NYC Redux

By Steven Wright

It had been 10 years since I had traveled to New York City, I was last there in June of 2001, just months before the 911 tragedy, and since I had not had the desire to travel to the US, focusing my traveling dollars on European destinations. All that changed with  The Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s announcement of Savage Beauty, an exhibit dedicated to the evolution of Alexander McQueen‘s fashion career and an homage to his life. I had followed his career through the years with the help of Jeanne Becker and Fashion Television and I was not going to miss this opportunity.

After years of talking about my NYC experiences I was able to introduce Mike, my sister and her new husband to the big apple. There are a lot more options for traveling to NYC these days with Air Canada and a newly announced West Jet route offering direct flights to Laguardia, along with many American carriers servicing Laguardia, JFK and Newark airports. Living in the core of the city my choice for this trip was Porter Airlines from Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Island. As this airport is relatively small, there is less traffic through security, the airport is very accessible at the base of Bathurst Street with ferry service to the island, (a walkway development starting soon) and there is even complimentary shuttle service to/from Union Station. Air Canada services Montreal through Billy Bishop as well.

The Porter experience is all about service, the complimentary Porter Lounge features an amazing coffee and beverage bar, complete with snacks. Then relax at a table and chairs, or leather arm chair and enjoy the daily news and free WIFI. On board their fleet of Bombardier Aerospace Q400 turboprop aircraft the only seating options are window or isle, so you never have to sit in the middle. The beverages are complimentary and you even get a light meal on every flight from amazing attendants. This makes this an enjoyable voyage. Porter destinations include: Ottawa, Toronto, Montréal,  St. John’s, Halifax, Québec City, Mont Tremblant, Moncton, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Boston, Chicago, New York, Myrtle Beach, Timmins, Burlington VT, and Washington DC.

This was my first ever arrival at Newark, I was used to the transfer from Laguardia and JFK, but found the trip into the city from Newark easy, cheap and enjoyable. You can take the airport train to Penn Station, New Jersey and then transfer to a train into the city for under $10 USD. For this trip we stayed at the Sheraton Tribecca, close to my old stomping grounds in SOHO. The newly constructed hotel has great rooms with king sized beds, there is a restaurant in the lobby along with a Starbucks, and a $40 transfer by limo to and from Laguardia.

The continued evolution of NYC over the past 10 years had brought new high rise condo buildings, and boutique and other large hotel chains spreading their wings in previously undesirable locations. Trump Hotels and Suites have popped up like Starbucks all over the city. There are many more 5 star luxury hotels than ever and all over the city. The city seemed somewhat quieter, there was less horns honking, people yelling and emergency service sirens. Many new boutiques line the streets of SOHO and Tribecca including DASH by the Kardashian’s, Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, and other luxury brands like the Issey Miyiake Boutique which is a must stop as the interior was designed by Frank Gehry.

Speaking of Gehry, make your way down to City Hall and the base of the Brooklyn Bridge to see the largest residential tower in New York designed by Gehry. New York by Gehry at 8 Spruce Street offers luxury apartment rentals in glamorous suites with amazing views of the city and beyond. The building is silver in colour and almost wave like in design, a reference to the East River, the building looks almost like it is moving when the sun reflects off the curved surfaces throughout the day.

One of the newest attractions is The High Line, redeveloped from an out of service elevated rail line, the area now features public park space and activities for New Yorkers and tourists a like. The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side, it runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.

The newly opened National September 11th Memorial and Museum and the construction of the Freedom Tower and other buildings are well underway on the World Trade Centre site. The area is a hub of activity with visitors watching the buildings rise floor by floor and to pay respect to the lives lost. My favorite department store Century 21 is still located at the corners of Church and Courtlandt Streets and a great stop across the street from the 911 Memorial.

Times Square has cleaned up and is presenting a more family friendly environment, with the elimination of one of the lanes of traffic, providing a pedestrian walkway for tourists to enjoy all the sights and sights of the area. Broadway is holding strong with many performances Tuesday to Sunday, and you can still get day off discounted tickets at TKTS in the centre of Times Square. Further up Broadway, Columbus Circle has been redeveloped including the new corporate offices of Time Warner and Anderson Cooper’s talk show, across from Central Park.

Central Park is still the ultimate escape in the city. We took the opportunity to walk around the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, to visit Strawberry Fields, the Bethesda Fountain which was featured in Angels in America and the Hans Christian Anderson and the Alice in Wonderland statues. We got some ice cream from a vendor and enjoyed watching some of the league soccer and baseball games throughout the park. A bevy of activity was created as Police, pedestrians and other carriage operators realized a horse drawn carriage was racing down West 59th Street into traffic, towards Columbus Circle without a driver. Thankfully the carriage was stopped and the horses appeared ok as they were reunited with their owner.

