Monday, 10 June 2013

My First New York (Ecco, 2010) / A Return To The Bryant Park Hotel, New York

My First New York (Ecco, 2010)

My First New York compiles fifty-six bite-sized recollections of artists, models, film-makers, journalists, actors and writers, all detailing their first impressions of the city upon arriving as residents. The articles were first published in New York Magazine as part of a series.

The personal history of each of the contributors is, in a way, secondary to a sort of fragmented history of New York and what has made its appeal so great. Stories of immigrants like film-maker Jonas Mekas, arriving through Ellis Island from oppression in Eastern Europe, recount the sheer awe of arriving in the new world, Manhattan's southern topography being the first view of New York many arriving by boat would see. There are recollections of those constantly-shifting immigrant communities, illegal sub-lets, parties, coincidences, success and above all, an idefinable sense of what makes living in New York such a major aspiration for many people (despite being, as one person recounts, roughly five times as expensive as anywhere else).

Arriving in New York as a tourist brings with it a thrill of suddenly being forced into a giant movie set, the architecture familiar from countless uncredited cameo appearances. My First New York perfectly illustrates the magnetic pull of Manhattan that makes people want to go and live there, as well as the economic realities (the cost of a small apartment in most cases is frightening) and the challenges and risks - one depiction of hard drug deals being conducted on every corner in the outlaw yuppie Eighties is one especially vivid tale.

For anyone ruing their life's journey ensuring that they will only ever be a mere tourist in the city, My First New York allows you to see, through others' experiences, what it might have been like to live there, while also providing a fascinating compact history of the city over the past hundred odd years.

A Return To The Bryant Park Hotel, New York

The Bryant Park Hotel. Source: MJA Smith
It depends on personal choice - some people like the idea of always staying somewhere they've not been to before; others prefer the familiarity of somewhere they've previously stayed. As a generally risk-averse kind of guy, I know I definitely fall into the latter category. So when we got back to the UK after a week's stay at the Bryant Park Hotel in April 2012, we more or less straight away decided that we'd stay there again when we returned to New York in May of this year.

My review of the hotel from last year is somewhere else amongst the plethora of positive comments about this excellent hotel. At the time I regarded it as the best hotel I'd ever stayed at. That view was based on not only the accommodation (smart, minimal, great views across Bryant Park from the suite we had) but also, critically, the people working there. A crucial factor in being so impressed by the people working at the hotel was, first and foremost, their friendliness. I don't honestly know how many rooms there are at the Bryant Park, but to always have a smiling 'Good morning Mr Smith' as you walked past the lobby does make you feel right at home, and like your stay matters to them. The staff also went out of their way to make our two young daughters feel every bit as special and welcome as we were made to feel, something that I frankly wasn't expecting in a hotel that outwardly seems so trendy.

Two of the staff that made our 2012 stay so special - Chase and Sarah - were still working at the hotel when we returned to the hotel this year. Getting a personal, familiar welcome after goodness knows how many guests have passed by that reception desk was a really nice touch, and it set the tone for what turned out - predictably, I might stress - another great stay at the hotel. Sarah, who the girls had struck up a friendship with last year, went out of her way to make them feel special, going out to the Crumbs bakeshop just across Bryant Park to bring them balloons and cupcakes while we were getting unpacked in the room, for which she was rewarded with copious drawings and thank you notes on Bryant Park stationary from the room.

I don't intend to go into detail this time around as I think my previous review covered that just fine. However, suffice to say that the hotel truly felt like a home from home, our Bryant Park Suite on the sixteenth floor was perfect, the service from everyone was faultless, everything about our stay was spot on, and we've already come to the conclusion that come what may, we have to go back and stay here again next year; I can't honestly bring myself to contemplate a year where we don't stay at this very, very special hotel.

A big thanks again to everyone at the hotel who made the stay this year so memorable. Home suite home indeed.

This post originally appeared on TripAdvisor on 09.06.2013