant’s popular (and famously luxe at $24) spaghetti al pomodoro, a formerly humble classic you’ll never see the same way again. (355 W. 14th St.; 212/691-0555, www.scarpettanyc.com)
At Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter parlayed his bon vivant persona and celebrity access into a live-action version of the magazine. At Monkey Bar, his remake of the venerable 80-year-old Midtown institution, exclusivity is still very much at play. At first, the place took reservations by phone, but now only uses email (Waverly accepts neither). The American and Continental menu (home-style meatloaf and lobster Newburg) takes a backseat to the clubhouse scene. It’s been primed for people-watching, with leather booths strategically clustered together. (60 E. 54th St.; email@example.com)
Our highly subjective picks include eateries that seem to have existed forever and continue to deliver.
For three decades, chef David Waltuck has melded French techniques with an American sensibility at this bastion of fine yet unfussy dining. Waltuck was ahead of his time in creating a menu that changes weekly in accordance with seasonal ingredients (grilled seafood sausage, seared duck with sherry wine vinegar and chilies), a practice that keeps this icon fresh. (2 Harrison St.; 212/966-6960; www.chanterellenyc.com)
Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant
This brash, bustling landmark within a landmark has touted its “below sea level” dining since 1913. The oyster menu presents an exhilarating assortment from both coasts. Start with the creamy clam chowder at the counter and go on from there. (89 E. 42nd St., at Grand Central; 212/490-6650; www.oysterbarny.com)
One of New York City’s great debates is where to find the best steak. Though known for its 26-ounce mutton chop (shhh! it’s actually lamb), Keens is consistently among the top of everyone’s list for its tender cuts, dry-aged on the premises. The dimly lit, wood-paneled rooms suggest bygone days in the restaurant’s 125-year run. (72 W. 36th St.; 212/947-3636; www.keens.com)
In 1987, when Jean-François Fraysse and Melva Max opened this small and romantic ode to rustic French cooking, prostitutes worked on the desolate Chelsea corner. Though the neighborhood may have changed, the menu, filled with mouth-watering classics like rich and flavorful cassoulet, remains excellent. (130 Tenth Ave.; 212/675-0342)
What to Do
Big public works get sexy, the Bowery continues to surprise, and the art scene moves downtown. Culture vultures, rejoice!
Each year in this crazy cacophony of innovation, certain people, places, and events stand out as pivotal and defining. Here are the attractions that even a jaded local will want to see, including massive public projects that have finally reached fruition and a music venue that doubles as a wine lover’s haven.
Lincoln Center Redo
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, America’s busiest performing arts complex has undergone a triumphant makeover. The once imposing travertine monolith of Alice Tully Hall is now, thanks to a grand surgical incision (and $159 million), a gleaming glass-encased showstopper. The womblike interior boasts state-of-the-art acoustics. Over at Avery Fisher Hall, Alan Gilbert, the son of two Philharmonic violinists, has just been named music director. At 42, he’s one of the youngest conductors to fill Bernstein’s and Muti’s shoes and the first native New Yorker. His inaugural season begins September 16 with Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi (September 16, 2009), starring Renée Fleming. (New York Philharmonic, Avery Fisher Hall, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza; 212/875-5656, www.nyphil.org; Alice Tully Hall, 1941 Broadway; 212/721-6500, www.lincolncenter.org)
After owning legendary – and gritty – Tribeca music venue the Knitting Factory, Michael Dorf wanted a grown-up place where fantastic wine and food would accompany the music. His eureka moment came after he learned to make wine and gifted friends with bottles. “Everyone said, I wanna do that too!” Dorf says. Enter City Winery, his winery–music venue–restaurant housed in a SoHo industrial building. During shows by the likes of Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull, guests can sip wines and graze on Mediterranean dishes. Oenophiles can craft vino by choosing the grape variety, the barrel oak, and, yes, even the label. (155 Varick St.; 212/608-0555, www.citywinery.com)