We visited the Guggenhiem Museum, American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit was a patron favorite with line ups around the museum to gain access. Once inside the exhibit space, visitors had the opportunity to view clothing, accessories and footwear by the infamous designer including pieces from his early collections from alma mater Central St. Martens. Although very crowded the exhibit was awe inspiring and a great opportunity to experience the world of Alexander McQueen.

As a lover of ’90s NYC and Seinfeld, we traveled to 2880 Broadway at 112th Street for a lunch at Tom’s Restaurant made famous as the coffee shop throughout the Seinfeld series. Mike was ecstatic to be able to order multiple bowls of cereal, just like Jerry, while we joked about the big salad and who was going to pay the bill, it was our own Seinfeld episode. The food was typical of other greasy spoons through the city, cheap and filling.

Although it had been a decade since I had visited Manhattan, my love affair with the city continues. With more air competition from Toronto to NYC, its actually cheaper to get there leaving you more room to stay at one of the new 5 star hotels or to indulge yourself in more shopping.

New York Posts:
NYC Flashback
Photos:
New York Stories
MY Gehry Gallery
Gehry Posts:
Going for Gehry
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain

NYC Flashback

By Steven Wright

While attending university in the late 90’s, some friends and I decided we were going to take a bite out of the Big Apple. We bought tickets on the train from Union Station in Toronto to Penn Station in New York City, and arranged to stay at the unique and budget friendly Carlton Arms on 23 at 3rd. What we had not planned on was the impending snow storm that was pounding the Isle of Manhattan, and a storm that would continue through our 12 hour train ride. Actually make that 14 hours, as the storm had closed all three airports and the train was making additional stops along the way to try and help stranded commuters. Exiting Penn Station we were shocked at the amount of snow on the ground, and the general mess of traffic, partially created by the weather. We decided that without a shovel we needed a cab to get us to our hotel, and after unsuccessfully hailing our own cab, we were very observant and saw that people who were offering cash to the man in the middle of the road to get a cab, got the next one available. Following suit, we were in a cab, which took us about two blocks from The Carlton Arms and informed us that we should walk from here and dropped us off.

The Carlton Arms offers rooms designed by local artists, some with an ensuite washroom, most sharing the bathrooms in the hallways. The building is a walk up with a buzzer at the door. Every surface is covered with brightly coloured and sometimes thought provoking works of art, this includes the stairwells, the rooms and the washrooms. On arrival you are given a few keys of available rooms so you can choose which room is right for you. The staff are friendly with advice for anything you need and there is even a hotel cat.

It is incredibly easy to create a list of things to do in the city; theatres, shopping, parks, museums, restaurants and so much more, it can be hard though to fit all the things you want to do into one trip. My first trip created a love affair with the city, I found myself trying to take in all the city had to offer visiting quarterly throughout university. The energy of the city is alluring and intoxicating, constantly evolving and reinventing itself. As I started to research my new favorite destination I found an amazing 7 part, 14 hour series directed by Ric Burns for PBS called New York. The series traces the history of the city from its Dutch beginnings to present day, a must see for anyone interested in learning more about the city. As a frequent visitor and observer, the series reinforced my impression, that things are just done differently in NY than anywhere else in the world.

The late 90’s offered a lot for electronic music lovers and followers of DJ Culture, there was the emergence of Club Kids, and NY was the place to see the likes of Junior Vasquez and David Morales and visiting DJs like Carl Cox,  John Digweed, Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk. They played legendary venues like Peter Gatien’s Limelight, Twilo and Palladium. The club scene was amazing, brilliant lights, the DJs working the crowd and occasionally Madonna would make an appearance to drop her latest track. When the music ended, you would find yourself on the streets of the city, dawning sunglasses, heading back to catch a cat nap and a shower.

Being from Toronto, NYC gave me the opportunity to shop global brands that were not available in Canada. Fashion Television and Jeanne Becker taught me well, I would head down to Soho to the boutiques of Anna Sui, Isaac Mizrahi and my personal favorite Todd Oldham. Todd’s shop was located at 123 Wooster Street and I can not tell you how many times I was there hoping to have a chance run in with him. This was the era of Calvin Klien, Betsey Johnston and Donna Karan and many of the department stores like Bloomingdales and Macy’s were carrying these brands, which offered a poor student like me great sale prices on these popular brands. Then there were the luxury department stores like Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys, here I liked to window shop and get to see the lines from the runway, truly amazing. Then I discovered NYCs best kept secret at Church and Cortlandt Sts, Century 21. This is an amazing store with last seasons items at incredible discounts, my favorite find was a pair of Jean Paul Gautier pants at 10% of the original ticket price.

