Where to Have an Affair in New York City

By Gretchen Kelly

pic1There’s an opening scene in the Peter Jackson film, King Kong where the camera pans across Central Park and you see this big skyscraper with a sign that says, “Essex House.”

The time was the 1930’s and the Essex House sign was already an icon on the New York City skyline (it was built in 1931). Today, it’s still a landmark. Smack on Central Park West with a view of the Park that would make Woody Allen cry, it’s art deco lobby and 515 rooms have recently been restored by the Dubai-based Jumierah hotel group, the current management.

My own relationship with the Essex House goes back a bit to a time (about ten years ago) when I did some work with David and Iman Bowie who were living in the penthouse at the time (Angelina Jolie owns it now). I remember the wonderful views from their home, the lush décor and the fragrant scented candles that Iman loved to burn. I also remembered the amazing Art Deco elevators that made you feel like a 1930’s movie star just standing in front of them (I always felt like I should be wearing a black beaded flapper gown when I visited).

So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I prepared to indulge myself (and my beloved) in a romantic weekend in Manhattan in a city-view Junior Suite in the Essex House.

We checked in on a wet Friday evening in late January, just after a sudden snowstorm. Thorough the lacquered black lobby, into the deco elevator we were whisked up to our room by the porter who opened the blinds for us to reveal New York’s rooftops and lights shining through a halo of white frost.

A few glasses of champagne later, we were ready to explore the neighborhood as temporary residents. Although it was cold, we walked through Broadway to “Restaurant Row” and a shabby chic Balinese boite where we drank Indonesian beer and sampled spicy fare to the sounds of exotic Gamelan music. The ultimate luxury was going “home” to a suite with stunning views of a wintry Manhattan night from our bed. In the morning, we woke up to breakfast in bed (on eggs benedict) in fluffy white bathrobes with monograms like Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man movies.

The rooms at the Essex House have been restored to a neo-Deco style that is simple and elegant more than antique in feel. Our favorite romantic element (apart from the view and the high thread count sheeted King-sized bed) was the walk-in power shower big enough for two, with it’s own little tiled bench (very hot-house harem-like).

pic2Next day we took advantage of the hotel’s ipod Central Park walking tour for two and explored the neighborhood like tourists (he’s not a native NY’er, I am). I felt a little like Holly Golightly as we tripped past Tiffany’s on the way to buy souvenirs for his daughter at Abercrombie and Fitch nearby. Inside A & F, throbbing music and Mr. And Mrs. American Grandparents picking through tiny t-shirts on the quest for that element of NY style that apparently is embodied in the unisex glamour of the new Abercrombie (I remember the days when they were stuffy safari outfitters).

We got back to the hotel with our quarry in time for drinks with friends at the hotel’s new Tony Chi designed restaurant, South Gate (Alain Ducasse, famous for his over-the top restaurant here has moved on to another location and the restaurant is now less rarified but more accessibly comfortable). Candlelight, carriages clopping by outside and the warm feeling of being inside a glittering, cozy cave on a snowy cold day, all lent the evening a romantic glow.

“You look very much in love,” whispered one of my friends to me, as we headed together out to the ladies’ room, past my favorite Deco elevators that opened and closed with a whisper that sounded like contented sighs from the elegant ghosts of previous guests like Igor Stravinsky and Marlene Dietrich.

I have to admit that the glow might have something to do with the great lighting and the burnished gold from all that gleamingly restored Art Deco, but yes, love, had a lot to do with it, too.

Do it Yourself:

The Essex Houseis popular all year long but summer months are high season for tourists and should be booked well in advance.

New York’s local tourist authority, NYC & Company is a great resource for romantic doings around New York all year long.

New York movie lovers should take a screen tour of the city with the company that originated the city movie tour several years ago. King Kong, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s are all included plus TV shows like Sex in the City and The Sopranos sites.

The Art Deco Society of New York offers lectures and info on New York City’s living heritage of Art Deco.

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