Love or hate New York, there’s no debate that it’s one of the most dynamic cities in the world for business or pleasure.
In our business, it’s also the greatest learning experience. It’s also the place where we get the most questions from friends and clients about recommendations for hotels, restaurants and just basic stuff.
The city can’t be tackled as a whole, or you’ll miss the best parts. So, we’re tackling in bite size areas, loosely based on neighborhoods, and based more on my general sense of direction (the right, left, short long). The well numbered streets are a godsend for the directionally challenged (i.e: me).
North of Union Square and south of Herald Square
This area of the city used to be the place you’d walk through quickly from point A to point B. It was filled with junk retail and hawkers on your way to the touristy (and our client) Macy’s Herald Square or the Empire State Building.
Now, it’s a place we actually seek to stay, especially with any kind of business in Midtown.
A few navigation points: think of Broadway as the main anchor. This neighborhood is known for Madison Square Garden (stay away, unless you’re there for an event), Grand Central and Bryant Park on the northern end, and Union Square Park on the Southern End. Between 40th ish and 17thish, in the middle area, and not toward the Hudson or East River. For everyone who knows New York, it’s extremely walkable, but the long blocks really are long, so most digestible sections of the city are oriented more north/south, rather than east/west.
A few highlights:
- Gramercy Park: for the neighbors only. It’s locked up tight, so you have to admire the Victorian throwback as a walk by on your way to the Gramercy Park Hotel (except for the one time a year they open it up).
- Madison Square Park: a great oasis, somewhat disrupted by the omnipresent line for the original Shake Shack. (Sure, you can stand in line, but after having done so, I’m not sure it’s worth it).
- Union Square Park: south, and borderline with NYU and getting into the Village. The greatest part about Union Square is the markets, where they bring in the great food vendors and market stalls from around the city. Momofuku Milk Bar has its famous cookies at its stand. Worth the walk, and buy the assorted tin. Try them all.
Bryant Park is also lively and lovely, but that falls more into straight Midtown and is a bit further north.
The touristy stuff:
- Empire State Building. Probably worth it once. Or get a great view of it from one of the restaurants we worked on in Macy’s Herald Square (Stella 34).
- Flatiron Building. Just walking by is enough, a classic, iconic piece of NYC architecture
- Macy’s Herald Square: It’s always a madhouse, if you’re into that. Otherwise, enter close to the 35thStreet and Broadway corner, take the elevator to the 6thfloor, and enjoy a drink at Stella (a Shea project) with a spectacular view of the Empire State Bldg. Soon (November 2015), we will be opening a Macy’s Culinary Council food truck court and Rowland’s bar & grill on 1 Below (aka the basement or lower level). Another great respite, but will be more crowded. Also outside of Macy’s on Broadway, they have great street food options that continue to grow.
- Times Square. Walk through, don’t stay anywhere near. And, the tickets booth in the center really is a decent place to get theater tickets.
Places to Stay:
This is where it gets fun. The Ace Hotel, on 19th and Broadway, was one of the first to put their stakes down in this no man’s land. Now, there are many great options:
It just has the right balance of quality and vibe. If you’re a guest, you get priority access to their Library Bar, with a smaller menu from both NoMad Bar and the NoMad restaurant. Order the milk and honey dessert. Do it.
They’ve perfected the too-cool vibe, and were one of the first to create a lobby area that everyone wants to be in. To work, to meet, to drink. If you appreciate more shtick over substance, give it a try. Otherwise, go for a drink in the lobby, see the brilliance of the lobby design, grab coffee at Stumptown, or grab a sandwich at No. 7 sub, one of the coolest sandwich shops in town.
Both have done an interesting design job integrating old with new, industrial with warm. Not as costly as NoMad.
If you want more luxury than boutique and you want 5th Avenue, go for it.
Definitely trying (too hard?) to be the too-cool kid, but a good location.
One of the newer growing hotel collections in the world. The rooms are a bit pricey, but it’s brand new and right near Madison Square Park.
A pretty safe boutique choice, and a great location not far from Madison Square Park.
For the first few years, was the place for the late night scene, and dining (with Danny Meyer’s Maialino on the first floor). It’s a great layered approach to design, and a good learning experience from the first floor bars/restaurants to the rooftop. Just don’t rent the 3rd floor room over the Rose Bar if you actually want to sleep. Gramercy was in the beginning of the transition for hotels to become the great hang out spots, not just hotels. If you stay the roof top is a must for integration of indoor/outdoor greenery and decor.
If you venture on the northern end of this area:
There are literally new spots opening almost weekly in this area:
The laid back sibling to the higher end NoMad restaurant. Try the chicken pot pie (they melt foie gras into it. Seriously), and good luck getting in (this is where the art of bar sitting comes in handy). It’s dark, it’s heavy millwork, its dark, but it’s an instantly comfortable looking old school bar, and major millwork back bar that is drool worthy for all the restaurateurs (and the rest of us) tired of industrial chic.
Disclosure, neither are favorites, but John Dory has some quality seafood, and the Breslin works if you’re looking for a classic pub. The experience of dining within John Dory is not as good as you’d expect it’s always slightly uncomfortable in its choice of color, lighting, furniture, but the food is always good.
Billed as a bourbon spot, a good basic place for apps at the bar.
Danny Meyer does pizza. Enough said. In the Martha Washington Hotel, and not a great example of integrating food and common area hotel space. Actually, not a great example of restaurant flow overall, but the cracker thin crust pizzas are tasty.
From the Mexico City chef behind Pujol (one of the world’s best). Not your average taco joint, but fantastic upscale Mexican food, and interesting space.
Italian-ish menu (isn’t everything these days), and a great central eating bar. Be careful of the step in front between the bar and seating area. No less than 10 people trip every time we’re there (lesson for designers to be careful how to transition multiple height rooms).
Kitchen was the original, but Cocina is our favorite. You’ll literally take pictures of everything and want all of it. And, don’t miss a walkthrough of ABC Carpet and Home, the source of the decor. You will want to redecorate your entire existence with their stuff, until you look at the price tags.
Stephen Starr (Philly-based famous restaurateur). A little more upscale feeling in space and food.
If you like beer and meat. And beer, with meat. And beer.
Danny Meyer’s aforementioned Italian in the Gramercy Park Hotel. A great, crowd pleasing menu. They do a great job transitioning from breakfast to dinner, and showing theater of bread/pastry station in the space.
A new Portuguese restaurant from the chef behind Aldea (on 17th. A good, albeit more formal choice). Lupolo is decidedly more casual than its sister.
Can you say really formal?
How about really casual?
- Eataly. Seriously, you haven’t been?
- Hill Country Chicken. A guilty pleasure for lunch right by Eataly
- Shake Shack, the original. Only if you want to stand in line for an OK burger, a good shake, and spectacular marketing
- Maison Kayser. The French cafe hitting NYC hard. A great place for breakfast.