NEW YORK CITY: My family and I recently returned from a wonderful five days in New York City. Of course, the Big Apple is also one pretty terrific place to shop, from the boutiques of Madison Avenue, the iconic department stores on Fifth Avenue, the world’s largest Macy’s, the two bargain-packed Century 21 locales and the fashion-forward shops in SoHo and the Village. There are many great museums to choose from as well.
Among the most popular tourists stops in the Big Apple are the 9-1-1 Memorial, the Empire State Building, the Museum of Civilization, Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, Central Park/the Central Park Zoo and the Bronx Zoo.
CITY PASS: Before your departure look into purchasing the New York CityPASS (www.citypass.com) www.citypass.com. You will save 42 percent on the city’s six best attractions—plus skip lines. New York CityPASS includes admission to the Empire State Building Experience, American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The cost is $114 for adults (a $195 value) and $89 for youth (aged six to 17, an $89 value. It is valid for nine days. You can purchase the booklets or printable vouchers at citypass.com or at participating attractions for the same low price.
The one place I wanted to explore was Top of The Rock (www.topofherocknyc.com), translating into climbing 70 floors to the top of iconic Rockefeller Center. With my City PASS in hand I went there on several occasions, only to be turned away due to zero visibility. For future reference, all hallways, exhibits and restrooms are handicapped and wheelchair accessible. Power assist doors are located at the main entrance on Fiftieth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Elevators are available at all Top of the Rock entrances and on street level on Forty-Ninth and Fiftieth streets for access to the concourse entrances. Washrooms have designated wheelchair accessible stalls. Guides are trained to accommodate anyone in need by leading the tour through wheelchair accessible routes and at an appropriate speed. For all short films played during the Top of the Rock experience, printed transcripts are available upon request from any Top of the Rock staff. All visitors are given a personal headset with a closed circuit connection to allow optimal audio clarity. Guides are trained to speak at an appropriate volume and speed upon request. Service dogs are welcome in all public areas.
By the way I picked up my City PASS at the Official NYC Information Center at Macy’s Herald Square. In addition to the city specialists who are there to answer any of your questions, the center also features touch-screen information kiosks to help you plan your trip, featuring Google maps and the ability to print directions; a multitude of guides and maps; and tickets for various attractions (many discounted). Visitors can also enjoy a Macy’s 10 percent off visitors Shopping Pass, which is obtainable for free from the center’s specialists or by using a driver’s license or passport at one of the kiosks. Located inside the Macy’s flagship on 34th Street between Seventh Avenue and Broadway, the center is convenient not only too many subway lines, but also the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak—which all operate in and out of Penn Station, located across the street. In addition, 34th Street is a major shopping hub in Manhattan and the location of a number of flagship stores.
BROADWAY: Unquestionably “the draw” in New York City remains its extraordinary Broadway productions. Be prepared to pay big dollars, even for a seat that is the second to last spot in the house at the top. Here is a tip though. Go online via Ticketmaster or Telecharge, check out the precise availability and call the toll free number so that you can get a more accurate route of what is available. While they offer to mail the tickets at least 48 hours before the show, we recommend that you either print them out online or ask to pick them up at will call. In some cases you can even buy cancellation insurance. The biggest hit on Broadway these days is Hamilton, the musical exploration of political mastermind Alexander Hamilton. It is a rap history lesson starring Tony Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda. We began looking for tickets months in advance, but they were sold out going the conventional route. Somewhat reluctantly, we went on Stubb Hubb and paid an insanely high price. The show is spectacular. We were able to secure tickets for Fun Home, a refreshingly honest coming of age story of seeing your parents through grown-up eyes. It is told by the main character as a child, teen, and adult. The show is done in an intimate circular theatre. Five of the actors were nominated for Tony awards.
WHERE TO STAY: We really wanted to stay close to Times Square on this trip and hit the jackpot with the famous Alonquin Hotel (www.algonquinhotel.com). Located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, this jewel of historic New York hotels commands the center of 44th Street, close to the bustling heart of Times Square and Fifth Avenue. The Algonquin first opened its doors in 1902. Today it is part of the Marriott chain’s Autograph Collection, an evolving ensemble of strikingly independent hotels. Each destination has been selected for its quality, bold originality, rich character and uncommon details. From near to far, iconic to historic, the result is an array of properties that is nothing less than unique. The Algonquin Hotel is the first New York City property to become a part of the collection. “The Autograph Collection is a very cool brand,” says Nicholas Sciammarella, manager of marketing and e-commerce. “Each hotel in this group is really unique and different to stay at.”
