Even with the bitter chill of winter refusing to make way for the mild days of spring, the Upper East Side of Manhattan felt downright homey, an impression I didn’t expect to find in America’s largest city. Elegant row houses, chic shops and boutique hotels intermingled like jewels on an estate necklace with the narrow, quieter streets flanking the busy main thoroughfares.
One block off Fifth Avenue at Madison and 77th Street sits The Mark, my home away from home for the weekend. This five-star, luxury boutique hotel is in the heart of the Upper East Side and within walking distance of elegant shops including Morgane La Fay, Vera Wang Bridal House, Christian Louboutin, La Maison Du Chocolat and much more. Even more appealing to me, was its proximity to the museums I was in town to visit. The slew of cultural treasures that make up Museum Mile (a total of 10 museums cluster Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 110th streets) begins just blocks away, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Frick Collection and more.
If you only have a few hours—or even half a day—to spend in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, do yourself a favor and plan ahead. Visit the Met’s website (MetMuseum.org) and download the printable map of the museum. Circle your must-sees on the map and plot your way through this massive labyrinth of collections as efficiently as possible. For example, if you absolutely must see Monet’s Water Lilies and Michelangelo’s Studies for the Libyan Sibyl, but could take or leave 18th century furniture and anything from the Ming dynasty, you’ll be able skip entire wings without worrying that you are missing something important to you. With approximately two-million square feet housing over 2 million works of art (tens of thousands of which are on view at any given time) spanning 5,000 years of world culture, from prehistory to the present and from every part of the globe, one could easily spend days inside and not see it all.
One block away from The Mark sits Central Park, the lush green jewel of the city. Head north through the park and you’ll reach the Conservatory Gardens—the only formal gardens in the park—with manicured sections patterned after French, Italian and English styles. Stroll south and you’ll pass the Alice in Wonderland statue and will eventually find yourself at Central Park Zoo. If there are specific sites you want to visit, go to CentralPark.com for a map, park highlights and walking tour ideas.
Not everything on my list to see was a walk away from the hotel. However, a short cab ride down Fifth Avenue to 53rd Street puts one at the doorstep of The Museum of Modern Art. Commonly called the MoMa, it can easily be navigated in half a day. Doors open at 10:30 so getting there shortly after breakfast lets you beat the majority of the crowds and allows for plenty of time for exploring the collections, which include works by Cézanne, Dali, Matisse and many more. Don’t be surprised to round a corner and find yourself face to face with some of the most well-known modern works of art, including Vincent van Gogh’s iconic Starry Night.
After soaking up all the turn-of-the-century to present-day art you can handle, start walking south and you’ll run into Times Square. The bright lights, flashing billboards, colorful people, Broadway signage and electric energy shouldn’t be missed. Just off Times Square on 44th street is Carmine’s, a bustling Italian joint that’s a great option for an affordable lunch. The portions are huge and served family style so plan to share.
Walk off your lunch by exploring the architecture in the Midtown Area. Flanking Bryant Park is the New York Public Library and Grand Central Station. Take time to wander around inside both buildings, as they are masterpieces inside and out. Look south and you’ll see the Empire State Building while a short stroll north will put you by St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center.
After a long day of walking, returning to the luxurious haven that is The Mark is a welcome respite. Polished doormen greet you upon return. Fresh flowers fill the grand black and white lobby with fragrance. Well-appointed guestrooms wrap one in plush, understated comfort, and the bathrooms—complete with a deep, soaking tub—shimmer with elegant nickel fittings, teal glass cabinets, black and white striped floors, and silvery marble counters.
The menu at The Mark Restaurant changes seasonally, but with celebrity chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the helm you can count on flavors that will wow your taste buds no matter the time of year. A couple of must-tries (and menu staples) are the chicken and coconut milk soup along with the grilled black sea bass served with braised fennel, carrots and cerignola olives.
The Mark Bar starts hopping late in the evening, with pretty people crowded together under dim golden light holding signature cocktails while music with a heavy base beat fill the air. For a quieter drink after dinner, walk across the street and down one block to the The Carlyle and step into Bemelmans Bar. The walls of this Art Deco sanctuary are graced with whimsical murals of Central Park painted by Ludwig Bemelmans, the creator of the classic Madeline children’s books. But as lovely as the nights are in the city that never sleeps, allowing for a decent turn-in time will ensure that you’re rested and out the door the next morning in search even more adventures.
My objective for this trip was to discover if one could truly soak up New York’s cultural offerings in a brief three-day stay. And, as the plane took off and the skyscrapers and bright lights were left below, it would have been easy to look down and think about everything I didn’t see, visit and taste. But remember, the goal of a weekend trip isn’t to see it all… but to see what’s important to you, and then return home refreshed and energized from the experience. And, with a little planning, that’s decidedly doable.