New York Two Ways: Contemporary and Historic in Times Square
By Melissa Coleman
(See “Part One: Contemporary, Large, and Hip” for a reunion with high school friends at the Hyatt Centric.)
Part Two: Historic, Small, and Romantic
A Holiday Getaway at the Algonquin
For my Icelandic boyfriend’s first trip to New York City over the holidays we opted for historic, small, and romantic at the Algonquin Hotel. Located only a few blocks from Grand Central Station, we arrived by train to be greeted by the iconic windows and constellation ceiling of the 1913 Beaux Arts main concourse. Hello New York!
Now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the Algonquin’s reputation is still in its Old New York charm. We were met by a doorman who has been there forever, as has Hamlet the cat, with residences in a treehouse nook above the front desk and a window box looking out to the street. This feline icon has seen many reincarnations from Matilda for females and Hamlet for males since the first stray wandered into the hotel in the 1920s.
Opened in 1902, the lobby of 13-story, 181-room hotel is rambling and eclectic with molded 15-foot ceilings and tear drop chandeliers. While 181 rooms isn’t exactly “small,” the Algonquin has the congenial air and unique touches of more intimate lodgings.
The Round Table Restaurant is named for a group of writers and critics who used to gather at the hotel in the 1920s. It’s marked today by a portrait of the famous writers who met there, including Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and New Yorker founder Harold Ross. Art around the halls includes original New Yorker covers and cartoons, and photos of Round Table writers and their famous sayings. (I made a note to return for a Round Table walking tour with Kevin Fitzpatrick.)
Our 12th floor room was small but with high ceilings, a king bed, and a handsome writing desk and chair. There wasn’t a view but this made it feel more quiet and romantic, which was perfect after busy days in the city.
Central Park, Met Bauer Flora Bar, Times Square, Esca for dinner
As at the Centric, the Times Square location put Manhattan at our feet, and the weather being mild, our feet were our preferred mode of transport. We set out for Central Park, enjoying the winter sunshine as we rambled up 6th Avenue, past the LOVE sculpture, and through the park’s winding pathways to the top. On the way back down, we stopped for a late lunch at the Flora Bar at the Met Brauer on Madison and 75th for the raw bar and drinks.
After some quiet cuddle time at the hotel, we headed out for the lights of Times Square after dark, finding it especially decked out for the holidays. Though we’d decided not to see a Broadway show on this trip, we checked out the Lyric Theatre hosting the Harry Potter play and the Shubert, premiering “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Esca, our restaurant of choice, was only a three block walk down 43rd Street. It was just the spot for a romantic southern Italian seafood dinner, and we agreed the swordfish was cooked to perfection and the service exceptionally friendly.
Red Flame Diner breakfast, High Line, 9/11 Memorial, Sensa Gluten dinner
As it turned out, the Red Flame Diner (from the previous trip) was right next door to the Algonquin, so we fueled up with a big breakfast to prepare for our day’s expedition on the High Line. We walked the 30 minutes to the stairway entrance on 34th Street next to the Javits Convention Center, then meandered the 1.45 miles on the former raised railway, stopping to check out the art installations along the way. Again the weather was mild and walkers were exuberant. When we got hungry, we lucked upon the Gansevoort Market on West 14th with a selection of 20-some vendors, including Mission Ceviche, a Peruvian place that was especially delicious after our trek.
From there we continued all the way downtown to the 9/11 Memorial, and spent some contemplative time watching the water fall into the square at the center. Then we walked over to the Seaport for a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. At this point our legs gave out and we hailed a taxi to take us to Sullivan Street in the West Village for dinner.
We’d been tipped off about Senza Gluten, an entirely gluten free Italian restaurant with excellent reviews. The space was exceptionally cosy, and we marveled at the selection of gluten free pastas and other items we normally can’t eat. We tried the gnocchi, the ravioli, and the tiramisu, and found them all delicious. While not your traditional Christmas Eve, the decorated tree outside the window of our corner nook made it feel cosy and just right.
Breakfast at Algonquin, Times Square, Grand Central
On Christmas morning we woke early to celebrate the day and experience a rare phenomenon. When we walked around the corner, we found an almost entirely empty Times Square, with barely a car or person to be seen. Even the billboards seemed muted.
Back at the Algonquin, we indulged in a big breakfast at the Round Table Restaurant, and talked about the good old days with our waiter, Chuck, who has worked there since 1978. After saying our goodbyes to Hamlet the cat and the friendly staff, we walked to Grand Central where I’d hoped to go to the Great Northern Food Hall for nod to my boyfriend’s Nordic heritage, but it was closed. Regardless, it was soon time to catch our train to Connecticut to spend Christmas dinner with friends.
The Algonquin was the perfect choice for a romantic holiday getaway and a historic and central introduction to New York. Next time: the Round Table walking tour and the Great Northern Food Hall.
Rates at The Algonquin start at $299.
The Algonquin – http://www.algonquinhotel.com
Flora Bar – https://www.florabarnyc.com
Esca – https://esca-nyc.com
Red Flame Diner – http://www.theredflamediner.
High Line – https://www.thehighline.org
Gansevoort Market – https://www.
9/11 Memorial – https://www.911memorial.org/
Senza Gluten – http://senzaglutennyc.com
Great Northern Food Hall (next time!) – http://greatnorthernfood.com
Round Table Walking Tour with Kevin Fitzpatrick (next time!) – http://dorothyparker.com/
Melissa Coleman has written for publications including the New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler. She is the author of This Life is In Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family’s Heartbreak, a New York Times bestselling memoir and finalist for the New England Book Award, about growing up during the 1970s back-to-the-land movement. She lives in Maine and can be found at melissacoleman.com.