Thursday, April 30, 2009

Café des Artistes

Café des Artistes
1 West 67th Street; 212-877-3500
Open seven days a week, lunch 11 to 3 pm and dinner 5 to 11pm.
$35 three-course prix-fixe dinner offered year round.
Business casual attire (jackets not required for men).

This legendary café, built in 1917, has been a long-time New York favorite, lauded over the years as enchanting, romantic, and transforming. It invokes old world elegance, in part attributable to the famous 1934 murals of female nudes frolicking in the woods and a location in a prewar hotel just off Central Park. This gothic building was created to house artists' studios, and luminaries such as Noel Coward, Norman Rockwell, Isadora Duncan, and Gary Oldman have all resided here. The café functioned as a dining room and kitchen for residents.

The six murals are the work of Howard Chandler Christy, an illustrator and portrait painter who was a resident of the hotel in which the café was housed. His fame spanned the entire first half of the twentieth century. The Café celebrates the murals with cocktails named after them. Two are "The Fountain of Youth" (Poire William scented champagne with spiced pear) and "Swing Girl" (Corazón Tequila, orange liquor and pineapple juice).

The restaurant caters to a mature clientele in a location convenient to Lincoln Center.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Library Way - East 41st Street...

...a celebration of the world’s great literature.

Library Way, located on the two blocks of East 41st street between Park and Fifth Avenues, displays 96 bronze plaques designed by sculptor Gregg LeFevre. Each contains different quotations from literature and poetry. The plaques lead to the doorstep of the grand New York Public Library Humanities and Social Sciences Library, where the famed stone lions "Patience" and "Fortitude" guard its doors. The official dedication of Library Way was held on May 27, 2004.

In 1996 Grand Central Partnership, along with the New York Public Library and New Yorker Magazine, convened a distinguished panel of literary experts and librarians to select the quotations from prominent works of literature. These quotes have been brought to life by urban sculptural artist Gregg LeFevre in vivid bronze plaques that have been set into the sidewalks. In honor of the project, New York City Mayor Bloomberg enacted “Local Law 34 of 2003" on June 3, 2003, that ceremonially designates this two-block stretch of East 41st Street as “Library Way.”

A directory of the plaques may be found at:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Grand Central Terminal

87 East 42nd Street at Park Avenue
midway between the Chrysler Building and the New York Public Library
Closed for fours hours each day (from 1:30-5:30 am).

The four-sided clock atop the low, round Information Booth in the middle of the main hall gives the best viewpoint to see most everything on the Main Concourse. A world-famous rendezvous spot, the circular marble and brass pagoda in the center of the Main Concourse has a hidden, spiral staircase leading to the Information Booth on the Lower Level. During the recent restoration the clock (made by the Seth Thomas Company) was moved slightly to align with the compass points of the building. The clock’s faces are made from opal, and it is said that it would cost millions of dollars to duplicate it today.

As you glance around this vast concourse, you should perhaps first contemplate a bit of the rail history at this location, dating back to 1871. Click photo to enlarge.

Shipping magnate "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt purchased property between 42nd and 48th Streets, Lexington and Madison Avenue for construction of a train depot and rail yard. On this site was the first Grand Central. This depot, designed by architect John B. Snook, was built at a cost of $6.4 million and opened in October 1871. Virtually obsolete on the day it opened, it was grandly reworked and reborn as "Grand Central Station." The reconfigured depot’s most prominent feature was its enormous train shed constructed of glass and steel. The 100-foot wide by 650-foot long structure rivaled the Eiffel Tower and Crystal Palace as the most dramatic engineering achievement of the 19th century. The updated station also featured a neo-classical façade, a 16,000 square foot waiting room and distinctive ornamentation, including monumental cast-iron eagles with wingspans of 13-feet (one of which was recently salvaged and will rise again above Grand Central Terminal’s new entrance at 43rd Street and Lexington Avenue – the other one can be found on the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue).

