My Kind of Place: Upper East Side, Manhattan, USA

We take a trip to the Big Apple’s reserved, elegant district, where longevity beats innovation.
The view from Central Park towards the high-rise buildings of the Upper East Side, which oozes old money. Francois Roux / Alamy Stock Photo
The view from Central Park towards the high-rise buildings of the Upper East Side, which oozes old money. Francois Roux / Alamy Stock Photo

Why the Upper East Side?

Those hunting for hip, energetic New York are unlikely to find it in the Upper East Side – but that would be like hunting for street art in the Louvre. The Upper East Side is New York at its most reserved and elegant, where old money oozes from the leafy streets lined with immaculate tiny gardens and implausibly handsome brownstone houses. It’s where porters in absurd costumes stand inside the entrances to expensive apartment buildings, and longevity rather than innovation is seen as the sign of a good restaurant.

Among these lashings of grace, however, are most of the city’s cultural highlights and some of the world’s top shopping. The Upper East Side may be sedate, but it’s not dull.

A comfortable bed

If you’re after budget accommodation, you’re in the wrong place – but some of New York’s top treats are here. The Loews Regency (www.loewshotels.com/regency-hotel) is one, lavishing guests with massive super-king beds, grey marble bathrooms with in-mirror TVs and tremendously effective blackout blinds. Umbrellas and unusually soft robes can be found in the wardrobes. Rooms cost from US$489 (Dh1,796).

The Lowell (www.lowellhotel.com) has an air of discrete elegance that’s entirely fitting for the area. In-room amenities are secluded behind doors, lush rugs lie on wooden floors, and the reception area exudes an intimate, timeless class. The likes of Robert Redford and Cindy Crawford are known to stay when in town. Rooms cost from $639 (Dh2,347).

The third stunner is the Pierre (www.tajhotels.com), a 1930 landmark now run by the Taj group. The building is one to soak up – with the Rotunda space’s murals giving it a European palace feel – and some of the rooms have staggering views out over Central Park. King rooms cost from $450 (Dh1,653).

Find your feet

It’s worth ducking into the side streets to soak up the atmosphere, but the cultural highlights are all along Fifth Avenue. The Frick Collection (www.frick.org) is art done the eccentric industrialist way, with Vermeers, Rembrandts and Monets displayed somewhat unconventionally inside a lavish mansion.

Farther north is the Guggenheim (www.guggenheim.org), which is justifiably famed for its striking Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, as well as its collection, which errs towards the modern. Kandinsky, Chagall and Picasso are well represented.

Heading farther north, you will eventually get to the Museum of the City of New York (www.mcny.org), which isn’t as high-profile as it could be, but the old photographs of the city inside are absolutely absorbing.

Meet the locals

Birch Coffee (www.birchcoffee.com) on East 62nd Street has a strong reputation for quality coffee – a flat white costs $4 (Dh15) – and encouraging numbers of locals pile in to grab a cup on the way into work.

Book a table

Daniel (www.danielnyc.com) is the classic Upper Eastside restaurant – a jacket-required, unapologetically formal French affair that goes in for fin-de-siècle glamour and four-course prix-fixe menus for $142 (Dh522). The food isn’t quite as by-the-book as the setting, though – dishes range from roasted quail to wasabi-cured Spanish mackerel.

Things get a little less stiff as you head east, and there are several appealing places to eat along Second Avenue. Among them is Uva (www.uvanyc.com), a relaxed Italian joint that serves up the likes of grilled jumbo shrimp with braised sweet peppers and pesto sauce for $25 (Dh92).

Shopper’s paradise

Those who come to New York expressly for the purpose of shopping could spend several days here. Madison Avenue may be better known as the heartland of the advertising industry, but an awful lot of designer names cluster there, too. As a taster, the block between 62nd and 63rd streets has Hermès, Hublot, Fabergé, Chopard and Jimmy Choo stores.

The big department stores – Barneys and Bloomingdale’s – are also here. The latter is an awe-inducing credit-card-splasher’s wonderland, taking up an entire city block and feeling more like a mall than a store. The likes of Dior and Longchamp have stores within a store.

What to avoid

Many American cities have embraced the food cart scene, but New York isn’t one of them. The carts in the Upper East Side seem to stick to grim-looking hot dogs, pretzels and gyros – going hungry is arguably a better option.

Don’t miss

The recently revamped Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum (www.cooperhewitt.org) has some marvellous installations – such as an exhibition on how Pixar films are made or the room full of mirrors from around the world and eras with scores of silver shoes on the floor. But it also does a brilliant job on the interactive front, with electronic “pens” that allow you to scan artefacts, bring them up on giant screens, then design your own hats or chairs based on them.

Getting there

Return flights with Emirates (www.emirates.com) and Etihad (www.etihad.com) to New York from Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively cost from Dh3,450, including taxes.

Published: September 29, 2016 04:00 AM

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