A Taste of Old New York

Mainstays.

Blink and surely miss it. The only consistent thing about New York is that it is always changing. Locals and visitors alike fall in love with restaurants at their own risk—hearts are likely to be broken when inevitable returns reveal that a favourite French cafe in the West Village is now some hipster wine bar. That’s when facts must be faced: that so-adored crepe with caramel and mandarins will never be had again.

But some change is good. For example, no longer must one disconnect from the rest of the world when going underground—onto the subway, that is—as many stations now offer free WiFi. And Williamsburg now has far more hipsters than unsavoury characters (though a reasonable argument can be made that the former and the latter are same thing). However, in this ever-evolving city, some historic landmarks don’t fail to draw a crowd—and a few newcomers attempt to marry the old-school with the contemporary. Here, the highlights.

The Knickerbocker

It cannot get any more central than The Knickerbocker, a hotel situated smack in the middle of Times Square. Whether in the mood for a stroll in Bryant Park or to catch Broadway show, one does not have to go far. The hotel features a Beaux-Arts façade that dates all the way to 1906, but millions later, it has been completely revamped on the inside. It is a new hotel in an old shell.

Once past the unassuming lobby, with its friendly and unpretentious staff, find spacious, contemporary, neutral, sound-proofed rooms that come with 12-foot ceilings, free WiFi, bathrooms fully stocked with Ted Gibson amenities (everything from shampoos to tooth brushes, shaving kits, and even cufflinks in little white boxes), and a view that is likely to be of a Times Square billboard. When it is time for bed, though, a remote control brings the blinds down, and suddenly it’s a private little oasis. Not quite ready for bed? There is always the rooftop bar. At night, the city sparkles.

It may be one of New York’s oldest hotels, but after its extensive renovation, The Knickerbocker is a new gem that hasn’t forgotten its roots.

Mandarin Oriental’s Lobby Lounge

There is a reason why Mandarin Oriental’s Lobby Lounge is considered to be one of the finest cocktail bars in New York. Located on the 35th level and with floor-to-ceiling windows (oh, the ceiling is glass, too), it offers a stunning view of the city’s skyline alongside Central Park—particularly at sunset. But the bar doesn’t let its sophisticated, upscale, opulent demeanour get in the way of being inventive. Cocktails include anything from a ginger mojito to more unusual concoctions such as Sting Like A Bee, which blends Casamigos Reposado, Mike’s Hot Honey, blood orange, and lemon; or Mandarin Sunset, with Absolut Mandarin, blood orange, lychee, and Lillet Blanc. There are small bites to enjoy, too, but the cocktails are the star of the show. A round of applause is also necessary for the Chihuly glass sculpture located in the lobby.

Café Carlyle and Bemelmans Bar

If a favourite artist is ever performing at Café Carlyle, don’t even think about it—just buy a ticket. Around since 1955, this place is the kind that requires gentlemen to wear a dinner jacket, and lets the golden age of New York cabaret spread its wings again. Headliners have included Sutton Foster, Judy Collins, Bobby Short, Elaine Stritch, and Chita Rivera; more recently, Rumor Willis brought in some impressively smoky yet lyrical vocals, alternating between classics such as Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good”. In the audience one night was her (presumably) proud dad, Bruce Willis, and, perhaps randomly, actress Lucy Liu. It was a terrific solo cabaret debut.

It is hard to overstate what an intimate space Café Carlyle is, with gorgeous wall murals by Marcel Vertès surrounding its guests. It is sophisticated, yes, but it is also inviting and cozy in a way few musical venues ever are. Pre-show or post, right next door is the old-fashioned, upscale Bemelmans Bar—named so after the creator of the Madeline children’s books, Ludwig Bemelmans. His murals adorn the walls as live piano music plays. It is a busy spot, with great and fancy drinks.

Dream Hotel Midtown

Walk into the lobby of Dream Hotel Midtown and notice something big. Giant, actually. Its centrepiece is a 3,300-gallon aquarium with 116 colourful fish, which extends below ground and will be part of a new bar and games lounge (with darts, pool, and mini bowling) aptly called The Fish Bowl, set to open later this summer.

The hotel is housed in an 1895 Beaux-Arts flatiron building and is nestled next to the legendary Carnegie Hall and Rockefeller Center; Central Park is only a few blocks away. It does not get any more New York than that, but on the inside, the hotel has a more modern, bright, colourful, youthful feel.

Guest rooms aren’t particularly spacious and views will vary, but there are truly comfortable beds with canopy-style headboards and floral patterned fabrics, along with a location that is hard to beat if looking to be at the centre of it all.

Carnegie Deli, Eataly, Murray’s Bagels, and Zabar’s

Carnegie Deli has been around for a while—since 1937, to be exact. Yet the lineups at this old-school deli haven not diminished any. People just cannot seem to get enough of pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, chopped liver, lox, and potato pancakes.

A relative newcomer to the New York food scene is Eataly, but it fits in perfectly with the disconcerting palates of New Yorkers. With 50,000-square-feet of Italian produce, the choices are overwhelming. Perhaps grab a coffee or some incredible gelato from one of the counters and head across the street to Madison Square Park to enjoy it.

Bagels are a New York staple, and there is no shortage of shops offering them up. But Murray’s Bagels in Greenwich Village has been around since 1996 and serves 15 chewy varieties and delicious spreads; and the lox is a classic, of course.

If time allows, head to the iconic Zabar’s on the Upper West Side. It is hard not to salivate over its smoked fish, cheeses, and other deli selections, many of which can be sampled—that’s how passions are formed, after all. Zabar’s has been around for a long time, and it is here to stay. Not much has changed, because it works.

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June 9, 2016