As The Gilded Age delivers an eyeful of old New York, we consider the city’s stalwarts, many of them born at the same time as Julian Fellowes’ latest period setting.
And yet, forming the backbone to all that restless change, invention and reinvention, are New York’s mainstays and stalwarts; the ones that will outlive every trend; the ones that are, and always will be, above fashion. They are the kinds of places that, in the manner of Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly – as played to perfection by Audrey Hepburn – might have retreated for safety.
In the words of the multi Pulitzer Prize winner John Updike, ‘The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.’
And, when we consider the marriage of classic New York with its counterpoint – the fast-pace impatient easy-come, easy-go – we can’t help but think he had a point.
We love trying NYC’s never-ending procession of new and pioneering openings. But these are New York icons and old-timers that we’ll always make time for, no matter what.
Eat & Drink
Restaurants come and go in a New York minute. These classic joints, however, have stood the test of time and deservedly so.
Want a slice of old-school New York Italian pizza? Head to Mario’s on Arthur Avenue pronto; there punters will find the Migliucci family’s iconic, century-old restaurant, which very much remains in the hands of the Italian-American dynasty. Think retro dessert trolleys, white columns and a liberal use of decorative statuettes. An Italophile’s heaven. Book it.
Grand Central Oyster Bar
Opened in 1913, this legendary Arts Beaux landmark in Midtown is worth a visit for the beautiful vaulted ceiling alone. But, while you’re there, don’t neglect to grab a pew at the counter and, once installed, order a platter of oysters and a glass of champagne. Classic New York glamour. Book it.
John’s Of Bleecker Street
John’s may have opened in 1929, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still queues to get in, nearly a century on. A classic coal-oven pizza joint, its signature charred crusts keep tourists and regulars coming back for a slice of authentic New York Italian fare. Book it.
On the Lower East Side, this legendary purveyor of pastrami, corned beef and other kosher deli classics is a perennial favourite. It’s so good, in fact, that during WW2, one of the ways New Yorker parents would boost their sons’ morale in the forces was to send them goodies (Katz’s catchphrase was, ‘Send a salami to your boy in the army’). Today, faces of its celebrity fans beam down upon the cavernous space from the walls – and who can blame them after a bite of its thick-cut pastrami on rye, which is considered the very best in New York? Visit it.
‘The tradition of checking one's pipe at the inn had its origins in 17th-century Merrie Old England where travellers kept their clay at their favourite inn – the thin stemmed pipe being too fragile to be carried in purse or saddlebag,’ Keens’ website tells us. Today, having started its tradition in the early 20th-centruy, this Midtown institution boasts an enormous collection of pipes – some of which once belonged to the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Babe Ruth, no less – with which its ceilings and walls are hung. Come for great steaks and chops; stay for the atmosphere. Book it.
Tavern On The Green
This Central Park icon drew the likes of Grace Kelly and John Lennon in its glamorous heyday. In 2010, things looked bleak for the restaurant when bankruptcy loomed and potential-spotting backers circled above, waiting to swoop for the kill. How joyous, then, that the bid was won by a pair of crepe-makers, who have since remodelled it in a rustic farmhouse style, complete with wooden beams and hearths. Book it.
The Rainbow Room
The Rainbow Room, housed on the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Centre, is a glamorous icon, and its views are unparalleled. Don’t miss its regular dinner and dancing events to channel some retro, old New York charm. Book it.
Queen of the downtown scene, the neon-lit The Odeon was the place to be in the eighties, its signage illuminating its Tribeca neighbourhood with the promise of a thoroughly excellent and perhaps just a little debauched night ahead. Warhol, Basquiat and Robert De Niro were all fans, and – thanks to the buzzy atmosphere and the extra-good calamari – so are we. Book it.
