By Terry Trucco
We love the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. A classic liminal period, it’s an opportunity to work less (or not at all), see a movie, read a book, catch your breath. And if you’re like us, you’ll probably stop by a hotel (or two). Here are 10 worth checking out even if you don’t check in.
See the ice sculptures at the James Given this year’s balmy winter weather, you’d better hurry. Inspired by the New York skyline, ice sculptor Shintaro Okamoto created a skyscraper ice garden, the Manhattan version of an igloo village, on the deck at the James, a hotel known for contemporary art (including the kind that doesn’t melt). Stroll past his grand-scale creations or observe them from the hotel’s Treehouse bar, where chef David Burke serves up seasonal fare like Bourbon Sno-Cones, Pomegranate Frosts (cachaga, pomegranate juice, rose water, champagne) and oysters with caviar ice (yup, more ice).
Check out the Betsey Johnson tree and pop-up shop at the Plaza Angel isn’t the first word that leaps to mind when we think of Eloise, the mischievous imp who resides in a penthouse at the Plaza hotel in the famed books by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight. But instead of an angel, there’s Eloise atop the girliest hotel tree in town. Wrapped in sparkles, feathers and lots of pink stuff, the Eloise tree is as much a toast to its creator, fashion designer Betsey Johnson, as its namesake. As fun as the tree is, it’s also an ad for Johnson’s pop-up shop downstairs in the Plaza arcade. Check it out if you can’t go another day without sequined ballerina slippers or a leopard print robe.
Sip a holiday drink at the Warwick The “Toast the Season” menu at Randolph’s, the Warwick’s clubby bar, offers six cheery choices. As befits a historic hotel – William Randolph Hearst built this baby as a skyscraper pied a terre for his girlfriend Marion Davies and her Hollywood pals – holiday offerings include classics like Mulled Cider and updated concoctions like Red Hot Chocolate (Campari, brandy and hot chocolate). Our Black Champagne Christmas – champagne and raspberry puree – was appealing but jammy. We’re eyeing the Eggnog White Russian – eggnog, Kahlua and vodka – if we make it back before the holiday drinks ($14) disappear on January 3.
Catch the wildlife at the Dream downtown We’re not talking about late-night guests. A reindeer, a gorgeous white peacock and a handsome polar bear, the handywork of a clever taxidermist, are among the grand-scale seasonal elements that have turned the lobby at the Dream into a winter wonderland. Word has it the bear may become a permanent resident. We hope so; we love the big white polar bear on view uptown at the Explorers Club.
Sample the ice skating (and hot chocolate) at The Standard We love that the Standard has its own outdoor ice skating rink when the weather gets cold. It’s good-looking, smart and offers options: if you’re rather watch someone else’s triple salchows instead of essaying your own, score a table at the alfresco snack bar and cozy up with a hot chocolate or a hot toddy. Space heaters – and bourbon shots — will keep you warm.
Try an international drink at the Pierre How about seven fancy drinks, each inspired by a different country. The Pierre’s World Cocktail Festival (all drinks $14) offers concoctions like Warsaw Mermaid of Poland (vodka, lingonberry preserves, apple juice, lemon juice and simple syrup) and African Safari (Hennessy VS, tangerine juice, tamarind paste, citrus syrup and Tio Pepe). For a taste of winter, we opted for a Canadian Maple (Mount Gay rum, maple syrup and lime juice). Sweet.
Look at – but do not eat — the white chocolate tree at Jumeirah Essex House Talk about an ambitious pastry chef. Last year the lobby sported a grand-scale rendering of the hotel in gingerbread. And this year, executive pastry chef Dedan Putra and his team conjured a towering Christmas tree fashioned from white chocolate. The stats, in case you missed them in our Christmas tree round up: 273 white chocolate branches and 78 chocolate ornaments that add up to 500 lbs. of tree. It’s ten feet tall, by the way. A velvet rope protects it from hungry bystanders.
Vote for your favorite gingerbread house at Le Parker Meridien You’ve got until January 6 to cast your ballots for your favorite gingerbread constructions in the annual gingerbread exhibition at Le Parker Meridien. It’s a buck a vote. Buy all you like; proceeds go to City Harvest, which distributes unused restaurant food to the needy. The winner scores five nights at the Parker Palm Springs, the Meridien’s sister hotel.
Admire the outdoor decorations at the Peninsula and St Regis All you need to feel festive is a visit to 55th Street and Fifth Avenue. To the west, the Peninsula’s stone fu dogs wear ropes of lights. And to the east, gigantic toy soldiers, bigger than anything on stage at The Nutcracker, guard the main doors at the St Regis. (Both hotels look pretty good indoors, too.)
Look for Matilda before the Algonquin closes for renovation Matilda, the famed Algonquin cat, still prowls parts of the premises though you’ll no longer see her in the lounge (cats and food don’t go together, say the New York City health department). The best time to spot her is early in the day, we’re told. And if you miss her, toast her with a liquid Matilda (tangerine vodka, Cointreau, fresh lemon and orange juice and sparkling wine) in the Blue Bar or the lobby lounge. The hotel closes for four months of renovations on December 31.