As the sun’s first rays pierced the monochrome haze of the Manhattan morning, I could almost hear the crashing opener of the song Rhapsody in Blue blaring to life. From beneath the monogrammed sheets of my bed in the Carlyle hotel, I surveyed the architectural timeline of the sky, from the ornate Art Deco spires of Midtown across Central Park to the neo-Gothic gables of the Dakota apartment building. This view could launch a million big city dreams.
Having opened just
in time for the great Wall Street crash of 1929, the Carlyle is a testament to
the resilience of brassy New York. Glamorous yet discreet, clubby yet
distinguished, it is also an ideal place to experience a bit of sophisticated
time travel. Guests still dine on lobster thermidor amid the restaurant’s
hand-painted Fortuny silk walls, and white-gloved elevator operators whisk
visitors to gilded suites once occupied by Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. A well-heeled crowd sips gimlets
at the Café Carlyle, and socialites and business types mix over martinis under the
Ludwig Bemelman murals in the bar bearing his name.
Even in a city
known for reinvention, it is hard to resist the allure of the past. The
following restaurants, bars, sights and shopping spots provide the perfect
itinerary for having a classic time in what
remains of old New York.
more movies than any other restaurant in New York and visited by every
president except George W Bush, this former
speakeasy is still a go-to for power lunches and special occasion dinners.
Get a tour of the wine cellar, which is hidden behind a two-and-a-half-ton door
and opened by inserting a meat skewer through a crack in the wall. It has
housed the wine collections of everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Sammy Davis
Junior. While many things remain the same -- like the legendary burger -- there
is a faint nod to the future with a buzzy new lounge area. Jackets are
The Palm Court
Hemingway once told F Scott Fitzgerald to give his liver to Princeton and his
heart to the Plaza. He must have taken that advice to heart, as he set scenes
from his most famous novel, The Great Gatsby, at the hotel’s Palm Court. Make like his
characters Nick and Jordan during the legendary afternoon tea of petit fours,
truffled quail egg salad and caviar, under the newly-restored 1,800sqfoot
stained glass ceiling.
La Grenouille is one
of New York’s last great bastions of classical French cuisine: the Dover sole
is still filleted tableside, desserts arrive via silver carts, and jackets are required
at dinner. The ornate damask and glittering crystal in the dining rooms is
matched only by the heirloom diamonds adorning its patrician diners (many of them
purchased across the street at Cartier)
and by the elaborate floral arrangements still arranged each Monday by the
Lexington Bar and Books
Puffing a stogie
at the mahogany bar in this clubby
watering hole will take you back to a time well before Bloomberg banned smoking,
when gentlemen knew how to offer a lady a light (its designation as a cigar bar
exempts it from the city’s smoking ban). But you will have to dress like a
gentleman (or lady) to score a leather club chair — the front door is locked
and only the appropriately attired get buzzed in.
The Paris Theatre
This luxe Art Moderne theatre around the
corner from the Plaza hotel has long been a centre for foreign cinema in New
York. Marlene Dietrich cut the ribbon when the art house opened in 1948, and
the films shown have at times been so controversial they have inspired court cases;
one decency case over a Rossellini and Fellini film went all the way to the
Supreme Court. Though today’s screenings hew towards standard art-house fare,
the experience of seeing a movie here between the blue velvet walls is pure New
King Cole Bar
Joe DiMaggio, John Lennon, Salvador Dali. New York's best and brightest have
all pulled up plush stools beneath the famous Maxfield Parrish mural that lines
this classic bar in the St
Regis Hotel. No matter the time of day, those in the know order a Bloody
Mary, invented here by bartender Fernand Petiot in 1934. Have a few and then
ask the bartender to tell you the secret of the King Cole mural.
Bendel, Bergdorf and Barneys
The three Bs –
the classic New York shopping trifecta – are a perennial haunt of the ladies
who lunch. Henri Bendel was the first
retailer to bring Chanel to the states, and its signature brown-and-white
striped bags still hold a who’s who of the season’s it-accessories. Bergdorf Goodman is housed in the
former Vanderbilt mansion, and its dressing rooms rival (in size and décor)
most New York apartments. And Barneys is
the classic New York rags-to-riches story: Barney Pressman opened a store by
pawning his wife’s engagement ring in 1923, launching what is now one of the
world’s most trendsetting purveyors of luxury goods.
financier Pierpont Morgan commissioned this private library in 1906 to house
his collection of first-editions, manuscripts, drawings and prints. Now, it is
one of the most important collections of printed material in the world. A Gutenberg
bible, Thoreau’s Walden Pond journal and original Beethoven compositions are
all housed in a complex of architecturally diverse buildings, ranging from an
Italianate brownstone to an airy 2006 Renzo Piano addition.
East Side was once made up of forest and farmland, populated only by the
country estates of New York’s earliest moneyed set. The last of the remaining
manses on the East River shoreline is Gracie Mansion. Now the
official residence of the mayor of New York (although Mayor Bloomberg chooses to
live at his townhouse on East 79th Street), the gracious Federal-style
home sits in the leafy Carl Schurz Park at 88th Street and is a time
capsule of early American furniture and decor, from whale-oil lighting fixtures
to rare 19th-century settees.
Many of the
works in this elaborate Beaux Arts museum
are still in the same location as when this was the private residence of
industrialist Henry Clay Frick. Stroll through richly-panelled rooms and over
exquisite Persian rugs while viewing the collection of European masterworks,
French decorative arts and Limoges enamel.