We were seeing each other again after way too long, a last-minute girls’ weekend in New York City. My friend Bettina, casually dismissing the increasingly frantic alerts of an impending snowmageddon, traveled from Boston, while I took the easy ride from Washington, D.C. We left the kids, errands and cleaning to our sometimes-capable husbands, not caring what awaited us when we got back. This trip was for us – a time to reconnect and do the things we wanted to do. After all, isn’t that what a girls’ weekend is about?
I’ve lived in the Big Apple on an off for over two decades and know it more than my adopted home in the nation’s capital. I know the streets and smells --and can point out where old dive bars or classic stores have been replaced by slick, fancy hotels and fair trade coffee shops.
New York is like snake; constantly shedding its skin. Even though you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. It’s like a hard-to-kick habit: you’ll never be done with it.
These days New York has more to offer than ever before. With all the food and entertainment options, not one neighborhood holds the crown for best hotspot. Every neighborhood has its own appeal. But knowing where to go and how to plan it out isn't a walk in the park.
Here are some key factors to consider to having a fabulous time:
Pick your spot
We decided to stay lower Manhattan, always a popular tourist destination. Close to Soho and Chinatown, the recently opened National September 11 Memorial & Museum commemorating the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Freedom Tower has given this neighborhood a new lease on life. Its proximity to great restaurants and transportation makes this a better spot than the overcrowded and expensive Times Square. Plus there are no giant-sized Elmos or Naked Cowboys to contend with. Hotel-wise, The Conrad in Battery Park City, opened in 2012, is like a Time Square hotel downtown. It caters to conventions and large groups and has attractive rates. In summer its rooftop bar with spectacular views of Lady Liberty in the harbor is a plus.
Whatever you do, make sure you book a table for dinner – or even for lunch. Food is the new rock music, and highly competitive restaurant scene keeps chefs on their toes and customers desperate for tables. There were many new places we wanted to try, such as Birds and Bubbles and Bobby Flay’s Gato, but both were booked weeks in advance, as I was informed by their respective snooty hostesses. Because we didn’t plan, one night we were left walking the streets of Soho in the rain (no this is not a song). That was fine by us, because we decided to save our big meal for Saturday lunch, when we splurged on roast chicken, foie gras and Champagne at Rotisserie Georgette – an elegant Upper East Side eatery started by Georgette Farkas, Daniel Boulud's former director of public relations.
Want to see a show? That takes planning too. TKTS is the best for last minute Broadway and off-Broadway shows, but you need to be on-line by 11am for a 2pm matinee, or by 3pm for an evening show. We scored tickets for downstairs at the Gotham Comedy Club, where we watched young and upcoming Louis C. K’s test out their material on a not-so-forgiving audience.
Get some exercise
With so much drinking and eating, you’ll want to exercise. From ariel dance to warrior bootcamp, unique drop-in fitness classes taught by some of the country’s best instructors are yours for the taking. We took an indoor stationary cycling class at Soul Cycle – a popular national chain that has spawned devotees such as David Beckham, Tom Cruise and Lady Gaga. The hot, dark room jammed with bikes and throbbing techno music felt like a nightclub and the super-fit instructor with her six-pack fulfilled her promise to make us “dance on our bike seats.” We stumbled out into the snow sweaty and tired, but a fresh vegetable juice followed by a shot of Stumptown coffee in the West Village set us right.
Fancy a drink
There are so many places for fancy cocktails. One of my favorites is Bemelmans Bar in the Upper East Side’s Carlyle Hotel, where you’ll sit among Manhattan’s well-heeled elite sipping perfect martinis listening to jazz piano. If you’re lucky enough, on Monday’s you can see Woody Allen play his clarinet in the Café Carlyle supper club opposite. On the Upper West Side the trendy Manhattan Cricket Club, hidden beneath Australian eatery Burke & Wills is a cozy living room with shelves of old cricket memorabilia and Charles Dickens volumes. We opted for a cocktail in the lobby of downtown hipster hangout the Ace Hotel, where a pre-party crowd mix with hotel guests and assorted lounge lizards surfing the web on plush couches.
Bath culture is having a renaissance in New York City and nowhere is more popular than the 16,000-square-foot Aire Ancient Baths in Tribeca. Housed in a former textile factory the space was stripped bare to reveal the brick walls, wood-beam ceilings, and cast-iron columns. Lit with flickering candle light, this decadent Roman style bath features several soaking pools in a range of temperatures, as well as steam rooms and therapeutic massage services. In between the pampering you can relax on heated marble stones and sip ice cold lemon water or herbal tea. Sessions last for two hours, and while prices go up to $500, you can opt for the basic soak for an affordable $75. It was the perfect way to end a perfect weekend – fortifying us for chaos that no doubt awaited us back home.