Friday, 11 September 2015

The Iroquois Hotel, New York City & Streetwise New York

Here's a thing: I was born in New York City, in New York Hospital. So what? You and the other 8 million New Yorkers are probably thinking, but over here in the UK, when people ask where I'm from, originally, they always seem slightly amazed that anyone is actually from Manhattan. Like, maybe everyone who's there was born somewhere else.

There's not a lot of point to this musing, simply sharing experiences of the world. And here's another one I wasn't aware of until it happened: I'd never spent a night in Midtown until this summer. Upper West Side, sure, of course, it's where I lived. Upper East Side, yep. Tribecca, plenty in the 80s. But Midtown? No. And so it felt almost foreign to rock up to the Iroquois Hotel on 44th Street, just a block or two from Times Square, Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Center, the Diamond District, 5th Avenue... So what? You and the rest of the world's 7 billion people are probably thinking. But here's the thing: it felt totally alien, like I was a tourist visiting from out of town. But you know what? I kind of liked it.

The Iroquois is an old-school historical hotel that's been brought up to the 21st century in terms of facilities (wi-fi; fresh, upscale decor; air con; comfy beds; fitness suite; in-house bar and restaurant...) while maintaining a sense of grandeur and charm. We all know New York is the city that never sleeps, but these days it's totally off its head 24 hours a day like it had too much cold-brewed coffee or something. It's exhausting just walking down the street, with all the noise and the people and activity and the people and the... Well, you get the idea.

But inside the Iroquois, all is calm and serene, a hush over all. Thank god.

All sorts of interesting folks have stayed there, like James Dean, back in the day, and its neighbors are The Algonquin, The Bar Association, The Yale Club – you get the idea: this is upscale Midtown. So, if you're heading to New York City, this is an honest recommendation: you're near everything and it's the kind of place where you're made to feel welcome, not just another customer. Go. Stay.

And here's another benefit of staying at the Iroquois: free walking tours. The hotel is actually part of a group of seven (Triumph Hotels), all historic stays and guests at any of them can come along for one of Streetwise New York's guided walks. They happen 6 days a week (not Mondays) and each one covers a different neighborhood. In fact, even if you're not staying at a Triumph Hotel, I'd sign yourself up for one of these if you're coming to the city. A great way to get to know it a bit better.

You might think, "I know New York! I don't need any tour!" But you know what? There's always something new to learn. I opted for the Art Deco Midtown tour, going for the total immersion in my new-found neighborhood, and I learned plenty I didn't know. Like, pocket parks, which started being incorporated in the 1960s. I don't think I'd ever thought much about them, but they were part of a city plan to allow daylight down into the canyons of buildings.

And Times Square: a marsh field until about a hundred years ago, when the subway came uptown. Or Rockefeller Center. So much money thrown at it – a million dollars! Not much, you don't think? Back in the 1920s and 30s, that was about as big a sum as anyone could think of. And that money was put aside so that the constructions would incorporate art, which anyone can enjoy for free, just by walking around and looking at it. There are bas reliefs over doorways, art in the coverings around tree trunks – which don't just look good, but allow rainwater down to the roots – to the crazy ceiling Picasso and Matisse both refused to paint... Or there's the relief above the doorway of the old Associated Press building, each figure representing a different facet of journalism.

And it's all done in that wonderful Art Deco style, which has always been a favorite of mine and now I think I know why: being surrounded by it as I grew up, well, it obviously seeped in and now just gives me that feel-good thing to be around it.

I've been putting off writing this New York bit, because it's hard to write about your hometown. It's not just all the instantly recognizable buildings and sights. Underneath all that is a great affection, even if it is dirty and loud and crowded and crazy. No, I'd never want to live there again. It's just too much busy-ness for me now, but I still love going back to visit. And I try to see something new each time, but I'm going to save that treat for another day. There's just too much New York to fit into one blog!