The Best Way to Live it up in New York’s Midtown

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Jul 28, 2017

by HANA JO

The on-trend New York we picture these days might skew more toward bearded hipsters serving up cold brew, warehouse conversions in recently gentrified neighbourhoods and an ever-changing roster of hard-to-find hotspots. But classic New York (you know, the one from the movies) continues on as sophisticated and charming as ever right in the middle of Manhattan.

Next time you’re in New York, give the old-school version a spin. Take a cue from moneyed locals: ensconce yourself in lavish digs further uptown and put some serious effort into shopping, wining, dining and generally avoiding anything in the too-hard basket. And there’s no need to call the car around – stay in Midtown and you’ll find everything you need to live the high life at your doorstep.

STAY

The Whitby Hotel
Banish any ideas of high-end hotels being stuffy and beige; The Whitby Hotel, Firmdale Hotels’ second foray into Manhattan, is all about fun and colour. Founders Kit and Tim Kemp’s newest accommodation is in a suitably swanky location only a few blocks from Central Park on West 56th Street. There’s a real sense of opulence here, sans pretention.

The first thing you’ll notice is the service: thorough, unassuming, English at heart but delivered with a convivial hint of American sass. Then there’s the design. The hotel spaces and all 86 rooms have had design director Kit Kemp’s individual attention – fabulous colour schemes, richly patterned and textured custom upholstery and eye-catching artworks are obvious signature accents that avoid all of the clichés of upmarket hotels. Alabaster sculptures and a quirky Maarten Baas grandfather clock welcome guests at the entrance and a striking woven artwork stretches across the ceiling from above the front desk.

There are several room categories available; we recommend a Terrace Suite for a real Midtown experience. In addition to the floor-to-ceiling windows found in all the rooms, these suites open out onto furnished private terraces with skyline views along 56th Street. An extravagant white marble bathroom with a deep, inviting bathtub, fresh flowers and a thoughtful turndown service complete with bottles of Evian and RikRak pillow mist complete the scene. The minibar is well-stocked with champagne so the only decision you have to make is Veuve or Krug? 

Meals can be had in The Orangery, an elaborate room with wall-mounted Victorian ceramics; giant chandeliers decorated with brass parrots steal the show. Also on the ground level is an intimate drawing room with a fireplace and an honesty bar for guests.


18 West 56th Street

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EAT

The Whitby Bar & Restaurant
The whimsy of The Whitby continues throughout the restaurant and bar, where the tables are set with Kit Kemp’s Wedgwood range of delicate and peculiar Mythical Creatures fine bone china, exquisite white linen and silverware. The kitchen is open from 7am for breakfast and offers a bar menu until 1am. Classic dishes are served up with sophisticated touches that elevate them to a can’t-decide-what-to-order level. You could start the day with a nutty French-press coffee with burrata scrambled eggs; choose the Maine lobster BLT for lunch and sample the roasted chicken with apricot for dinner – or perhaps indulge in afternoon tea (an American-style extravaganza served all day) or a grass-fed burger with Gruyère as a midnight snack. There are takes on pound cake (with grilled pineapple), lemon tart (with cabernet blackberry jam) and chocolate cake (a fudge variety served with strawberry gelato) for dessert and the drinks list, at a dozen pages, has sections representing red and white wines from America to Austria and spirits from Ardberg to Zacapa.


18 West 56th Street 

Le Bernadin
No-one can deny that Le Bernadin rules when it comes to French-inspired seafood. Respect for, affinity with and mastery of seafood is evident from the consistently perfect output from chef Eric Ripert. Menu standouts include a striped bass tartare from the Almost Raw section and a crusted red snapper under the heading of Lightly Cooked.

It may have three Michelin stars and a plethora of other awards but don’t expect a rigidly formal affair – the service is on point but not overbearing, the menu is globally inspired and the space contemporary; a separate lounge and corresponding menu accommodates diners after something a little more casual. A 15,000-bottle cellar overseen by award-winning sommelier Aldo Sohm (he also heads up an eponymous wine bar across from the restaurant) means the wine list isn’t too shabby, either.


