How to Get a Free Night in NYC’s Top Hotels

NYC & Company, the official marketing, tourism and partnership organization for the City of New York, has partnered up with 16 Signature Collection hotels that really want you to visit the Big Apple in high style. When you book two consecutive nights at one of the partner hotels—which ranks as some of the best in the city—you get a third night free.

This type of sale isn’t new. We’ve seen it with almost every global hotel brand, but they were struggling at the height of the recession. But these hotels are brimming at capacity during high season as it is, so getting the free night is a major bonus, considering they don’t really need to bend over backwards to fill house. We’re talking major luxury options:Mandarin Oriental, Rosewood’s The Carlyle, The Plaza, Ritz Carlton and several others with a similar pedigree. What else makes this promotion so glorious? Consider that just one night at the Ritz Carlton runs approximately $600 per night. Then again, if you’re rolling high enough to spend two nights at the Ritz-Carlton, a third night free is kind of an insult.

Industry Insiders: Justin Wyborn, Nobu Poster Boy

Nobu West Hollywood’s man in charge, Justin Wyborn, speaks proudly of the “sense of family” within the Nobu empire. The Aussie-born GM is undoubtedly a poster boy for the company’s family-friendly sentiment. Wyborn has worked at Nobu London, Miami, and the flagship New York City Nobu 57 location. He also opened Nobu Melbourne, Hawaii, and San Diego in addition to his current West Hollywood post.

How did you get involved with Nobu? In 1996, I took a year off university to complete a one-year cadetship at the Savoy Hotel in London. Halfway through the cadetship, I heard about Nobu opening at the new Metropolitan Hotel in London, and a year earlier I had read an article about Nobu New York and loved the concept, so I convinced my university to break my cadetship, which enabled me to work at the new London outpost.

You recently opened the West Hollywood branch. What goes into opening a new location? L.A. has definitely been my favorite and most challenging opening so far. There are so many different people and cultures in the city, and they all come with their own set of idiosyncrasies. I was lucky enough to spend just over two months here before we opened, and I took that time to visit other restaurants and get a feel for what Angelinos were after. But it’s been a year and a half since we opened here, and I’m still trying to find L.A.’s formula.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? We came into L.A. 20 years after Matsuhisa opened his first restaurant, so we’ve been constantly pushing ourselves to think outside of our norm. It’s no longer only about great food and great service, it’s also about entertaining and creating a full night out. Working in L.A., and having to deal with the current economic environment, my job has also included creating events that push the restaurant outside of its normal boundaries of food and service. I now have extracurricular events at the restaurant for just about every night of the week. For instance, every Wednesday I work with Ashlee Margolis and her A-list to create a weekly “tastemakers” dinner.

What’s the most important thing you think people should know about the Nobu brand as it continues to expand? Our mantra is still the same as when Nobu first opened in Tribeca. All of the owners — including Nobu himself and Richie Notar and Meir Teper — are still extremely hands-on with all of the restaurants. They’ve encouraged a strong sense of family within the company and with each restaurant. This sense of family and our passion for our product allows our brand to remain one of the strongest in the world. 

Of all the cities you’ve worked in, which do you think has the best culinary/nightlife scene? London is my favorite for nightlife. It’s a city with great traditions that really thinks outside the box, and it has some really unique clubs and bars that allow you to forget about the gray, cold weather outside. L.A. has great restaurants, and something to offer for everyone, but you just have to find it. Being an Australian, I’m proud to say that Melbourne has some great affordable restaurants. I still think that the best Italian is found in Melbourne — simple and fresh. That’s all you need. New York is all of the above in one city, and I always look forward to going back. Especially for the late-night bars and restaurants.

Any positive trends you’ve noticed in the industry recently? We’re starting to see some unique places open in L.A. that are taking a chance. Street, for instance, has a great concept — street food from around the world. It’s a fantastic idea.

Any negative trends? There are too many people in L.A that are quick to chop down anyone who tries something different or takes a chance. It seems that many people are unable to take a risk and push themselves or their establishments unless they see others making a successful move first. This level of unoriginality and the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” tend to create a negative feel within our industry here.

Who do you admire in the industry? Besides Nobu himself and Richie Notar — Luis De Casas, the director of Nobu openings, has been a great influence in the development of my career. He’s helped me look beyond the basics of a restaurant.

What are your favorite places for dining out in LA and NY? In L.A., The Bazaar, Jose Andres’ place, is great; the city needed it. I went to Fraiche in Culver City last week, which has great, simple, and clean dishes. They do their simple menu very well. In New York, I like Atelier, Joël Robuchon’s place at the Four Seasons. I’ve sat at the kitchen counter many times to eat, and it’s amazing. My favorite late-night place is a small yakitori restaurant called Totto for simple, grilled Japanese.

You work around Japanese cuisine all day, so what’s your idea of comfort food? I rarely cook, but I love the lazy-day-off breakfast and lunch places. My favorite is Square One in East Hollywood. It’s such a random location, but my girlfriend and I tend to find ourselves there for a late meals all the time.

2nd Place is still the 1st Place Loser

image Conde Nast Traveler has revealed the Reader’s Choice Awards for 2008. Topping the list for Best Cities (for the 16th year in row, snore) is San Francisco. The real news is that Charleston, SC trumped Manhattan for the second spot on the list, bumping NYC to number three. Best Hotel honors in the United States went to: The Peninsula Chicago (#1), The Four Seasons in New York (#4), and The Peninsula Beverly Hills (#6).

