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Breakfast at Tiffany's? Make that Barney's...
It's been a few years since that wistful morn when Holly Golightly sipped her coffee as she gazed longingly into Tiffany's. Yes, New York can be a magical place for doe-eyed gals, really for all of us. With world-class theatre and food, swank bars, dreamy hotels and plenty of art and history, there's more than enough to keep uptown guys and gals enchanted. If Holly were paying a visit to New York thirty years later, her itinerary might go something like this.
First stop is Wall Street: inquiring minds want to know where all this money is being made. The New York Stock Exchange is the world's largest and most liquid stock market. While the exterior of this imposing columned building is quite subdued, the trading inside is anything but. Pick up a free ticket outside and head for the glass-enclosed Visitor's Gallery and a peek at the pulse of financial America. A walk around the corner to Trinity Church is much more soothing. The present structure dates to 1846 and is located at the head of Wall Street, possibly to keep shady traders in line. The many arches inside soar to the heavens, while the stained glass behind the altar is inspirational. Be sure to check out the organ over your shoulder, a gem even when it's silent.
The United States Custom House is a Beaux Arts confection and one of the prettiest buildings in the neighborhood. Enjoy the Reginald Marsh murals in the oval rotunda and continue on to one of Manhattan's best-kept secrets: the National Museum of the American Indian, opened at this location in 1994. Part of the Smithsonian Institution, this museum rotates its collection of over one million items on an ongoing basis. Moccasins from tribes of the Americas are paired with Native American quilts from the plains states. Pottery, jewelry, weapons and much more are on display and described in nearby interactive modules. And it's all free. Equally old and engaging is the interior of Fraunces Tavern, a watering hole frequented by George Washington and his comrades, presumably to talk strategy and not stocks. Proceed directly to the Tap Room, a back bar filled with an incredible collection of animal heads. The bison and elk won't be putting back a pint, but you should.
Getting hungry? Skip over to Greenwich Village and John's Pizzeria, which has been making pies in this part of town since 1929. There are no deliveries and no slices at John's, so sit down in the original room and order the #41, a sausage, pepperoni and mushroom blitz which is the talk of the neighborhood. The meatball and garlic is a surprisingly nice flavor combo, while a regular cheese is all you really need on this sinfully thin, crispy crust. Frank Sinatra croons on the jukebox, which must be the reason why manager Jojo Centola never stops smiling.
Walk off that pizza in SoHo, which is the area South of Houston for the uninitiated. This neighborhood positively screams "look at me!" thanks to the combination of appealing shops and cafes and the smartly-styled denizens who frequent them. First stop is Juno on Broadway, shoes for the not-so-shy. Down the street is Steve Madden, with hipster clothes and even more shoes if you're still looking. Zona on Greene Street will make your house look as good as you do (the fragrance in this store is divine), while Make Up For Ever on West Broadway will give you both a happy and beautiful face. New World Coffee a few doors down is great for a contact high which will transport you to Harriett Love, where you can acquire that forties femme fatale look. The real feast for the senses is at Dean & DeLuca, a grocery store where the food is almost too pretty to eat.
Time to rest those tootsies? Head uptown for tea at the Pierre. This Fifth Avenue hostelry is home to the Rotunda, an oval-shaped salon guaranteed to put you at ease. The Italian Renaissance-inspired murals date to 1967 and sport some touches of the era -- note the Nehru jacket on one fellow and a demure Jackie O peeking down from the mezzanine. The decidedly 90s crowd includes businessmen, mothers with kids and weary shoppers, all reveling in the assortment of delectable treats and doting service. If this is the kind of attention you could get used to, why not spend the night? The Pierre is as grand as it gets: 202 luxe rooms overlooking Central Park which are individually designed to provide comfort with a French-y feel. While you chat up the concierge, someone else will gladly do the unpacking for you. A spacious fitness center is a concession to modern-day travelers, and though these perks may come at a price...well, you're worth it, aren't you?
Cocktail time means a trip up the speedy Rockefeller Center elavator to the 65th floor, home of the Rainbow Room. Head for the Rainbow Promenade bar, a long room with a curve of a bar in the center and an unsurpassed view. The window walls face south, the better to ogle the colorfully-lit Empire State Building and the glowing crescents of the Chrysler Building roof. No jeans or sneakers allowed, one reason why everybody looks so darned elegant. Order a glass of champagne and play along. End your evening with a memorable meal at the Union Square Cafe. Chef Michael Romano's food is "Italian in soul. There's a generosity of spirit with this food, but it's got a pretty easy-going character." Romano goes to Italy once a year for inspiration ("I find myself in a swoon when I'm there!"), then filters what he sees through our sensibilities. His food is "generous and hearty, but most of all I want it to taste good." Not to worry, chef. Dazzle your palate with the porcini gnocchi with prosciutto, cremini mushrooms and parmigiano cream. This blissful dish should be followed by the lobster "Shepherd's pie," a medley of lobster chunks, mushrooms, spinach, carrots and mashed potatoes resting on a rich lobster sauce. Dessert? By all means indulge in the warm chocolate Bailey's Irish cream cake a la mode.
