Do you know what makes a great trip?
When you never want to leave your hotel, because it offers you so much of everything.
That is how my sister, my 101-year-old mother and I felt about our recent stay in Manhattan at the JW Marriott Essex House New York on Central Park South.
My family and I decided on a multigenerational trip, which is also a hot new trend. Millennials and baby boomers alike want shared experiences — as opposed to merely buying each other gifts — as they create memories to last forever. A recent study has even shown that when senior citizens enjoy the company of other people, they live much longer and happier. So, we went as a family to New York to take a big bite out of the Big Apple and to celebrate Mother’s Day in advance.
The Essex House most definitely caters to families like ours, with stellar service. At Thanksgiving especially, the Macy’s Parade goes right in front of the hotel, and kids from all over, with their parents, delight in the private viewing area. The hotel can also arrange, say, a pizza-making class for kids, or use of a posh pop-up tent in their guest room. (Bring on the S’mores.) What also makes the Essex House unusual, General Manager John Rieman told me, is that the hotel enables its employees to make memories for the guests. One morning we were warmly greeted at breakfast in the Executive Lounge by Julette Johnson, whose bright personality shone like sunshine. We had a lovely conversation in which I told her that my mom is 101 years young. Before you can say, “Happy Birthday,” she entered the kitchen and exited with three boxes of chocolate for all of us. To say it was special was an understatement.
But the hotel offers more than that to keep you entertained. We all had spa treatments in the Primp Spa, although mom lucked out and had a deluxe manicure in the privacy of our hotel room. (Which, incidentally, was the best room in the house, Number 2411, complete with its own private outdoor terrace.) Then there was dinner in Southgate, a delightful restaurant with its own craft cocktail bar (you read that right — the bartender pulls the lever for your choice of three designer drinks), and delicious cuisine. (We fell hook, line and sinker for the Atlantic salmon with salsa verde and an incredibly delicious tomato quinoa risotto.) Everyone working in the hotel was aware of my mother’s age and all commented and wished her well. It was quite extraordinary. At dinner one night, our server, Marcela, also took it upon herself to present mom and my sister (whose actual birthday we were celebrating ) with two small plush bears wearing Marriott T-shirts, as gifts. My mother was moved to tears. The result? We didn’t want to leave — and that’s the sign of a great hotel.
We enjoyed other delights that were made just for the three of us. We visited Shespoke — a fabulous shop offering custom-made lipsticks created right in front of you. The process of adding and subtracting colors and mixing in metallics if you want is the very essence of bespoke. We all received custom-colored lipsticks and gloss that even comes in a white case engraved with the name you create for your formula. (Mine is “Deb’s Rose Gold.”) The experience is meant to be shared, and the store hosts birthday and bachelorette parties galore.
Next door is the pharmacy of pharmacies — a small European-concept apothecary called Thompson Chemists. Here you will find high-end health and beauty products from around the world, many of which are cult items. I discovered the “Four-Minute Magic,” created by Nicole Bryl, a makeup artist who has been pampering Kathie Lee Gifford and scores of celebrities for years. If you want a complexion that is red-carpet ready, these are the miracle products for you. They feature a vitamin C mask, exfoliator, liquid and serum. They work on your skin as a primer would work on a wall, creating the perfect palette for a glowing look.
Next stop: Pop Bag, in the Time Warner Building. What a find this was. Wouldn’t you love to have an Italian purse or tote, made of gorgeous high-quality leather, which you can customize in about five minutes? These are the travel bags to end all bags. What you’ll find are leather panels in a rainbow of colors and leathers, which you snap together to create your bespoke bag. You can easily fold different panels into your suitcase to assemble for instant versatility on the road. You can even swap out the panels depending on the season. I got a pink crocodile tote bag, with a white leather back panel, and white leather straps — perfect for my next cruise. When winter comes, I’ll switch the pink front panel for one in chocolate-brown with white piping. And the price is right: Small bags start at around $100 and large bags cost about $350. You’ll carry it off — stunningly.
Our favorite stop was at Bumble and bumble, where we all enjoyed our various hair appointments. The bustling salon is famous for its cuts and color, and our experiences showcased that. My mother and sister got beautiful blow-drys, and I received a color from Pauline and a cut from Todor. We were just thrilled with this shared experience. If you want to look like an A-list beauty editor from New York (or Boston, my hometown), Bumble and bumble is the hair salon for you.
Being interested in all-things-lovely, we, quite naturally, went to the Broadway show “Beautiful” and cried all the way through it. This delightful production showcases the life of musical composer Carole King, and her trials and tribulation as she became wildly successful. Actress Sara Sheperd gave a charismatic performance, and we especially loved the music, as performed by actors appearing as The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers and Neil Sedaka. It was great fun.
For even more beauty, we did something else. We had our faces made up at Inglot, the Polish brand in Times Square, which Jennifer Lopez as its spokesperson. The brand is so chic and high-end that makeup artists from around the world come here to stock up on skincare and cosmetics. The bestseller is the black waterproof gel eyeliner that stylists swear by. After leaving my mother and sister at the end of the trip, I treated myself to Bombshell Lashes at Envious Lashes, which Vogue magazine recently named as the best place in New York for lash extensions. The salon is gorgeous – Tiffany blue and white. Technician Melody gave me enviable cat’s-eye extensions with mink lashes, as well as a small heated lash curler, lash serum, and oil-free makeup remover. Trust me – I’m ready for my close-up.
Being of Polish descent, I just had to treat my mother and sister to something special at The Frick Collection (where we could have spent the entire day). One of its greatest paintings – a Rembrandt most people don’t know about – is his painting of “The Polish Rider” – which we thrilled to, along with the excellent “Moroni: The Riches of Renaissance Portraiture,” on through June 2.
While we accomplished all of these things, boy, did we work up an appetite. We visited several great New York restaurants, which put the finishing touch on our adventures. First up: The Tuscany Steakhouse, just down the street from the Essex House, was a true find. Inside, whitewashed brick walls and elegant tables hinted of the excellent meal to come – and it delivered. My mother, sister and I feasted on the appetizer of stuffed mushrooms filled with shrimp and crabmeat, covered in a delicious rich sauce – and that in itself could have been our meal. The chopped salad with house vinaigrette was “splendido” and my sister raved about the buttery texture of the delectable Chilean sea bass. Mom is still talking about the creamed spinach that dazzled with a dose of nutmeg.
Another night, we ate Mexican at Dos Caminos in Times Square, where everything is made-from scratch and as delectable as can be. The restaurant is famous for its watermelon-basil Margaritas, and we delighted in the delicious nachos, tortilla soup and shrimp quesadillas. For dessert, try the warm chocolate cake with chocolate sauce, with a glass of Tawny Port dessert wine or a simple Mexican coffee. All we can say is “Wow” or even better, “Olé.”
Also in Times Square is one of my favorite restaurants: Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. I always eat at Bubba Gump when on Maui, so I was delighted to find it at a location in New York. Let me tell you, you will never eat better shrimp, anywhere in the world, than Bubba Gump. We were awestruck by the deliciousness of the coconut-crusted shrimp – a must-have – and we all got the trio of shrimp that was grilled, made into a stuffing, and kebobbed. All three of us loved our entrees, and over and over, we kept repeating, “This is the best shrimp I have ever eaten. I can’t decide which one I like the best.” This is the place – the only place — for upper-crust crustaceans.
Our fill of the Big Apple only whetted our appetite for our next visit. As mom said so eloquently, “Debbi, next year, for my 102nd, we are coming to New York again and only staying at the Essex House.” Here, here.