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Why Go? Some claim that Times Square represents New York: The City That Never Sleeps. But this Getaway Maven believes that the Southeast corner of Central Park – land of The Plaza Hotel, The Pierre Hotel, horse and carriages, Wollman Skating Rink and the Central Park Zoo – embodies New York’s beating, romantic heart.
At least in popular imagination. An Affair to Remember, Barefoot in the Park, Love Story, The Way We Were, You’ve Got Mail, Serendipity, Enchanted, Sex in the City, every Woody Allen movie and hundreds more were filmed in this section of Manhattan, providing the world with an image of a dreamy New York through a cinematographer’s lens.
Does the image live up to its Big Screen counterpart? I say “yes,” but check it out yourself. Here’s a blueprint for the perfect Valentine’s Day getaway, 365 days a year, in and around Central Park South.
Things to Do In Central Park
VISIT: Central Park Zoo.
Opened in the 1860s, the Central Park Zoo was New York’s first zoo and the nation’s second (the Philadelphia Zoo preceded it in 1859.) Sometimes a source of controversy, the Great Central Park Zoo Escape hoax of 1874–polar bears and Bengal tires reported loose on city streets, oh my!–panicked and angered many New Yorkers. More recently, children’s book And Tango Makes Three, which tells the story of the zoo’s same sex penguin couple, Roy and Silo, drew a mixed response.
Snuggle up while watching the Sea Lions or Penguins at play. Laughing together is the ultimate aphrodisiac.
Daily 10am-4:30 daily; Summer: 10am-5pm weekdays, 10am-5:30pm weekends and holidays. Admission $13.95 adults, $8.95 kids.
Forget Rockefeller Center. Wollman Rink, surrounded by the singular NYC skyline that rings Central Park, is the place for a romantic spin on ice. Monday – Tuesday: 10am – 2:30pm, Wednesday – Thursday: 10am – 10pm, Friday – Saturday: 10am – 11pm Sunday: 10am – 9pm, $12 weekdays, $19 weekends, skate rentals $10.
Ride a bicycle built for two on a bike path that circles Manhattan’s green space. Reserve a bike online for convenient pickup in Central Park South, or register for a guided Central Park bike tour. Additional New York City bike tours available. Bike rentals start at $9/hour, helmets and locks included.
DO: Central Park Carriage Rides.
Get all warm and cozy under blankets while the horse clip-clops as your driver points out the best of Central Park. So touristy, it’s turned into a caricature of NYC, a horse and buggy ride is a joy nonetheless. Expect to pay about $54 per private carriage for up to 20 minutes, and $118 for 45 minutes, more during the holidays.
SEE: Shakespeare In The Park.
Every summer, for more than sixty years, Free Shakespeare In The Park has put on incredible open air performances. Those of us who were privileged to see The Tempest with Patrick Stewart in 1995 will never forget it. In recent years, these shows at the Delacorte Theater have become so popular that it can be challenging to get a ticket.
Plan to stand in line on performance days (beginning quite early) to score free tickets handed out at noon; other options include trying the mobile app lottery on TodayTix, or do check The Public Theater’s site for ticket distribution in outer boroughs.
Things To Do Near Central Park
GO: Museum Mile New York City
Anchored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 82nd Street and the Africa Center at 110th, Museum Mile runs along 5th Avenue on the eastern edge of Central Park. There’s more art, history, and culture here than could be absorbed in a lifetime, perhaps several lifetimes. For a full list of museums, check Museum Mile Festival, an annual event already looking to its 42 year.
SHOP: 5th Avenue New York.
The shopping on 5th Avenue is legendary, and some of the most fabulous shops are near Central Park. When the flagship Apple Store reopened in late 2019, the iconic cube had already seen 57 million visitors since it first opened in 2006. Those numbers will likely continue to climb as the always-open shop remains one of New York City’s most photographed spots.
Window displays along 5th Avenue attain high art status, with several created by a long list of famous artists that includes Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, and Maurice Sendak. But the very best can be seen from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, when hundreds of thousands of visitors come just to see the holiday displays.
Sex and the City fans shed more than a few tears when they heard that Barneys, the avante garde fashion purveyor, would be shuttering its doors. Some questioned who would fill its shoes. Would the void be filled by Saks, Bloomingdales, Nordstroms, or Neiman Marcus?
But there’s no question. The very beautiful Bergdorf Goodman, with its unparalleled collections of designer goods, has to be seen to be believed.
