New York City, the world’s greatest metropolis, has long been pure cinema for citizens and visitors alike. In many ways, movies themselves—On the Town, Saturday Night Fever, Manhattan, to name but a few—have been instrumental in making New York the byword for aspiration. These films taught us that, in this town, anybody could be king or queen of the hill.
In 2014, however, New York is experiencing a psychic shift as epic as the physical changes sweeping the city. So hot is this transformation, in fact, that the local buzz—celebrated by some, lamented by others—is that the “Gotham” mystique is being re-forged entirely.
As difficult as it may be for Knickerbockers like myself (I’m personally nearing 30-year residency status) to accept, this is no longer the same old New York. Did it begin in 2007, when CBGBs, the birthplace of punk, became a John Varvatos outlet? Perhaps there was an equal amount of hand-wringing when Tin Pan Alley, Studio 54 and other bellwethers rang their last. Still, the immutable reality is that, today, New York’s melting pot is made up of an entirely different set of ingredients. Or, as real estate journalist Samantha McClary cleverly put it, New York is experiencing an “Apple Turnover.”
The Big (and Bigger) Apple
Eight years ago, NYC & Company, the city’s visitors bureau, launched a comprehensive tourism development program that opened new offices in 18 cities around the globe and shifted from hailing Manhattan as the be-all-and-end-all to promoting each of the five boroughs to domestic and international travel markets. The results have been nothing short of meteoric, as the city continues to exceed ever-escalating tourism goals.
In 2002, following 9/11, the city received 35.3 million total visitors. After hitting a record 43.8 million in 2006, the city set 50 million as its ambition for 2015. Exceeding that in 2011, the target became 55 million—which the city confidently expects to meet this year.
Then there is the foreign money. “New York has always been a magnet for global capital,” said commercial real estate investor Orin Portnoy, president of Manhattan-based private banking firm Quantum Funding. “For foreign nationals, especially those from unstable countries, the focus now is on securely parking their money—pricey condos are their safe deposit boxes.”
Following the global trend, billionaire buyers are reshaping the city’s skyline with “trophy” towers, such 432 Park Avenue, the 96-floor monolith currently rising at 57th and Park. The building is notable for commanding a reported $6,894 per square foot and, at 1,396 feet high, topping the almost-complete One World Trade Center (not counting its 408-foot spire) by 28 feet.
Yet, it’s the $20 billion mixed-use Hudson Yards development underway on Midtown’s far west side that’s poised to become New York’s next sensation. Stephen Ross, founder and chairman of the project’s developer, Related Companies—charged with the ambitious task of cleaning up the rail yards, parking lots and industrial dreck currently mucking up the 28-acre site—aims to turn the location into something of a New York paragon. Featuring wildly futuristic towers among the 17 buildings scheduled to start cropping up next year, Hudson Yards is sure to be a major visitor magnet, introducing innovative new shopping, dining, cultural and entertainment choices, along with parks and public spaces.
Hotels in the Spotlight
Historically, accommodating the ever-surging tourist arrivals has been a challenge—until now. Speaking at the January 2014 ribbon-cutting for the 639-room Courtyard New York Manhattan/Central Park, Fred Dixon, interim CEO of NYC & Company, revealed that “supply, once tight as a drum, will reach 100,000 rooms this year. The city is finally getting the number of rooms it needs.”
Working closely with New York’s hospitality market for the last 25 years, PR agent Nancy Friedman has seen robust growth across all price points, especially the high end. “Along with continuing development of desirable and affordable properties all over town, the five-star category is getting amped up because of global demand for the ‘wow’ factor and ‘over-the-top’ lodging,” Friedman said.
For proof, just look to the reborn New York Palace, where the luxe Jewel Suite is going for $28,000 per night. “The Jewel is booked weeks on end at that rate,” said Friedman. “Already dominant in Europe and Asia, this trend has now arrived in New York.”
