Michelle Rowe

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

HOOSE a base: You’ve saved money on your flight, now be just as canny with your ac­com­mo­da­tion. Not every­one has the bud­get to stay in the Plaza Ho­tel’s pres­i­den­tial suite and, frankly, we think the money could be bet­ter fun­nelled else­where . . . like into de­signer dress shops. The Affinia Shel­burne, a bou­tique beauty that has just emerged from a $US25 mil­lion ($30m) ren­o­va­tion, of­fers a range of ex­tremely af­ford­able gue­strooms and suites and a Lex­ing­ton Av­enue lo­ca­tion five min­utes’ walk from the trans­port hub of Grand Cen­tral sta­tion. Spe­cial open­ing rates range from $US189 to $US230 and for a bolt­hole that’s of­fer­ing the city’s most comfortable beds — each one hand­made in Swe­den at $US10,000 a pop — it’s a bar­gain in any­body’s lan­guage.

There are all the mod cons, in­clud­ing wireless high­speed in­ter­net, flat-screen tele­vi­sions, in-room spa treat­ments and more; the concierge can ar­range dis­counts and deals at sev­eral lo­cal at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing restau­rants, bars and clubs. My Affinia, a cus­tomised guest ser­vice pro­gram, lets you pre-or­gan­ise as­pects of your stay on­line: have ev­ery­thing from a gui­tar, yoga mat or a city walk tour kit de­liv­ered to your room in ad­vance. Your pro­file can be used at Affinia’s four other New York ho­tels (there are also prop­er­ties in Wash­ing­ton and Chicago).

I love the cute and quirky de­signs from Shelly Klein dot­ted about the place, in­clud­ing a mu­ral that wraps around the lift banks, and the gor­geously detailed pil­lows on the beds. The rooftop bar, of­fer­ing panoramic views of one of the world’s most in­cred­i­ble sky­lines, isn’t bad, ei­ther. www.affinia.com.

Get your bear­ings: You’ve un­packed your suit­case and are ready to hit the streets. First stop should be the Of­fi­cial NYC In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre (810 Sev­enth Ave, Mid­town West), which is so hi-tech you’ll think you’ve stum­bled into Google head­quar­ters. This sleek, white space is punc­tu­ated with a cou­ple of gi­ant ta­bles that, on closer in­spec­tion, re­veal them­selves as com­puter touch screens. If you’re keen to find out more about the Meat­pack­ing District, as I am, for ex­am­ple, sim­ply touch the area on the in­ter­ac­tive city map and watch the screen home in on that neigh­bour­hood. A few more taps of the fin­ger re­veals a plethora of din­ing, shop­ping and vis­i­tor op­tions in the vicin­ity.

You can save your favourites as you go and, once your itin­er­ary is sorted, it can be printed out as a map (af­ter you’ve had the whole thing pro­jected on to a screen on the cen­tre’s back wall so you can ad­mire your hand­i­work). You also can down­load the itin­er­ary to per­sonal dig­i­tal as­sis­tant de­vices. One down­side is that only mem­ber or­gan­i­sa­tions fea­ture in list­ings so you won’t get ev­ery din­ing or shop­ping op­tion in the city. $US140. The best op­tion for cheap travel is the sev­en­day MTA MetroCard, which en­ables you to take the sub­way or bus as many times as you like within that pe­riod, for $US27. Cus­tomised sub­way and bus di­rec­tions: www.trip­plan­ner.mta.info. www.ci­typass.com; www.mta.info; www.trip­plan­ner.mta.info.

Pick a neigh­bour­hood: If you’re on a whistlestop tour, make the best use of your time by choos­ing an area and stick­ing to it. The Meat­pack­ing District — a 20-square block to the west of Man­hat­tan bor­dered by Chelsea Mar­ket and Gan­sevoort Street — is top of my itin­er­ary and just a few min­utes by sub­way from my Lex­ing­ton Av­enue base. For­merly a run­down slaugh­ter­house and pack­ing district, it be­came bet­ter known as a mag­net for drug ad­dicts, pros­ti­tutes and trans­ves­tites in the 1980s be­fore its for­tunes changed in the early noughties and sud­denly it was trendy.