Industry Insiders: Julian Niccolini, A Man For All Seasons

Julian Niccolini, co-owner of The Four Seasons, dishes Clinton’s dining room etiquette, fifty years without change, and the pleasure of getting stung by bees.

Point of Origin: I’m Italian, from a small town in Tuscany. When you’re young, you like to see many places, experience it all, so I went to school in Brooklyn, worked at the Palace Restaurant, then the most expensive restaurant in America. The late Craig Claiborne said it was the greatest outside France, and James Beard of course, was always kind.

Occupations: It’s a matter of education. I’ve been working in this restaurant for almost 30 years–it feels like yesterday. It started out in 1977, and it was a tremendous period of crisis in this world, particularly in the restaurant industry. When I arrived, I was the manager of the Grille Room at that time, and everybody was eating in the Pool Room for lunch. We had a lot of advertising executives still based on Madison Avenue, and they’d all come here. The people in the Grille Room were mostly writers, editors and others in the publishing business. Actors, but not too many bankers or politicians as they have today. It became very successful and in 1979, the famous ‘power lunch’ word was coined when Lee Eisenberg of Esquire dubbed it “the place for the power lunch.” This restaurant will be 50 next year, but it’s not really that old, and they’re not built the way they were being built then – it’s a landmark restaurant. Nothing has really changed. All we’ve changed are the trees and the uniforms.

Any non-industry projects in the works? I do have a project or two. I have a house in Bedford and we make honey. We have five big hives and we collect between 150 and 300 pounds of honey–we bottle it, and last year it was sold to Dean & DeLuca for a lot of money and it gets sold out. It’s not that difficult to do, but it’s time consuming, and when harvesting the honey you get stung. Ours is really pure honey, no spraying. The bees are alive and well because they’re not sprayed. The whole world, we want it both ways. We want the bees, and the fruits not to be attacked by fruit flies, but you have to decide which way to go.

Favorite Hangs: Another restaurant I go to is close by: La Grenouille. It’s right down the street. The food is excellent, the location, the people are really nice–if I didn’t have to eat here, I’d go there.

Industry Icons: Alice Waters is a tremendous individual to look up to. She made a difference to people and what they’re eating locally, and I think she’s made a tremendous difference by shifting where the ingredients come from. As far as the wine side, there are a lot of people out there and doing a tremendous job. I was out there in California not too long ago, and I was having a conversation with Leslie Rudd, the man who owns Dean & DeLuca. This man brought D&D to northern California; a really beautiful store in this part of Napa Valley. These people have opened a restaurant attached to the store, ‘Press’, and they should give him a medal for what he’s achieved. I find what these people have done means one stop shopping: wonderful food to take home, fine wine if you want it. It’s genius.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? I don’t know, most likely restaurant people or wine makers and owners. I’m not really going out with models, but we know our patrons, and they treat you very nicely. When I go out to another restaurant, they’re seated at a different table, sometimes they send a bottle of wine, or pick up the check–fine with me. You’re nice with the people who run this restaurant. The first time Jackie Onassis came to the Four Seasons we seated her, the next time she knew your name. It’s like when President Clinton comes over, he knows your name. Before they go out, they make sure to say hello to everybody. When President Clinton and President Bush Sr. were here recently with Colin Powell (whom they were honoring), they took over the whole place, and before Clinton left the building–and remember, he’s not running for any office–he went to the kitchen to thank everybody. President Bush Sr. sends thank you notes, handwritten. There are some nice people out there. We have had people here come in for many, many years–regular customers–a few of them know all of the people who work here. They just show up. Then there are those who are special.

Projections: I think we’re in a period of not knowing what’s going to happen next. The economy is in a terrible situation and the problem in this country – especially in the city – there’s the lack of confidence. They don’t seem to enjoy themselves, so it’s going to be a period of watching what they’re doing, and considering our economy related to this financial situation in the city. It’s not just Wall Street, it’s real estate and real people because everything effects everything else. We have to see what’s happened with this unregulated economy. I don’t know if it’s possible. It’s really shocking. People should understand that they have to go out, eat very good food and very good wine, and enjoy themselves as much as they can. I think we’ll be here for a very long while. When I leave, I’ll just do something that’s maybe not related to the Four Seasons, something less structured. I can see now, considering, when I was in California that they’re not as strict as we are, nobody’s wearing a jacket any more. The way of the future is much more casual.

What are you doing tonight? The Four Seasons is sold out tonight, so I’ll have my hands full. Daniel Craig was here for lunch, and nobody could figure out who he was – they knew that he was the new 007, but nobody knew his name. Typical crowd today: Diana Taylor, Barbara Walters, and all of these financial people like Stephen Schwartz and Sandy Weill. Life is a different matter. You have to have a wife that puts up with you. It’s not very complicated. I’m married to my job, but if you’re smart enough you can find a way not to be married to it every moment. Every time I stay in the city, we go somewhere else after the job is over.

Polo & Evian in the Hamptons

Last Sunday, celebs, chefs, and polo players including Katie Lee Joel, Beth Ostrosky, Hugh Grant, Michael Chow, and Nacho Figueras celebrated Labor Day weekend at “A Taste of Polo by Evian” in the Hamptons at Water Mill. The private event, which took place at Michael Borrico’s magnificent estate, featured cuisine from some of the most renowned restaurants and hotspots including Mr. Chow’s, the Four Seasons restaurant, Bagatelle, and Surf Lodge. Guests also enjoyed a polo match featuring some of the Hamptons’ hottest stars, followed by an Argentine barbecue. Hit the jump for more pics.