When MoMA closed in June for several months of renovation, it left something of a cultural hole in the area of Midtown that straddles east and west. Yet in summer, the prospect of a “Central Park staycation” remains undiminished in its appeal – especially considering that the business crowd clears out of the area on the weekends.
To be honest, as devout Anglophiles, we would never really need another reason to spend time at a Firmdale Hotel, other than that it exists. And at The Whitby Hotel, their second in New York (opened in 2017), it’s a totally reasonable strategy to check in and simply never leave the premises.
We were there recently to celebrate Kit Kemp’s groovy new fabric/wallpaper creative partnership with Andrew Martin. Kit and husband Tim, by the way, are the heart and soul of Firmdale, with her fantastical design philosophy setting the tone for all eleven of their properties in London and NYC.
But the visual treat extends decisively beyond the four walls of the Whitby, with awesome views of the surrounding edifices and, yes, that very big park just a few blocks north.
Fabulosity bonus? For a small, independent hotel brand, Firmdale has dynamically courted, and decisively won over Hollywood. So the Whitby has already played host to the likes of Laura Dern, Charlize Theron, Taraji P. Henson, Shailene Woodley, Kate McKinnon and Cate Blanchett – making the people watching absolutely aces.
Here’s what we love about the hotel.
Considering its breathtaking expansiveness, you could likely spend a week roaming Central Park and still not see it all. The hotel is located just a short stroll away, so you can basically fall out the front door and find your feet planted firmly on the park’s well-groomed grass. We always make a point to pop in to the Central Park Zoo, specifically for those fashionably dapper penguins. But Belvedere Castle – yes, Central Park has a castle – was just given, as the New York Times so succinctly put it, a “fairy-tale makeover”…so it’s very much worth a visit.
Even better, what’s left of the CP SummerStage schedule holds some genuine gems, with King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard bringing the nu-prog on August 28, Marina (without her Diamonds) gracing the stage September 16, followed by Bloc Party on the 20th, and the lineup of The B-52s/OMD/Berlin throwing what will surely be a mad new wave party on the 24th.
The thing about each and every one of the Firmdale Hotels…it’s like a dazzling surprise each time you step into a new room. Think of the feeling as being like that of a child breaking open a piñata to reveal all the glittering prizes contained within. And at the Whitby, Kit Kemp’s daring but always playful – and a little eccentric – style is tempered by a cool, understated elegance.
To wit, furnishings change color midway, bright reds play nice with dignified greys, wildly patterned headboards rest against subduedly painted walls…and whimsy is wedded to exceedingly good taste at every turn. Best of all, natural light floods in through massive, factory style windows, which also frame the majesty of the eclectic Midtown architecture.
Our recommend: book a Terrace Junior Suite – one of the absolute finest rooms we’ve ever experienced – and invite a few friends up to share a good bottle and the ethereal views at sunset.
Far too cool to bother about luring in some or other headline-generating chef-of-the-moment, Firmdale run all their own restaurants in New York and London. And the Whitby Bar exhibits the same signature hospitality ideology: a significant bar area – in this case 30 feet long and made from pewter – that is constantly abuzz (honestly, even at three in the afternoon), whimsical design elements that result in a kind of contradictory harmony, art that actually creates a narrative, and unpretentious food that somehow never fails to surprise.
It’s a great lunch scene over yellowfin tuna tartare, beet smoked salmon and miso marinated eggplant; in the evenings, grab a Whitby G&T or a pisco based Life on Mars cocktail along with a well chosen selection of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie – and just enjoy the terrific people watching.
It’s New York, obviously, but it all feels distinctly English – like you might be in Mayfair or Marylebone.
Some clichés are very much worth upholding – and a proper afternoon tea is one of them. Thankfully, the Whitby doesn’t try to quirk it up, but rather presents a cool, contemporary take on tradition. So you get scones with clotted cream, lemon-poppy chiffon cake, cucumber and smoked salmon finger sandwiches…but also selections from The Rare Tea Company – Wild Rooibos, Jasmine Silver Tip – which allow for going off script a bit. The gracefully outré surrounds make it extra special – as in, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to find this room somewhere in the Cotswolds, but you’d definitely know it was designed by Kit Kemp.