With the demise of steam locomotives (which needed an open-air rail yard), the tracks could be moved underground to accommodate electric trains. By 1902 plans were in place to demolish the existing station and create a new double level terminal for electric trains. Excavation, which began in 1903, was an enormous undertaking, as the grade of the rail yard was lowered to an average depth of 30 feet below street level. The old rail yards were paved over all the way north to 49th Street. A stunning new Grand Central Terminal debuted in 1913, after ten years of construction at a cost of $80 million – roughly $2 billion in today’s dollars. At its heydey in 1947, over 65 million people – the equivalent of 40% of the population of the United States – traveled the rails via Grand Central Terminal. From the 1950s, however, Grand Central entered decades of decline, as the automobile replaced trains as the public’s main means of transportation.

In 1967, New York City's recently established Landmarks Preservation Commission (formed in response to the demolition of Pennsylvania Station) designated Grand Central Terminal a landmark, subject to the protection of law – blocking its planned demolition and redevelopment. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was an outspoken advocate against the demolition and redevelopment of the site. In 1976, the National Register of Historic Places named Grand Central Terminal a National Historic Landmark. During the 1980s plans were made to update and restore the landmark structure. This restoration, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, began in 1992. A gala Rededication Celebration of Grand Central Terminal took place on October 1, 1998.

The stunning result of this structural and architectural refurbishment stands before you. Completely restored to its original 1913 splendor, Grand Central has become a midtown destination for five restaurants and cocktail lounges, 20 casual international eateries in the lower level Dining Concourse, gourmet foods from the Grand Central Market and the 50 specialty shops throughout the concourses, all in to addition to its main function as a commuter train transportation hub (67 tracks served by 44 platforms, the largest train station in the world by number of tracks). Grand Central is also a major subway station (second busiest in the system). First, pick up a Grand Central Map and Directory at the "I LOVE NEW YORK" information window in the Main Concourse.

The Beaux Arts interior of the Main Concourse measures 275 feet long by 120 feet wide, and the vaulted ceiling is 125 feet high. The arch windows are 60 feet high at each end. The floors are paved with Tennessee marble, and the walls are covered with buff colored stone with wainscots and trimmings of cream-colored Botticino marble.

The most notable feature of the Main Concourse is the great astronomical mural, from a design by the French painter Paul Helleu, painted in gold leaf on cerulean blue oil. Arching over the 80,000 square-foot Main Concourse, this extraordinary painting portrays the Mediterranean sky with October-to-March zodiac and 2,500 stars. The 60 largest stars mark the constellations and are illuminated with fiber optics, but used to be lit with 40 watt light bulbs that workers changed regularly by climbing above the ceiling and pulling the light bulbs out from above. Soon after the Terminal opened, it was noted that the section of the zodiac depicted by the mural was backwards. For several decades lively controversy raged over why this was so. Some of the explanations offered were that it just looked better, or it didn’t fit into the ceiling any other way. The actual reason is that Paul Helleu took his inspiration from a medieval manuscript, published in an era when painters and cartographers depicted the heavens as they would have been seen from outside the celestial sphere.

In the original 1913 architectural plans there were supposed to be two grand staircases. In true Beaux-arts style, they were to be balanced, but with a few small differences. But when Grand Central was opened on February 2, 1913 there was only one staircase. The team of architects – St. Paul based Reed & Stem and New York’s Warren & Wetmore – somehow decided against constructing the planned second staircase. During the recent $200 million restoration the second staircase was finally built. Just in case you are wondering, the staircase on the west side of the building by Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse is the original staircase and the staircase leading to Métrazur on the east side of the building is new. The Eastern balustrades are slightly less elaborate to differentiate the old from the new. Both sets of marble steps, sweeping from the Main Concourse up to the mezzanine level, are modeled after the grand staircase of the Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier).

There are melon shaped chandeliers on both sides of the Main Concourse and several more in Vanderbilt Hall. They were always thought to have been bronze, but they had been covered with dirt for many years. The chandeliers were taken down and cleaned recently. Remarkably, with just one cleaning the glistening gold was revealed. Note the bare light bulbs. In 1913 electricity was new and not widely used by normal households, so the New York Central Railroad wanted to give the sense of grandeur, luxury, and opulence to its train terminal, and did this by showing off the nickel and gold- plated chandeliers with electric light bulbs.

