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Getting away from it all at Last Light

Letter from New York City, August 2019

VOLANTE Travel editor Stanley Moss heads back to New York City, where he lived for a generation, and finds an exceptional place to stay that’s the antithesis of the frenetic hustle that the Big Apple represents
Photographed by Paula Sweet

 

 

Above, from top: Entry to Sister City from Bowery. Last Light at night.

 


Lucire’s travel editor Stanley Moss lived in Manhattan during the glory days, 1974–99. This ‘Letter’ describes his first visit back to the Big Apple in 12 years.

Everything you have heard about New York City is true. It has been taken over by the young. It is staggeringly expensive, all about money, in your face, loud, frenetic, crowded, dirty, and in the month of August it is fragrant. It has old and new eateries in varying stages of exultation and despair, museums lesser and greater at lofty admission prices, brash outdoor advertising rich in flippant doggerel, construction on all sides, and droves of people walking around muttering to themselves with white plastic gizmos dripping from their ears. But most of this cannot be said about Sister City, a fun new boutique hotel from the folks who brought you Ace Hotels.

First, look up, take a breath, reflect. On every horizon new towers reach into the photo-sky, heralding the coming apocalypse. It’s an addictive landscape, compulsive—you don’t want to leave, even though it will take everything out of you by daybreak and still you party on, party on, party on.

A hard and calculated search helps to locate the unobtrusive entry to Sister City, at 225 Bowery, a narrow, modernist concrete archway two doors down from the New Museum. Open only four months, the 200-room boutique-style property is a deceptively mid-sized parallel universe, the antidote to NYC, set smack in the middle of the downtown action. Here you’ll find a mellow zone which celebrates the romance of the big city and everything good that it promises, without any side effects. Designed by AtelierAce, Sister City is intended to be comfortable and relaxing, simple, a rejuvenating refuge seasoned with tech touches like self check-in and room-specific headphones to make the traveller’s life tastier. In its mission it gloriously triumphs.

Consider the warm woody undertones found in Sister City’s seductive public spaces. There are few industrial intrusions to be seen here—and not many hard edges. A line of breezeway tables along the entry corridor makes a splendid location for meeting or chilling—on hot afternoons why not order a melon, lime and ginger refresher to quench your thirst? The custom-built furniture references modern Scandinavian lines, and curvaceous three-dimensional graphics are easy to read as well as clever. Comfy seating in lobby alcoves encourage settling in with your laptop. What are those soothing ambient sounds you occasionally intercept wafting across the lobby? A camera and AI-generated score created for Sister City by Brooklyn musicians.

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Above, from top: Sister City’s neon sign. Soothing plants at the entry. A comfortable entry corridor. Furniture detail inside the suite.

 

The presumption that if it’s good for you then it won’t taste good, does not hold true in Sister City’s Floret restaurant. The kitchen’s healthy focus, while present, in no way impedes the factor of exceptional flavours. Get ready for inventive twists on breakfast, a high-caffeine IQ, and outstanding seasonal lunch and dinner options. Last Light, the rooftop terrace bar, offers a drink card and small-bite menu different from the earthbound spaces eleven floors below. Up there the nightly programme is enhanced with a DJ, channelling good energy to an avid audience. Three new floors of south-facing balcony rooms tower above the open panoramic rooftop space. They enjoy an elevated view of Lower Manhattan, river to river. Room 710 occupies a light-rich corner overlooking Bowery, with a king bed, and view of the New Museum. Definitely stay at this place.

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Above, from top: Floret during the day. The evening comes, and Floret gets busier. A stylish tab. Manhattan cubism. Last Light and its balcony floors. Elevator life.

 

A Manhattan adventure isn’t complete without serious urban trekking. Times Square, a psychedelic pedestrian zone in midtown, counts as a compulsory experience in sensory overload. Towering animated digital signage competes with gaudily-costumed superheroes and boom-boxing break dancers. Worth a walk-through—hold onto your wallets and your nose. The renovated Bryant Park at 42nd Street—when it’s not filled with Fashion Week tents—has public seating areas, open spaces and dining terraces. It is as planned and civilized as any space on the island of Manhattan which aims to contain that many citizens in one place. The High Line, an architectural curiosity, pierces the Art District from 28th Street downtown, much beloved by influencers and derided by locals. It’s a judge-for-yourself experience, with narrow elevated concrete sidewalks, views into the private lives of adjacent apartment dwellers, and an architectural showcase highlighted by an L-shaped residential building designed by Zaha Hadid. You need an appointment to visit the Vessel, another folly set farther uptown, which closes during inclement weather. There’s no admission charged, while the operator reserves the right to use your photography and image. It’s an example of design for selfie-world, writ large. A walk through Soho and the Lower East Side presents major opportunities for shopping in pop-up stores and eclectic dining. Old favourites still serve faithful standbys like the overwhelming corned beef sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen—accompanied by a parade of endless pickles and washed down with a torrent of Dr Brown’s Cel-Ray tonic; the delirious steak frites which can be consumed at midnight at the Odéon; and Balthazar's classic hollandaise on eggs benedict, steadfast, brave and true 38 years later. •

 

Trekking around Manhattan Times Square. The Flatiron Building. Display at Times Square.

 

 

 

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