For 100 years, the Algonquin has been greeting and lodging the country’s most prominent writers and literary personalities, as well as the leading figures of the American stage. The hotel is best known, perhaps, for the members of the Round Table, a group of luminaries who had in common both the ability to fire blazing witticisms and to withstand being on the receiving end of them. The tone they set during their daily meetings set the literary style of the 1920s. After World War I, Vanity Fair writers and Algonquin regulars Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood began lunching at the Algonquin. Though society columns referred to them as the Algonquin Round Table, they called themselves the Vicious Circle. “By force of character,” observed drama critic Brooks Atkinson, “they changed the nature of American comedy and established the tastes of a new period in the arts and theatre.”
Each of the 181 rooms and 25 suites features a comfortable well-lit work desk, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi. Always one step ahead of everyone else, the hotel was the first to offer accommodations to actors and single women travellers. We stayed in a very comfortable one bedroom suite named the Robert Sherwood Suite.
Delighting thirsty revelers when it opened at the demise of the Prohibition in 1933, The Blue Bar has moved – both physically and eruditely – through decades of Times Square hotel bar trends. There is also The Round Table Restaurant and the casual Lobby Lounge.
As a cat lover I was eager to meet Matilda, the house cat. She is a real beauty and can be found sleeping in atop her cat house at the front desk or making her way through the different cat doors on the main floor. Matilda is a large ragdoll cat, soft as velvet. Operations manager Abeer Soliman was kind enough to bring her out so I could pet her.
For many years the history of The Algonquin Cat was believed to have its origins in the 1930’s, when a stray cat came wandering into the hotel for food and water. After the hotel acquired an out-of-print book written by the hotel’s first general manager, Frank Case, a chapter was discovered about a cat named Billy. Based on the timeline of the book, the hotel is now proud to say the lineage of The Algonquin Cat dates back to the early 1920’s. Two days after Billy passed, a stray cat wandered into the hotel and The Algonquin welcomed Rusty. The famous classical actor, John Barrymore, was a resident at the time in the early 1930’s and Rusty was renamed Hamlet in his honor. Hamlet is said to have been Barrymore’s greatest stage role. The hotel has had a total of 11 cats, including Billy. The lineage includes seven Hamlets and three Matildas. Each cat that has reigned at The Algonquin has been a rescue. In 1980, author Hilary Knight immortalized The Algonquin Cat with his cartoons for a children’s book on which he collaborated with Val Schaffner. The current Matilda began her residence in December 2010.
Today, Matilda is looked after by the hotel’s Chief Cat Officer, Alice De Almeida. The hotel’s executive chef cooks her special meals on holidays. She receives fan mail and gifts constantly, from around the world, including Japan, Australia and Russia. Matilda can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She can also be reached via e-mail: email@example.com.
The hotel hosts an annual cat fashion show where the cat models— “mewdels,” – were mostly stationary, arranged on a circle of tables in the Oak Room, just off the main hotel lobby. This year’s sold-out show benefited the animal-welfare nonprofit the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, in addition to paying tribute to New York City’s first responders. Accordingly, each cat was outfitted as a different civil servant. A cat dressed in an M.T.A. uniform lolled in front of his food bowl, and a Persian in a tiny fireman’s hat snoozed next to a neighbor dressed as a paramedic. Cami, a rescue representing the nurses of New York, reclined near a stethoscope with a small, clear plastic cone around her neck, which was practical, not aesthetic.
“Matilda lives in a custom-made pet home perched atop the front desk. She freely roams the luxurious property (except the kitchen and dining areas), takes plenty of catnaps (which are in her job description), and receives fan mail and gifts from all over the world (including the aforementioned pet home). We got to pet her a few times.
I received a copy of a book about the hotel when I checked in called the Algonquin Kid: Adventures Growing Up In New York’s Legendary Hotel. The author is Librettist/Lyricist Michael Colby, whose grandparents Mary and Ben Bodne owned the hotel from 1946 to 1987. As a kid, Colby and siblings visited their grandparents every weekend. Colby took up permanent residence in the hotel at the age of 18 and made his way into the theater world as a librettist, composer and lyricist. His musical, Charlotte Sweet, an all-sung, all-rhymed original musical with libretto by Colby and music by Gerald Jay Markoe, received three Drama Desk Award nominations and was critically lauded as “adorable, strange and delectable” by the New York Times,”
The book also reveals how the Bodnes turned the hotel into a haven for victims of 1950s McCarthyism and a home away from home for such Black Americans as Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Wilkins, and Maya Angelou. I could not put the book down and finished it before checking out. Colby is an excellent storyteller. Colby grew up on Long Island. He, his parents, and two younger brothers, Douglas and David, looked forward to those weekends with the Bodnes who made room for them in their huge suite on the 10th floor.
