New York states of mind

It seems fitting to quote lyrics from Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 Broadway musical “On The Town,” considering that this year is the centenary of his blessed birth: particularly so, since I just spent four days in New York. So here it goes: “New York, New York, a helluva town, The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.”

Although I’ve visited New York City innumerable times, including the Bronx Zoo, I must admit, I never went “down” to the Battery, or Battery Park, as it’s commonly referred to. This time I did, and the experience rewarded me with a new visual as well as historical perspective on the “town” that I thought I knew so well.

The area at the southern tip of Manhattan, on the shores of New York Harbor and the Hudson River, was claimed by the Dutch in the 17th century as part of the Dutch Settlement of New Amsterdam.

The 92-acre Battery Park City is technically New York’s oldest and newest neighborhood simultaneously due to reclamation of land from the Hudson River in the 1960s and finished in 1976 — the first residential buildings were erected in 1980. A third of the Battery Park City is dedicated to the beautifully maintained parkland that curves along the waterfront.

Late one evening, I arrived there, at the Wagner, a five-star hotel within the family of the Leading Hotels of the World. The spacious marbled lobby was quiet, the reception desk staff was practiced in efficient and respectful service. I was tired from a long and delayed trip from Toronto. Sleep was on my mind. But when I was ushered into my 800-square-foot corner suite with a telescope resting on its tripod pointing in the direction of the Statue of Liberty, the need for sleep was replaced with newfound energy. Even before I unpacked, my eye was glued to the lens. The vista that night sparkled with lights from Ellis and Staten islands and the majestic symbol of freedom on her own little island, Liberty herself, was up close and personal. I viewed her noble head atop the toga-swathed body, her outstretched right arm holding the eternal flame in triumph. It was a moment of reflection: I could almost imagine what my forebears had thought and felt as they too witnessed this neoclassical gift from the people of France to the Americans, dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886. I slept well that night in the king-size bed between Frette sheets and mounds of down pillows feeling strangely comforted by the thought of that iconic symbol keeping watch.

Of the 298 rooms and suites at the Wagner, those facing the harbor are gifted with a telescope. Not having seen other rooms, I did overhear a man in the elevator saying to his wife (assuming it was his wife), that what he fully appreciated about the Wagner, was that even on the city-side view, there was so much space and sky between buildings, something he said, you rarely found in Manhattan.

My suite on the 11th floor had access to the Liberty Lounge where guests of the Club Level rooms and suites can enjoy a continental breakfast, snacks during the day and hours d’oeuvres with wine and beer in the evening, or with an access fee of $125 per night, based on double occupancy.

For bistro style classic American fare, 2 West restaurant on the lobby floor is a leisurely spot for great food and peoplewatching in the park.

You can pedal to your heart’s content, in the 24-hour fitness room and gym on the top floor, while viewing the endless coming and goings of the Staten Island ferry, the Statue of Liberty sightseeing boats, tugboats and cruise ships. Or, since the luxury hotel is pet friendly, a brisk walk with Fido along the waterfront is an option. Pet-less, I strolled along the Hudson side, on a sunny Saturday morning, past the Jewish Heritage Museum — a memorial to victims of the Holocaust (closed on Saturdays); into Brookfield Place with its stunning curved glass entrance and enticing upscale food emporium, Le District, where I bought the most decadent brioche slathered inside with Nutella; and was dazzled by the singular engineering feat of the Oculus, which lead me directly to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I had visited this solemn site before, but was drawn to it again out of respect. If I had more time, I might have walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, but instead I cabbed across it and so began my stay at another hotel with a spectacular view, in Brooklyn’s hip and happening Williamsburg.

The Hoxton is a British import — the company’s fifth hotel and first to cross the pond to America, with a few more on the way. The birthing process was a labor of love, created from the ground up on the former site of the Rosenwach Water Tank Factory.

As soon as you walk in, the atmosphere vibrates with a youthful buzz. The flow of the light and airy lobby threads through three restaurants and three lounges and bar areas whose comfort is enhanced by the pastel colors and soft leather and velvet fabrics; a modern fireplace; curated books and art everywhere. It’s visually a lot to take in all at once, but as your eyes adjust to the panoply of activity and sound (a real live female DJ was on top of her game, adding to the sensual scenario), it really does feel like the kind of home, you would kinda like to come home to.

The Hoxton houses 175 rooms: The “Cozy” room, all 170 square feet of it, and the “Roomy” room, coming in at 230 square feet. There’s the Brooklyn view or the Manhattan skyline, and let me assure you that my Manhattan view was spectacular. I arrived as the sun was setting and as I entered this “cozy” cocoon, the colorful lights emanating, particularly from The Empire State and Chrysler buildings. sparkled through the floor-to-ceiling window. Going from the spaciousness of the Wagner to this diminutive set of dimensions was at first disorienting; but my room was so carefully thought out and designed that within minutes, I was seduced by its economy of scale and clever innovations.

Here’s but a few: deliciously comfortable bed with pull-out drawers underneath for baggage and clothes; old-fashioned Roberts radio with internet FM and Wi-Fi; glass milk bottles for water; curated books donated by people in the neighborhood all arranged on a free standing brass shelf under the oversized flat screen TV; a legless desk bolted to the wall with a pull-down writing surface and space for brewing tea and coffee; the bathroom is all brass fixtures and black and white beehive designed floor tiles; standing room only in the shower with both the rain shower and handheld shower heads; an old-fashioned black phone with free telephone calls anywhere in the world for an hour each day. What was very cool as well, is the breakfast bag. All you have to do is write the time you’d like your breakfast, hang it on the brass hook outside your door before you go to sleep, of course and, like magic, when you retrieve it the next morning, your oatmeal, banana and orange juice has miraculously appeared.

In the lobby’s Klein’s restaurant, a good ole’ American/English hamburger embedded with Shropshire Blue cheese, HP mayo, red onions, B&B Pickles in a pillowlike bun, with crisp fries on the side, gave me enough energy to explore the Williamsburg neighborhood. A “real melting pot of culture, characters and creative,” as the hotel’s booklet “A super useful Hoxton Survival Guide” claims. Walking along the East River, I savored the sites of an area re-creating itself. Independent boutiques and coffeehouses intermingling with buildings just begging to be torn down. It’s a village of neighbors having embraced the new British kid on the bloc.

Both hotels and their environments induced a youthful spring in my step and a fresh perspective on the New York that never sleeps.

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