Country Restaurant, photo courtesy of Flickr
Last week, as I waited to cross 31st street at Park Avenue South, a woman approached me and asked where she and her husband could go for shopping, wandering, and a cafe. She was British, and I could tell by her slightly panicked voice that she was thinking New York might not be everything it's cracked up to be. Standing on that corner with her, I understood why.
The corner of 31st & Park Avenue South is where my office resides, and it is no-man's land. The neighborhood is Murray Hill-Kip's Bay, a place that started out as 2 farms (Murray's and Kip's) and grew as a residential area. Nice if you work there and want to take a break outside, as there are some lovely tree-lined streets to stroll down. But, as my friend Seamus pointed out in his recent blog post, it's not a place you want to stay for long. In fact, proximity to the 6 train - which transports downtown to the heart of Soho, and uptown to the tony restaurants and shops of 5th Avenue - might be the neighborhood's only appeal for visitors. There is nothing remotely glamorous about it.
That said, when planning a trip you have to consider how you will use your hotel and the surrounding neighborhood. For instance, if you're like me and spend most of your time exploring the city, but end the day at 1am searching for a dive bar within
stumbling walking distance of your hotel, this neighborhood might be worth staying in. Here's a snap shot of Murray Hill-Kips Bay hotel/dining/drinking recommendations:
The Carlton, on Madison avenue between 28th/29th Streets. This is a classic New York hotel, recently renovated by David Rockwell, and it is gorgeous. Country is the impressive signature restaurant, and the dining room features a stunning stained glass skylight that was discovered when they were digging out for the renovation. Room rates are reasonable for such an elegant hotel, and hopefully they will stay that way for awhile. Note: Country is closed for the summer, but will re-open in the fall with a refreshed menu and culinary focus.
Shelburne Murray Hill on Lexington. This is an Affinia Hotel - lovely, reasonable, and a great business hotel. They also have a rooftop bar, the type of outdoor space maniacally coveted by New Yorkers in the summer.
As far as other hotels in the neighborhood go, there are relatively inexpensive options, but don't expect luxury. Murray Hill-Kips Bay borders on Koreatown, so when searching for listings, you will find hotels like La Quinta - an acceptable hotel because the rooms, although small, are clean and the hotel has a cute rooftop bar.
Rates for hotels in the area run about $299+ in the summer, and increase to over $349 after labor day.
Artisanal, 2 Park Avenue at 32nd Street: The Balthazar of Murray Hill.
Resto, 111 E. 29th Street: Belgian gastro-pub, and winner of the Best Grilled Cheese in NY (NY Mag 2008) which is a reason to go, if I've ever heard one.
Duke's, 560 3rd Avenue: Lowdown, beer 'n chicken fried steak joint with 70's FM rock on the soundsystem. One of my favorites places, and not at all healthy.
Pamplona, 37 E. 28th Street: Less expensive, but not less flavorful, elegant Spanish cuisine/tapas. And the cocktails are fantastic.
Penelope, 159 Lexington Avenue at 30th Street: Quaint, fabulous cafe (with a bar!), and my favorite place for lunch. Recommended: Chicken meatball salad and the lobster roll. Note to Seamus: pretty people dine here. They just don't have Bloomies bags.
Under the Volcano, 12 E. 36th street: A mexican-themed tequila bar, dimly-lit, sexy and cool.
Desmonds Tavern, 433 Park Avenue South between 29th/30th Streets: This is the 1am dive bar near
my office your hotel.
So, what did I tell the woman visiting from England? To take the 6 train direct to Soho, of course.