Sleep With A Real New York City Character

March 15, 2010 at 8:02 am | Posted in lodging, New York State, United States | 4 Comments
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by Ed Wetschler

Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was no rocket scientist, yet even he understood that Manhattan’s historic Chelsea Hotel was both a damn good New York hotel deal and a major hangout for artists, famous eccentrics, musicians, writers, and other celebrities. The musician’s appreciation of this most excellent combination was rather abruptly interrupted in 1978, when his girlfriend was stabbed to death—with Sid’s knife. But not even that scandal could stop the Chelsea Hotel, for this grand old landmark continues to welcome artsy guests. Moreover, the Chelsea is just as welcoming to those of us who don’t play in rock bands or make art for a living.

Hotel Chelsea, Manhattan, New York CityThe building itself is a 12-story, red-faced edifice on a fairly unremarkable thoroughfare, West 23rd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. Erected in 1883-34, the Chelsea was not only the first building in New York City to achieve landmark status, but the tallest structure in Manhattan until 1899. Its façade is punctuated by a grid of balconies and fire escapes with curlicue grillwork, more New Orleans Ornate than New York Functional.

Artsiness & ¡Olé!

“We have about 250 rooms,” says concierge Brandon Rivard, “half of which are transient rooms”–that is, traditional hotel rooms. The other half are for guests on extended stays and more or less permanent residents. Long-term guests and residents have included Mark Twain, Arthur Miller, Arthur C. Clarke (he wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey here), Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, Jane Fonda, Jackson Pollack, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers… you get the idea.

The lobby features 19th-century molding, comfy brown easy chairs, and a big marble fireplace, but what really gets your attention are the large paintings—all from artists who loved and/or still love the Chelsea. Look around: There’s a Sandro Chia, a Larry Rivers, a Roy Carruthers — and the hotel seems to have gotten some of their best stuff, too. Hanging from the ceiling is a pink, pleasantly plump, papier-mâché lady who smiles down from a trapeze. Turn left at the front desk, and you see more sculptures hanging from the ceiling, not to mention two bona fide, old-fashioned telephone booths. Exactly what Clark Kent needed.

But would straight-arrow Clark be comfortable here? After all, Leonard Cohen described the Chelsea quite accurately when he wrote, “I love hotels to which, at four a.m., you can bring along a midget, a bear and four ladies, drag them to your room, and no one cares about it at all.”

No matter; Superman’s mild alter-ego would be happy at the Chelsea, even if the hotel is better known for its not-so-mild egos. Stacy Smith, an upstate New Yorker on a brief visit to the city, admits, “We had appointments while we were here, so I never noticed that there were famous people and artists staying in the hotel.”

You’re not alone, Ms. Smith: Many of us are clueless about the names on the cover of People Magazine. Besides, there’s no bar in the hotel lobby where a rock star might hang out long enough to be recognized. There is, however, a très hip club in the basement, the Star Lounge Chelsea. And just west of the hotel entrance sits El Quijote restaurant, a 75-year-old and unapologetically old-style establishment that’s almost a Chelsea Hotel canteen. Maybe most guests back away from the $40 lobster, but they do like El Quijote’s long, deep bar after an afternoon cruising the local galleries.

Rooms With That Lived-In Feeling

The quarters upstairs show their age, but in a good way. Surprisingly large, many rooms boast cheerful floor-to-ceiling windows, ten- (or more) foot ceilings, rococo moldings, and in some rooms, fireplace mantels. The furniture’s a mix of old and new, but the rates are decidedly old-school; some weeks, you can get a double in this historic showplace for as little as $139 a night. One twist: Whereas most Manhattan hotels cost more on weekdays than on weekends, the Chelsea’s rates zag in the other direction.

Downstairs in the lobby, a visitor finds some of the guests buzzing about the Law & Order shoot that just wrapped up at the Chelsea. Bellman and do-it-all guy Pete Padilla, who’s worked at the hotel for 15 years, takes it in stride. “Things are very fluid in this place,” he explains cryptically.