VISIT: Argosy Bookstore.
One of the last remaining brick-and-mortar bookshops, New York City’s oldest independent bookstore, the 6-floor Argosy, was founded in 1925 by Louis Cohen. And only by virtue of its owners–Cohen’s three daughters, Judith Lowry, Naomi Hample and Adina Cohen, and Judith’s son, Ben–actually owning the building has it stayed in business this long.
Some of Argosy’s famous clients includes presidents, beginning with FDR and continuing with Presidents Kennedy and Clinton. Patti Smith worked there briefly, and celebrity clients have included Michael Jackson, Donatelle Versace, and Princess Grace.
Collectibles at Argosy
Not only will you find rare, First Edition, and other crusty old books there – you’ll find baseball cards, celebrity autographed photos and other collectibles, and maps of all kinds.
There are a ton of them, cataloged by country, state and theme, ranging from $10 to many thou$ands, often purchased by a dedicated map-buyer who scans the world for her clients. I discovered one of these – a map of the Netherlands in the shape of a lion (a subversive form of prowess from the 1600’s when Spain occupied that region during the 80 years war), hanging on the wall awaiting pick up.
You’ll find shelves of books on Military History, Furniture, Law, Travel, The Classics, and more. I held a first edition of Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court” ($1,700) in my eager hands – noticing that “Connecticut” was left off the original 1889 hard cover (it showed up on the Title Page), most likely because the cover designer couldn’t fit it in.
The Argosy both buys and sells books, online and in person – and is often called during an estate sale. Lowry recounted a trip to a New York apartment after hearing that the seller had “every book Angie Dickinson ever wrote.” Curious, she arrived to find the books were actually by Emily Dickinson, and snapped them up.
One of the joys of spending time in an actual bookstore is puttering around and letting serendipity guide your way to new authors and themes.
As I had only an hour, Lowry seemed to read my mind and pulled from the stacks a travel guide from 1922: Seeing The Eastern States by John Faris. It covers Washington DC to Maine: the region of the country that also happens to be the focus of the Getaway Mavens. What a coup!
Restaurants Near Central Park
BUDGET: Nathan’s Hot Dog Truck.
Nothing is more New Yawk than Nathan’s Famous, a Hot Dog concern established in 1916 on Coney Island. What a bright idea to bring these famous franks, via food truck, to this iconic quarter of the city.
MID-PRICE: Plaza Hotel Food Hall.
Enter the Plaza Hotel, head down the escalator and marvel at a cornucopia of basement dining options. There’s sushi, dumplings, pasta, small bites, lobster, coffees, wine, Fro-Yo, crepe cakes, tarts, teas and a whole Todd English section – it’s tough to choose where to eat.
Good news is you can pick from a few, choose a table and share. Mon-Sat. 8am-9:30pm, Sun 11am-6pm, though individual restaurants differ, so check.
BRUNCH: Sarabeth’s Central Park South.
Nothing even comes close to the flavor of Sarabeth’s award-winning orange marmalade. Unless, perhaps, it’s spread on a warm scone or buttered toast. Brunch at the upscale bakery can be very popular, reservations recommended.
BRUNCH: Norma’s at the Parker New York Hotel.
Outstanding service, both friendly and understated, takes one of Manhattan’s best brunch spots to another level. Although found in one of the city’s most luxurious of hotels, the restaurant itself is clean, modern, and casual. It’s hard to choose between tempting Eggs Benedict options, and the blueberry pancakes (heaped with clotted cream) have been described as being like “diner food for rock stars.”
On a recent visit, we ordered both the pancakes and the Artichoke Benedict with Truffle Porcini Sauce. Sadly, Norma’s most celebrated menu item–the Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata ($2000 with 10oz Sevruga Caviar)–was not in our budget.
AFTERNOON TEA: BG Restaurant at Bergdorf Goodmans.
Dining at BG Restaurant is an elegant affair, while a well-stocked bar and views overlooking Central Park only add to the ambience. The decadently rich Gotham Salad is a popular choice at lunch and dinner. But for the most fabulous meal, plan to go for Afternoon Tea. Rich desserts, as pretty as they are tasty, complement to-die-for sandwiches. Reservations recommended.
ICONIC: Tavern on the Green.
Both Arthur and Ghostbusters have scenes at Tavern on the Green, as well as the more recent Mr. Popper’s Penguins. In 1870, it started out as building to house the sheep that grazed in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, becoming a restaurant to the elite in 1934. Then, in 2009, Tavern on the Green closed its doors, not to reopen until 2014.