The Bodnes made a fortune in the oil business in South Carolina. In 1946 they bought the Algonquin for $1 million, pouring $300,000 in for renovations. Michael’s dad, Sidney Cohen, wanted a career as a broadcaster and changed his last name to Colby. That career never panned out and he reluctantly accepted the post of general manager of the hotel. He was an unhappy man and Michael pulls no punches in telling his sad story, passing away at the age of 43 after falling down the stairs at home.
In the book it is astonishing to see the stars who stayed at this hotel, from Maya Angelo, Ella Fitzgerald and Julie Andrews to Whoopi Goldberg (who registered under her real name Caryn Johnson), Anthony Hopkins, Dick van Dyke, Joel Grey, Peter Ustinov, Laurence Olivier, Eva Gabor and so many more.
Michael had an extraordinarily close relationship with his grandparents, who owned and lived at the hotel for more than 50 years. If you have never stayed at the Algonquin before, this book will make you want to. It is available at www.amazon.com and www.michaelcolby.com.
“My grandparents gave me an incredible gift,” recalled Colby. “They turned an unused portion of the hotel into a studio. I got to work with a lot of stars. I think they came because they knew they’d get a free lunch at the Algonquin.”
DINING OUT: New York City is indeed the place to dine, with an endless array of choices to please your palate.
We enjoyed our first experience at Benjamin Steakhouse (www.benjaminsteakhouse.com), located at 52 East 41st Street, one block from Grand Central Station. From their juicy cuts of dry aged beef, to old world charm and elegant ambiance, Benjamin’s ensures that only the best USDA prime beef is used, and every cut is carefully dry-aged in specially handcrafted aging boxes, chilled to the precise temperature and humidity level, for a minimum of 28 days. The key effect of the dry aging process is the concentration of flavor. There is another locale just north of the Big Apple in Westchester County.
Since its opening in 2006, it is easy to see why this place has established itself as one of the Big Apple’s premier steakhouses, attracting business professionals and celebrities alike. In fact there are wall to wall framed photos of owner Benjamin Prelvukaj with A-list celebs, from talkshow host Jon Stewart to well known athletes. Prelvukaj and Chef Arturo McLeod have combined their 30 plus years of experience into a menu complete with amazing selections.
Chef McLeod personally patrons New York’s top meat markets to carefully select prime USDA meat that fits his highest-level of criteria. Benjamin also features delectable non-red meat dishes; such as rich and buttery Chilean sea bass or grilled Norwegian salmon, with its mild and delicate flavor. Diners are also passionate about the extravagant seafood platter, which consists of fresh oysters on the half shell, jumbo shrimp, half-lobsters and juicy lump crabmeat. We absolutely loved that item and especially appreciated the care our waiter Charley took in recommending exactly what to order. Alberto Belegu, one of the managers, is very hands on with the customers and paid a lot of attention to our table. He personally portioned out the contents of the seafood platter for each of us and recommended a white wine to have with the appetizers and a red to go with our main course. General Manager Mario Buqaj is also very present in the restaurant.
Our waiter Charley had started us off with some warm onion rolls and butter, followed by the extraordinary seafood platter and some baked breaded clams. The three of us then shared a delicious Benjamin’s salad. For the main course we let Charley steer us in the right direction. We shared porter house and rib steaks, both of which cut like butter and were cooked to perfection at medium. We decided on three sides: the Benjamin home fries, steamed asparagus and sautéed mushrooms. It was a meal fit for a king! Did we have room for dessert? The choices were pretty difficult to ignore. We settled on the decadent chocolate mousse cake and the tantalizing creme brûlée. I have been to a number of steakhouses in New York. My favorite for years was Ben Benson’s, which closed down a few years back. Benjamin’s combination of amazing food, service and ambiance brings it right to the top.
The restaurant has three levels. It is handicapped accessible from the street level. An elevator goes down to the lower floor where the washrooms are. For reservations call 212-297-9177.
And now for another culinary experience. Having dined for the first time last summer at Maison Boulud at the iconic Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montreal last summer, I was anxious to try one of famous chef Daniel Boulud’s eight restaurants in the Big Apple. My choice was db Bistro Moderne (http://www.dbbistro.com/nyc), home of the famed “db Burger ” and literallu right next door to the Algonquin. It is located at 55 West 44th Street. The bistro is considered Boulud’s contemporary interpretation of the Parisian classic and a restaurant where traditional French cuisine meets the flavors of the American market. The seasonal menu highlights the quality of fine ingredients served in a casual setting. This is one of New York’s top-rated bistros offering easy going, and delicious dining at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is a favorite pre- and post- theater destination.