One of the permanent residents walks in with her little dog, this being a fairly pet-friendly hotel. “Maggie, baby!” exclaims Padilla, getting down on his knees. The pooch jumps up on her friend and licks him, managing to plant a smacker on Padilla’s mouth. The kissee is not unhappy about that. Why shouldn’t a dog—or a human—act a little outré? This is, after all, the Chelsea Hotel.

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Santa, Baby! The World’s Koolest Kris Kringle Korners

December 21, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Posted in Europe, Finland, Massachusetts, New York State, Ontario, Vermont | Leave a comment
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by José Balido

In the spirit of the season, for all you moms and dads out there here’s a quick international round-up of several key theme parks built specifically around that jolly old elf and his crew. There are of course countless towns and cities (not to mention shopping malls) in various countries that toss up a little “Santa’s Village” for the kids during the Yuletide holidays, but these four in North America and one in Europe are dedicated theme parks that do their thing sometimes in winter, sometimes summer, occasionally both. Need I say that they tend to appeal more to families with smaller tykes?

Santa Claus’ Village in Rovaniemi, Finland
In operation since 1985 above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lappland — which is, after all, about as close to the real deal as you can reasonably get, complete with real reindeer —  this is the only one of the bunch open year-round (you fly up from Helsinki,). So what’s up here? Exhibits of Finnish and international Christmas traditions (plus stuff like crystal, coins and gemstones);  a snowmobile park;  an elf-infested post office for mailing letters to you-know-who;  sundry shops; a couple of eateries; sleigh rides; an ice bar (for mom and dad, of course) — and of course visits with Joulupukki (Santa) himself in his office and toy factory.

Santa’s Land in Vermont, USA
In the south Vermont town of Putney (just north of Brattleboro),  the ho-ho-ho’s get rolling on Memorial Day weekend in late May at this cute little spread — more than a half-century old but reasonably well-refreshed — offering  arcade games, shops (including, of course, plenty of candy), ” rides n slides,” and a petting zoo (whoa, check out Bill the camel!). In fall and winter hours switch to weekends only till December 20.

Santa’s Village in New Hampshire, USA
Yup, we’re in New England again — this time in the White Mountain town of Jefferson, in the southwestern corner of the Granite State. This one has a schedule similar to Vermont’s version but is a little more elaborate (and costs a bit more, too), with real reindeer, antique cars, a movie theater, some fairly elaborate rides (flume, ferris wheel); and several places to eat and shop.

Santa’s Village in Ontario, Canada
Located in the Muskoka River town of Bracebridge, about 2 1/2 hours north of Toronto, this amusement park bills itself as “Santa’s summer retreat,” with a shorter season than the ones above, open late June through mid-September  (though in December — this year it was the 19th — they have an “open house” complete with story time with dear old Mrs. Claus). Anyway,  attractions/amenities include a petting zoo (no reindeer, but “fallow deer” that can look a little like ’em if you squint); rides; a mini-water park; go-carts; mini-golf; laser tag; and a campground.

Santa’s Workshop in New York State, USA
The Hudson Valley’s fetching Adirondack Mountains — and specifically the slopes of Whiteface Mountain — is home to what calls itself the “forerunner of present-day theme parks in the United States” — marking its big 6-0 this year.  Top features besides a modest roster of rides include a live Nativity re-enactment, other shows put on by a costumed cast of characters called the Mother Goose Guild. storytelling, and “Tannenbaum the Talking Christmas Tree.” And shops — but of course!

Where Cider Houses Rule

October 12, 2009 at 10:14 am | Posted in Canada, culinary/food & drink, Europe, France, Germany, Massachusetts, New York State, Oregon, Quebec, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, Washington State | Leave a comment

by José Balido

A demo of traditional pouring technique at a gala at the Cider Museum in Asturias, Spain.

A demo of traditional pouring technique at a gala at the Cider Museum in Asturias, Spain.

It’s autumn in the northern hemisphere, and in a few key regions of a few key countries that means apples and cider, both “hard” (mildly alcoholic) and not. While pomaceous potions are brewed — in versions sweet, dry, and downright tart — in countries as varied as Argentina, Russia, and South Africa, in certain fetching parts of Europe and North America, cidre, sidra, and Apfelwein are an integral part of the life and culture. Any one of them would make a juicy getaway indeed. So how do ya like them apples?

