Well, I was born there, so I figured I should spend my stag weekend there too. I called up my oldest chum and soon to be best man, whom I used to party with in New York many years ago, and told him we were getting the band back together and returning to the Big Apple for a last blast.
The flight over with British Airways was smooth and hilarious due to my companion Mr D Lynsdale, who charms everyone with his laid back, gentle nature and infectious good humour, abetted by some some moderate drinking of fine Champagne.
A taxi ride into New York is always exciting, especially as you cross the Williamsburg Bridge and the mind blowing Manhattan skyline comes into view. We soon arrived at the Gramercy Park Hotel, which is my favourite place to stay, packed with artworks by graffiti artist Kenny Scharf, Warhol and Basquiat. It’s on the East side and has its own private park with two very hip bars, the Jade and the Rose Bar. It takes me back to the days of the legendary and outrageous seven floor New York nightclub, The Palladium (now sadly defunct), where Kenny Scharf painted the basement with luminous aliens. The opening night of the Palladium in 1985 was attended by both Warhol, Schnabel, Grace Jones and myself and was a hell of a celebrity studded extravaganza, they certainly knew how to party in the Eighties! The Gramercy is not only an art haven, it’s also centrally located and the perfect spot from which to enjoy all Manhattan has to offer.
We started the evening off with a drink at the salubrious and relaxed Slaughtered Lamb pub, where everyone is very friendly and soon knows your name. It’s a complete dive in Greenwich Village, based on the movie American Werewolf in London, but great if you want to down a few beers in relaxed surroundings and get away from the overpriced trendy bars. We sat and reminisced in the window and watched New York go by.
Then we popped into JG Melons for a burger, this joint on the Upper East side used to be “the” place to start your evening off with a bang. The owner George Mouges ran it like his own private party and welcomed famous artists, writers, politicians, actors and newcomers with the same warmth and generosity. On mine and Darren’s first visit to his burger joint many years ago, he greeted us as English Gentlemen, which we were neither, and gave us his stretch limo for the night with an open invitation to every club in the city. That man symbolised Eighties New York, even if the shoulder pads and big hair were a mistake. The place has changed little over the years and still provides great burgers and a convivial atmosphere, though the after hour parties are gone.
Next we decided to hit the clubs with their long lines and doorman that pick punters based on their looks, apparent wealth and hipster factor. I always call ahead and book a table which saves the endless and pointless queues outside. First stop was The Press Lounge, a rooftop bar with a fabulous view out over the Hudson River. We sipped cocktails and watched New Yorkers strut their stuff as the sun set over the Manhattan skyline and made our plans for the rest of the nights festivities.
Finally we topped off the evening at Le Bain, another rooftop bar with a lively disco set over two floors with excellent DJ’s and a pool packed with scantily clad beautiful people. There is even a vending machine that sells trunks and bikinis. It’s the little classy details that make a place…
Our last port of call was of course the Rose Bar back at the Gramercy, where the barman entertained us with New York gossip and some fine Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey, distilled in New York.
The next morning was a tribute to the Hudson Baby as neither of us felt as bad as we should have. In fact we breakfasted at the nearby Gramercy Bagels with gusto and then spent the day enjoying the sights, sounds and sheer eccentricity of Manhattan. The mad rush of bankers streaking from cab to office, the occasional eccentrics wandering by muttering quietly to themselves, the extraordinary throng of people bouncing around like billiard balls in an earthquake, with yellow cabs weaving artistically though the multitude, always on the point of flattening someone, yet never making contact.
The International Centre of Photography in the Bowery is a must, as is the Metropolitan Museum Of Art on Fifth Avenue. Just because you’re on a stag weekend does not mean you are complete savages. I also highly recommend a visit to the delightfully eccentric and century old Explorers Club on the Upper East Side, for wonderful tales of adventure and derring-do.
We had lunch at the Mercer Kitchen in Greenwich run by renowned French-American Michelin starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten who has restaurants in Las Vegas, London, Paris, Shanghai, and Tokyo (he has 13 in New York alone). This is about as fashionable as it gets, full of well turned out professionals and celebrities. I sat in the corner opposite Jim Carrey (eating on his own) playing that fun game of ignoring the very famous person constantly in my eye-line, whilst he would smile pleasantly at me every time I failed. The atmosphere is relaxed arriviste and the seafood platter is exquisite.
That evening my Godfather (a New York publisher who enjoyed a sybaritic lifestyle) treated us to a restaurant in Staten Island, the ferry over is a bit of a classic, passing the Statue of Liberty (a particularly resonant symbol donated by France to America) from which you can take in the full Manhattan skyline with no visual interruptions. We dined at Enoteca Maria which is quite unique as it’s chef’d by grandmothers from all over the world in rotation who offer their particular traditional cuisine made with their own fair hands.
The night ferry back was memorable with the lights of Manhattan twinkling ever brighter as we neared the port. We then wandered around Greenwich for a while before stumbling into the Art Bar, a typical New York joint that exemplified every American bar in the movies. After a few snifters there we moved onto the uber famous night spot 1OAK, short for ‘One Of A Kind’, that caters to all the party celebrities such as Kate Moss, Naomi Cambell, Madonna, J Lo and the Kardashians. After a good few hours there we shifted over to the Jane, an eclectic hotel with a rooftop bar over the Hudson and a magnificent ballroom, movie inspired, with plush leather sofas, zebra seats, a vast chandelier, and a great social buzz. Lastly we ended the night back at the Jade Bar in the hotel, with fellow partiers for a final precious few hours of revelry.
Morning was missed, so lunch the next day was spent at Oyster Barneys which has been serving oysters at Grand Central Station for over 100 years. It’s a little like running into an old friend after so many years as we’ve all seen this famous station in so many movies. Barney’s is a loud, bustling eatery that serves fine oysters Rockefeller in true American style. Nothing like an obscenely large platter of oysters to clear your head for a long flight back. New York is vibrant, mad, exciting and amazing, the streets are full of entertainment, the shops are fascinating and the bars, restaurants and clubs are the finest in the world. The City That Never Sleeps is still one of the greatest destinations in the world.