NY is a haven for any fan of skyscrapers and architecture. The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building, The Flatiron Building, 30 Rock, and the pinnacle on the tip of Manhattan was the World Trade Centre. These incredibly imposing buildings were a highlight of the city through the 90s. Towering over the rest of lower Manhattan and visible from all of the boroughs around the isle. They served as a gateway into the city and a symbol of the optimism of the city and its economic engine. I was hard to imagine the city before these buildings were constructed.

New York offers thousands of museums and galleries filled with well known and up and coming artists works. The Guggenheim Museum is Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, giving patrons the opportunity to start at the top of the gallery and make their way down the circular walkway down to the grand entrance. the opportunity to view artist works from multiple distances around the gallery allows for maximum enjoyment. The Metropolitan Museum started exhibiting fashion in their lower level, giving fashionistas the opportunity to see amazing gowns like the red dress collection from Valentino. The Museum of Modern Art is filled with works by contemporary artists like Jackson Pollack, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol.

No trip to New York City is complete without attending a Broadway show and times square. TKTS in Times Square offers day-of discounted tickets and afforded me to see up and coming stars like Matthew Broderick in How To Succeed in Business, Sarah Jessica Parker in Once Upon a Mattress, and Allen Cumming in Cabaret (at the former Studio 54). Times Square and Broadway in the ’90s was a little more colourful, as it was an area also known for prostitution and the sex trade.

Back before the world became obsessed with paparazzi photos of celebrities, you could actually find yourself in a restaurant at a table next to celebrities. I recall grabbing a bite at Joe Jr. Restaurant in Gramercy only to discover Isaac Mizrahi and Sandra Bernhard at the booth behind us. Cafeteria style seating was popular in the 90’s, you never know who would be sitting next to you, at the time I was a huge fan of Claudia Schiffer, and one night ended up sitting with a photographer that was just going over his proofs after shooting with Claudia earlier that day. What a city! One of my favorite places to eat in New York is Cowgirl on Hudson, a lesbian tex-mex bar and restaurant with one of the best chicken fried chicken I have ever tasted, served with a huge scoop of mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy.

Summertime weekends in NY feature street markets, truck arrive in early morning and within an hour the streets are closed to traffic and tents and booths are set up selling everything from food to clothing to almost anything you could imagine. The markets are traveling and move to a different street every week. This also gives you the opportunity to different areas within the city to explore interesting less touristy areas like The East Village, China Town, Little Italy, even venture up for brunch and enjoy the sounds of the Harlem Boys Choir.

Strolling through Central Park is an amazing escape in the city, whether in Strawberry Fields or walking around the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservior, you find yourself forgetting about the busy city surrounding the park. You should give yourself an entire day if you want to explore all the park has to offer.

I started watching for seat sales on airlines, I had mastered public transportation from La Guardia, JFK and Newark and eliminating the long train trip from Toronto gave me more time to explore NYC. It was in June of 2001 that I spent half a day down at the World Trade Centre, photographing and admiring the structure and their presence as I sipped on my cappuccino. It was the last time I would see these buildings in person before the 911 tragedy and the last time for almost 10 years that I would visit the city I love.

Photos:
NY Stories Photo Gallery
NYC Posts:
Going for Gehry

Going for Gehry

By Steven Wright

It was in 2001, at Harbourfront Centre‘s World Leaders: A Festival of Creative Genius in Toronto, when I was first introduced to Frank O Gehry. The evening was an intimate conversation with the Toronto born Architect talking about everything from designing furniture and jewelry to his current project for the Guggenheim Foundation. Listening to him talk about his process, use of materials and using new technologies to bring his sketches to life was inspiring and has had a huge impact on my travels since. Some travelers explore destinations to visit historical sites, which I enjoy as well, but as I choose destinations, proximity to a Gehry building is a highlight for me.

As a huge fan and follower of Gehry Partners LLP, I love to explore and compare Gehry’s initial sketch to the modeling stage and then completed building. The process is incredibly fascinating, the sketch is normally a squiggled line on a napkin or scrap piece of paper when inspiration hits; it is hard for most to discern the complete vision at this point. The next stage is modeling, building specific geometric shapes out of paper and foam core, his process of bending, crumpling, folding and creating is an arts and crafts master class. Once satisfied, the models and structures are scanned into the computer using Gehry Partners software to not only create a 3D model , but also to determine how to best construct the structure including a part list. Years later when the construction is compete, if you look back to the initial sketch you are able to fully understand the complexity of what Gehry sketched. Sydney Pollack even created a film about the process called Sketches of Frank Gehry.