As you walk around the building, notice the design in the stonework of the water fountains, above the entrance to the railroad tracks, in the design of the chandeliers, and in the green metal windows frames seen from the Main Concourse and Vanderbilt Hall – Grand Central is filled with acorns and oak leaves. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt had a rags to riches story. He did not come from a rich family and therefore did not have a family crest as many wealthy families of the 18th century did. As Vanderbilt’s fortune grew, so did his desire for a family crest. He chose the mighty oak tree’s acorns and oak leaves, referring to the old saying “from an acorn a mighty oak shall grow!”

Two ramps lead down to the lower level, joining in front of the famous Oyster Bar (closed Sundays), which has been open for all of the Terminal’s history, in continuous operation since 1913. These ramps were hidden for almost 70 years. Back in 1927, the New York Central Railroad, the operating company at that time, decided that they needed more office space, so they built an eight-foot wooden ceiling over the ramps. This made the ramps dark, narrow, and gave a tunnel-like feeling as you walked down to the Lower Level train tracks. These ramps were opened up and brought back to their original splendor.

Photo at right:
On the balcony level the former private office and salon of 1920s tycoon, John W. Campbell has been refashioned as The Campbell Apartment, fully restored to its original splendor – and reborn as a cocktail lounge that has been cited in the national media as one of "the best bars in America" (open daily from 3:00 pm). Proper attire is required (no baseball caps, t-shirts, athletic shoes, etc.). If for no other reason, you should visit Grand Central Terminal to have a drink at this lounge. Note: The Campbell Apartment is frequently rented out for private events, so be sure to call before you stop by. 212-953-0409.

The Whispering Gallery, located at the end of both Oyster Bar Ramps when heading down to the Lower Level, is one of the bigger attractions in the Terminal and offers a phonic treat. Get two volunteers and put them in opposite corners facing the walls. A person can whisper into one of its corners and be distinctly heard diagonally across the gallery on the other side.

The Biltmore Room, known as the “Kissing Room,” was located right under the old famous Biltmore Hotel (now the Bank of America building) and was where the famous 20th Century Limited train arrived. Celebrities, politicians, and soldiers would get off the trains to meet their loved ones and hug and kiss in the middle of the room before going up stairs into the Biltmore Hotel.

Walk outside the building to see the sculpture “Transportation” by French artist Jules-Alexis Coutan that sits atop Grand Central Terminal's south facade. You will see Mercury flanked by Minerva and Hercules. Minerva is the goddess of wisdom and represents all the thought and planning put into this building. Mercury is the god of speed and represents both the speed of commerce as it grew up into midtown Manhattan from the financial district and, of course, the speed of trains. The mythological hero, Hercules, represents the strength of the men who built Grand Central. Carved out of Indiana limestone, the group stands 50 feet high and 60 feet wide, weighs 1,500 tons, and surmounts a clock 13 feet in diameter. This clock contains the world's largest example of Tiffany glass.

During the 1930s, a secret platform, number 61, was constructed under the station. This was built to convey
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his limousine directly into the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, in order to hide from the public and press his disability, caused by polio.

The Seth Thomas clock company, manufacturer of the valuable four-faced clock atop the center kiosk of the Grand Concourse, went into receivership in January of 2009. The company was founded in 1813, exactly 100 years before Grand Central Terminal opened its doors. The company web site states that there is a new owner, and to revisit the site at a future time for further information.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

South Street Seaport Museum

New York City's maritime past is celebrated at South Street Seaport Museum, located in the 19th century waterfront district that today is home to six historic ships and exhibitions of maritime art and artifacts. Designated by Congress as America’s National Maritime Museum in 1998, South Street Seaport Museum sits in a 12 square-block historic district that is the site of the original port of New York City.

