Every city has its rules. Don’t plead with a London traffic warden to let you off the ticket – that gives them even more pleasure. Don’t ask a Parisian taxi driver whether he knows the way – he doesn’t. And don’t call a New York limo service to get a car at 5pm on a Friday – they have all been booked for at least three hours. So it was on a windy wintery afternoon, at the start of rush hour in Manhattan, that my relationship flashed before my eyes.
I had just two hours to get to La Guardia airport to pick up Mrs Smith, without a taxi, limo or even rickshaw anywhere to be seen. I’d arrived in Greenwich Village a couple of days earlier for business and, accepting the hospitality of a legal-alien associate, I hadn’t even checked into our Lower East Side hotel. Then it dawned on me: an Englishman in New York might not be able to get a limo at this hour, but perhaps an accommodating and connected concierge at a supercool hotel in the East Village could? It was a long shot, given that I hadn’t even shown my face yet, but it was worth a try. Jimmy the limo man was beeping his horn on the street below within 20 minutes, and the Hotel on Rivington instantly became my favourite NYC hotel ever.
It was 9pm by the time Jimmy dropped us back at the Rivington, and my assertion that jetlag is all in the mind didn’t seem to help Mrs Smith’s mood. Then fatigue gave way to curiosity as the sound of music and voices in the glass-fronted bar above reception blew the cobwebs away. We appreciated the red-carpet entrance, especially the way it went up all up the walls. It was all slightly suggestive, with red and black wallpaper and white cave-like mouldings. I liked it. Mrs Smith was more concerned with the fact that the Friday-night glitterati were clogging up the lift on their way to the first-floor bar, which also happened to house the reception.
It’s easy to forget, coming as I do from a low-rise 'burb in southwest London, just how tall the buildings are in Manhattan. As we reached the 20th floor and stepped into our room, we took a long, gobsmacked break in proceedings to take in the panoramic view of the Financial District through our two-sided floor-to-ceiling windows. And being this far downtown, we knew we could happily leave our curtains open and enjoy that vista whatever state of undress we might find ourselves in. The bathroom had the same-size window, albeit frosted from the waist down – what a luxury.
This room and that view had managed to remove any vestiges of tiredness but, despite our knowledge of the double-king-sized bed’s state-of-the-art memory foam mattress, sleep would have to wait. It was time to eat, and we were in the right city for that.
Levant East at Thor is this boutique hotel's destination restaurant. Asking if they had a table on our way out was more of a long shot than limo-fishing, but the reservations lady did manage to keep a straight face while promising a table within ‘just a couple of hours, sir’. Outside, the energy of the Lower East Side was palpable. Like London's own Shoreditch, it’s a world where the graffiti is now considered art, the property prices have driven the artists out, and bourgeois inhabitants talk fondly of the area’s unsavoury past. The place was buzzing, and the three restaurant choices we were given were clearly going to feature waits even longer than two hours.
As though by magic, from a small back street popped a Time Out-recommended Mexican restaurant called San Loco. The review says: ‘This all-night taco shop is nearing institutional status because (a) it has the freshest lettuce and tomatoes you’re likely to find in the East Village, and (b) where else can you find a taco when you really need one – at 4.30am, after a night of hard drinking?’. How did they know it was 4.30am in London right now? Perfect! Not perhaps the fine-dining experience we had anticipated, but at 11.30pm/4.30am, after airplane mush, Mrs Smith was happy. And if she is happy then I am happy. And if two people are happy and well-nourished, that means only one thing: memory-foam-mattress time!
How many channels does American TV have? Why are they all so bad? How do you know what’s on, and how do you find it? Is it too early to call for DVDs? All great philosophical questions that arise in the early hours of Saturday morning. It really was 4.30am now. There was only one thing for it. Suppfast: that essential meal between supper and breakfast that, if intelligently ordered, can send you straight back to sleep. Thank the lord for 24-hour room service and fully adjustable mood lighting. It worked. We awoke refreshed, just in time to set out on the NYC adventure that everybody knows and loves: shopping.
Now, I am not saying that Mrs Smith was keen to leave our two-year-old son with his grandmother for three days so she could better devote herself to crazy shopping, but the fact that I once spotted her kissing the credit card as she placed it back in her wallet did make me wonder. The trip scored me brownie points, but it wasn’t cheap. There was compensation for my weary legs, though: the very classy Rivington bar, where they take their thirst-quenching skills pretty seriously.
They’ve got it just right, the clever people at the Hotel on Rivington – it is contemporary, unique, lively and spacious. It has great beds, super service and, above all, excellent contacts in the limo business. When my credit card recovers and Sak’s of Fifth Avenue has written us a thank-you card for the boost in sales, then we will return to the gastronomic and retail heaven that is New York City – and head straight for my favourite ever NYC hotel.