I dined solo on this occasion and received a friendly welcome from general manager Rachel Ossakow who went over the menu for me. I started off with a plate of smoked salmon, with bagel chips and cream cheese and sampled the roasted mushroom crostini, featuring house-made butter, garlic confit and chives. Before the main course I enjoyed a delicious bowl of fall squash soup, which contained spaghetti squash and pumpkin seeds. There were so many mouthwatering selections to choose from, but I went for the house specialty – the original db Burger. This is a sirloin burger, served medium or rare, and filled with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffle inside a parmesan buns and pommes frites on the side. I will have to go back as the seafood dishes, the duck, lamb, chicken, steak, salads and side dishes looked very appetizing. The dessert menu was not too shabby either. I settled on the Toasted Sesame Bavoiroise, a flourless chocolate biscuit with blood orange and mandarin sorbet. As well, a nice cup of chamomille tea concluded my order. The restaurant has a very extensive wine list and an on-site sommelier. Log on to www.danielnyc.com to see this menu and the others from the Boulud group. You can call 212-391-2400 for reservations.
If you are headed to South Florida anytime soon, Café Boulud Palm Beach at the Brazilian Court Hotel now features an expanded and relocated bar, sleek contemporary design, and an exciting new menu featuring the French cuisine Boulud is known for, with a lighter approach. Boulud and Executive Chef Rick Mace introduced a menu that balances signature Boulud dishes and French favorites inspired by his restaurants around the world with a spotlight on the region’s incredible seafood and produce.
At its core, the menu showcases classic French dishes synonymous with Boulud himself, but modernized to suit the cosmopolitan palate of Palm Beach: local Blackened Mahi with squash gratin and buttermilk; and Swordfish with sweet corn succotash and sauce diable, as well as beloved seafood dishes like Dover Sole Meunière, fileted tableside. Appetizers like Beet and Endive Salad, Pheasant Pâté en Croûte, or Pumpkin Velouté highlight the season’s freshest bounty. Main courses include 14 oz Grassfed Beef Striploin, Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder, Roasted Farm Chicken and a luxurious Chateaubriand for two, and all come with seasonal and local accompaniments. A raw bar-style menu highlights favorites like Local Rock Shrimp, Florida Stone Crab Claws, and Oysters on the Half Shell.
At the center of the new renovation is the enlarged bar area–at 15 seats, it is three times the size as before. Already drawing crowds, the bar’s menu includes an inventive new cocktail list, craft beers on tap, and food served throughout the day allowing guests to drop in at any hour for a quick bite or a relaxed meal.
The Bar Menu features dishes perfect either for sharing, a selection of soups, salads and sandwiches, and perennial favorites including a Cubano with house-cured pork, pickles and mustard, Maine Lobster Roll, and the CBPB Burger named ‘Best of Palm Beach’ by the Palm Beach Daily News. In a shift away from tropical and traditional Palm Beach décor, the new design is lighter and elegant, achieved with unique touches like a shimmery ceiling made from sea shells and Pecky Cyprus, improved lighting, and warm wood flooring surrounding the glowing bar.
The lounge at Café Boulud’s entrance sets the scene to see and be seen while enjoying an evening of excellent food and drink. Or relax and enjoy great conversation in our inviting, upholstered seating areas.
The Courtyard Terrace at the Brazilian Court, a longtime favorite place to dine among Palm Beach locals, remains untouched.
“Our goal was to create a contemporary design for this classic restaurant that retains its elegance while providing a refreshing and accessible modern look in harmony with the hotel,” said Lauren Hastings, Senior Designer of LSI Designs, a division of Copperline Partners.
Café Boulud’s Ballroom and Conservatory, among Florida’s most popular private venues for weddings, celebrations, and corporate events, have been similarly transformed. The French doors separating the two spaces have been removed allowing contiguous seating for parties up to 150. The Ballroom’s high-drama, glass skylight has been tripled in size, allowing an attractive glow of natural light into the room.
The conservatory has been freshened up and lightened to showcase the sun-drenched, open and airy room.
Executive Chef Rick Mace rejoined the Daniel Boulud team in 2013, but his ties date to 2007.
Finally, a note on what is becoming a traditional stop for us while in New York. I am talking about TAO Uptown on East 58th Street near Madison Avenue. This spectacular Pan Asian restaurant specializes in authentic Hong Kong Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines. Save room as well for their amazing desserts. There is also a downtown location and another in Las Vegas.