Manhattan Magic at the Rainbow Room and the Algonquin

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Rainbow Room | Bart Barlow

The Rainbow Room: the Ultimate Room with a View

The dance floor rotates at a snail’s pace. A ringside crowd, dressed to the nines, longs for the Count Basie Orchestra to begin. The anticipation is palpable. Under a chandeliered 23-foot dome, vintage wine and Champagne flow as if it is New Year’s Eve, not an ordinary weekday night.

We are seated in the Rainbow Room, 65 floors above Rockefeller Center, surrounded by one of the few vistas in the world with the power to intoxicate: the magical Manhattan skyline. The only embellishments to an uninterrupted 30-mile view are “curtains” of glittering crystals in prism shapes, suspended like icicles above each floor-to-ceiling window. The streets of Gotham below us may have potholes, trashcans and petty crime, but up here, close to the clouds, it’s heavenly.

Pinch me. I must be dreaming.

When this high-altitude hot spot closed its doors several years ago, I mourned the loss as if an old friend had passed. In this hallowed space, I sipped

my first glass of Dom Perignon and celebrated many a birthday. When news of its reopening – and major facelift – promised an update to its original 1930s-era style, revisiting soared to the top of my bucket list.

One push of the lone elevator button and we feel like astronauts rocketing into space. After ascending, nonstop, to the “Top of the Rock,” we begin with martinis at Sixty Five, the snazzy new cocktail lounge with unobstructed views.

Eye candy is everywhere. Massive displays of orchids accent walls of Italian silver travertine. Textured bronze mosaic tiles shimmer. A marble-topped rosewood bar, smoky gray mirrors, leather chairs and mother-of-pearl tables scattered under a faceted metallic-leaf ceiling make it hard to focus on ordering a drink.

Even the nibbles that accompany cocktails push the envelope. Warmed olives marinated in olive oil are infused with an exotic blend of harissa (North African chili paste), fresh thyme, lemon zest, toasted cumin and caraway and coriander seeds. I could devour the entire bowlful, but I fear spoiling my dinner.

Led by executive chef Jonathan Wright, formerly of the two Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford and The Setai in South Beach, the culinary team has created a prix fixe menu featuring American and international fare ($175 per person plus tax and tip, alcohol not included). Judging from the selection and creativity, he is also inspired by the views.

In between exquisite courses – beet salad with goat cheese and crumbled hazelnuts, wild black bass with calamari and chorizo and decadent molten chocolate cake for dessert – we head to the dance floor, centered on the original, meticulously restored “Compass Rose.”

I think about the boldface guests who’ve waltzed through this very room: Barbra Streisand, Al Pacino, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson for starters. Happily, the crowd isn’t limited to older folks seeking to recreate the past. Young couples who weren’t even born during the Rainbow Room’s heyday seem equally excited to be here.

Some things are exactly how you remember them. Others, like the Rainbow Room, are better. But attempting to describe this surreal experience is a futile task. Just go. The sky’s the limit.

The Algonquin Hotel: Oh, if these walls could talk…
One step inside the Algonquin’s lobby and I swear I can feel the vibes of those who have come before me. Nearly 100 years ago, Dorothy Parker and a group of 20-something writers for Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker gathered here for lunch at the famous Round Table.

The daily exchange of ideas and wit set the standard for literary style. In fact, the ritual became so famous that people dropped by just to watch the members of the Round Table eat.

The New Yorker magazine was essentially created here. Fittingly, all guests receive a complimentary copy.
Perhaps trying to channel the same spirit I’m picking up, an artsy crowd mingles in the lobby. The high ceiling and dark-paneled walls create the ambiance of a private club rather than of a big city hotel. Off in one corner, a young Dorothy Parker-ish woman in a fitted red suit and vintage cloche holds the attention of her entourage. Two men in black turtlenecks huddle together on a red leather sofa, manuscript in hand.

Velvet chairs and leather sofas grouped around an eclectic mix of tables encourage conversation. So does the hotel’s policy of round-the-clock complimentary coffee and tea. Peering into the dining room, I see that the hallowed Round Table is empty, perhaps awaiting a new set of aspiring writers.

We check out the Blue Bar off the lobby, so named because years ago John Barrymore convinced the owner that actors look best in blue light. Though the Blue Bar has moved within the hotel, and been refurbished many times, blue lighting still permeates the space. One step inside and I expect someone to yell: “Lights, camera, action!”

While the Algonquin may be the oldest operating hotel in New York City, rooms and suites have every 21st-century amenity, thanks to a top-to-bottom renovation in 2012 when it became part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Bright contemporary furnishings, plush terry robes, thick duvets and fancy 350-count sheets are de rigueur.

The perk I like best? Complimentary WiFi. (I hate to get nickel-and-dimed for that, don’t you?)

Friendliness and pride prevails. Bellmen and waiters are walking history books and love sharing an abundant collection of hotel trivia. We learn that Orson Welles honeymooned here, Lerner and Loewe wrote “My Fair Lady” in a suite, Sinclair Lewis and William Faulkner were regulars and iconic female stars such as Angela Lansbury made the Algonquin their New York home – it was the first hotel to accommodate women traveling solo.

The place has plenty of performing arts history, too. Harry Connick, Jr., Diana Krall and Michael Feinstein were discovered here.
In an era when hotels are homogenized, for the most part, thank heavens the Algonquin has maintained its unique personality. The morning we depart, we take note of a few hotel room doors. Each one has framed words of wisdom written by a Round Table member.

The Dorothy Parker quote on our door sums up our stay perfectly: “I suppose that is the thing about New York. It is always a little more than you had hoped for.”
AlgonquinHotel.com

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