I arrive at the Hotel Empire at 63rd and Broadway. “Beware the Eurotrash,” warns cabdriver Harry, squiggling up one eyebrow like Vincent Price. My companion, Theater Boy, is full of soulful angst. His mood is as dark as the cavernous Empire lobby whose leopard-print chairs suggest Sunset Boulevard by way of Vegas. Dim chandeliers resemble mile-high mid-century Miro satellites.
Theater Boy is either fretting or sleeping or bravely trying to squire me around and smile. Our first stop is Rosa Mexicano for a hit of Rachel’s favorite guacamole — the chunky green mash is wondrous. We amble to Bar Boulud, a civilized place with a hefty pricetag, where we share a charcuterie plate and toss back a few glasses of respectable Greek wine. After wedges of country paté, heap of rough-sliced ham, squidge of French mustard, and a few earthy beets and carrots, we’re ready to hit the streets.
It’s All About Maine
The Folk Art Museum of New York City has quirky weathervanes, portraits, decoys, colorful hooked rugs, paintings and offbeat works from our own 1930s modernist summer camp in Ogunquit, Maine. Trailblazers like Elie and Viola Nadelman, Marguerite and William Zorach and friends helped lead the way to preservation of American folk art. These farsighted modernists are responsible for the existence of the distinguished Folk Art Museum of New York City, of which I am a huge fan.
Don’t Look Down
I’m lounging high up on the vertiginous Empire pool deck. The pool is a single turquoise lane in which no one is swimming. And as Harry-the-cabbie predicted, I’m not hearing much English. What I am hearing is piped-in 80s music, which I consider a cultural offense. The irony is not lost that the rooftop terrace overlooks Lincoln Center, home to some of the most glorious music in the world. Oh, well.
Evening brings the evocative dance play, Pearl, celebrating the life of Pulitzer-prize winning author Pearl S. Buck. The show’s international cast of 30 performs the multi-cultural story in five stages – Spring, River, Flower, Moon, Night – based on a poem by Zhang Ruoxu. This ambitious dance-theater-piece explores the life of Buck, the proto-feminist writer best known for her novel, The Good Earth. Go Pearl.
Sip and Savor
All this dance, of course, makes me hungry. We’re drawn to Esca – “lure” in Italian – for a post-theater drink. Carciofo Negroni is an inspired cocktail of Cynar, Italian artichoke-flavored liqueur, Plymouth gin, and a serious flourish of orange peel. Esca’s grilled octopus, Polipo, is blackened and gorgeous. Best of all is an unctuous bite of maccheroni alla chittara, velvety sea urchin and crab over string-cut pasta.
Most Important Meal
After a great night’s sleep in the posh white noise of Hotel Empire, I awaken early to hit popular Maison Kayser, an outdoor café with great Parisian style overlooking Columbus Circle. Kayser’s Epinards & Chevre is the best breakfast in New York City, I swear, organic eggs baked with spinach, goat cheese, and gooey Bechamel. I can’t stop thinking about it.
It’s a Mad, Mad World
We cross Columbus Circle to the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), for the Richard Estes exhibition. We feel a little freaky looking at Estes’ photographic painting of Columbus Circle, above, reflected in the windows of the MAD while inside the MAD looking at a painting of Columbus Circle reflected in the windows of the MAD…
Some of the pieces are “madly” incendiary, like the neckpiece of firecracker-salutes, left.
Yes, this is true. And most especially in New York City.
Gritty and Stylish
Theater Boy and I savor the sights and sounds of the historic Meatpacking District. This Bacchanalian ‘hood was a hub of activity in the 1800s, with open-air meat markets, meatpacking plants, lumberyards, and tenements along cobblestone streets.
Upscale Gansevoort Market now draws tourists and locals to its gritty and stylish dining, shopping, and tasting scene — check out the Meatball Guys, Yiaourti, or Donostia. Okay, any market that refers to itself as “curated” is just this side of twee. But Gansevoort’s locally sourced fare and hipster vibe actually works.
Theater Boy loves boats, and we grab tickets for the Circle Line to savor the island of Manhattan from the water. Highlights include the Statue of Liberty; Randall’s Island; High Bridge; Columbia; Harlem; Gracie Mansion; South St. Seaport; Brooklyn Bridge; Yankee Stadium; The Cloisters; and Grant’s Tomb. Our seats on deck are blistering hot, but the beer is cold and good. I mean really.
Whitney Museum: America Is Hard to See
Our Manhattan odyssey ends at the new Whitney Museum designed by Renzo Piano. The sprawling exhibition, America Is Hard to See, encompasses more than 600 works of American art from the beginning of the 20th century, all from the Whitney’s permanent collection.
Indelible, iconic, and familiar images – some deeply unsettling – are gathered here for an extraordinary celebration of our ever-changing American culture. Not to be missed.
^ Monochromatic Chairs by Mary Heilmann at the Whitney.
We savor our last and best bite at the museum’s outdoor café, cleverly named Untitled. Our grilled nectarine toast with almond pesto and ricotta leaves a sweet and lingering taste of summer afternoon. •