by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
It’s not yet 7am and I’ve been on-line for almost 2 hours already. That’s what happens when you fly over 5000km, back in time, from Dublin to New York City. You’re physically in a new time zone but part of you (which part?) still hasn’t properly arrived and lingers where you came from. The cure for jetlag, they say, is to jump right into the new time zone and carry on as if nothing had happened. Thus at 4pm on arrival day the 4 of us merrily embarked on a bike ride around Central Park, trying valiantly to convince our weary bodies that it wasn’t time for sleep.
Ride in Central Park
It’s a great way to ease yourself into this city of cities and the Central Park bike ride was a marvellous mix of visitors ambling aimlessly and locals pushing purposefully under a cloudy, moody mid June sky. The locals were all kitted out colourfully in the latest lycra, peddling carbon frame road bikes that cost an annual salary in Greece. We glided along effortlessly, on our clunky rentals wondering about specific sites from movies like “Home Alone” and “Elf” and which building was actually the Plaza Hotel. At $20 for a two hour spin it’s good value, although the staff at “Bike Rental Central Park” were direct from central casting as New Yorkers-that-don’t-give-a-shit.
We were booked into The Hudson, a Morgan Hotel Group property, and experienced that frisson of excitement upon check in. The lobby is vast but not like the sterile vastness of other hotels. It has a natural, winter garden feel about it and is light filled with an ivy-clad pitched glazed roof. The check-in desk faces you with its magnificent wood carved tree motif and high arch opening onto another voluminous space that’s one of the hotel’s 3 bars. Somewhat ironically there’s a huge chandelier hanging off-centre to the right.
This most-contemporary of hotels, its finger firmly on the pulse, has dispensed with many conventional hospitality structures such as a restaurant. Instead you get three indoor/outdoor inter-connecting, yet distinctly themed bar or event spaces serving funky fast food, craft beers and cocktails. You also get a magnificent fifteenth floor outdoor terrace with views over the Hudson River. On the down side you get lighting levels set too low, painfully slow elevators and, during our visit, insufficient staff and long lines at check in.
9/11 Memorial Museum
The Observatory at the One World Trade Centre and the 9/11 Memorial Museum have been completed and opened since our last visit to the city. We spent almost 3 hours at the Museum and could have stayed even longer. Its significance, impact and importance is way beyond that of a mere visitor attraction.Visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum is akin to visiting Auschwitz: it reminds us, crucially, that evil in the shape of twisted ideology is a real part of the human condition.
But the 9/11 Memorial Museum also highlights hope, emphatically and gloriously, in its meticulous documentation of the ordinary lives of each of the almost 3000 souls who perished as a result of the atrocities. It gives voice to each of their stories and the simple, powerful ways they all made a difference, despite the awful premature extinguishing of their lives. Visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York is travel as transformation, a perfect example of Mark Twain’s famous statement:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum challenges us deeply, upsets us, makes us angry, makes us cry but ultimately makes us better people, connecting us to that part of us that’s transcendent, that soars high, the believes in life.
Native New Yorker
We were so fortunate to have a native New Yorker as our guide for the afternoon. I’ve known Cosimo Bruzzese since he started to light up the meetings industry with his warm, friendly ebullience around 2002 and it was a privilege to have him lead us around a city he knows and loves so much. He took us down to The High Line, the relatively new linear park built on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad spur called West Side Line. Running from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District through Chelsea to the Javits Centre, the city’s dedicated convention centre, the High Line is about 2.3km in length and brings natural verdant freshness, art installations, artisan foods and rapidly rising real estate prices to a previously ignored and unloved part of the city. It’s a wonderful example of how a city can re-invent itself, turning yesterday’s embarrassing obsolescence into today’s shining new-kid-on-the-block.
The Meatpacking District is now all about high fashion and great food while boutique hotels like the Gansevoort and cultural attractions like the Whitney give it enduring neighbourhood status, bringing a little uptown culture and refinement to an area previously only known for Hogs and Heifers, the iconic bar that’s still very much open for business. Nearby is the Chelsea Market, carved from the old Nabisco building. Here high street stores like Anthropologie disguise themselves as local artisan outlets and folks move effortlessly between fabulous ethnic food offerings, uber-cool book shops and great restaurants such as Giovanni Rana’s where Cosimo treated us to a truly amazing dinner.
Other New York Moments
We ate breakfast on one of the morning at the Brooklyn Diner, a Jewish owned and inspired outlet in midtown, styled as “the finer diner” because the napkins were linen and the prices high. The waiters were all old pros, visiting your table regularly to pour coffee or place condiments quietly reassuring you that you hadn’t been forgotten even if the wait was long. There the rest rooms were particularly spotless and featured Klezmer music and mouthwash!
We visited the Sony Wonder Technology Lab and raised eyebrows when we asked for 4 adult tickets (it’s really a kids’ attraction we discovered later!). Regardless it’s a wonderful immersion in the brave new world of digital technology and provides simple explanations of complex things like coding or robotics. It’s 100% touch and feel and you get to test drive everything. Best of all, in a city which charges over the odds for most things, the Sony Wonder technology Lab is absolutely free of charge.
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua and, with his long standing business partner and friend, Patrick Delaney, works with destinations, venues and hotels on marketing, strategy and training for meetings and events.