By Pamela Jacobs
A weekend spent on “vacation” in Manhattan proves there’s no place like home.
I love New York. I do. When I see tourists navigating the subway, or host out-of-town visitors, I so enjoy seeing my great city through their eyes. But when everyday life here becomes difficult, it can be easy to momentarily forget just how great this city is, and how much it has to offer. I’ve always wanted to take a break from reality right here at home—to spend some time embracing and enjoying New York the way I do when I visit other cities. To take a vacation, without traveling anywhere. So recently, after a long time of thinking about this, I decided to do it. I took a vacation to New York City. And what a vacation it was.
My vacation plans were this: to spend a weekend exploring New York, staying at a hotel, dining at restaurants I’ve never been to, and viewing the city with passion and excitement. Having grown up in the suburbs of the city, in Westchester, and having lived in Manhattan for ten years, I’ve gotten to know the ins and outs of life here, but I never spent a night in a Manhattan hotel.
There are, obviously, tons of good hotels in this city. Some are old classics that we’ve all seen in movies, and some are new, hip, and happening. I wanted the right combination of New York style, absolute comfort, good location, and quality that would satisfy my New Yorker/frequent traveler expectations. I’d heard about the Carlton Hotel, with its perfect location on Madison Avenue at 29th Street, and its hot new restaurant, and decided this would be my choice for my NYC vacation.
The Carlton Hotel (www.carltonhotel.com) is a not-so-hidden gem. When I walked into its expansive lobby, I couldn’t believe I had never been there before. An appealing and sexy décor beckons you in, along with 40 foot ceilings and a two story waterfall, and as I checked in on a Friday night after a long work week, I could hear the nearby bar and upstairs restaurant buzzing, and feel the excitement of the fashionable guests who were as thrilled as I was to be spending a weekend enjoying New York. I was thoroughly impressed with my Executive King room, which seemed quite large for NY, and included lovely architectural details, modern amenities, classic/contemporary furnishings, and a beautiful marble bathroom with a tub. It was utterly warm and charming, unlike so many of those new, cold chain hotels (which will remain unnamed), yet with every modern convenience one could ask for.
The Carlton originally opened as the Hotel Seville in 1904, which accounts for its stunning architectural details, such as decorative moldings and bay windows. Each of the 317 rooms, designed by David Rockwell during a recent multi-million dollar renovation, is a bit different, and the term “cookie-cutter” just doesn’t apply here. The twelve story hotel has rooms ranging from double and king sized rooms to one bedroom suites, as well as seven beautiful meeting rooms (I wish my company would hold meetings here, I thought), and a state of the art fitness center featuring special touches like headsets for everyone’s use, and chilled towels. For those looking to travel with their furry friends, the hotel is pet friendly.
Beyond the gorgeous interiors and warm and comfortable rooms, one of the most noteworthy things about the Carlton, and one of my reasons for making it my top choice for my staycation, is the restaurant and nightlife. On the lower level, just adjacent to the lobby, is a hot bar featuring fabulous drinks, a dark, sexy atmosphere, and live music almost every night of the week. I will surely be making this a regular spot in the future, as they are open late-night and have become a popular venue for New Yorkers and visitors alike. Upstairs is the newest, most noteworthy addition to the hotel—Millesime, a fabulous seafood brasserie featuring fresh, seasonal, locally sourced, and delicious ingredients and dishes prepared in a traditional French manner (www.millesimerestaurant.com). The atmosphere is lively, fun, and cool (apparently, according to someone I talked to, Barbra Streisand was spotted dining there the week before), with vibrant red banquettes, a marble raw bar, and a mosaic tile floor. The centerpiece is a breathtaking windowed dome that draws ooh’s and ahh’s from diners. Also drawing ooh’s and ahh’s is Chef Laurent Manrique’s food, which is simply terrific. Large platters of seafood from the raw bar are some of the best in the city, and menu choices include: mussels prepared in a variety of sauces, several fish entrees with a choice of accompanying sauce, lobster for two, and roasted chicken that nearby diners exclaimed was the best, juiciest chicken they’d ever had.
Adjacent to Millesime is Bar Milli, an absolutely fabulous, intimate space filled with art, antiques, delicious drinks (and an impressive imported beer list), and beautiful people. This bar is reservations-only, and I have already decided I will be planning my next birthday party here—it’s trés cool.
The first night of my New York vacation, during which I dined on delicious food, drank fantastic cocktails, enjoyed live music, and slept in a heavenly bed from which I never wanted to emerge, was just perfect. So far, the “trip” was a big success.
What’s a vacation without a spa treatment? With five locations in New York City, as well as locations throughout the US and in Turks & Caicos, Exhale Spa (www.exhalespa.com) is one of the most popular and favored spas throughout the city, for good reason. Here, spa-goers find the ultimate sanctuary, offering some of the best treatments a weary New Yorker could ask for. There are about a dozen body treatments from which to choose, including several massages, reflexology, and reiki; there’s an array of face treatments, healing services, wellness, nutrition, manicures, pedicures, waxing, and enough transformative choices to take away a year’s worth of stress in a day. They’re also known for their fat-busting Core Fusion classes which are a fun way to remove the extra pounds so many of us put on in the long winter months.
