Midtown, Europa: Could a Whitby Hotel Staycation Sub for Crossing the Atlantic?

 

 

 

When the European Union (rightly) imposed travel restrictions on America in July, many figured it would be a six or eight week thing at most. But we now we’ve made it to early October, and we find ourselves instead planning autumn trips to Litchfield Hills and Providence, with really no end to said ban anywhere in sight.

Bumping up alongside this depressing reality is the fact that everything—and we mean everything—is different in New York City now, in some neighborhoods glaringly more than others. To wit, with those early predictions of a September return to business offices making way for a more likely January date, Midtown Manhattan has been left in a curious state of serenity, if perhaps a bit of an eerie serenity. But that also presents never-before-considered opportunities; after all, when have you ever imagined wandering the area around, say, 57th and 5th, and having the sidewalk mostly to yourself?

 

 

Into this curious situation comes news that exalted London boutique hotel purveyors Firmdale have re-opened their two very British properties in New York City: the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo and, yes, the Whitby Hotel at 56th between 6th and 7th. And accepting that we will likely not be hopping a flight to London, Paris or Berlin before 2020 bids us adieu, we thought it an intriguing proposition to seek out a solution to our disrupted Europhilia right here in Midtown, NYC.

To that end, and using the Whitby as a home base, we’ve organized an itinerary that surely will accomplish just that. No passport required.

 

Belvedere Castle

Often matter-of-factly referred to as a folly (meaning, an architectural creation with virtually no practical usefulness), Belvedere Castle—dating to 1871—sits majestically on a plot of Central Park land near 79th Street. And folly it is, as it merely contains some little seen exhibition rooms, and apparently the CP Weather Station, whatever that means. But you’re coming her to gawp from the outside, and pretend for a bit that you might be somewhere in Bavaria, or perhaps Lichtenstein.
It certainly is worth a few good awestruck looks (and subsequent Instagram posts), with its imposing yet also sort of fairytale mix of gothic and Romanesque architecture. It flaunts an observation deck, as well—which makes sense, as “Belvedere” is Italian for “beautiful view.” And it has genuine pop culture cred too, having made an appearance alongside Julia Roberts in 1998’s Stepmom, as well as in (we think this is pretty cool) the 2011 Smurf movie.

 

Image courtesy of Central Park Conservancy

 

Shakespeare Garden

Since no one is going to a performance at the Delacorte Theater any time soon (it’s where the Public Theater puts on its Shakespeare in the Park program every year), the adjacent Shakespeare Garden is really the best opportunity in NYC right now to absorb a bit of the essence of the great Bard of Avon. A stunningly comely four acre spread within Central Park, it’s designed to resemble the flora of the English countryside, and some of Will’s most inspiring words are etched into plaques positioned along the walking route (Sample: “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
During this worrying presidential election season, should you find yourself attempting to make any sort of sense of it, perhaps stop for a sir here and read a few scenes from Richard III, a play which presaged Donald Trump’s reign of post-truth politics. But we think it best to use the time to consider this immortal line from The Merchant of Venice: “Look on beauty, and you shall see ’tis purchased by the weight, which therein works a miracle in nature, making them lightest that wear most of it.” Right?

 

Image courtesy of Central Park Conservancy

 

Félix Fénéon at MoMA

Not an artist but something of a keen impresario (and noted anarchist), Félix Fénéon notably coined the term Neo-Impressionism in 1886. The critic/dealer/collector was a particular early supporter of Georges-Pierre Seurat (good call on that one), and also championed the careers of Paul Signac, Pierre Bonnard and the great Henri Matisse himself. This namesake exhibition by MoMA curator Starr Figura strikingly explicates Fénéon’s unwavering belief that through the ideals propagated by the avant-garde artists of the time, a more egalitarian world would surely result. It didn’t quite work out that way, but it’s worth looking back and trying to tap into his hopeful idealism. Through January 2, 2021.

 

Paul Signac, Untitled, photo Paige Knight

 

Le Bateau Ivre

Sure, we love Pastis and Odeon. But Le Bateau Ivre has always been one of the truly Frenchest restaurants in all of New York City. First, the name: The Drunken Boat was a poem by one Arthur Rimbaud, godhead of Le Symbolistes, whose work would go on to influence punks like Patti Smith and Richard Hell. But with its classic “Saint Germain” decor (oh, those 1930s leather bar stools), and walls of wine bottles, there’s something of the Brasserie Lipp about the place. And digging in to the  salade frissee au canard, la bouillabaisse du bateau, filet de porc with mustard sauce, or a particularly magnifique croque madame will surely whisk you straight off to the streets of the 6th Arrondissement.
Other Midtown French recommends: Benoit, for Alain Ducasse’s take on bistro classics and good people watching; and the legendary La Grenouille for something decidedly more…haute.

 

 

Afternoon Tea at The Whitby

A trend kind of came and went in New York a few years back, where hipstery sorts of restaurants tried to introduce their (perhaps misguidedly) updated version of tea service. But we still prefer “a proper”; and would mostly only trust the British to do it so. The Whitney’s version is probably better than anywhere else in Gotham, a classic Afternoon Tea with some groovy contemporary touches.
Served in the charmingly hip Orangery, the space looks like the Cotswolds gone mod, courtesy of designer-proprietor Kit Kemp, with wildly patterned furnishings and a wall of dramatically mounted plates. Special goodies include coronation chicken sandwiches, strawberry opera cake, and Frangelico chocolate torte; teas are courtesy of the Rare Tea Company (we recommend the Hibiscus Flowers and the Jasmine Silver Tip), and it’s all served on the Mythical Creatures Wedgwood set by Ms. Kemp herself. So very Blighty…

 

 

Whitby Bar & Restaurant

One of the most stylish places to spend an afternoon or evening in all of Midtown, the Whitby Bar & Restaurant brings a bit of English eccentricity to W. 56th Street, with its flamboyant color schemes, Seussian looking hanging lamps, thought-provoking art collection, antique marble table tops and a collection of baskets from the British Isles dangling above the bar. The menu is slightly less…ornate, forwarding a contemporary take on American bistro fare, with roasted delicata squash, braised short rib w/ parsnip puree, and pan roasted wild striped bass as particular standouts.
But we strenuously recommend just ordering up a very British G&T at the bar, unfolding a copy of The Guardian (or perhaps just flipping through the pages of Paris Match), and dreaming of a time when once again it’s only an ocean that separates us from Britain and Europe.

 

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