There is no shortage of diversions in New York. These are the cultural bastions that we could visit again and again over a lifetime.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Known to all as The Met, visitors to this incredible collection – which houses 5,000 years of art – could stay for weeks and still not begin to digest it all. Founded on April 13, 1870, its mission statement was ‘to be located in the City of New York, for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in said city a Museum and library of art, of encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts, and the application of arts to manufacture and practical life, of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects, and, to that end, of furnishing popular instruction.’ It has been living up to that promise ever since. Visit here.
Once steeped in The Met’s classical art education, you may now wish to bone up on some modern art too. MOMA is exactly the place to do that. Clap eyes on modern masters, from the work of Marcel Duchamp to that of New York icon, Andy Warhol. Visit here.
New York Public Library
As a visitor to the city, you may not be in the market to make full use of the extraordinary collection of books at New York Public Library. Do, though, make sure you ascend its marble staircase and take in the sheer beauty of its reading rooms. Visit here.
If you want to catch a big show while you’re in town, the world-renowned Broadway is the place to do it. But there’s also a whole roster of musicals and plays to see for a fraction of the cost at Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway, too. Explore the options here.
The Metropolitan Opera
A night at the opera is always a glam affair. And few places do it as well – or inspire getting so dressed up – as The Met Opera, with its fantastic programme of classics; think Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti, delivered by opera singers at the peak of their powers. Explore the season here.
The Guggenheim opened in 1959, and houses 600 artworks that were given to the museum by R Solomon Guggenheim. It is worth going for the Frank Lloyd Wright building alone, which is an indisputable monument to Modernism. Explore the collections here.
Dedicated to the work of European Old Masters, the tale of this beloved cultural bastion all began with Henry Clay Frick, who beneficently bequeathed his home, painting and sculptures to the public. Ever since the museum opened in 1935, it has delighted and educated via its works, which span the Renaissance right through to the 19th-century. Explore the collections here.
New York is teeming with hotels, many of them sublime. There are, however, just a few that can be described as iconic.
Utter the words ‘New York’ and ‘hotel’ and most people will immediately think of the century-old Plaza. Standing on the corner of Central Park, it is the only hotel in the city to be a designated official landmark. It’s not hard to see why; Truman Capote held his Black and White ball within its luxurious walls and part of The Great Gatsby was set here too. Book it.
The Algonquin Hotel is steeped in history, not least of the literary persuasion. Maya Angelou stayed here, as did William Faulkner, while another cultural legend – the New Yorker – was founded at the Midtown icon. You can see why it might appeal; the wood-panelled library is the stuff of writers’ dreams; settle in and allow the spiffie tux-clad waiters to take care of your every need. Cat lovers will also rejoice; the resident feline, Hamlet, is accustomed to guests bringing along their own much-welcomed mogs to see and be seen. Book it.
Gramercy Park Hotel
Fancy having your own key to Gramercy Park? You can for the night if you stay at Gramercy Park Hotel. Opened in 1925, it has long been a New York classic, and a favourite of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Artworks by the city’s icons – Warhol and Basquiat – hang amidst the rich velvet interiors. Humphrey Bogart loved it so much he was married here. Book it.
St Regis Hotel
John Jacob Astor – otherwise known as one of the richest people on the planet, with $87m in the bank when he went down with the Titanic in 1912 – was no stranger to luxury. The tycoon built the Beaux Arts beauty in 1904, and it remains as splendid as ever today. Whether you stay or not, do go to The King Cole Bar for a bloody Mary, which is where it is said to have been invented. The last word in luxe. Book it.
Modern by the standards of some of the stalwarts on this list, The Maritime Hotel on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea – right on the edge of the fashionable Meatpacking District – was designed in 1968 by New Orleans modernist architect, Albert Ledner, who trained under Frank Lloyd Wright. Back then, the building had no aspirations to hospitality; it was conceived as the HQ for the National Maritime Union. The hotel opened in 2003, its nautical overtones preserved and celebrated to hip effect – who wouldn’t love a porthole window overlooking the city that never sleeps? Book it.
By Nancy Alsop
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