Time to go home. To the Pierre. Lucky you.
Start your morning with a taste of the Left Bank on the West Side. Cafe Europa, on the busy corner of 57th and 7th, is a great spot for a latte and a flaky croissant. The Parisian bistro decor is warm and inviting, as is the delectable pastry case, filled with cakes, cookies and creamy pies. Duly fortified, head back to the East Side and The Frick Collection, an amazing museum housed in the former home of steel magnate Henry Clay Frick. This Beaux Arts manse, one of the finest on Fifth Avenue, was converted to a museum in 1935, and the art you will see is largely Frick's private collection, which has been added to in recent years by the museum's Board of Trustees. Everything from early Renaissance through late 19th-century work is on display, and pieces not to be missed include a Rembrandt self-portrait, Bellini's Saint Francis in the Desert and a thoughtful portrait of Sir Thomas Moore by Hans Holbein The Younger. El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Van Dyck -- this is truly a feast for the eyes. The collection includes many portraits and landscapes and is largely devoid of violence, which is how Mr. Frick wanted it. Good for him.
A late lunch might be a good idea right about now, so saunter over to Sushi Hana, a simple, woodsy room where the sushi is as fresh as it gets. Pieces are large, with a more-than-generous fish-to-rice ratio. Order the sushi combo, nine pieces plus a tekka maki roll. You may not be able to eat it all, but you'll have fun tasting.
Feel like a walk? Head south to the Newseum, a media, educational and cultural institution funded by The Freedom Forum, whose mandate it is to promote free press, free speech and free spirit. While the Newseum hosts lectures (Walter Cronkite and Sylvia Jukes Morris have been on the bill), films and other activities, the best part may be the ongoing photojournalism exhibits. The best covers of Sports Illustrated? the best photography from the people at Time-Life? This trip down memory lane is oh-so-nice. A thoroughly modern experience can be had across the street at Sony Style, a temple of technological wizardry thanks to the fine folks at Sony. Part retail store and part playpen, here you can listen to music on the latest mini discs or beat the house at one of many Play Stations. Wonder how all this would look in your home? Walk next door to the Ralph Lauren Room, where the designer has shown you how to integrate sight (video) and sound (audio) in inimitable style.
If you've had enough of the future, the Waldorf-Astoria is a pleasant trip to the past, specifically the Art Deco era. Spending a night here has been an attractive proposition for captains and kings since 1931, to say nothing of every President since Hoover. Walk in the Park Avenue entrance, go up the stairs and feast your eyes on the Wheel of Life mosaic, a stunning floor show which took a year to build. Over your shoulder is Cole Porter's piano. The central lobby is home to the clock, a two-ton bronze timepiece built for the 1893 World's Fair. It chimes on the quarter-hour, your signal to check out your room. No two rooms (there are 1,380 of them) are decorated alike, but yours is likely to have creamy yellow walls and soft floral fabrics. Elegant marble bathrooms are part of your spacious accommodation. Although the Waldorf is a big place, it's the perfect home-away-from-home in the Big Apple.
After a spot of rest, you'll be ready for another night on the town. Start at the nearby Monkey Bar, a suitably glam spot for well-heeled drinkers who like their martini stirred, please. Single-malts are also on the menu, and if it's a cigar you crave, bar manager Laszlo Gyorok has a taste or two for you. The liquor flows till 4 AM on weekends, and regulars are absolutely spoiled here (their drinks are mixed the minute they walk in the door), which might keep you coming back for more. Dinner on this night will be at trendy Balthazar, a spot so hot that Donald Trump drives by just to see who's here. Correction: The Donald is driven here. Who's he gonna see when he arrives? Models with lots of leg and even more makeup squired by natty silver-haired gents. Lost in all of this is the fact that the restaurant looks great (think super-sleek Parisian bistro) and the food is better than you'd expect. A dozen oysters from the strictly French menu are a good start. Continue with the Balthazar salad, a mix of asparagus, green beans and trendy greens in a truffle vinaigrette. The grilled brook trout over a warm spinach and lentil salad is exquisite. Port anyone?
Tomorrow is another day in New...wait, is that The Donald?
A jog in Central Park is a good way to start any New York City day. Work your way north along East Drive, cutting to your left every now and again to admire the scenery. Tuck some money into your shoe, since you'll be stopping for breakfast afterward at Sarabeth's Kitchen (visit the original on Amsterdam Avenue), a homey spot where the queen of jams started baking breads and muffins over fifteen years ago. Order the Goldie Lox (scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and cream cheese) and a side of home fries with sauteed onions. You'll get to pick your favorite muffin with breakfast, and it comes (surprise!) with your choice of Sarabeth jam.
