Sunday 21 July 2019

New York: Hidden gems from Hudson Yards to Staten Island

Liadan Hynes takes a whirlwind tour of New York's new developments and old secrets...

Hudson Yards, an area to the west of Midtown, has been given a massive overhaul in recent years where The Vessel takes pride of place
Hudson Yards, an area to the west of Midtown, has been given a massive overhaul in recent years where The Vessel takes pride of place
Staten Island Ferry, NYC. Photo: Deposit
Cead Mile Failte ... stay at Fitzpatrick's Hotel in Manhattan

Liadan Hynes

I walk through the doors of the Fitzpatrick Manhattan Hotel on Lexington Avenue, to be greeted by an open-armed George, from the hotel's team.

"Lia," he declares.  "I read your piece in the Sunday Independent last weekend."

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"Oh George, you say that to all the journalists," I reply.

But I am wrong. He had read it.

Cead Mile Failte ... stay at Fitzpatrick's Hotel in Manhattan
Cead Mile Failte ... stay at Fitzpatrick's Hotel in Manhattan

The piece was on marriage break-up, how to get through one. George has also been through one; we are instantly best friends - there is arm clutching and hugging, and I feel instantly at home.

Which is, of course, the feeling any Irish person who has stayed in either of John Fitzpatrick's Manhattan hotels will recognise. Fitzpatrick's is comfortable throughout; from the Kerrygold and Barry's tea at breakfast, to the calming decor and large, spacious rooms.

After a celebratory we-have-arrived-in-New York meal of Prosecco, fresh orange juice and just-out-of-the-oven scones, and a half hour in the sun on the hotel's 17th storey penthouse balcony, it was time to head out.

The theme of our trip was New York's hidden gems. The city feels like a place you could visit yearly for the rest of your life, and still find something new on each trip.

I've been five times, and insider tips have provided the most enjoyable, interesting finds on each occasion. My all-time best tip is PJ Clarke's, a small, saloon style restaurant tucked in among skyscrapers on Third Avenue, just up from the Lipstick building, Bernie Madoff's former place of work.

Rightfully laying claim to the best burgers you will ever eat, it was a favourite of Jake LaMotta, he of Raging Bull fame.

Our hosts were NYC & Company (nycgo.com), New York's official marketing organisation for the five boroughs; who better placed to offer a fresh insight into the best of what the city has to offer?

Our first destination was Hudson Yards, an area to the west of Midtown, which has been given a massive overhaul in recent years, transforming it into a luxury shopping and residential destination. At the centre, sits The Vessel, a climbable beehive shaped structure, yet to be given a permanent name (this will be decided by public competition), whose dramatic design makes it a favourite of selfie takers.

The Shed, which opened in April, is a $475m cultural centre adjacent to The Vessel. It includes a theatre, galleries, and a sizeable performance area. The building is designed to encourage multi-disciplinary performances - we thought we were enjoying a traditional gallery show, until audience members scattered among us began to sing, walking among us for their performance, part of the Reich Richter Part show.

Made with a facade of lightweight, luminescent panels, the outer shell of the building is set on wheels, and has the ability to move away from the main frame, creating an entirely new space.

Right beside both The Shed and The Vessel sits The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards, a massive shopping centre located on 10th Avenue. Among its many stores, it hosts New York's first Neiman Marcus, where we had dinner at the Zodiac Room, the most prestigious of the store's three restaurants. Dinner included the restaurant's signature dish - popovers with strawberry butter, a sort of dessert version of a Yorkshire pudding.

Depositphotos_113027376_l-2015.jpg
Staten Island Ferry, NYC. Photo: Deposit

The next day we took the ferry to Staten Island. If you can't face the queues of one of New York's skyscrapers (although the CityPASS, which gives access to six of the city's most iconic tourist attractions, often gives the bearer priority access), the ferry, which is free, offers some of the most stunning views you can get of both the city, and of course, the Statue of Liberty.

Instead of doing the usual tourist thing of getting straight back on to the ferry for a return journey (the Staten shuffle, locals call it), we stayed on the island to explore.

First up was a tour of the new Empire Outlets; opened in May, it is New York City's first and only outlet destination. Shops include Levi's, Gap, Guess, Converse, Nike, and H&M.

For any of your party who may not care for shopping, I would advise taking yourself to Denino's Pizzeria & Tavern. On Port Richmond Avenue, it's a short taxi ride from Empire Outlets, and will answer (in the affirmative) the question can a pizza base be both thin, crispy and yet chewy?

After lunch, we made our way to the 83-acres of Snug Harbour Cultural Centre and Botanical Garden. Set on the island's north shore, it was built as a home for retired sailors in the 1800s, before becoming a cultural centre. Alongside the gardens, the grounds include five large Greek revival style structures looking out over the water. Today, the park hosts performances, exhibitions, botanical gardens and a heritage farm.

It was a hot day, so we decided to explore the area around the park. A short walk led us to Leidy's Shore Inn, and the owner, Larry. Madonna filmed her Papa Don't Preach video here, Larry told us as he settled down at our table for a chat. Kevin Bacon had been in the day before filming. Larry himself is an Elvis impersonator, he entertained us with his life story as we cooled off over beers and white wine before a steak dinner at The Stone House, set on the lake in Cloves Lake Park.

The absolute highlight of our tour was our last trip the follow morning, a tour of Essex Market, lead by Turnstile Tours. A food market, it is a sort of larger, less expensive version of Dublin's Fallon & Byrne. The market was originally a street affair, it now sits in new premises on the Lower East Side. Some of the vendors have been selling at the market since the 1970s. We feasted on fresh bread, olive oils and balsamic vinegars so delicious you could drink them straight, cheese covered in vegetable ash, stock soups and Mexican food.

For locals, the market includes a butcher, a cheesemonger, a grocer and a fishmonger. There is a seating area upstairs for visitors to enjoy lunch or breakfast.

Set free to enjoy some spare time, for a final stop, a group of us made our way to Central Park, where we rented bikes.

Careening through the park on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, past families picnicking, groups of friends out on boats, classes of yoga, felt like the stuff of a Woody Allen movie.

Getting there

■ Liadan stayed at Fitzpatrick's  Lexington Avenue, New York City.fitzpatrickhotels.com,  +1 212-355-0100.

■ Her trip was hosted by nycgo.com.

■ She flew with United Airlines, on Premium Plus, and Polaris Business Class, on the Dublin to Newark route, with use of the Polaris Business class lounge at Newark, with access to the shower suite, valet services, dining area or buffet area, and custom designed cockail menu.

■ Economy fares with one checked bag start cost from €393, Premium Plus fares start from €1036, Business Class fares start from €1615. united.com

■ For travel across New York City's five boroughs, visit NYC & Company's website, see nycgo.com.

■ CityPASS: The CityPASS provides free (and often priority) entry to six of the city's most iconic attractions and museums.

This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.

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