155 West 51st Street

Nobu Fifty Seven
It’s recognised internationally as one of the world’s trendiest upscale restaurant chains so if you’ve never dined at any of Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurants, Nobu Fifty Seven is a good place to start. Larger than the downtown restaurant, the dramatic double-height dining room makes for a suitable initiation to Matsuhisa’s Peruvian/Japanese stylings. The chef’s famous Black Cod with Miso is a must-order but be sure to try some of Nobu’s other famed flavour combinations: yellowtail and jalapeño, rock shrimp tempura with a creamy, spicy sauce and king crab tempura with a sweet-and-sour amazu ponzu. Desserts are just as impressive and include the renowned Bento Box (with chocolate fondant and matcha gelato) and saké fans will be pleased to see the rare offerings from Hokusetsu Brewery on the well-rounded wine list. If you’re looking for somewhere to have a lazy weekend brunch, the Sunday prix-fixe menu is a concise introduction to Nobu’s signature tastes.


40 West 57th Street

La Bonne Soupe
Warm and welcoming, La Bonne Soupe is a casual French affair with a tiny dash of American diner and loads of charm. Think tiled and hardwood floors, bentwood chairs and art-filled walls. Great value for a quick lunch or easy dinner, La Bonne Soup has a solid menu of soups, crepes, omelettes and hamburgers. You’ll find other favourites – fondue, quiche, croque monsieur – gracing the list but the most popular order is the set soup meal with bread, salad, dessert and a glass of wine. The wine list is short, entirely French and great value. There’s also a separate dessert wine list plus a handful of cocktails, beers and ciders to choose from.


48 West 55th Street

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DRINK

The bar at The Whitby is fabulous but if the bartender already knows your order, there are a few nearby bars worth familiarising yourself with. For historic cachet, you can’t go past King Cole Bar at the St Regis hotel, the home of Maxfield Parrish’s Old King Cole mural and the (contested) birthplace of the Bloody Mary. 

If shiny and new is more your style, head to The Modern Bar Room at MoMA. For something in between, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s Monkey Bar is your best bet: atmospheric and polished with a hefty dose of glamour.

SEE ALSO: The Best Rooftop Bars in New York

DO

Shop, shop and shop
A cursory wander of the streets around The Whitby reveals shopping is a very common pastime in these parts. Don’t miss Bergdorf Goodman, a New York institution and revered department store beloved by celebrities for its vast range of high-end designer fashion. Founded in 1899, the store has been at this location since 1928 and was the subject of the recent documentary, Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf's. Barneys, another luxury department store, has its key store a few blocks north-east on Madison Avenue. The key is to pace yourself – you’ll find a slew of flagship stores on and off Fifth Avenue between 56th and 58th Streets including Gucci, Saint Laurent, Dior, Chanel and Louis Vuitton

Also on Fifth Avenue are the boutiques of Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier and, of course, Tiffany & Co. It’s the very same store Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly gazed into, pastry in hand, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Take the lift to the upper floors for views of Central Park.

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Walk through Central Park
A stroll through Central Park is obligatory when you’re staying so close by. Head up Fifth Avenue from The Whitby and you’ll encounter the Pulitzer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza, flanking the historic Plaza Hotel. Consider a visit to the Plaza Food Hall to grab a treat on the go or return for afternoon tea in The Palm Court.

As you cross 59th Street, take a moment to look over at the golden William Tecumseh Sherman Monument on the northern side of the plaza, skip the horse-drawn carriages and enter the park by the Lombard Lamp – a present to the city from the city of Hamburg, Germany. Stairs lead down to The Pond, one of the park’s seven bodies of water. From there, choose your own park adventure: see the much-photographed Gapstow Bridge, skate at Wollman Rink in winter or visit the Central Park Zoo.

SEE ALSO: Explore Central Park in Winter

Culture hit
At West 53rd Street is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – a must-visit destination housing some of the most popular art from the 20th century by artists known the world over on last-name basis. Crowd-pleasers include The Starry Night (Van Gogh), Dance (Matisse), The Persistence of Memory (Dalí), Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Picasso), and of course, Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans.

One avenue over, on Seventh, Carnegie Hall is one of the world’s most respected concert venues. Since it was built by Andrew Carnegie in 1891, it has hosted world premieres of music by composers such as Antonín Dvořák, Richard Strauss, Duke Ellington, Igor Stravinsky and George Gershwin. After 1955, when Bill Haley and the Comets took to the stage, artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Jay Z and David Bowie have performed there. The venue is host to hundreds of performances throughout the season, from pianists and quartets to world-renowned orchestras and rock musicians. Book anything that takes your fancy.  

For more ideas on what to do in New York, as well as free events, check out NYC Go.

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Photography (The Whitby) Simon Brown