Holiday Happenings on the Eastern Shore
Restore Mind, Body and Soul at a Wellness Retreat
Mary Ann Treger • August 21, 2019
WILLIAMSBURG INN SPA, WILLIAMSBURG, VA Capture the characteristics of each century with wellness treatments at this historic inn. A 17th-century-inspired detoxing herbal wrap and heated river stones massage reflect ceremonial […]
The Lodge at Woodloch: Unwind at the Perfect Getaway
Mary Ann Treger • November 8, 2018
The minute I grasp the drumsticks — the percussion variety, not turkey — I am hooked. My inner rock star springs to life and I’m tapping everything in sight. I […]
Manhattan Magic at the Rainbow Room and the Algonquin
Mary Ann Treger • December 17, 2014
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.”
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Mary Ann Treger • August 7, 2014
“It’s like discovering a pearl in the wilderness,” says a Versace-clad woman to her dinner companions while I sip a glass of Cabernet and savor a bit of eavesdropping at Blackberry Farm. It is the perfect description.
Few would expect such refinement in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee. Don’t bother looking for a sign on the main road to guide you to a place where chic and sheep coincide–gawkers are discouraged. In fact, the average tourist has never heard of this rural retreat and that suits Blackberry Farm just fine. They don’t advertise. Instead, word-of-mouth, articles in high-end publications, top rankings on nearly every “best resort” list plus awards from the James Beard Foundation and Wine Spectator feed the momentum. Hollywood celebs, West Coast techies and those in the know (rumor has it Oprah and Martha Stewart have stayed here) frequent this bucolic resort/spa/gourmet getaway for exceptional and very private R&R.
Even the word “resort” feels wrong; “experience” is a better description. With only 62 rooms and cottages on 4,200 acres (plus an additional 5,000 acres of private wilderness for fox hunting, horseback riding, fly fishing or hiking) this Relais & Chateaux working farm and gastronomic mecca offers perks that are far from its golf and ski alternatives (they don’t have either.)
They do have a dairy, creamery, charcuterie and brewery plus a master cheesemaker, beekeeper, chocolatier and preservationist who oversees all jam making. Jams are sold on the farm as well as to fancy food emporiums throughout the U.S. (the blueberry is to die for).
All vegetables served are grown on the farm and only heirloom seeds are used. Milk from the sheep is used to make their yogurt and cheeses. A butcher and baker are on staff and odds are, a candlestick maker is there, too. The sommelier and his team oversee a 221 page wine list representing 160,000 bottles, including rare vintages such as a $14,000 bottle of Montrachet.
There’s more. The farm is cultivating truffles. To hunt for them, assuming they materialize (there are no guarantees for this ten-year project), they breed rare Lagotto Romagnolo dogs imported from Italy. Fall in love with a puppy? They are for sale–$6,000 each, trained with commands given exclusively in Italian, of course. Untrained, the price is halved.
Privately owned and managed by the Beall family since the early 70’s, Blackberry Farm employs a staff of 375 to care for its pampered guests. Room rates include three glorious meals each day and begin at $795; cottage suites from $1495.
The place has been on my bucket list since before bucket lists became trendy. When the farm’s new spa, Wellhouse, opened I talked my husband into a three night stay.
On arrival, our car is whisked away. We won’t need it again until we leave–each cottage comes with its own golf cart. If we want a lift anywhere, a fleet of new Lexus cars is available, with or without a driver.
From the outside, our dark brown wood-framed cottage tucked in the woods appears unremarkable. Inside, we find all the bells and whistles of a luxury hotel–soaring 17-foot ceiling in the living/bedroom, polished wood floors topped with eclectic furnishings, Frette linens and robes plus a pantry stocked with complimentary snacks. The bathroom is big enough for a family reunion.
Despite the temptation to hang out in the fancy digs, we head outdoors, winding our way through pastures dotted with horses and a dozen piglets following their mom. We discover a crystal clear trout stream, a tranquil lake and we linger at the boat house before putting a canoe to use. While there are plenty of activities—yoga, fly fishing, horseback riding, and archery for starters–there is something to be said for doing nothing. The only thing on my ‘to do’ list is visiting the spa.
Face down on the massage table, my dings and dents are tweaked with warm poultices filled with healing herbs and flowers that are pressed into my body. The warmth and fragrance reduce me to Jell-O. Am I detoxed as the treatment promises? Who cares. I head to the outdoor pool and fantasize about our next hedonistic adventure: dinner.
“Good evening” says the tall young man who swoops down upon us, ready to fulfill our every wish. I’m having trouble focusing on menu choices. Instead, I’m fixated on the room, a splendid turn-of-the-century barn with high ceilings and massive beams.
I place the snowy white antique linen napkin on my lap and scan the French china and sterling silver. Given the game plan, we anticipate a hoity-toity menu. While there is plenty of haute cuisine, the forward-thinking chef creatively combines fancier fare with southern Foothills food. And, he doesn’t take himself too seriously–Guinea Hen Croquettes with White Truffle Sauce are served on a bed of “straw” topping a piece of tree bark. My husband’s pate is served on slate at the same time my Swiss Chard Salad is presented on white gold-rimmed china.
Dinner may be the star each day but breakfast and lunch aren’t far behind. Both are served in a room you would expect to find in a private country estate. In our cozy banquette, surrounded by the owner’s impressive art collection and antique furnishings, we decide that the most beautiful art (and there’s plenty of it) is the daily vista of fog hanging over the Smokies as viewed from the sprawling stone terrace.
By day three, we’re accustomed to being spoiled. At checkout, a perky young man appears with two boxed lunches for our trip home. Even they aren’t ordinary–turkey sandwiches with scallion mayonnaise on rosemary flatbread, containers of radish and stewed-apple salad and the most extraordinary chocolate chip cookies on the planet.
As we drive down the country road, with windows wide open, a blast of fresh warm air whips my face. All I can utter is one word, ‘a-maz-ing.’ Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of something more poetic. [gallery ids="101828,139214,139219,139225,139208,139228,139240,139236,139233" nav="thumbs"]