Melting moments

Just in case there were no Australian models on hand this week to save skaters falling through the ice, Bryant Park’s safety crew spent hours in brilliant sunshine skimming melting water from the rink. At 18*C it was a challenge. Maybe they could just have called in a lifeguard and swopped their skates for speedos….

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Pink Lady

Authenticity dictates a certain kind of behaviour. If one is cosying into a leather stool in the finest remaining vestige of New York’s Golden Era, then it is almost mandatory to sip on a cocktail from the late nineteenth century – especially when not just protocol is involved, but history as well. In the newly opened Beekman Hotel in downtown Manhattan the ghost of Hamlet joins the romance of Edgar Allen Poe to offer credentials to a place where the play and the poet both performed an early role. But in 1881 it was an Irishman who gifted the city with both Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and a gem for the future. When he replaced the bard’s boards with a soaring atrium-peaked tower, he created the first multi-business establishment in the city, and unbeknownst to him, an extraordinary luxury hotel.

The Kelly building has survived 136 years in a tough competitive landscape, where it was shuttered and even abandoned for a time. But that’s the joy of it. The pressed tin ceilings, the dragon structural brackets, cast iron windows, and the staircase – the staircase! – are all completely original. This Queen Anne treasure is heritage on the outside, and may soon be listed on the inside as well. Such is the care of the craftspeople who are still working to complete the upper floors. When they finish, the suites will sell at $7,500 a night, and the likes of Hugh Jackman and Adam Sandler may be seen more often, chipping in for the $660m renovation.

In the meanwhile, the restaurants and bars downstairs are open for business. The leather couches, chessboard tables and bookshelves create an atmosphere of educated style most of us would like to see survive modern America. But for a moment the past surrounds us, the flush of the antique lamps compliments a similar glow lingering from my libation – a Pink Lady no less….

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The father of Emoji

Apparently it all started with the heart. About a generation ago Shigetaka Kurita designed a collection of 176 emojis when he worked for a telephone company in Japan. Shigetaka was a regular employee – there was no special commission or copyright, but this man started a revolution in communication. Those 176 black emojis have since inspired hundreds of new characters as symbols like ‘fax’ becomes redundant and others begin to dance. MOMA recently acquired the collection, and the exhibition is digitally displayed at the entrance. With some irony, crowds wander through the space, looking for a place to sit and send a message. They may be too young to realize the significance of their surrounds, or maybe they just can’t wait to ‘heart’ someone…

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Daily Provisions

The words ‘Daily Provisions’ conjure up images of simple sustenance, fresh flavours and rustic aromas. But don’t be fooled. The place, Daily Provisions takes simplicity to a whole new level – gourmet minimalism. This is a place where less and more, and everything is premium. There are only two breakfast sandwiches on offer, but they are gougeres – choux pastry cheese puffs filled with scrambled egg or green eggs and ham. The bread in the sandwiches on the lunch menu are made from heritage grains milled in Maine. And the rotisserie chicken baked fresh in the mid-afternoon is Amish.

Swinging by last Monday, the place had only been open for a week, but was abuzz. The idea is that people will swing by for a coffee on the way to work, come back for a lunchtime bite, and then call in on the way home for a glass of wine ( there is one red and one white by the glass ) or to pick up a loaf of bread and a growler of cider. What an excellent idea! Danny Meyer, the host of my ever-favorite Gramercy Tavern, is behind this new cashless café. But if you happen to get caught without a card – or Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Google Wallet, the manager says they will shout you a coffee – especially if you are Australian. It seems having Australians as regulars proves above all else that the coffee is good…

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School’s out!

Ten inches of snow can be a nightmare for commuters. But for children with the day off from school, it is a dream!

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Art & Travel

Usually I avoid the subway like the plague. Because there’s always the chance I’ll catch that instead of the 6 train. But this past week when a massive storm whipped and watered a path up the east coast, there was no way of avoiding the petri dish of passage between home and The Frick. Except that on Q – as luck would have it – there was a sparkling new $4.5 billion carriageway that not only offered immaculate physical transportation, but a little artistry as well.

The second avenue subway is part of New York folk law – that’s how long this new track work has been in the making. Since 1919 there have been plans, politics, delays, and controversies. Most recently, or least in the past 10 years, underground blasting ahead of giant machinery boring 50 feet a day through solid rock has caused chaos for residents and shops along the construction corridor, with many leaving or going out of business. There have been lawsuits and laments, and enough dust to create a medical condition known as the ‘second avenue cough’. But now that all that is settled, the bitter sweet transformation is history, and three new subway stations have become a destination not only for commuters, but also for art lovers.