After a restorative, relaxing, and wonderful treatment at Exhale, I was ready to eat more, and eat well.
My next stop was lunch at db Bistro Moderne (www.danielnyc.com/dbbistro.html), one of the few restaurants in Daniel Boulud’s mini empire that I had not been to, and always wanted to try. Located in the heart of midtown in the theater district, this top Zagat rated restaurant is a contemporary version of a classic Parisian bistro, with all of the style, grace, and perfection that have made Boulud my absolute favorite restaurateur. Chef Laurent Kalkotour’s menu is accessible and fun, and includes the very best versions of traditional croque monsieurs (with a twist), salads, a phenomenal duck confit, and the famous, extraordinary “db Burger,” a masterpiece of sirloin filled with braised short ribs and black truffle. I indulged in a trio of croques (which were even better than those I’ve had in Paris) and tasted the “db Burger,” and was, as usual at Boulud’s restaurants, blown away by everything. I recommend saving room for dessert, as they are all extraordinary. The restaurant is casual and relaxed, and an excellent choice for lunch, brunch, dinner, or all three. I was happy to have checked another Daniel Boulud restaurant off of my wish-list of New York dining, and, not surprisingly, beyond impressed.
My plan for the afternoon was go to one of New York’s best museums (really, how often do we New Yorkers actually take advantage of all of the museums that we are surrounded by?), and to do something a bit different. Along with a few friends, I signed up for a scavenger hunt with Watson Adventures (www.watsonadventures.com) at the American Museum of Natural History. I’d been to the museum before, but not in a long time, and had heard great things about Watson Adventures, who do scavenger hunts throughout the city, at museums, parks, zoos, and in historic neighborhoods.
I had no idea what to expect, and I had kept my expectations low. The end result was an afternoon spent having more fun than I have in ages. For about two hours my friends and I ran around the museum, uncovering answers to clever and humorous questions, while learning bizarre and interesting facts, and feeling proud of ourselves each time we solved a little mystery. It was neither corny nor boring, and by the end, we anxiously awaited the announcement of the hunt’s winners. I plan on trying many more of Watson Adventures’ hunts, and convincing the most jaded of my New York friends that they will have a guaranteed great time.
That night’s agenda was yet another restaurant that I had never been to, but had wanted to try. Madison & Vine (www.hospitalityholdings.com) shares the same owners as some of my absolute favorite places in all of the city—The Campbell Apartment, The Empire Room, and (my favorite!) The Carnegie Club. Madison & Vine is their answer to the wine-loving New Yorker looking for a subdued, sophisticated, yet casual spot offering a menu catering to varied tastes. They have an international assortment of 100 handpicked labels, 20 wines by the glass, and a selection of delicious cocktails. Menu items include a decadent macaroni au gratin, Peekytoe crab cakes, baked trout, chicken paillard, and more. The atmosphere is simple yet very pleasant, and while sipping a phenomenal winter sangria and eating the baked trout with delicious veggies, I pondered how pleased I was with my choices for my staycation.
The next morning had to include the favored meal for New Yorkers on a Sunday: a great brunch. I decided on a new restaurant I had heard excellent things about, located downtown on Astor Place. bahr|ché (www.bahrche-nyc.com) is the newly realized dream of a former Wall Street executive, who, through her passion and ingenuity, has brought a terrific addition to the neighborhood. The contemporary space is filled with 1,500 bottles of wine and a sleek, calm décor that is both soothing and inviting, while being the perfect showcase for the food. The concept is to serve all of the best of local products: Murray’s Cheese, Tumbador Chocolate, Black Hound Cakes, Intelligentsia Coffees and Teas, D’Artagnan delicacies, and Bouchon Bakery breads and sweets. I enjoyed a delectable brunch, as well as a fabulous cheese platter, and plan on returning many times, for wine and cheese pairings, dinners, and more brunches.
The weekend was almost over, but not before doing one more thing that would complete my hometown vacation; no New York trip would be complete without a Broadway show. A Tony award winning spectacular, “Billy Elliot” (www.billyelliotbroadway.com) is an amazing, heartfelt, exciting musical that literally made me laugh and cry. Following the story of a young boy in an industrial British town in the 1980’s who, much to his family’s chagrin, trades boxing gloves for ballet shoes, the show, featuring music by Elton John, was the absolute perfect finale to my extraordinary weekend in New York.
I believe every tired, stressed, overworked New Yorker should do himself a favor, and take a weekend to enjoy this city the way visitors often do, and locals rarely think to do. No passports or airport hassles are required, no travel is necessary, and no time needs to be taken off from work. There’s just so much to see, do, and fall in love with in New York—why should tourists have all the fun?
For your staycation:
The Carlton Hotel
88 Madison Avenue at 29th St.
Millesime, at the Carlton Hotel
locations throughout Manhattan
db Bistro Moderne
55 W. 44th St.
Madison & Vine
299 Madison Ave. at 41st St.
26 Astor Place
249 W. 45th St.