Canada: Quebec Though found in Ontario, British Columbia, and elsewhere, in Canada fermented jus de pomme has been a particularly important part of Quebec’s heritage ever since it was brought from France centuries ago (and they keep innovating, as with the relatively recent “ice cider”). A Route du Cidre covers some 30 producers, many family-owned but several run out of Roman Catholic monasteries (Cistercian cider – who knew?). Most are in Montérégie, just south and west of Montreal, and you’ll find the rest in the Laurentian mountains and the Quebec City area (including three on an idyllic isle, Île d’Orléans). CidreDuQuebec.com.

Britain: England & Wales Scores of small and medium producers crank out hundreds of labels worth of cider and perry (its pear counterpart). England’s West Country, Herefordshire, and East Anglia are hotspots, including historic thatch-roofed inns such as Bretforton’s half-timbered, Elizabethan Fleece Inn, Hereford’s Cider Museum, and a Cider Route covering big producer Bulmers and ten others. CiderMuseum.co.uk, CiderRoute.co.uk, UKCider.co.uk, WelshCider.co.uk.

France: Normandy & Brittany Normandy’s best known for Calvados, but also strong in sweet, brut, and semi-brut cidres; the epicenter’s the Pays d’Auge/Calvados region, anchored by the picturesque village of Cambremer and the larger capital, Lisieux. The Route du Cidre here takes in two dozen visitable cidreries. Brittany’s lower on the radar but does some fine work in a slightly different style, served up in colorful ceramic bowls and cups instead of glasses. Its own Route du Cidre in the Cournouaille region covers nearly 40 villages and towns and a dozen cidreries. Besides a wonderful Gothic old quarter, the Breton capital Quimper offers an interesting, apple-oriented Still Museum. Cidre.fr, Deauville-Normandie-Tourisme.com, RouteDuCidre.free.fr, TastyBrittany.com.

Germany: Frankfurt/Hesse & Moselle/Saarland German Apfelwein (aka Ebbelwoi) is on the dry side, and in Frankfurt with its more than 60 Ebbelwohnkneipen (cider pubs), many of them in the Sachsenhausen district, it’s arguably as big as beer; you can also visit Kelterei (cider houses) throughout its hinterland in Hesse, as well as down south in the Moselle and Saarland region bodering Luxembourg. The epicenter here is the town of Merzig, and a Viezstrasse (Cider Route) takes in some two dozen small producers. Frankfurt.de, Merzig.de, Viezstrasse-Online.de.

Spain: Asturias In the green north, the Basques and Galicians put out dry, refreshing sidras, but nobody puts it at the center of their cultural universe and identity quite like their neighbors in the lush, rolling principality of Asturias. Every town has at least a couple of sidrerías, where sidra natural is poured from bottles held high over the head, to “awaken” the fizz (a top sidrería hotspot is capital Oviedo’s hopping Gascona Street). Some of the 110 llagares (cider houses) give tours, and there’s also an interactive sidra museum in the town of Nava (among other things, you can sample a wide range and try your hand at the distinctive pouring method). Visit llagares on your own or book tours through Comarca de la Sidra, which include ancient, atmospheric family operations that don’t sell their output. LaComarcaDeLaSidra.com, Sidreria.com.

USA: New England & Upstate New York There are dozens of atmospheric mom-and-pop cider makers dotting the landscape in all five New England states – some still using old-fashioned steam-powered mills (B.F. Clyde in Mystic, Connecticut) or really old-fashioned rack-and-cloth models like the one at Cold Hollow in Waterbury Center, Vermont. Meanwhile, over in the Empire State, the Hudson Valley just north of New York City is prime apple country, and the Finger Lakes out west is also worth checking out for outfits like Lafayette’s quaint, century-old Beak & Skiff.  NewEnglandApples.org, NYCider.com.

USA: Pacific Northwest Cider’s pedigree here may not be quite as venerable as in New England, but it’s certainly well established, as there are dozens of lovely spots in Oregon and Washington within convenient driving distance of cities such as Seattle (for example, Orondo Cider Works, three hours east) and Portland (Ryser’s Farm and others in the countryside just south of the city). TriCountyFarm.org, WashingtonAppleCountry.com.

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