After much hand wringing by diehard fans, most agree that the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Shea Stadium replacement, Citi Field, are vast improvements over their antiquated predecessors. Architectural firm HOK Sport constructed both, installing modern upgrades (sufficient bathroom facilities, pricey box seats) while tipping the nostalgia cap with designs to evoke old-fashioned ballparks. But what about the eats? At Yankee Stadium’s plush Delta 360 Club, chefs from the Food Network cook at two open kitchens. Citi Field, however, wins the fancy food pennant: Behind home plate loom Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, El Verano Taqueria, and Box Frites, all overseen by NYC hero Danny Meyer. (Yankee Stadium 1 E. 161st St.; 718/293-4300, www.yankees.com; Citi Field 123-01 Roosevelt Ave.; 718/507-8499, www.wwmets.com)
Bowery 2.0 Shops
With the Bowery’s metamorphosis from forlorn flophouses to shiny hotels comes high-end shopping. Joining the ranks of John Varvatos and Rogan are high-concept, multitasking boutiques. Alabama designer Billy Reid has opened his first store in Yankee territory purveying his charismatic hand-tailored designs for men and women, such as plaid shirts with pearl buttons. Those who linger will likely be offered bourbon in the back parlor. Down the street, The Smile, an old-timey general store–café–tattoo parlor, sells goodies like Mariage Frères teas. And around the corner is Partners & Spade, a combination gallery, bookstore, and concept store with a mishmash of offbeat art, home accessories, and curios including a vintage stapler collection. (Billy Reid 54 Bond St.; 212/598-9355, www.billyreid.com; Partners & Spade 40 Great Jones St.; 646/861-2827, www.partnersandspade.com; The Smile 26 Bond St.; www.thesmilenyc.com)
At press time and perhaps until the first preview on November 21, the title of David Mamet’s new play Race is all the provocative dramatist wants the public to know about it. He’s even keeping the cast and venue under wraps. We do know that Mamet will direct it, a Broadway first.
The Great Gallery Migration
Fleeing Chelsea’s high rents and oversaturation, a wave of galleries is migrating below 14th Street to create a constellation around the new art mothership, the 2-year-old New Museum of Contemporary Art on the Bowery. Choose from impressive upstarts like Taxter & Spengemann and Salon 94, and heavy hitters such as Lehmann Maupin and Eleven Rivington (the downtown offshoot of Greenberg Van Doren). Later this year, Sperone Westwater will make a huge splash when it relocates to a superfuturistic $8.5 million, eight-story Norman Foster–designed home on the Bowery.
The Empire State Building’s observation deck is always worth a visit, as are all these destinations, both those under the radar and those very much on the beaten path.
Founded in 1970 by two cineastes with a tiny projector, Film Forum is considered by many to be the city’s most influential art movie house. Along with its renowned director retrospectives and penchant for screening forgotten gems, this beloved West Village cinema is known for its yummy popcorn. (209 W. Houston St.; 212/727-8110; www.filmforum.org)
A visitor would be forgiven if, while flying through the air above the skyline, he felt like a Master of the Universe. At prices ranging from $140 to $995, a copter ride is a great splurge delivering a completely different view of the city. (Downtown Manhattan Heliport, Pier 6 and the East River; 212/967-6464, www.libertyhelicopters.com)
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Put the global financial crisis into perspective: See how immigrants like the Baldizzi family survived the Great Depression in New York. Tour their original preserved apartments, complete with artifacts. (108 Orchard St.; 212/982-8420, www.tenement.org)
Staten Island Ferry
While subway fares and pizza prices keep rising, the free ferry grants perfect views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The ferry, operating 24/7 with an average of 60,000 passengers a day, offers the best deal in town. (4 South St.; 718/ 876-8441, www.siferry.com)
Empire State Building
In An Affair to Remember, Cary Grant waits anxiously on the 102nd floor for Deborah Kerr after her declaration that it’s the closest thing to heaven in New York. Does she turn up? No. But tourists can, for $20. (350 Fifth Ave.; 212/736-3100; www.esbnyc.com)
When to Go
New York is at its most lovely in the fall. The summer tourist crowds and humidity disappear. The air is crisp, and the furnace-like subways turn bearable again. Hotels and airlines lure visitors with attractive off-peak discounts. The season brings some of the city’s most celebrated gatherings – from the New York City Marathon and the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Fashion Week.