The area's cobblestone-paved streets surround a complex of restored 19th-century buildings along the East River at the southern tip of Manhattan island. From here it is possible to sail around New York harbor on a twin-masted schooner. The two block area of short brick buildings are a sharp contrast to the looming modern skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan. The port is as much an outdoor mall as it is a museum; galleries, housed in restored buildings, are in three locations within the seaport's borders, while the rest of the space is occupied by stores and restaurants. Except for South Street itself, the area is closed to automobile traffic, and the overall sense of the seaport is similar to other historic parks like Colonial Williamsburg.

The exhibit on board the Peking, one of the two tall ships at South Street, offers an impression of what life on an old sailing cargo ship was like. The galley, crew quarters, officer’s staterooms and captain’s cabin have all been restored to their original condition.

The onshore galleries feature a broad range of topics, everything from antique clocks to old charts, including the alarmingly inaccurate 16th and 17th century maps drawn by early European explorers. There is also a large assortment of model ships on display.

The best time to arrive is between 10:30 and 11:00 am.
The area sometimes smells bad because of the nearby active fish markets.
A visit to South Street will take at least half a day, excluding a harbor cruise.
There are exceptional views of the adjacent Brooklyn Bridge from this area.

Interactive map of South St. Seaport area:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

High Bar in Hell's Kitchen

High Bar
251 W. 48th St (near 8th Ave.)
Open 5 p.m. to midnight Sun.-Wed.; until 2 a.m., Thur.-Sat.

A popular spot for private birthday parties of the hip, young and rich. Be nice and patient with the doorman, and don't be put off by the decidedly unglamorous residential building which must be navigated in order to access this popular rooftop lounge outfitted with sofas and cabanas.

The West Side view from High Bar:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sleep Pods - NYC Metro Naps

OK - you've come to the city that never sleeps. And while the biggest of all apples might not need rest, you own body starts to let you down. Maybe it was last night's third glass of wine, or the knockout bar tender who inspired you to stay until closing (were you REALLY out until 4 am?), but it's now 2 p.m. and what you really need is a nap. You're in midtown, but your hotel is a daunting 50 blocks north on the Upper East Side.

Not to worry. You can catch some much-needed Zs on the 22nd floor of the Empire State Building. Just the thing for your weary mind and feet, and the whole process takes less than 25 minutes of your valuable time.

Time for a recharge -- you'll lie down in a jet-age designed sleep pod and drift off as you listen to relaxation-inducing sounds. The sleep pod will then wake you in 20 minutes with a gentle combination of light and vibration. Next, you toddle over to the "Wake Station" to make use of the lotions, facial spritz and lemon-scented hand towels to bring you back to the real world. All for just $14 (additional 20 minutes $9.50).
Empire State Building
350 5th Ave (Suite 2210)
New York, NY 10118

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bookmark Lounge

Bookmarks Bar (at Library Hotel)
41st St. at Madison Ave., one block from Grand Central Station

This 14th floor lounge boasts a handsome room with granite topped padded bar, an open air terrace and glass enclosed “writer’s den.” Open daily (except Sunday) from 4:00 pm until midnight.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Keens Steakhouse

Keens Chop House (est. 1885)
72 W. 36th St. (between 5th & 6th Aves.)
Open daily except Christmas.
M-F 11:45a-10:30p; Sat 5:00p-10:30p; Sun 5:00p-9:00p

Not much has changed at Keens since it opened in 1885, except the name change from "Chop House" to "Steakhouse" in 1995. Nevertheless, to satisfy the traditionalists, they kept the "Chop House" sign intact. Keens is the antithesis of most New York City restaurants. It's a dark, low-ceiling place near Herald Square, Madison Square Garden and Penn Station that serves artery-clogging meats with abandon. Their signature "mutton chop" (actually saddle of lamb) keeps cardiologists in business, yet Keens has remained a runaway success for generations.

