A long weekend in New York: what a classic way to celebrate a two-year anniversary. We’re booked into a stylish boutique hotel in SoHo, with my favourite restaurant, Balthazar, just around the corner, flagship and concept stores for Fresh and Prada on the doorstep, galleries galore, and all the rest this great city has to offer no more than a cab ride away.
One small snag: my other half can no longer join me. Heigh-ho – my love affair with the Big Apple should be romance enough. And, from what I’ve heard about oh-so-fashionable 60 Thompson*, there’ll be no shortage of fun people to hang out with. An acclaimed restaurant, a rooftop bar – who needs Mr Smith tagging along?
On the plane over, I’m sandwiched amusingly. To my right: a gang of Brummies whose shopaholism is clearly poised to reach new heights. They talk about Barney’s with the sort of reverence you’d expect from a nun on her first trip to Lourdes. On the other side of me is a north London fortysomething, with rollers in and a facemask on the moment we lift off. She’s making her fortnightly trip to NYC to see her man; he’s picking her up from the airport and they’re going straight to the dinner party of a comedian friend and his new, 30-years-younger girlfriend. How terribly Woody Allen. Isn’t she worried about the jetlag? ‘Nah,’ she smiles, spritzing her décolletage with some pricey potion and adjusting her travel pillow. ‘I find the energy of the city caffeine enough. And it feels less of a trek than the commute to Cornwall where my last boyfriend lived.’
As someone who grew up in New York, I have watched the city transform over the years. Back in the Seventies (when I was hanging out at a Montessori school on the Upper East Side), the hedonistic mayhem of Studio 54 lived alongside the less fun stuff, such as muggings. Then Giuliani took his feather duster to the grit and the grime, applied his zero-tolerance formula to the city’s dirty delinquency, and New York emerged the ultimate incarnation of ‘Welcome to America. Have a nice day.’
That spirit couldn’t be more visible than when I hop into one of NYC’s beloved yellow cabs, and notice that the grille and inch-thick glass that used to separate passenger and driver has completely vanished. The 30-minute drive from the airport is a thrilling visual introduction to such a spectacular city. One minute I’m ogling that world-famous skyline from Battery Park on the southern tip right up to Harlem; the next, we’ve ducked down a tunnel and been spat out in the heart of all the action.
We pull up at 60 Thompson, and I think I’ve already had my tourist fix of eye-watering skyscrapers. Just you wait. The scene that greets me is the perfect modern-day New York tableau. The front entrance of this contemporary 100-roomed hotel glows with numerous shelves of backlit glass jars of orchids, like a detail from a giant Andreas Gursky photograph in MoMA.
A handsome all-in-black doorman rushes to grab my bags and whisks me to the reception on the first floor (or second floor, as it is here). Checked in, with bags dumped in my designer mushroom-hued digs, I hit the roof to soak up some of those rays. It may be bedtime back home, but here the sun is blazing.
I have the panoramic view over water towers and rooftops all to myself. The gentle purr of pneumatic drills and air-con units provides a soundscape that is the metropolitan equivalent of a Mediterranean chorus of cicadas. The hum of traffic below is strangely comforting, especially when accompanied by the rustle of potted trees.
A peppermint tea and some post-airplane yoga stretches don’t go amiss. Well, no one is looking. A couple of sun salutations later, all traces of cabin crampedness are downward-dogged away, and the sun is sufficiently past the yard arm to ditch the mint tea for a mojito in the David Rockwell-designed restaurant, where I’ve arranged to meet a couple of glamorous Brooklyn ladies.
These days, you’d have a job finding anyone who works in the creative industries who doesn’t have a friend who’s moved to NYC. So I was never going to be short of dining companions. Tonight, I’m meeting a pal and her girlfriend who are dying to try dinner at Kittichai, 60 Thompson’s acclaimed Thai restaurant. The menu is as chic as the interior – a meeting of Thai and Japanese. But if you think that means tiny portions, fear not. Kittichai boasts delicate flavours and dainty presentation, but the kitchen honours the usual more-is-more Stateside approach to serving size. All those model types eating here can't possibly be emptying their plates.
Our topics of conversation find us exchanging the usual banter: ‘That’s a cool fishtank in a birdcage’ and ‘Should Donna and I have a baby together via an anonymous sperm donor?’ As fabulous a spot as the restaurant is to while away an evening with colourful conversation (especially if you grab a table on the chic bamboo-screened sidewalk-side terrace, as we did, as otherwise-ostracised smokers), we decide to make the most of my privilege to gain us entry to A60 (Above 60), the Moroccan-tinged rooftop bar open only to hotel guests and members.
With our alfresco activity curfewed at 12.30am, we retire to a velvet banquette in Thom Bar downstairs for a final nightcap. As for celebrating that anniversary… Let's just say it's not just the modern art and architecture that are worth admiring in Manhattan. There is no shortage of candidates in this fine city, should the Mr Smith position ever fall vacant again.
*This review was written while the hotel was still known as 60 Thompson.