The W, New York

Times Square, just around the corner from the W
Times Square, just around the corner from the W

The W hotel sits right at the insomniac, neon heart of New York, on the corner where Broadway, Times Square and 46th Street meet. Traffic whirls around it in an endless circle; tour buses scoop up and set down sightseers on one side, taxis drop off and pick up theatre-goers on another. The surrounding streets teem with people, scenes of urban life, from the banal to the bizarre, play out day and night. Voices, music, traffic, machines and sirens merge into a discordant roar.

Swing through the W’s revolving doors, though, and you leave all this behind.

Water is the theme of the W’s décor. The roar of the city is drowned in a stream of cool music. The glare of neon is lost in soothing colours of stone and river. In the downstairs foyer, water ripples down one wall in a floor to ceiling tank and drops of light spill from the ceiling onto the flagstone floor. The music flows into the lift and up to the 7th floor. To the left is the Welcome or Reception area, ahead the concierge’s desk. Their lamps float like bubbles in the dim light.

The Water theme flows on up to rooms. There’s more stone grey, muted light and lots of glass. There’s a floating glass mural behind the bed (which surprisingly, is not a water bed, but is nevertheless as soft as a rolling wave) The bedside tables are cubes of orange glass. Mini bar goodies (Munch at the W) entice from a big glass box. On the wall is a rack of glossy magazines – Gotham, City and Wish. There’s a floating glass desk. The bathroom is a glass and grey box (with a generous supply of soft white towels and Bliss toiletries) A grey leather chaise longue unfurls below a giant window which looks out into the neon screens of Times Square.

In Sweat, the 10th floor gym, the submarine light and riverscape colours continue. Fast-flowing house music (or TV!) speeds you through your workout. Fat white towels, abundant Bliss toiletries and crisp green Granny Smith apples ease recovery.

On the 7th floor, adjacent to the Welcome area is The Living Room, the hottest bar in town. Fittingly, its colours are those of the reef and the beach. There are circles of sand coloured couches and screens. A coral orange glass mural shimmers on the far wall. The Living room is great place for star-gazing and intrigue spotting.

Down on the ground floor, The Blue Fin restaurant, despite its name, has a menu which goes well beyond the ocean. Its attractions too go beyond cuisine. From its front bar you can watch the 24/7 action of Times Square while in the shadowed corners of its back room you can spot New York socialites, celebrities and stars.

The W’s basement club Whiskey is one of a number founded by model, tycoon and husband of Cindy Crawford Rande Gerber. This is the place to be seen dancing the night away beneath the big screens, surrounded by hot music and cool New York party people.

The Store, open all hours, lit with bright white light and full of fabulous gifts, clothes, stationery, and groovy gum-boots as well as mundane things like toothbrushes.

It would be easy to while away New York days and nights here in this seductive self-contained W world. The hotel’s service philosophy is whatever, whenever. Blue Fin’s kitchen never closes. The Living room never draws its blinds. At sweat you jog your way through nights and days. The Store never shuts. Just call Room Service aka Whatever Whenever and a posse of Adonises in suits will deliver whatever you want whenever you want it to wherever you are. So there’s really no need to leave.

But eventually those neon lights outside the window beckon and the muffled sounds of the city call from beyond the walls. It’s time to get out and explore.


New York expectations overturned

We had expected to be amazed by New York and we were. Most of the time it exceeded our expectations and often it completely overturned them.

Broadway skyline
Broadway skyline

Apart from two stopovers in Los Angeles back into the last century, I’d never been to the States. Even from those brief, long distant encounters, I carry memories of gruelling queues, heavy security, close, lengthy passport scrutiny, questions, bag searches and peremptory, if not rude personnel. We flew in from Athens to John F. Kennedy Airport expecting more of the same – much more of the same. That first expectation was soon overturned.

Posters, lining the corridors from the plane to the Immigration Hall, told us that we could expect courtesy and respect from airport personnel and where to go if denied it. Good start! The queues dealt swiftly with 300 or so passengers who disembarked from our Olympic Airlines flight. Only one firm, efficient, but courteous, young African American in a suit directed it. I looked for signs of guns but couldn’t find them. Even though we had filled in the wrong immigration form and had to return to the desk for another, we were soon back at the booth again where we were fingerprinted efficiently, our passports were scrutinized and stamped quickly and we were welcomed to New York warmly. Our bags were already circling the carousel when we arrived in baggage claim. We passed unchallenged through a door marked “Nothing to Declare”

We were carrying with us a set of preconceptions gleaned from the media, veteran friends of the NY experience and our own conjecture, that New York was impersonal, people suspicious and paranoid and that the city’s systems and infrastructure were inefficient. These were soon dispelled too.

Out on U.S. soil in arrivals we were greeted by the cheerful Marie, one of a team, in scout-inspired uniforms, dedicated to helping confused foreigners as they emerge wide-eyed from the other side. A taxi to Times Square, she advised, should cost $45. Should we tip? “Sure, if they’re nice to you” said Marie “But if they’re mean to you ain’t gonna tip now are you?” Er, well we thought we had to “No Sir uh uh, ain’t nobody gonna tip nobody mean” OK well then how much should we tip somebody who’s nice? “Well now that’s up to your own generousity”

Also somewhere in the back of my mind lurked the vague idea, that since 9/11, Middle Eastern people in the US lived in closely watched a demi-monde, with no part in its systems apart from tossing together the odd kebab. I thought too, naively that the typical New York Taxi driver was an old, crusty, gravel-voiced Robert De Niro, Joe Pesche or Archie Bunker type with a fund of NY folk stories. These ideas too went the way of my expectations and misconceptions.

Our taxi driver was called Aziz. His brothers seemed to be driving the taxi in front, the one behind and the one next door. He looked about 18 and was totally silent. Arab music played in the background. “Love this music” I said half to myself. Aziz turned the music up. These days, almost anyone can become a tawe wanted trase New York traffic. It was 5pm when we sailed out of JFK and onto the expressway. Peak hour! But truly, the traffic was no worse than, if as bad, as the Tulla freeway, I decided as we zoomed along with the haunting drums, bells, strings and pipes of Arabia in background and New York’s amazing cityscape unfolding on both sides.

We tipped Aziz generously.

More about New York in Travelstripe’s next post