Continuing our slightly tenuous theme of traditions across the pond, Estella Shardlow tilts her trilby, rolls up her sleeves, cradles a tumbler of bourbon and embraces Manhattan’s literary legacy in Greenwich Village …
“No matter where you sit in New York you feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds.” E. B. White experienced them in 1948 when he wrote his unparalleled love letter to the Big Apple, This is New York, thrilling at passing the home of columnist Franklin P Adams, or being seated precisely 18 inches from actor Fred Stone, aka the Wizard of Oz, at dinner one evening.
For idolaters of lost poets and artists, nowhere in the city are these vibrations more keenly felt than in Greenwich Village. Its brownstones, jazz clubs and leafy idiosyncratic streets – stubbornly defying the grid system that carves up most of this busy island – are haunted by the spirits of those with great minds and tortured spirits.
The Jade Hotel on West 13th Street is a good place for such ghost hunting, then. I’m excited to find out I’ll be staying two blocks from Jack Kerouac’s old digs, three blocks from the bars where Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash used to play, seven from Bob Dylan’s apartment, and a 10-minute walk from the White Horse, where Dylan Thomas had his last, fatal hurrah by sinking 18 whiskies.
Fresh off a British Airways flight from Heathrow Terminal 5 (the trip started off in style with a chilled glass of Champagne in BA’s luxurious Galleries Club lounge and treatment in the neighbouring Elemis spa), I hop in my first yellow taxi and refuse to let a characteristically surly New York cabbie dampen my spirits as the traffic races across Williamsburg Bridge, towards that iconic skyline.
With its plush 1920s-style décor – all gilded ceilings, Art Deco furniture and Chesterfields – The Jade certainly does look like somewhere F. Scott Fitzgerald or Louis Armstrong might have checked into. So I’m surprised to learn it only opened in 2013; fedoras off to Andres Escobar’s interior design and the grand Georgian façade by Atelier & Company that blends flawlessly with the neighbouring apartment blocks.
A glowing marble staircase leads from street level into a moodily lit sunken lobby, complete with a library corner of classic reads by former Village residents such as Walt Whitman. Passing along a narrow corridor and through some velvet curtains finds you in the speakeasy-esque Grape & Vine restaurant and bar, where vintage black and white photographs by Fred McDarrah (another local luminary, who documented both the Beat Generation and Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s) line the walls above curved crimson banquettes. This is a place just made for illicit tête-à-têtes over a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
Up on the 18th floor, the hotel’s highest, the Gatsby-worthy décor continues. My Grove Queen room features a vintage rotary-dial telephone, smoked glass wardrobe and Egyptian fan print bedhead. The occasional contemporary necessity sneaks in, of course – complimentary Wi-Fi, an iPod dock and a large flatscreen TV, discreetly concealed behind sliding doors – while the toiletries in the chic monochromatic bathrooms come courtesy of iconic local pharmacy C.O. Bigelow, which itself dates back to 1838.
As gorgeous as The Jade’s interiors are, though, this is Manhattan and staying inside the hotel is surely a sin. Even if there is a complimentary wine hour in the lobby…
So off I go to listen to jazz in some dive bar, browse for books in Three Lives & Company, gaze at paintings by Pollock and de Kooning at the Whitney Museum’s new home beside the Hudson, walk the length of the Highline, stumble upon original Kerouac and Kafka manuscripts in New York Public Library, sink a gin cocktail in a Speakeasy, get swept through Grand Central Station and down Fifth Avenue by the marching crowds, consume skyscraper stacks of pancakes, and feel absurdly thrilled to be eating alone at the zinc bar of a diner while it grows dark on an October evening.
I do not, however, make it to MOMA or the Guggenheim or the Empire State Building or quite a few of other things I had been meaning to do during my week in the city because, well, although New York is constantly changing, the propensity to have too much fun is always there. This can mean winding up too hungover to do anything more constructive than sitting around in a Greenwich Village park, drinking coffee and reading.
I’m sure Dylan Thomas would understand.
The Jade Hotel, 52 W 13th St, New York, NY 10011. Rooms start at £123 per night. For more information, visit www.thejadenyc.com.
Return flights from London Heathrow to JFK with British Airways start from £361. Upgrades to World Traveller Plus are possible for as little as £149 per flight, including perks such as wider seats with greater recline, extended legroom and a personal in-seat power supply.