While film and pictures try there best to represent the brilliance of these structures, there is nothing like experiencing Gehry first hand. My first opportunity was at the DZ Bank located at Pariser Platz 3, inside the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin. The exterior of the building compliments the other buildings, but the real treasure is found inside the lobby. One of his inspirations and reoccurring themes in Gehry’s work are fish and their form, this is evident at the DZ Bank. The interior atrium is filled with light streaming through the fish scaled glass ceiling, offices along the exterior of the building have glass walls to the interior to make the most of the natural light, glass continues on the walkways outside the offices allowing the light to filter down to the lower levels. Another glass ceiling covers the conference centre that occupies the entire lower level using the natural light coming from the atrium above. The use of glass and wood makes this modern space both welcoming and warm. At the back of the atrium, there is a very organic form that continues the fish reference resembling internal organs. Although this is a private business office, you can ask to take pictures from the reception in the lobby. The opposite side of the building features luxury condos.

On a former industrial parcel of land on the Nervion River in Bilbao, a little known town in north western Spain, Gehry’s squiggle on a napkin was transformed into the incredible titanium Guggenheim Bilbao. When you first catch a glimpse of the building from the streets of Bilbao you are drawn into the structure, wondering how the forms were envisioned and possibly built. The blue administration buildings lead you to the grand staircase and to the entrance to the museum. The building features reflecting pools and pedestrian walkways along the river, the BI-631 highway runs through a section of the building, I found it necessary to walk around the exterior numerous times to experience all of the buildings grandeur. After the sun sets, the building continues to shine into the night, beautifully lit, reflecting off the river, a sight to be seen.

Through the entrance, you are surrounded by light, the tall glass panels that line the entrance create an incredible entrance and welcome into the buildings. Each gallery is unique in shape and size and leads the patron through the collections complimenting each artist expression. Make sure to visit the cafe to compare your experience with the initial sketch. Today the museum is a major tourist draw, with a modern airport and transit system, being close to the beautiful beaches of San Sebastian Spain, southern France, and the opportunity to stay at Hotel Marques De Riscal in Elciego,  also designed by Gehry.

I was elated to hear of plans for Gehry to remodel the Art Gallery of Ontario. The project was plagued with infighting with AGO donors, but came to fruition giving Toronto, Gehry’s birthplace, their first taste of Gehry. The AGO features an amazing glass front that brings much needed light into the museum, the glass fused with metal seems to change colour, depending on the weather. The new grand entrance and Gehry staircases on the interior and exterior of the building are magical and the bold blue box on the roof contains new modern gallery space and compliments the OCAD University table top building next door. The AGO remodel also features new rental space that is often used for wedding ceremonies and other high profile events. Who wouldn’t want to be married in a Gehry space?

Media Harbour, beside the Rheinturm TV Tower on the Rhine River in Dusseldorf, is developing into a hub for arts and media production. This is the site of Der Neue Zollhof, a series of 3 Gehry buildings, more like sculptures of wind blowing into 3 sails on a boat. The buildings are brilliant with windows jetting out to maximize light and provide the best view of the Rhine, the exteriors coloured silver, red and white. The buildings are the perfect backdrop to the marina in front, and provide areas to relax and grab a drink or romantic dinner at the steakhouse with Gehry’s name. Der Neue Zollhof starts the transition from the Historic Old Town into the modernity of Media Harbour. Walking around the exterior, the shapes and use of materials again leave you in awe of their brilliance and Gehry’s genius. There is public parking right in the building if you want to start here and walk the piers of Media Harbour or head to the World’s Longest Bar in Old town along the Rhine.

Gehry’s first public sculpture was commissioned for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. The Gehry Fish, a huge sculpture made of woven steel provides a landmark of the entrance into the Olympic Port and the former Athletes Village. Today the village has been turned into a beach destination with retail shopping, restaurants and cafes, hotels and a casino. Enjoy your day on the beach and your evening on one of the patios around the fish sculpture, its amazing to see it reflect the sun throughout the day and come alive at sunset.

NYC recently added to its Gehry collection with the opening of NYC’s Largest Residential Building at 8 Spruce Street. Located by New York City Hall and the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the 870 foot tall stainless steel clad building gives the illusion of movement with its exterior resembling waves. The waves reflect the light through the day almost transforming its exterior in a dynamic way. With incredible views of the harbour and many bridges, all the amenities you could every want, 8 Spruce Street just might be the ultimate NYC address. While in NYC also check out the Issey Miyake Flagship Store at 119 Hudson, and the IAC Building at 555 West 18th Street.

I am looking forward to visiting the Dancing House in Prague, The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas and continue to hope that Toronto will one day have its own Gehry masterpiece.

Photos:
MY Gehry Gallery
Gehry Posts:
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain