During a recent New York visit, most of my time was spent in Brooklyn, just a Modelo can's roll from a section of the rumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. A part of town most popular with loudly drunk bearded men and crowded with messy bars, all serving tasty food – something unusual from the majority of British drinking establishments that I frequent at home.
After a late Twenties revelation, I was resisting Manhattan. Arrogantly assuming it is too touristy and busy to support my false indie sensibilities, and more importantly, my taste for cheap(er) beer.
But, Mrs Smith was willing to venture over the Williamsburg Bridge with me for a stay at the High Line Hotel, a former seminary-dorm-turned-boutique-hotel in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood. Walking up from Chinatown to the hotel – a large amount of soup dumplings fortifying me against a sandblasting winter wind – was a pleasant re-entry to the borough. Cramped, winding downtown streets gave way to broad roads as I approached the hotel, and comparatively low-rise buildings made the High Line's redbrick spires stand-out even more impressively.
Backing onto the General Theological Seminary, of which it was once a part, the neo-Gothic hotel, with its thick brick and weathered stone, is remarkably attractive, at least by the standard of American religious buildings. This is thanks to Eugene Augustus Hoffman's Oxford-inspired 19th century expansion of the Seminary.
Crossing a modern, well-kept garden, we reached the entrance, which, at first was slightly confusing. There was no expected reception or front desk, just an impressive coffee bar and a number of exceptionally helpful staff patrolling for wide-eyed visitors trying to work out if they are in the right place.
The Intelligensia coffee bar – the first East Coast outpost of the Chicago-based roaster – is apparently very good, but given that I don't drink coffee I am basing that on Mrs Smith's claim. Certainly, they use individual timers for each drink to ensure correct brew duration – that seems nicely attentive. There also might be a policy requiring baristas to wear annoying hats, but it's possible the headgear was genuine sartorial choices, so we can let that slide.
Entering our Deluxe King room we were first taken with the view. A large bay window (that actually opened!) overlooked 10th Avenue and the High Line walkway. The scenic, serene High Line – a historic elevated railway that’s been revived as a mile-long foliaged walkway and park – plus the jumble of car parks, red brick and concrete buildings and the constant flow of heavy vehicles along 10th Avenue, forms a pretty perfect vision of Manhattan's lower West Side.
The vast bed was comfortable to an almost perplexing degree, and an antique desk and chair plus a small sofa created a separate space at the room's windowed edge. Vast bathrooms unnerve me, and the tiled in black and white ensuite was nicely compact.
Though the room with its vintage design accents from interiors power-couple Roman and Williams – custom-made ottomans and wallpaper, salvaged antiques – was wonderful, it was sadly underused during our stay. The surrounding area was just too engrossing.
Just one block away, the Chelsea Market is loaded with shops for trendy types who love independent food shops, coffee, expensive cushions and soft furnishings. It’s the local go-to for grabbing a picnic lunch to take over to the High Line park. There’s a wonderful wine shop doors away on 10th Avenue, Apppellation Wine and Spirits. It happens to be staffed by perceptive, genial types who instantly understood our request for something 'easy to drink' as code for: something fairly cheap one might drink after a few beer and before a night out, oh, and we don't have a bottle opener.
Wandering over to West 17th Street, we also discovered the Raines Law Room, named after a law passed to reduce drinking via taxation. Ringing the bell of the inconspicuous door, we were greeted with a furtive glance around the door – it has something of the exclusive brothel entrance about it (or, at least, what I imagine exclusive brothel entrances are like). But once inside, we were shown to a seat in the moodily lit subterranean bar where waitresses are summoned with a pull on a chain in the wall next to each table. It's somewhere between a warm British pub during a power cut and a glitzy metropolitan den of iniquity.
As the High Line's own literature informs, the area is also full of art galleries for those not content to spend all their time shovelling food and booze into themselves. Unfortunately, I didn't have the presence of mind to check on the queue at the David Zwirner Gallery from my room (which I think would have been just about possible) and ended up standing in line in minus five degrees.
Just before my feet reached the comparatively agreeable status of total numbness after an hour of painful cold, I was ushered in to see the Yayoi Kusama infinity room. This was essentially a slightly more fun and far more popular version of my grandmother's bathroom – the key feature being the illusion of infinity created by mirrored walls. Irrespective of my view on Kusama's work, the area's galleries are impressive in number and variety.
An upside to the cold: retreating back to our cosy home base at the High Line. Luxurious without being stifling and just the right side of relaxed to avoid pretension (in spite of aforementioned hat situation). So, what’s all this fuss over that Brooklyn place, now…