Cavernous galleries in the NYC subway have been inspiring and distracting strap hangers for years. Now there is something new with the mosaics of artists permanently exhibiting at 72nd, 86th and 96th streets. Characters typical of the 1.6 million daily commuters in NYC are ingrained in the long walkways above the tracks, where they are as entertaining in situ as they are in real life. I managed to see two out of three galleries but swinging by the 96th street terminal would have meant waiting for another train, and the last one took almost a century to arrive…

 

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Pink power

The sixties were never like this. Not that there was a lot of activism going on at the Ungarra Primary School in those days – apart from all the girls loving Paul more than John. But at the Women’s March in NYC today that’s what the grandmas were saying, that the event was bigger, brighter and more boisterous than anything they had ever marched in before. And there were a lot of grandmas to say it, and grandchildren, and women in as many shapes and sizes as the pussyhats they were wearing, there were fathers, teenagers, and girls. Thousands and thousands of people turned up with their signs and their slogans. Not my presidentresisternasty women unitelove trumps hateclimate change is real, not like Trump’s hair – plus many explicit rejections of the (now) president’s plundering of private parts. Today there was an energy on the street that restored faith. Women leading a movement. It was inspirational, almost evangelical, a beehive of emotion and purpose. Drummers pounded a path for what police intended would fill two lanes of 42nd street heading from east to west, but people thronged across the entire space, jostling for position to march or to witness. There was camaraderie between strangers, with empathy turning electric as cheering sparked waves through the crowd. The new president may have taken office, but there is much to be done. I have a pink hat being purled together in readiness. And like Obama said, if you want to make change, get a clip board and get busy. This is day one, the next one thousand, four hundred and fifty nine are going to be interesting…

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The Greatest

It’s a big week. The city is full of spark, with bus shelters on Park Avenue adorned with Trump innuendo, creative graffiti throughout the village, and a random open-top truck driving around covered with ‘making America great again’ and blasting out ‘Born in the USA’. So the timing was perfect for Martin Luther King Day on Monday and to celebrate by seeing the Muhammad Ali exhibition at the NY Historical Society. The show is themed on the photographic and illustrative work of Leroy Neiman, who followed Ali most of his career, recording his life and even teaching the boxer to draw. But the show nevertheless belongs to Ali. His drawing style was as distinctive as his character. The only surprising thing was that his boxing gloves were in much better shape than his gown. There were predictable shots of fights and the stories we had heard before. But for the timing, and for the record, it was a reassuring thought about how he wanted to be remembered. If not as a black man who won the heavyweight title and if not as a Muslim, then as a champion of his people, ‘and I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was…’    Thank you Ali!

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Waldorf now & then

The Waldorf Astoria has been the place to stay since the doors first opened in 1930. Kings and queens, presidents and princesses, movie stars and musicians graced the halls, ‘kept a room’, or swung by for a cocktail. The hotel has been an icon of the best of New York, with a staff motto that reads “The difficult immediately. The impossible will take a little longer”. This magic was not lost on Sean and I when we first visited NYC 21 years ago. After the twenty four hour flight, a less than enthusiastic welcome and a tiny room, I rang reception with genuine disappointment to say we would not be staying. Within minutes there was a knock at the door, and a butler poised under a silver tray carrying an iced bottle of champagne said he would accompany us to our new room – a suite in the towers larger than our house in Sydney and requiring a special pass to access. Welcome to New York!

The Waldorf as we know it will close on March 1st. A Chinese Insurance Company has purchased the property and, apart from a few hotel rooms, will convert the location into condos over the next 3 years. Apparently the Historical Society will come in and advise on aspects or appointments of the hotel that need to be kept. But of course it will be different. When we wandered around the hotel for the last time on Monday it was with more than a little nostalgia. While a security guard stopped us on the very top floor of the towers, where for the moment there are still private rooms, the rest of our ramble was unimpeded. The Skylight Room on the 18th floor where the Count Basie Band used to play was now abandoned, leaving only piles of tablecloths and dishevelment. The Grand Ballroom was echoingly empty. It seemed strange and ghostly, when downstairs at reception everything appeared like business as usual – the antique clock still rang out on the quarter hour and concierge were still taking bookings for hotel tours. (Saturdays and Thursdays at 10.30, with a cost of $65 that includes a three course lunch.)

It may well be time for the Waldorf Astoria to have a facelift, for new people and influences to come in with fresh ideas. But I’m glad to have shared some time – and some fun – with part of New York that is historical now. On the way out I picked up a couple of pens with a sobering and slightly ironic thought – they have probably been getting them made in China for years…

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O Birthday!

The new decade – my new decade at least, was celebrated this past week with appropriate decadence. In many ways I don’t know why I waited so long to get this old. There is so much fun to be had, so many indulgences, so little guilt! The knees still work for the bicycle, the hair is yet to reveal it’s true colours and my fingers can still pull the cork on a bottle of champagne. Or two. The best part is having good friends to celebrate with. And that meant an outstanding brunch at Jack’s Wife Freda, a Soho spot with an almost permanent line waiting for a table. I went Mediterranean with creamy yogurt and Greek salad, but next time I will know the thing to have is Emi’s choice, a croque madam hiding duck prosciutto within layers of cheese béchamel. Delicious! Champagne flowed not just for me but for the establishment’s birthday, so there was much gaiety. And it didn’t stop there. By evening, Australian lamb was high on the list at Babu Ji’s in the east Village, a quirky establishment with an honours system for the beer fridge. It was all go. But I had a premonition. At 6 o’clock that morning, Friday the thirteenth, I awoke to a full moon tinged pink by the rising sun. It was a glorious start to the day and to the year, and I know it’s going to be one of the best…

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