Thanksgiving is over and holiday travel is on the mind. For me, it’s always travel time and the holidays are when it usually gets more difficult to get my adventures in. It certainly isn’t the case this year. Most people don’t get a chance to do one girls’ getaway in New York City, hut I was lucky enough to do two totally different ones in the same week!
My first Manhattan adventure was with my friend Lynn. It was Lynn’s birthday so it needed to be extra special and we started it at the Casablanca Hotel in Times Square. I’m sure many (including myself) have walked by this little gem without giving it a thought. It’s just steps from the center of Time Square on West 43rd Street. They have a shocking list of amenities that come with the reasonably priced hotel room.
We started our evening at the complimentary (for all guests) reception at Rick’s Café. It included a selection of wine and Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, as well as cheeses, fruits, nuts, vegetables and breads to nibble on. I had arranged dinner at Nino’s Tuscany and the meal was delicious, I’d especially recommend the Crespelle alla Fiorentina, a manicotti-like dish with a thin crepe that’s filled with ricotta and spinach and baked; the Osso Bucco Milanese; and the Banana Flambé for dessert. You also don’t want to miss Irving Fields’ piano. Fields is as interesting to speak with as he is to listen to. He serenaded Lynn with a Happy Birthday melody.
After the night in one of the Casablanca Hotel’s mini-suites, we enjoyed their free European breakfast – yogurt, muffins, cereal, croissants, eggs and just about any type of coffee you would like. It was then time to head back to Long Island and Thanksgiving festivities.
Only three days after I had left Manhattan, I was back again for another hotel run. This adventure with my daughter Sam was about as opposite the first as you can get. The James Hotel in New York City is a brand new offering in Soho. I had loved The James Chicago and couldn’t wait to check this one out. It was very different. While The James Chicago has an extensive Paul Frank family program, The James New York only has rooms with one king bed, so it’s not geared toward the family at all, but it definitely has its appeal for other reasons.
We drove past the shops of downtown Broadway and Canal Street – which gradually change from bargain hunter to designer – and found The James on Grand. It looks a bit lonely there without another hotel (or much else) in sight, but we were in for quite an experience when we stepped inside the very modern décor, which includes glass doors opening to the valet and the all glass elevator.
It’s the views that bring you here and you won’t be disappointed at the New York City skyline from the lobby, elevator or in any of the rooms. In fact, there’s even a glass view into the bathroom! Sam was the first to walk into the room and discover that you could see the toilet from the bed, but before we could recover from the shock, we found a button that brought a beautiful mural shade down to cover the glass.
The restaurant at The James is not open yet so we ventured down the block to a very cute, extremely authentic Mexican place. Papatzul had the best homemade guacamole I’ve ever had and their prices were quite reasonable. It was in vast contrast to our next stop, Jimmy at The James.
Jimmy is not for everyone. If you go here, be prepared to spend $16-26 for one small cocktail, however, you won’t find an experience like this anywhere else. The glass-enclosed rooftop has breathtaking Manhattan views, with comfortable lighting and couches, making it a great date spot. In the warmer months, there is also an outdoor deck and pool. The drink menu is an excellent selection and I’d highly recommend The Royal Baby and the Harvest Swizzle. Find a special occasion to head over for a drink because it is worth the trip.
I enjoyed a good night’s sleep at The James, where the rooms are small, but comfortable, and had their continental breakfast (which is complimentary, along with evening wine and cheese) to give me a bit of fuel for the next stop – Exhale Mind Body Spa. We hit the Midtown location for a Core Fusion Class. I do Pilates and Yoga all the time, but this class was killer if you are really looking to get in shape. Amy was a great instructor, gently guiding us, but not sounding like a drill sergeant! Exhale locations are all over the United States and they offer a variety of classes and spa treatments.
It was a good thing Sam and I burned some calories because we were about to use them up at our next stop. I had grown up with Junior’s Cheesecake on my birthday every year (my dad used to bring it home from their only location in Brooklyn). Juniors Times Square opened a few years ago and offers the same menu and cheesecakes. We had Matzoh Ball Soup and shared Potato Pancakes and an Egg Salad sandwich before the manager came out with a platter of their most popular cheesecakes!
Even though the birthday cheesecakes are gone (and sadly, so is Dad), I still believe that Junior’s has the best in the world. That was proven while we nibbled on the Strawberry, Pumpkin, Chocolate Mouse and Plain. We then walked around Times Square for awhile, shopping a bit at the Disney and Hershey stores and window shopping at the rest.
While I was staying at the Casablanca and The James hotels, I found out that rooms are still available for the holiday season. Everyone presumes that Christmas week is the busiest in Manhattan, but it turns out that’s not true. There’s still time to make plans to shop in Soho, ice skate around the tree in Rockefeller Center or even watch the ball drop in Times Square. And, if you don’t find time to eat at Junior’s next time you are in Manhattan, they have a takeout bakery and do mail order.
Marcia Frost has her own blog at WineAndSpiritsTravel.com and is the Wine And Spirits Travel Examiner. She also writes wine, spirits and travel for many other publications, including USA Today, Rum Bum and Golflink. She makes regular contributions at Girls Getaway.