Freshen up back at the Waldorf and head uptown again, this time to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yes, it is arguably the best museum in the world and yes, you must go. You would need a week to see the whole museum, but do what you can in a few hours. A good idea is to take a one-hour guided tour of the museum's highlights (check the schedule at the information desk), then choose a few galleries which sound particularly appealing. Among the choices: Greek art (including a 600 B.C. statue, said to be the first depiction of a naked human being), Roman art, the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing (African art, including many statues used in tribal rites), the Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court (beautifully brings the outdoors in -- lots of light), medieval art, four floors of American art and the Astor Chinese Garden Court, a soothing spot for rest and reflection. Gilbert Stuart's oil of George Washington is also here (it's that face you see on the dollar bill), and the collection of Impressionist paintings rivals that of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Ah, to have more time...alas, it's time to shop.
Walk a block over to Madison Avenue and visit some of the finest boutiques in town. Ralph Lauren is at 72nd Street, while his Polo Sport is right across the street. Stop in at Toraya on 71st for a spot of tea and wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets. Searle is the place for fabulous coats (near 70th) while red-hot Prada is across the street. Confectionery colors and silky-light fabrics are the news at Prada, where the staff wears black and so do most of the customers. Makes you wonder if anyone is buying the clothes. Dolce & Gabbana near 69th makes a starker statement, whereas the lingerie at La Perla (corner of 66th) is as sexy as it gets. Walter Steiger (64th) is the place for elegant shoes, and Furla down the street can probably sell you a handbag to match, in exquisite Italian leather. Pop in to Sherry-Lehman wines (61st) to see what they're tasting, then head over to Barney's. Wait, is that a hunger pang aching to be heard? Walk down to the corner of 61st and Fifth and buy a New York hot dog from Mohammad, the chatty Egyptian who's parked his cart here five days a week for the past two years. The all-beef frank is kosher and can be topped with ketchup, mustard, onions, relish, sauerkraut or chili. Some people choose all of the above. The dog is tasty and the bun is soft and sweet. At a dollar a pop, you just might want two.
Last stop of the day is Barney's, nine floors of shopping heaven at the corner of Madison and 61st. This is the new Barney's, not to be confused with the original on 17th Street. Newer is definitely nicer here, since this store is an artful compilation of the latest styles to help you look as good as you should. The first-floor array of make-up and accessories is a girly girl's dream.
Your last night in New York should be a comfy-cozy treat, and with that in mind, head over to the Sheraton Russell. This mid-city hotel feels more like a charming country home, with accessible elegance at every turn. Fully refurbished in 1997, the 146 rooms are in a coral/green or yellow/blue color scheme and feature triple-sheeted beds and plump bathrobes along with a roomy marble bath. A "virtual office," which includes a printer, fax, copier and in-room data ports, is at the ready if you want to communicate with the folks back home. Downstairs, the Club Lounge lets you unwind over cocktails and hors d'ouevres, while the Living Room is just what you'd expect, a place to pull out a good book and relax. The hotel's Murray Hill location (Park at 37th) is a quiet break from the buzz uptown.
Dinner on this night calls for the comfort food of the 90s, nuevo latino cuisine at Erizo, where chef Alex Garcia is creating all the right flavors. "This is one of the oldest cuisines in the world," says Garcia, referring to Hispanic food. "La madre patria is where it all comes from. What we're doing is using various techniques to create new flavors, say a bit of sweet with tart." Garcia is also well aware of the timeliness of this cuisine. "Latino is hot," he continues. "The music, the food, the people, the look. Blondes are out! This is what people want." And for good reason. Begin your meal with the papas a la Huancaina, a Peruvian potato and shrimp salad which is redolent of the olive oil of Spain. Continue with the empanada de langosta, a lobster empanada (corn turnover), which is served over a cold calamari and scallop salad. The five-spice cobia is a Florida fish served over a bed of marinated shrimp and ringed by a tamal de cazuela, a heavenly puree of corn tamales. This superb, and superbly inventive dish, must be tasted to be believed. Chef Garcia outdoes himself with the desserts: the frituras de bananas are warm banana fritters which are topped with a rum caramel sauce and delightfully good, yet they are exceeded by the chocolate caliente, a flourless hot chocolate pudding meant to be mixed with the vanilla-scented whipped cream on top. Erizo is caliente, too.
Time to go home? Perhaps, but not without a final breakfast at Barney's. The store which epitomizes New York in the 90s opens its doors at 10 AM, at which time you should head to Fred's downstairs. This pretty little dining room is the place to order a fresh-baked muffin and a cappuccino and savor the memories you've collected from three great days in one of the world's best cities. Looks like Holly knew what she was doing then...and now.
Fifth Avenue at 61st Street
Rates start at $395 single, $445 double.
301 Park Avenue at 49th Street
Rates from $250; weekend packages available.
45 Park Avenue at 37th Street
Rates are $250-$350 mid-week; $230-$290 weekends.