The landmark restaurant gained a new look and a rustic menu, but held onto its view of the park and old world elegance. Tip – Although jacket and tie are not required, the dress code is smart casual. Those in athletic clothes will be served, but only in the outdoor seating area.
Luxury Hotels Near Central Park
STAY: The Pierre, A Taj Hotel.
The intimate and refined Pierre Hotel is a Classic in the best sense of the word. On the corner of 5th and 61st overlooking Central Park, The Pierre is Maven’s NYC Pick for a quiet, no-crowds, romantic escape.
The Pierre Hotel, now part of the India-based luxury hotel group Taj, sits on what is arguably the most photographed and filmed slice of New York City– the south east corner of Central Park. Within steps of Central Park Zoo, the Wollman Skating Rink, the Plaza Hotel and a slew of here now, possibly gone tomorrow horse-drawn carriages, the Pierre is the epitome of “Romantic New York” – quiet, lavish without being showy, and eminently elegant – all with that rare commodity: a friendly, anticipatory human touch.
Built in the midst of America’s Great Depression – in 1930 – and then undergoing a $100 million renovation during the financial collapse of 2008 – the Taj Pierre nevertheless emerged from both economic calamities stronger than ever, and ever graceful. Smaller and more refined than the older and larger Plaza Hotel around the corner, The Taj Pierre is often overlooked but shouldn’t be: it’s a Classic in the best sense of the word.
First Impressions of the Taj Pierre Hotel
There is no grand lobby. The marble floored check-in area is simply decorated with fine paintings and lovely flower arrangements warmed greatly by reception staff who are friendly, proficient and answer nearly every request with a smile and an “of course.” (I had asked to store bags before check-in time).
One room – the Rotunda- stands out on the main floor as the polar opposite of the more staid lobby and guest rooms. Every inch of wall, floor, double staircase and rounded ceiling is adorned with a continuous mural. Created in 1967 by artist Edward Melcarth, the gestalt evokes a Renaissance painting, with mythological figures and fanciful scenes. Melcarth used friends as models, so look for resemblances of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and a young Eric Estrada within the artwork.
Service at Taj Pierre Hotel
Naturally for a first-class hotel, The Pierre/Taj concierge is exacting and on the ball scoring seats at tough-ticket Broadway shows (sometimes), tough-table restaurants (do-able) and arranging private transportation anywhere. But service goes beyond that here.
While the first human touch is a genuine welcoming smile at check-in, the second is via an elevator operator who accompanies each guest to his or her floor, points out the direction of the room with a white-gloved hand and, one assumes, makes sure the guest is ok – walking steadily, not confused, etc. It’s common to feel anonymous in a big city– but these discreet few seconds of personal contact makes one feel less so.
In the morning, wake up calls are made by a human person who acknowledges your name in a voice smooth as silk and announces the day’s weather. Fifteen minutes later, a follow up call makes sure you haven’t gone back to sleep – like Mom without the griping.
Rooms at the Taj Pierre Hotel
Immaculate guest rooms done up in crèmes and light greens are so retro-20’s elegant, you half expect Carol Lombard and Clark Gable to saunter in brandishing cigarette holders and martinis.
Bedding, on either a King bed or two twins (typical for older New York City hotels) is deep and dreamy. Miraculously, there are ample outlets on the wall above the bed’s side-tables so you don’t have to crawl on the floor or push aside heavy drapery to find a place to charge your laptop. And double-miracle, The Pierre doesn’t charge for basic wi-fi in the rooms.
Marble bathrooms feature Villeroy & Boch sinks, Molton Brown amenities, and larger-than-most rain showers. Ask for a “City View” room for a wonderful Manhattan tableau right outside your window.
Dining at the Pierre Hotel
Take a seat at Pierre’s Two E Bar Lounge for apps, sandwiches, phenomenal cocktails and easy-listening jazz on select nights.
Room rates from $340 off season include wi-fi.
STAY: The Plaza Hotel.
No one can deny this is an iconic property and one of the most recognizable hotels in the world. The Plaza is a busy place at all times of year. It’s even more so now that its basement is a Food Court for true foodies.
Eloise made it famous while the movie Bride Wars ramped it up. So by all means book a room at the Plaza if you want to be where all the action is. Room rates start at $600 per night off-season.
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