by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, MCI and Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
The “embarrassment” of choice
“So where are you staying? they asked.
“The Roger”, I replied
They didn’t even try to stifle their laughter.
“The Roger?” they repeated to each other, in a tone somewhere between incredulity and hilarity.
I had genuinely missed the less than subtle irony of the name but hearing it rehearsed and rehashed in that perfect English patois of my travel companions, Caroline Hill (Compliant Venues Ltd) and Carole McKeller (HelmsBriscoe), I did wonder into what type of property I’d booked myself.
“L’imbarazzo della scelta”- the embarrassment of choice. In English it would probably be translated as “spoilt for choice” but somehow the Italian version was a better expression of how I felt as a travel professional unable to find accommodation. I had been trying to select a hotel in New York City and found myself lost in a dark wood of unknowing. I limited the embarrassment somewhat by applying some filters – under $250, boutique, great design – and eventually found myself on the Mr and Mrs Smith website where I uncovered, and booked, without hesitation or second thought, the aforementioned Roger.
The Roger on Madison
As it happened it was exactly what I was looking for – well located on Madison in the quiet Murray Hill district, quirky and understated with an elegant airy lobby full of light and fresh flowers and no hint of anything even vaguely associated with the name of the hotel when used as a verb. For under $200 my room was no smaller than the average for a city like New York and the bathroom, if only marginally bigger than the toilet on an airplane, was a veritable triumph of ergonomics and aesthetics.
I volunteered to book dinner and found myself in another tizzy of confusion with far too much choice. How many restaurants are there in Manhattan? This time the filters were “casual and trendy with great food” and when I perused the list of recommendations supplied by the concierge at The Roger, and cross-checked with the internet, The Breslin at The Ace Hotel came out tops.
“We don’t take reservations” he said when I called the number. “It’s first come, first served”. I set the assembly time for 6:30, added our names to the waiting list and soon we were sipping our cava based cocktails and settling into the riotous rhythm of a New York Saturday night. New York is a city where energy and expectation constantly collide and the resulting electricity is magnetic. Pretty soon our party of three became a party of four as our new friend, Kevin Snook, a UK based author and chef joined us for dinner.
The Breslin connects with the lobby bar of The Ace Hotel which looked and sounded like the coolest place on planet earth. The thoroughly eclectic crowd recalled the line from the Irish folk song – “there were curious combinations at the fair of Spancil Hill” while the sound track, curated by Other Music, an East Village record shop, was equally broad: indie, electronic, avant-garde, psychedelia, international, vintage rock, folk and more. Our table at The Breslin was upstairs in the mezzanine granting us a glimpse of the live kitchen below in which a whole roast suckling piglet was undergoing the final preparations before being served to the Chef’s table. Described as a “gastro-pub”, The Breslin is all low lights, shadows and dark woods, described by one reviewer as “Hogworths for hipsters” presumably because it serves rich and luscious comfort food and deconstructed versions of favourite school dinners.
Pre-starters, called “snacks”, include sea salt & pepper crisps, scrumpets with mint vinegar, boiled peanuts fried in pork fat. I opted for the scrumpets, not having the faintest notion what they might be. I was rewarded with shredded lamb, breaded and fried, served in miniature aluminium pail and accompanied by a mint vinegar dipping sauce. Kevin had eaten there the previous night so we sought his guidance regarding main courses that included lamb, quail and pig’s foot. On his recommendation I opted for the chargrilled lamb burger with feta, cumin mayo & thrice cooked chips. It was simply sublime but, as my dear late Mother would say, my “eyes were bigger than my tummy” and I managed to eat about half of it. A shared dessert was equally amazing before a night cap back at The John Dory and a short walk back to the Roger.
The Breslin is owned by Brummie April Bloomfield who came to NYC in 2003 and opened The Spotted Pig, another Michelin Star gastro-pub. She has recently published a book A Girl and Her Pig which is 4 books fewer than Kevin Snook, the 4th member of our “frail travelling coincidence”. Kevin was our chance encounter and greatly enhanced a random Saturday in New York for Caroline Hill, Carole McKeller and Padraicino.
Padraic Gilligan works for MCI, a globally integrated association, communication and event management company with 47 offices in 23 Countries