Come triumph or catastrophe, New York never stops evolving, which is why Spear’s dispatched Caroline Phillips to discover what’s in, what’s out and what’s shaking it all about in the New New York.
Part One: Getting there, staying there, getting about
I swoosh out of my cab at City Airport – just a brave 25 minutes before departure – and BA Man spirits my bags to the check-in desk. I saunter down gloriously deserted corridors to the gate-cum-makeshift departure lounge. This is my sky-test of the ‘Bankers’ Express’, BA 001. We’re on the BA Club World service from London City to JFK, the business-only flight in the Airbus with 32 flat-bed seats.
Just four other passengers are on my flight – all businessmen – plus purser, two flight attendants and dual pilots. One more passenger and we’d outnumber the crew. (Now that’s a carbon footprint.) I have front-row seats – each with adjustable headrest, privacy screen and personal media player, plus OnAir, the pioneering in-flight communication system for text, email and web (but no in-flight calls and phones on vibrate, please.)
It may be a journey time of 9 hours 25 minutes and a minimum fare of £2,102 one way, but it’s useful to have BlackBerry contact with earthlings from above the clouds (when the cute mobile phone icon is switched off after 10,000 feet). The Airbus is also pleasingly spacious – the A318 can actually fit 100 seats. There’s no muzak, endless hot flannels and reasonable food developed by the Borough Market restaurant Roast. A nanosecond after I lie down, the attendant closes my blinds. The service is fantastically attentive.
The other great thing is the US immigration dodge. After landing at Shannon, Ireland, citizens of Club World pass through US authorities in a heartbeat – then breeze off the flight at JFK as domestic passengers. Supposedly. As our A318 refuels, US Customs process my baggage: the only passenger’s bags in the hold. My hand-luggage-only co-travellers head past smugly with their wheelie-trolleys. Then US immigration officials interrogate only me. Fiercely. 45 minutes later, we re-board, still on schedule.
Overall it’s a glorious experience. Like being on a private jet, albeit with strangers. BA 001 hasn’t just taken Concorde’s flight number: for moneyed Canary Wharfers and high-end leisure travellers, it could take its place either as the business flight of choice – or on the aeronautical scrap heap, in these troubled economic times. I should have savoured being the only person collecting luggage off the carousel. Sadly my return flight is cancelled because of The Ash. Call that a one-way ticket to the blues.
Fares for the double-daily service start from £2,102 (including all taxes and charges). Two uniquely configured Airbus A318s fly twice daily on the new route, which links the hearts of the world’s two biggest financial centres.
BEST FOR STYLE
The Mark is the only place for the UHNWs to stay. Hyperbole? OK, let’s say it’s one of them. I lodged here four times in its previous incarnation, when the décor was stuffy. Now the Upper East Side hotel – just a block from Central Park – has undergone radical surgery (a snip at $150 million), and resurfaced looking decades younger, bold, toned and chic.
Read Spear’s on The Mark’s transformation
The man who wielded the scalpel so stylishly was Jacques Grange, the French design star who has worked for Yves Saint Laurent and Caroline of Monaco. The playful lobby has a geometric black and white floor and – wow! – one-off contemporary pieces, including a swirling Ron Arad lamp and Mattia Bonetti bench. Its nightclub-style bar boasts low-slung pony-skin chairs and a witty metal cloud-shaped bar by Guy de Rougemont.
Visual high-kicks aside, there’s The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges (as in Vongerichten). Its mostly European menu lures Barbara Walters five days a week and Fergie, Paul McCartney and Woody Allen (but less often than Babs). In Willie Wonka-style, I try their five zingy, colourful home-made sodas – simultaneously – then order a dish that’s not on the menu. Successfully. Nothing is too much trouble – and they offer 24 hour room service.
I did my best to find something wrong with The Mark. Anything. But everything gets top marks. Which is (along with the John Lobb complimentary shoe shining service, eye-candy Turnbull & Asser staff outfits and Frederic Fekkai salon) why The Mark is great for long-term stays.
‘People move in during divorce, decoration and relocation.’ Thus speaks genius general manager, James Sherwin, the Mark Birley of New York. (He came via The Savoy and ten years at The Carlyle.) The Mark has 100 rooms and 50 suites with coffered ceilings, drive-in marble bathrooms, bespoke carpets, custom-designed furniture and everything that’s fine – from Quagliotti linens to Crestron touch controls and Boffi kitchens.
I became a delighted long-term resident when the Icelandic volcano erupted. But, annoyingly, the Concierge turned into a five star travel agent.
27 East 77th Street at Madison, New York NY 10075
Rooms from $825 and suites from $1590. Preferential rates offered for long stays.
BEST FOR SPA
The best thing about our Greenwich Hotel bedroom is the huge complimentary basket of Twizzlers, M&Ms and caramel-covered popcorn. Which isn’t saying much. Frankly, Robert De Niro’s hotel in trendy TriBeCa is a disappointment and the buzz about the hotel is probably as much as anything about the chance of rubbing shoulders with the screen god.
Yes, there’s good artisan work, reclaimed timber and handmade terracotta tiles; it’s almost-homely (his dad’s oils line the walls); and the staff are very friendly, although they forgot to show me to my room on arrival. But it slightly misfires with that Italy-meets-Morocco-and-Tibet-via-England look. The vibe is wannabe Soho House, but without the stylishness of Nick Jones’ empire.
The basement Shibui Spa is another thing altogether. It’s in a beautifully reconstructed 250-year old Japanese bamboo farmhouse which was erected by traditional Japanese craftsmen – nail-free and with an ancient knot-tying technique. It’s Asian simplicity at its best. There’s a proper lap-sized swimming pool, lit by lanterns, and touches like Oriental tea cabinets treated with persimmon juice for that perfect colour; plus fitness room with old hemlock floors and hidden lights.
De Niro’s personal trainer is on offer; and so too spa director Thuyen Nguyen’s custom-made French-Vietnamese organic products and hands. The treatment rooms include one with a Japanese tub for bathing rituals. Once I’ve changed into a Japanese Yukata robe, Thuyen gives my face a sublime workout, massages me to heaven ($220, 50 minutes) and walks on my back while holding a handrail on the ceiling. Pure bliss. De Niro is missing out. ‘He hates to be touched,’ I’m told.
The Greenwich Hotel, 377 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10013
Tel: 212 941 8900
Open only to hotel guests. Opened in April 2008.
BEST FOR FILMS
If you’re not staying the night, just pass through the lobby with its soaring windows and cool artwork to the subterranean 99-seater screening room. Then sink into a tangerine Poltrona Frau leather cinema seat to enjoy state-of-the-art sound and digital technology.
It’s open to the public on Sunday (‘Film Club’) nights. They show recent releases and classics with a short beforehand.
Tickets $50 a person (including set dinner) or $25 (with cocktail and bar plate). Or rent it any day for a private viewing ($600 per hour).
79 Crosby Street New York NY 10012
Tel: 212 226 6400
Fax: 212 226 0055
Opened October 2009
Lady Cosima Somerset’s Concierge London can take the strain out of premium lifestyles by sorting everything from rare table bookings to VIP cultural outings and the best accommodation for clients. Now she’s opened Concierge New York. An invitation-only members’ club offering bespoke lifestyle management services, membership is capped at 100 between the two offices. As Lady Annabel Goldsmith’s niece and a one-time friend of Princess Diana, it’s likely that Lady C has an OK-ish little black book.
Concierge New York membership: $20,000 per year plus services $80 per hour
Tel: 212 982 5330
Concierge London membership: £10,000 per year plus services from £40 per hour
Tel: 020 7736 2244
Opened Sept 2008
Picture (from left to right): Concierge New York team: Flora White (CEO), Philippa Hose (office manager), Kristin Goebel (account director), Elizabeth McBride (account assistant), Brittany Lange (account manager)
Farrell may be one of the most expensive car hire firms in Manhattan, but it’s probably the best. Since there’s no legal parking in NY and finding garage space is time-consuming, using a limo service is big in the Big Apple. (Many of Farrell’s clients also have their own drivers; this is the second car, darling.)
Their sparklingly gleaming vehicles – ‘Everything from brother and sister sedans, stretchers and formals to vans for the Louis Vuitton,’ reveals my driver – are a distinctive royal blue with a lighter blue roof. (‘You’ll understand why when you come out of your wedding at the Pierre and see 100 black Lincolns.’)
Unlike yellow cabs, these chauffeurs have done The Knowledge, NY-style; many are fluent in second languages; and some are accredited tour guides too. They are besuited with smart haircuts, white shirt and Farrell tie – two-toned to match the car, natch. Plus they’re always punctual or early. ‘There is no late,’ says one driver.
Tel: 212 861 6300
From Cadillac Sedan $70 per hour to Mercedes Benz $100 per hour
Two hours minimum
To Newark, Teterboro and Kennedy Airports
Check back next week for Part Two: For the body and for the brain