Thursday 27 July 2017

New York: Enjoy some R&R in city that never sleeps

John Masterson missed out on becoming the next Dan Rather, but returned from the Big Apple relaxed, well fed -- and very, very well rested

Central Park New York
Central Park New York

LITTLE did I know, as I prepared for my break in the City That Never Sleeps, that I was in store for some of the best sleeping experiences of my life. It began with Continental Airways business class, where I was able to press a few buttons on my Joey-in-Friends-type television-watching seat and be rendered horizontal. Horizontal is my preferred position for sleep, and after a century of aviation they are finally getting it right. So, after Spinal Tap washed down with champagne, I patted my seafood-filled stomach, pressed the button, and was in the arms of Morpheus. Take it from me, this is better than joining the mile-high club. Not that I would know.

I awoke, refreshed, and headed happily to the Intercontinental on Times Square. Located on West 44th St, it is in the heart of the theatre district, and bright lights, and a relatively short walk to Central Park. Perfect location.

On our first night we went for a cruise on the World Yacht at Pier 81 on West 41st (www.worldyacht.com). A good meal and a close-up of the Statue of Liberty is a perfect introduction to NYC.

Down at the southern tip, there were flashing blue lights everywhere. Barack was in town. He must think the world is filled with blue flashing lights. He probably has one beside the bed so he can sleep. I didn't need one because the bed in the Intercontinental was not only horizontal but filled with some material that caresses your tired limbs into eight hours of the most restful sleep known to man. Day one and I'd already had two good nights' sleep.

You can cover a lot of ground walking in New York, so making a plan is not a bad idea. A good stop is the NYC & Company public office on 7th and 52nd, where you can play with fancy table-top computer screens and print out your route -- very clever and easy to use. Next, walk the short distance to Top of the Rock. At 850ft, this is a "wow" experience. Your ears pop in the lift. We stepped out into glorious sunshine to a wonderful 360-degree view of the city. For first-timers, this is a must if you want to know the difference between Tribeca and the Village. Central Park looked magnificent. As did the Dakota, but I couldn't see Yoko.

The tour of NBC television on nearby West 49th St and Rockerfeller Plaza is good fun.

The great thing about these tours is that they are given by interns, whose main aim in life is to get a job in NBC. They give a performance because they never know when an opening will turn up and they want to impress. You end up in a news studio and do your own bulletin. I was great. The interns were very upset in case a news anchor position was about to come up, I was way ahead. Sadly, no exec with a cheque book materialised.

For lunch, it was just a short walk to the hotel we all know for its Irish connections. I had not seen The Fitzpatrick Grand Central on E 44th St and Lexington since it opened its new outdoor terrace lunch courtyard. There is this fantastic system, a bit like Wimbledon. If there is a drop of rain the covers are over quicker than you could get an umbrella up. It is a fabulous setting with a good-value menu that spoils for choice, and can all be washed down with a welcome pint.

I hit the magic bed again and was up bright and bushy-tailed for dinner at Gordon Ramsay's The Maze.

I began with gazpacho with a little lobster, followed by wing of skate on ratatouille, all washed down with a Heitz Zinfandel from the Napa Valley.

A short tour of the kitchen was interesting and greatly improved by knowing that Gordon was not in town. It was a "f***ing" good meal!

For my next few days, I moved to Lower Manhattan to the boutique Gildhall Hotel on Gold Street. It is beside John Street, so I knew I would find my way home. I was delighted to discover another dream bed. Then it was out for a walk. New York feels so safe these days.

We stumbled upon Stone Street, cobbled with pubs, restaurants and atmosphere. Everyone eats outdoors, and the street is closed to traffic. We took one look at the menu, saw a one-and-a-half-pound lobster with baked potato and corn on the cob for $18 and ordered in unison. And boy, was it good. Then it was time for a short walk to Pier 18 by the water, which has a spectacular Manhattan skyline view. One beer and, as is my wont, I drifted off. I blame the company.

A great way to see Lower Manhattan is with Onion walk tours (www.bigonion.com) which are given by history postgrads. They cost $18 and are interesting, at times irreverent, and entertaining. And cruises from Manhattan are becoming very popular. I had a look around the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship, which has 15 decks and 4,100 guests. A floating city.

I got off before being whisked to the Caribbean for a few days.

On our final night, I headed for a great new hotel and restaurant, Setai, on West 36th, where we were fed by chef Michael White. I started with Granchio, that is blue crab, watermelon, prosciutto di Parma and sorrel. Then had Branzinom, which was delicious sea bass with calamari while I stole dry-aged striploin from my partner's plate.

Returning on the same Continental flight, I was horizontal and happy. A beautiful meal, one glass of bubbly and then on to the water. When I opened my eyes we were 30 minutes from Dublin and I was as refreshed as if I had been in my own bed.... well, in a New York hotel bed actually.

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