MIDTOWN MANHATTAN IS rarely considered among the trendiest of New York’s neighbourhoods. Ask any New Yorker where the cool kids hang out and a list of familiar names like East Village, Hell’s Kitchen and Soho roll off the tongue. More arty residents may claim that Greenwich Village is the place to be, while the moneyed glitterati remain loyal to Upper East Side. Whomever you ask, Midtown rarely makes the cut for the cool list.
So I listened with disbelief when a street-smart New Yorker told me that Midtown is the new place to see and be seen in the city. How can the corporate heartland between 31st and 59th streets now be considered cool, I wondered? Of course Midtown has the Empire State Building, Times Square and the Rockefeller Center, but these are tourist attractions that people only tend to visit once. It’s also home to Saks Fifth Avenue and all the boutiques that you could possibly desire, but even its huge range of shopping has never quite elevated Midtown to the fashionable heights of some of New York’s other districts.
Yet these rumours of a changing Midtown intrigued me, so two weeks and a 15-hour flight later I find myself standing outside Langham Place on Fifth Avenue. If you were to try to pinpoint the middle of Midtown, you’d probably end up at this hotel, which sits in a 60-storey skyscraper between 36th and 37th Streets and counts the Empire State Building among its lofty neighbours.
Upon my arrival the staff are so attentive that I don’t even have to push my way through the large revolving door into the marble-clad lobby, a role that I lazily leave to one friendly doorman while another rolls my suitcase through to the front desk. The chirpy concierge is just as helpful and quickly checks me in before whisking me up to my Residence Suite on the 21st floor.
“Residence” is most definitely the key word, as it feels far more like an apartment than a suite. The first thing I notice is a fully fitted kitchen that has a working oven, hob and a family-sized fridge that could hold far more food than I could eat during my four-day stay. Beyond a floating breakfast bar is a large and spacious living room that has enormous windows overlooking the whole of Midtown, from the skyscrapers of Times Square on the left to the spire of the Chrysler Building on the right.
Through a door by one of the sofas, there’s a bedroom complete with king-size bed, 40-inch TV and what feels like acres of wardrobe space. Finally, down a small corridor there’s a bright and airy bathroom fitted with both a rain shower and an impossibly deep bathtub, from which I can look down on to Fifth Avenue in complete bubbly privacy. The whole suite is just over 1,000 square feet.
Although it’s tempting to give in to jetlag and curl up in the sprawling bed, the catalogue-sized list of hotel amenities persuades me to venture out of my room to discover what’s on offer. The spa is tempting, as is a quick spruce-up in the inhouse Julien Farel salon, but it’s the hotel’s lounge, Measure, that’s my first stop.
Measure is, by happy coincidence, a perfect example of the fashionable new bars that I was told are popping up around Midtown. Unlike most hotel lounges, Measure is not holed away from the prying eyes of the public but instead sits proudly on the ground floor with vast floor-toceiling windows looking out over Fifth Avenue. It’s packed both with guests and with fashionable New Yorkers, who are all hoping to get the prime people-watching spots by the window. Indeed, it’s the perfect spot to while away the evening with either the vodka- and brandybased Bob’s Your Apple cocktail or the strong but deliciously sweet Notorious F-I-G (or, even better, both).
The next morning, I tear myself from the hotel and plunge into the crowds outside. Dodging the touts selling cut-price tickets to the Empire State Building, I stumble upon Koreatown: a little slice of Seoul that stretches along West 32nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It’s a short road and it’s noisy, busy and lit with lurid neon signs. But it’s also a foodie’s heaven. Lining the street are countless restaurants, cafes and bars serving everything from kimchi to wasabi crisps to eye-wateringly strong glasses of the Korean spirit soju. When you look up at the buildings above the restaurants, all you can see are glaring signs advertising karaoke bars, hairdressers and the countless other Korean businesses that fill these buildings to the rafters.
After a meal in Koreatown, it’s a short subway ride or a half-hour walk uptown to the Museum of Modern Art (Moma). Regularly named as one of the best museums in the world, Moma welcomes an enormous 2.5 million visitors into its Midtown headquarters every year. The sheer number of people flocking to the museum isn’t particularly surprising once you’ve read through Moma’s list of works, which includes pieces by Picasso, Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Francis Bacon, among many others. Alongside the museum’s unbeatable roster of paintings, there are also galleries dedicated to photography, architecture and design.
For the art lovers who have to be shooed out of Moma as it closes in the early evening, there are plenty of local bars to dive into where you can relax and reflect upon all the works of art that you’ve seen. Champagne bar Flûte is popular, as is the speciality bar The Rum House, but it’s The Campbell Apartment hidden above Grand Central Station that’s most famous among locals. The crowd at The Campbell Apartment is neither tourist- nor businessman-heavy, making it a welcome respite from the teeming train station just below. With its red-leather stools, charming staff and list of cocktails with names like Prohibition Punch and Kentucky Ginger, the bar feels like something out of The Great Gatsby, so perhaps it’s no surprise that New Yorkers want to keep it a secret.
The few times that I do leave Midtown, Langham Place proves itself perfectly positioned to explore the rest of New York. From the hotel, it’s just a quick subway ride or leisurely walk uptown to Central Park, Museum Mile and the wildly expensive charms of the Upper East Side. In the other direction, the theatres of Broadway, art galleries of Chelsea and bohemian shops of the West Village are also within easy strolling distance.
Walking along Fifth Avenue one evening inspires my somewhat belated realisation that Manhattan is actually a pretty small island. But looking across it from my suite in Langham Place, with my books on the bedside table, takeaway Shake Shack in the kitchen and a smattering of friends gathered in the living room, Midtown starts to feel – for just a few days – like home. And a pretty cool home at that.