New York City: A Playground for the Senses
By Jaidy Schweers
Nothing beats Manhattan. Scene 1: The blast of a subway train blows the stench of the platform up through the air and into my nostrils. I can’t hear for a few seconds, and then all is calmly chaotic again. Scene 2: A young man thumps empty cement buckets with drum sticks while he utilizes the city trash can as his set of cymbals; the sounds echo throughout a small, cobble-stoned street down at the South Street Seaport. A black fleece jacket sprawled across the ground acts as his bank: Insert Dollar Bills Here. People surround him. They cock their hips and shoulders side-to-side. They tap their feet, careful not to let on too much that they actually enjoy this busker’s rhythm. Scene 3: A Turkish hotdog vendor annoyed that I asked for a hotdog and not the BBQ chicken kabob he’s been working with pride at the grill. He ignores me during the finale of our transaction and speaks quickly in Turkish on his mobile earpiece. He was right; I should have had the kabob.
For all of these reasons and more, people love New York City.
There is a beautiful dichotomy found in the city that seldom exists anywhere else. From street, to high-rise level you can find yourself hunkered down on a curb chowing down a slice of pizza from Ibarra, to enjoying a view from your elegant tenth floor room at The Carlton Hotel. You might experience annoyance and bliss within seconds, from the crude tone of a cabby, to the sight of a dancing flash mob on the street corner. With all of your senses standing at attention, the experiences you have here are endless.
And so come, I invite you to join me as I share some not-to-miss hot spots in a city where everyone salivates over a taste of The Big Apple.
The Carlton Hotel
A stay at The Carlton is a must. The moment you walk through the door, you are blasted with elegance, yet comforted by warmth. The staff is very real, with genuine smiles and eager hearts. The hotel, which is conveniently located at 88 Madison Avenue, just a skip away from Madison Square Park, shopping at Herald Square, the Empire State Building, and the bustling Flatiron district, boasts one of the cities most exquisite lobbies, with high vaulted ceilings, eye-catching chandeliers, a floor to ceiling photographic mural, and rich velvet furniture — a delightfully tactile encounter. First completed in 1904, the Carlton has since undergone a multi-million dollar renovation marrying the beauty and elegance of the past with the contemporary wave of the future.
Once you find your way to your quarters — in this 317 room boutique hotel — via the vintage preserved elevators, you will wind your way through a stately, deep charcoal gray hallway with crowned molding, marble floors, classic carpeting, and intimate lighting. Just this alone will leave you wishing for a time machine to launch you back to the 1920’s. (There is much to be said about a hotel hallway. It’s the gateway to your room, and can say: I’m Classy and I know it, Clap Your Hands, or I’m Tacky and I know it, Stomp Your Feet).
Once inside your room, rest assured, you’ll be clapping. The décor is such that you might just take notes. Oh, I like that. Yes, yes, I could definitely do with one of those. Oh the placement of that settee is spot on. And how about that duvet? Honey, can we pick one up just like that? The design is classic, contemporary, regal, and beautiful. If there wasn’t so much to do in New York, you could quite possibly spend your entire get-away in room 1007.
But there is much to see, and before heading out, arrange a date for dinner and cocktails at Millesime, located in the Carlton Hotel. Millesime is not just another cliché, retro- inspired restaurant, with vintage-styled set pieces, but a place that makes you suddenly very cognizant of your sensory experiences. The name itself translates to vintage, and this French lounge and seafood brasserie, all very real, most definitely transports you to a time that was roaring. You can imagine Fats Waller at the piano. You have to look twice, and rub your eyes to be certain you didn’t just see James Cagney in the corner sucking on a cigarette, or Clara Bow, in full on flapper gear, lounging on a silk and burnt-out velvet settee, sipping a prohibited whiskey. You feel the influence from the Jazz Age up through the Great Depression breathing at your ear whispering: I once danced the Charleston here. From the 100 year old tiled floors, to the recently uncovered Tiffany dome skylight, to the brilliantly chosen incandescent light bulbs — displayed with their coiled filaments as when they were just invented — hanging in the air atop the hand-crafted marble and mahogany bar, to the deco-style nude images (that could have been snapped by Julian Mandel himself) adorning the walls; this time warp will suck you in for a very pleasurable evening.
