Secret New York

The second in this 'Travel Triptych' is the Big One: New York. Before I lead you into the darkly glamorous corners of Manhattan though, I'd like to apologise for the poor quality of the Library's photos lately. My old Canon camera is playing up, but I'm not quite ready to spend another $3000 on a new Canon 5D Mark II plus lenses just yet. We're hopefully going to New York in April so will wait and purchase new goodies then. Until then, I do hope you can overlook the shocking photography!

But back to more important things – the secret corners of magnificent Manhattan...


Most people head to the sky to get the best views of Manhattan – using either a helicopter, or joining the queue for the Empire State, or (one of my favourite) taking the lifts to the top of the Rockefeller Centre (superb for views of the Empire State, Midtown and Downtown).  However, there are other ways to get up and above the city, and one of them is the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden of the Met Museum. It's one of those places many of us never think to go when we're wandering up and down Museum Mile, but it's definitely worth the effort. Spend a few hours exploring the newly opened American Wing of the museum, and then head up here in the golden light of the late afternoon to see the city dazzle. There's a cute cafe and bar, which come alive on warm nights, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings when lots of locals head here. It's a great place to meet someone, too. {Image via the great blog}

I first learned about the secret gardens of the Frick Museum from landscape designer Paul Bangay, who counts it as one of his favourite gardens. And I'm glad he shared the secret. The Frick's gardens are some of the best in the city, There's an indoor courtyard, or 'Garden Court', and two outdoor gardens. The grand Fifth Avenue garden features neoclassical urns and grand fa├žade, but it's the Seventieth Street Garden, designed by Russell Page, that's delicate and intimate: a horticultural poem of sheer loveliness, with just the right amounts of simplicity and detail, lawn and leaf, and classical and modern. It was designed to be viewed from the street or through the arched windows of the Reception Hall like an Impressionist painting. An interesting idea, but it works. (Image at top is also from the Frick.) 1 East 70th Street, New York. {Via}

This tucked-away cocktail bar located in a corner of Grand Central Terminal is a great place for a late-night after-dinner cognac. There's too much history to mention here so I'll just touch on the best bits. When it was first created, the enormous space was designed to resemble a 13th-century Florentine palace with a hand-painted plaster of Paris ceiling, leaded windows, a grand mahogany balcony, and a Persian carpet that took up the entire floor and cost $300,000, or roughly $3.5 million in today's money. There was also a permanent butler named Stackhouse. (Love the name.) When the owner died, it became a jail, albeit a rather upscale one. In 1999, it was restored to its former glory and is now a handsome cocktail bar, complete with the original steel safe as a reminder of Mr Campbell's wealth. The place was spruced up by British designer Nina Campbell (no relation), who did it in 24 hours so the place didn't have to close. Such efficiency! 15 Vanderbilt Ave, New York. (Inside Grand Central Terminal.)

Part bar, part taxidermy museum, part speakeasy, this secret spot hasn't been so secret since the word slipped out, but it's still a great little find. Filled with beautiful people dressed in their edgiest New York best, it's a darkly atmospheric bar and restaurant with a fascinating turn-of-the-century feel. It's difficult to find (keep going down the dead-end alley) but it's an experience when you get there.
Freeman Alley, New York.

With a 50-acre forest, a grand Victorian glasshouse, a perennial garden and much more, the New York Botanic Garden is certainly worth a visit, but it's the new Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden that everyone's really talking about. With its glorious formal boxwood parterre and intriguing planting scheme, it makes for a serene – and scented – escape from the madness of Manhattan.  2900 Southern Boulevard Bronx, New York. {}

New York doesn't have as many gardens as Paris or London, so when you discover them, usually by happy accident as you're marching from one must-see attraction to another, it's a wonderful surprise. Paley Park is one of these places. This "pocket park" is situated on West 53rd between Fifth and Madison and has been variously described "a corner of quiet delights" and "an urban oasis".There are ivy-covered walls, a grand waterfall, an ornate gate and an overhead canopy formed from locust trees. There's even a piece of the Berlin Wall – complete with bullet holes. It's a much-welcomed respite after hours striding up and down Fifth Avenue. {Via the great blog}

While not exactly a secret (not much in New York really is!), this is nevertheless one of my favourite 'hidden' places. Few tourists come here, although it's beloved by New Yorkers who adore the leafy views of the park from the rooftop terrace. It's one of the loveliest places to dine in New York on a summer's night. You can find it behind the New York Public Library, on Bryant Park’s Upper Terrace between 40th and 42nd Streets. It's a first-come-first-service basis for the outdoor patio garden and rooftop garden, so be early! And if you can't get in, try the quirky bar and hideouts at the other end of the park – deckchairs, people watching and park pleasures galore. 25 West 40th Street New York. {Via the great blog}


Love the name, especially since it really is a 'back room'. Accessed through a gate marked 'Lower East Side Toy Company' (very witty considering the playthings inside), it's a whimsical speakeasy that's packing them into its dim corners. (If there's no bouncer, just let yourself in.) Great for clandestine meetings with people you shouldn't be having clandestine meetings with. Just one of the fab speakeasies that are sprouting up all over the city like cocktail umbrellas at Palm Beach, it's at 102 Norfolk St, New York. Another one is Raines Law Room, a luxe-louche lounge near the Flatiron that's found by way of a doorbell at the bottom of an unmarked staircase. You take your seat and then buzz another buzzer to summon the bartender. All very entertaining. 48 W 17th St, New York, New York.

More Secret New York tomorrow, with tips on hidden fashion and style hideaways, plus great hotels and places to get away.

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