Notable upscale newcomers are also joining the scene, including the Park Hyatt New York. Opening this summer in a newly built skyscraper, Hyatt’s latest New York flagship is a silken one, indeed, with a prime address across from Carnegie Hall and bird’s-eye views of the sprawling metropolis. Opened in November 2013, The Quin is an artful lodging that boasts a triplex penthouse among its 28 suites, as well as the Wayfarer, a destination steak-and-seafood restaurant—all in a circa-1929 building that was once the haunt of famed musicians, composers, dancers, singers and artists.
But brands and hotels aren’t all that’s being revamped; hospitality front-liners are observing a changing customer, too. As the late Robert Isabell was New York’s party-planning king of the 70s (once trucking four tons of glitter into Studio 54), florist and event designer David Beahm (famed for styling the Catherine Zeta-Jones/Michael Douglas wedding at the Plaza) is today’s grand master of ceremonies. “Clients are savvier and more discerning than ever about taste, quality and style,” he said. “This raises my game to a new level—and I am not complaining.”
Look no further than the Peninsula New York’s 25th anniversary celebration last September to see what Beahm means. The canny coordinator swathed the hotel’s 55th Street entrance in red carpet; organized a traditional Chinese lion dance to greet arrivals; created a soaring two-story welcome ribbon of some 25,000 flowers in the lobby; and commissioned seven different entertainment ensembles to perform throughout the property.
A City You Can Sink Your Teeth Into
Also savoring the shift is Paul Hurley, president of the 3,000-plus-member organization United Restaurant & Tavern Owners of New York. “We are seeing fewer restaurant closures and, along with healthy tourist traffic, a steadying, if not improving, trend in corporate spending,” said Hurley, a serial restaurateur whose Desmond’s Steakhouse is a new draw on Fashion Avenue. “People are coming back to the table.”
Few operators keep rhythm with the pulse of New York like father/son duo Harry and Peter Poulakakos. Veritable guardians of Lower Manhattan, their ventures have struck a chord with the local scene for decades, from Harry’s (Wall Street’s most legendary haunt from 1972 to 2003, then reintroduced as Harry’s Café & Steak in 2006) to a growing empire of restaurants, like the Gangs of New York–inspired Dead Rabbit.
“Once stalled by the downturn, Manhattan’s post 9/11 rebirth and evolution is now in full swing,” maintained Poulakakos the younger. “Tourism and hotel growth are surging; a diverse marketplace of publishing, creative, technology and other companies are relocating here. Overall, the pieces are coming together better than anyone expected.”
Of the four outer boroughs, Brooklyn has evolved the most by far. “The stream of visitors, many walking over from Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge, just keeps growing,” said chef-owner Alfredo Miccoli, who, along with business partner Marcello Scandiffio, serves top-of-the-line traditional Italian fare at AlMar, their restaurant in the heart of DUMBO.
After working in Brooklyn restaurants for the last 13 years, Miccoli, originally from Bari, Italy, takes local developments, such as the borough’s sweeping waterfront parks and the Barclays Center arena—home to the NBA’s Nets and major events—in stride. “As New York never sleeps,” he said, “it also never stops changing.”
Where to Stay:
Park Hyatt New York*
153 West 57th Street.
New York Palace
455 Madison Avenue.
101 West 57th Street.
Where to Eat:
513 Seventh Avenue.
111 Front Street.
Insider Tips from The Quin’s Lead Luxury Attaché Susy Schieffelin:
New York City has some 2,500 art galleries, and few locals know them as well as David Behringer, founder of The Two Percent Gallery Tours. Each month, he showcases five galleries (hence, the “two percent”), taking private groups of up to three people on engaging and informative 90-minute tours. Afterwards, for a taste of Prohibition-era Manhattan, head to Bathtub Gin, a speakeasy-style bar hidden behind the Stone Street Coffee Company storefront on lower Ninth Avenue. Champagne (and other) cocktails, great spirits and food, live music and a copper bathtub (popular for photo-ops) are all part of the fun.
* Now accepting reservations for July 20 and beyond.
Courtesy : Premier Traveler
Author : Jeff Heilman