The menu touts the Mutton Chop as a specialty – but it’s a ruse. That was all in the past. Since not long after the end of WWII Keens has served lamb chops, not mutton, in spite of what the menu says. The lamb comes from an animal 10 months old, which is older that most lamb served in restaurants, but not old enough to be called mutton. The restaurant does serve a cut that resembles mutton on the plate (you’ll understand why side whiskers are called “mutton chops” at first glance). Stick with the aged beef and lamb dishes (the lunch menu fried chicken salad being an exception), and apple crisp (other desserts are blah). Instead of dessert, however, why not enjoy a flight of single malt scotches (200 varieties on offer) at the end of the meal?

Today, Keens is the only survivor of the once-famous Herald Square Theatre District. In an age which tears down so much of the past, it is comforting to find one landmark that continues.

Yet Keens is known for more than its food. They own the largest collection of churchwarden clay pipes in the world. Keens displays thousands of these pipes on the ceilings of their dining rooms, which ramble over two floors of three connecting town houses. The tradition of checking one’s pipe at an inn had its origins in 17th century England where travelers kept their clay at their favorite inn – the thin stemmed pipe being too fragile to be carried in purse or saddlebag. Pipe smoking was known since Elizabethan times to be beneficial for dissipating “evil humours of the brain.”

The Keens pipe tradition began in the early 20th century. The hard clay churchwarden pipes were brought from the Netherlands, and as many as 50,000 were ordered every three years. A staff pipe warden registered and stored the pipes, while pipe boys returned the pipes from storage to the patrons. The membership roster of the Pipe Club contained over ninety thousand names, including those of Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Will Rogers, Billy Rose, Grace Moore, Albert Einstein, George M. Cohan, J.P. Morgan, Stanford White, John Barrymore, David Belasco, Adlai Stevenson, General Douglas MacArthur and “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Today, most of these pipes are displayed on the ceiling (click on the photo below).

A Keens specialty: a flight of after-dinner scotches.

1. The prices are gentler in the pub, where a more casual menu offers sandwiches, burgers and salads.
2. The clubby, masculine bar is not to be missed (first photo of this post).
3. The Bullmoose Room is considerably quieter than the noisy Lambs Room.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rose Bar (Gramercy Park Hotel)

Rose Bar (Gramercy Park Hotel)
2 Lexington Avenue (at 21st St.)

Reservations required after 9 pm
(only by E-mail:

Over-the-top decór with prices to match, but these are delicious $20+ cocktails. An original Andy Warhol hangs next to the pool table. Entry off the lobby through the red velvet curtains (turn right at the chandelier).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

230 Fifth Lounge & Rooftop Terrace

230 Fifth (open daily 4 pm to 4 am)
230 5th Avenue (at 27th St.)

Ride up in the gilded elevator and enter an Art-Moderne inspired room with floor to ceiling glass windows and beveled mirrors, all capped by a lacquered red ceiling (Austin Powers would be right at home here). The lounge is fitted with curvy suede sofas and modernist furnishings.

Ascend another level, however, up the chrome staircase to a stunning rooftop space that stays open all year round – this is why you’ve come here. The views are awe inspiring, the New York skyline shining, the Empire State Building towering right before you. Pricey cocktails and a varied wine list on offer.

44 & X (Hell's Kitchen) Restaurant

44 & X (Hell’s Kitchen)
622 10th Ave. at 44th Street
“Reinvented American Classics” cooking packs this all-white room with Hell's Kitchen neighborhood locals and savvy theatergoers, happy to find such good food and friendly service just west of the Broadway theater district. You'll find down-home dishes such as mac-and-cheese, buttermilk fried chicken with chive waffles, and meat loaf swathed in tomato sauce. Not to mention grilled braised short ribs and fish (sea bass, salmon, etc.). An interesting crowd – a happening spot. That said, there is little to absorb sound, so be warned that the indoor noise level can get a bit loud.
Full bar, warm-weather sidewalk terrace covered by a striped awning.
Dinner 7 days from 5:30 pm. Lunch M-F 1:30-2:30; Brunch Sat/Sun 11:30-3:00.