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February 22, 2018 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2018 issue

New York New York! They named it twice

​​Words Jim Dunn

It was a mad idea. And like all mad ideas it turned out to be an absolutely marvellous one. Created, I seem to remember over a good dinner and the second bottle of Rioja. ‘Let’s all go to New York and see a show,’ we said. And that is precisely what we did.

Travel, these days is so relevant to all of our lives and many of us just use aircraft as we use busses. Airline seat prices have never been so reasonable for the distances you can now cover. This means that a trip even to the other side of the Atlantic does not seem too out of the ordinary. Well we didn’t think so. So off we all went.

New York. They try to tell us it’s the most exciting city in the world bar none. Well, for me that accolade would still go to London but then I’m biased. New York is still a great place to visit. They say it is now safe but I would always caution and say keep a wary eye as I would in any other city. Manhattan is also easy to get around as it is laid out on that famous grid system so that you always know where you are and most times where you are going!

It was a particular show just off Times Square, that we wanted to see. It was Hello Dolly, starring Bette Midler and we are all great, great fans not only of Bette but of the show with its joyous score, smile and laugh out loud script and those hum along tunes. Not to mention it was a show on Broadway! In New York! And we were not disappointed.

Iconic Times Square, one of the great crossroads of the world, is neon sign madness. Outrageous is a good word for it. Packed 24 hours a day, energy just flows through and around it. This is the wild electric heart of the city. It is a cacophony of noise and light. When they say that New York is the City that Never Sleeps… they mean Times Square. On New Years’ Eve the crowds flock to see the Ball drop on the stroke of midnight. This is a 12ft ball of light from the roof of One Times Square. The best photograph when you get to New York is, if you risk traffic and stand in the middle of the road and get a shot of yourself standing right in the middle of the road with the light and the buildings all around! I needless to say didn’t try this. Most of the top theatres are a few steps away and we were heading for the Schubert Theatre to see ‘Dolly’.

I hadn’t been to New York for about 10 years and I was really interested to see how the city had changed, if at all. After 4 days walking and wandering this easy to get around north American city I decided it had changed. It had become more international in that way that most cities these days around the world have become. In a way more clinical. And somehow for me although I enjoyed myself very much I thought the changes I noticed made New York much like any other international city. Gone was the old New York feeling. That sense of danger. Of an edge to the city. It was too neat and tidy and organised. I remember the chaos of the past when the City seemed to be going bust almost every other year.

 There were all the usual sights to see and update myself since my last visit. Sights like the Empire State Building, Manhattan, Central Park, Chelsea and Soho, now the new retail therapy area if you are after the latest fashion. All are joined now by the impressive and highly moving memorial to the 911 tragedy.

The High Line is a gorgeous landscaped park set on a reclaimed, elevated industrial railway line that stretches 24 blocks from 34th Street then on up to the Hudson. It makes an excellent afternoon walk even in the wildest of cold afternoons. There are ten sets of stairs to enter and exit from the streets below and chairs and benches among all the trees and wild grasses up top where you can look at the river to the West. There’s a great selection of outdoor artwork and there even is an area at which you can sit on and look at the traffic below. It’s a perfect place to catch the sun before Dinner or a cocktail in the Meatpacking district or before you go to the Chelsea Art District to buy that piece of much needed contemporary art.

New York is certainly the place to go to for great bars and restaurants… and for adventurous interiors as the new book ‘New York Interiors, Places to Write Home About’ by Polly Devlin at Pimpernel Press shows. The photographs here from the book look in full colour at a cross-section of great spaces for living in New York. Here we have the Drawing Rooms, bedrooms and hallways of some of the most creative residents of the American city. Photographed is a fantasy Palace in Harlem, a loft, an Arts and Crafts haven, and a Greenwich Village pad among others.    

 A must for a pre dinner cocktail is the Baccarat Hotel and created by the famous glass house. Glitzy interiors, a host of chandeliers, a sparkling glass wall, champagne flutes galore. Its amazing and worth the short wait in reception for a seat because they don’t let you in until they have a seating area for you. No unseemly scramble here.

We had Sunday Lunch at that very New York eatery The Balthazar. It’s also a must if you want to do what the New Yorkers do on a Sunday. Opened 21 years’ ago it’s a little tired now but still brings brasserie -style eating and a bit of theatre in the form of the waiters many of whom are probably  ‘resting’ actors. For aficionados the place looks the same as always with its gilded mirrors, red banquettes,  a copper topped bar and most essential, flattering, soft lighting. This is the Paris of the imagination as seen through the eyes of New Yorkers. It might be a bit touristy now but all the classic dishes are there, escargots in garlicky butter, the cheesiest onion soup, platters of sea food, steak frites… it’s all comfort food and just what you need for Sunday Lunch. It’s about €100 for two and worth it for that ‘Sunday in New York Experience’.

When to go? New York is a year round destination with good prices on flights at most times. Winter can be magical with thick snow falls followed by cloudless skies… we went in October when it was extremely cold and windy but the blessing is that indoor everything is heated to the extreme. Summer has the most reliable weather, although August can be insufferably humid. Spring and Autumn are the best with clear blue skies and a crispness in the air. The leaves in Central Park turning a beautiful golden red by October.

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