Taken by the pureness of the décor, you’ll be equally wowed by the succulence of the fare. The food presents itself to you as if it just fell off a plate from heaven. Acclaimed chef, Laurent Manrique melds together seasons and textures with expert precision. You cannot walk away from Millesime without ordering the Tuna Tartare. Prepared tableside, this signature dish combines the freshest tuna with dates, mint, spices, and toasted almonds; a taste-sensory explosion. Also delectable is the simple, Roasted Chicken, done to perfection. Complete your experience with the Huckleberry Bread Pudding topped with a dollop of white chocolate ice cream, the huckleberries sure to win you over, leaving you to wonder why on earth you’ve never had them.
South Street Seaport
Once you finally venture out to trod the streets of the city, direct your feet (or hybrid cabby, or #4, 5, 6 train, or a million and one buses) down to the South Street Seaport, the international gateway to New York. Having had the experience of actually living in Manhattan, I can say that most locals (including myself) rarely visit any tourist spot in the city. (Call it snobbery, apathy, or just
too darn busy). Consequently, I never had visited the Seaport until now. A disgrace, I know. Dating back to the 1600s, the South Street Seaport is what made New York City the urbanized world center by the 1930s. Take a couple of hours to visit the Seaport Museum and step back in time (again) to the rich history of how New York City went from a “street of ships” to the massive grid, and five-borough city we know today. The amount of work our previous neighbors put forth into making New York what it is, will amaze you.
Dialogue in The Dark Exhibit
While down at the Seaport, don’t turn a blind eye to the Dialogue in The Dark Exhibit. Put your vision aside for 90 minutes, and boldly and bravely discover New York with your hands, your voice, your ears, and your heart. The experience, in the words of a fellow participant, while riding on a ‘moving’ subway train in pitch darkness: “This is scarily effective.” You begin the tour with directions on how to use an authentic walking cane. You are then escorted into a dimly lit room to sit on artistically lit cubes. You are given a set of tips on how to better enjoy the experience, and introduce yourself to your twelve-person team, and then, bam. Lights out, you’re blind. (No kidding, you cannot even see your hand in front of your face. I thought to myself, Don’t worry your eyes will adjust. But that’s impossible when there is no source of light. And don’t try to be the wise guy and break out your cell phone or pocket pen light; they warn you of that ahead of time.) You are then introduced to your blind or visually impaired guide — although in the end you will think of him as more visual then yourself. After this, the experience begins. You will touch water from a fountain, walk across a bridge, smell fresh flowers, feel the wind at your face, walk to Times Square, smell the wafting scent of roasting almonds, cruise into a Fairway Market and reach your hand into the milk coolers and then run your hands over a basket of fresh produce, ride on a jostling subway, and enjoy a coffee shop. All are simulated, of course. But you wouldn’t know it. The authenticity that the exhibit offers is necessary to drive home its message: Embrace the alternative perspectives of others. Damon, our blind guide, also referred to as our guiding light, was my hero. He led me through his world with pride on his shoulder, and authority in his voice. I’ve never been the hating type. I can however, bashfully admit that I felt sad for, and pitied those with a disability. Now, after this experience, the words to describe my judgments are replaced with: Reverence, admiration, and awe. I guarantee Dialogue in The Dark will invite you to question your own opinions. And all by taking away such a trusted and reliable element: Your sight. In the end, you will see more clearly.
Travel back uptown to the Flatiron District, with your vision in tact, and focus your flavor on Zio Ristorante at West 19th street. You will find Zio to be a fabulous experience, talking up its food for weeks, months (years!) to follow. If you’re lucky to be greeted by one of the owners Darren Berman or Roberto Manfe, you will feel as if you are being welcomed into one of their homes. Although Zios’ décor is carefully manicured to offer you a rich and modern feel, the hospitality of the staff, and the quality of the food will lead you to imagine you are dining right in Chef Massimiliano Convertini’s rustic Italian cottage. We were served a meal that was delectable in its entirety. From start to finish, I had trouble containing my enthusiasm. Some of my favorites, if I had to choose, were the Crab Meat Ravioli (served with a tarragon and green peppercorn sauce), the Braised Oxtail Ragu (combined with fresh tagliatelle), and the Panna Cotta (lavender Italian custard with shaved white chocolate). The experience lasted late into the evening, and I would have remained like a pig at a trough, if it weren’t for the fact that my stomach had doubled in size.
As I nearly had to drag myself out of Zio, I hailed a cab, and returned to room 1007 at The Carlton Hotel. But not before indulging in a nightcap at Salon Miliesime’s lobby bar, taking notice of the overly large, square ice cubes plopped into the low-ball, taking me back again into the golden era. The sensory exploration never ending, I finally went to my room, and sunk into the comfy king bed, snuggling soundly into the leniently soft, white, and feather duvet.
Ah, New York.
Nothing beats it.