To­day the Meat­pack­ing District’s cob­bled streets are lined with shops and gal­leries. Diane von Fursten­berg has her flag­ship out­let here, along­side the likes of Stella McCart­ney, Nicole Farhi, the fan­tas­tic de­signer depart­ment store Jef­frey New York and the largest Ap­ple store in Man­hat­tan. I’m im­pressed by cute-as-a-but­ton bou­tique Dar­ling on Ho­ra­tio Street and al­most have to be dragged kick­ing and scream­ing from so-chic Charles Nolan, with its eclec­tic mix of de­signer gar­ments and home­wares trin­kets. www.meat­pack­ing-district.com; www.dar­lingnyc.com; www.charlesnolan.com.

Size up the culi­nary land­scape: There are restau­rants and cafes to suit ev­ery mood. Keith McNally’s Parisian bistro Pastis (cor­ner Ninth Av­enue and Lit­tle West 12th Street) is an in­sti­tu­tion in the Meat­pack­ing District and is packed with din­ers at week­ends. McNally has re­cently taken over the Minetta Tav­ern in the nearby West Vil­lage and it, too, looks set to be a reg­u­lar haunt for those seek­ing a buzzy scene and de­cent food.

Pastis has been joined in the neigh­bour­hood more re­cently by the likes of Jean-Ge­orges Von­gerichten’s Asian street food out­fit Spice Mar­ket, Tom Colic­chio’s steak­house and raw bar Craft­Steak and Mario Batali’s Del Posto Ris­torante, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with fel­low celebrity chef Lidia Bas­tianich and her son Joseph.

For more ca­sual op­tions, nearby Chelsea Mar­ket, a melt­ing pot of gourmet food re­tail­ers, from bak­ers to butch­ers, and bars, is a must visit. If you’re suf­fer­ing with­drawal symp­toms, you can even get a good cof­fee here, at Ninth Street Espresso, which is quite a dis­cov­ery in a city not renowned for its prow­ess with a per­co­la­tor.

By way of hit­ting home the new-found street cred of this once dodgy district, af­ter lunch I al­most stum­ble on to a film set in­volv­ing a ridicu­lously long-legged 20-some­thing star­let hold­ing two great danes at bay, in Gan­sevoort Street. The Meat­pack­ing District has mor­phed like a but­ter­fly from its su­per-seedy past and is now of­fi­cially too cool for school. www.pastisny.com; www.chelseamar­ket.com; www.spice­mar­ket­newyork.com; www.craftrestau­rant.com; www.del­posto.com.

Check out New York’s new­est at­trac­tion: If the lineup of chic bou­tiques and din­ing spots is not enough to lure you to the Meat­pack­ing District, the new High Line will cer­tainly do the trick. This in­spired re­pur­pos­ing of a derelict and over­grown rail­way line into an el­e­vated sweep of park­land link­ing sev­eral neigh­bour­hoods has been the talk of New York since it opened in June.

I stroll to the end of Gan­sevoort Street to climb the steps up to the 2.4km prom­e­nade, which sits 9m above Walk in the park: Gar­dens flour­ish along New York’s High Line, a once derelict rail track, main pic­ture; Man­hat­tan sky­line, above; din­ing ter­race at the Affinia Shel­burne, right street level, and am stunned to see so many peo­ple mak­ing use of this new pub­lic open space.

Orig­i­nally built in 1934 to lift danger­ous freight trains above the streets of New York, the High Line rail­way fer­ried goods from the wharves to fac­to­ries and ware­houses un­til 1980, when the last train, ap­par­ently car­ry­ing three car­loads of frozen tur­keys to the Meat­pack­ing District, trun­dled along its rails.

The line fell into dis­re­pair and was un­der threat of de­mo­li­tion but in 1999 a lobby group, Friends of the High Line, was founded by lo­cal res­i­dents Joshua David and Robert Ham­mond and the fight be­gan to pre­serve the rail­way line and turn it into pub­lic open space.

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