W Hotel New York, Yankee Stadium and a cool Manhattan dinner spot

NEW YORK – Two girls on a fire escape on a hot summer’s night. A humming corner restaurant with enough noise to rival a 747 at takeoff. Tons of fun bars and a real, edgy feel.

I managed a bit of time in this city’s Lower East Side on my recent visit and checked out Schiller’s Liquor Bar on Rivington St.

It has the feel of a subway station, with off-white tiles on the walls and floor and a black-and-white floor that had the 70’s music bouncing around like shoes in a washing machine. It was awfully hard to hear anything but the music, but it didn’t seem to bother the huge throngs of folks who gathered for a relatively inexpensive meal.

There’s a bit of a bistro feel to the menu, with steak frites (excellent, at $25 ) a mainstay, as well as roasted chicken and chicken pot pie ($18), which I thoroughly enjoyed. They also have a variety of oysters for $3 apiece, which is quite reasonable.

The wine list is divided into three categories; cheap, decent and good. The menu tells you cheap is best, but I went for the good.

The drinks are terrific. We sampled a nice pear margarita and, even better, a Schiller’s Storm, which has Makers Mark bourbon, ginger, pineapple and plum. Wow.

A fun spot with good food and a fabulous atmosphere in a real up-and-coming but still edgy part of town. Highly recommended, but only if you don’t mind concert-level noise over your meal.

After staying the first night at the Z hotel in Long Island City, we switched over to the W at Union Square. I’d never stayed at a W property and was curious about what they’d offer.

I kind of expected a bit more edginess, if you like. But the lobby check-in area felt like a Four Seasons, with marble all over, a sweeping staircase (it’s a restored 1911 beaux art building), a lovely floral display and pink-orange lighting. The lobby/sitting area was a little more casual, with sofas and chairs decked out with bright pillows in shades of purple, pink and orange, and a series of large windows looking out onto bustling Park Avenue.

The fake shrubbery and plastic butterflies on a couple of the lobby walls was a complete mystery to me. Some folks seemed to enjoy it and were having their pictures taken, but I couldn’t help thinking it felt like the Rainforest Café, which I would be very happy to never see again in my life.

The lobby then spills into Olives, a Todd English restaurant with some nice food offerings. I loved the chorizo flatbread but wasn’t so crazy about the spaghetti carbonara with crab, as the shellfish somehow didn’t match up well with the main dish.

Still, there’s a nice wine list and the place was absolutely packed with pretty people on a Friday night.

There are WAY too many hotel rooms done up these days in UPS colours of crème or white and brown. Thankfully, that’s not the case at the W. Our room was mostly off-white, but one of the walls was done in a cool, ribbed wallpaper and one of the wallpapered walls was Los Angeles Dodger blue.

The headboard was bright orange, with a white patterned wall above it. Our room looked south toward Union Square and City Hall and lower Manhattan, and it seemed a good 20 per cent bigger than most standard hotel rooms. The bathroom also was bigger than most, with nice fixtures and amenities and enough space for a couple of toiletry bags.

Toss in a nice fitness centre (called Sweat) with a punching bag, use of a bike if you want one (or a car), a good concierge service (called Whatever, Whenever), a nice business centre and a prime location that’s two blocks from the subway and close to great food and shopping and walking distance to Greenwich Village and SoHo, and you’ve got a fine hotel for folks of just about any style.


I covered a lot of games at the old (not original, but the version that was recently torn down for the NEWEST new version) Yankee Stadium. And it was pretty cool.

But also pretty dumpy. Historical, sure, but awfully shabby around the edges.

IMG_3341I hated to see that one go, and I realize the new version is awfully high end and super expensive, but it’s a fun place to watch a ballgame. I bought a pair of tickets for $100 each for my son and I last weekend, and that got us the 14th row in the second deck a bit past third base. Not quite prime seating, but a good view of the whole ballpark and, thankfully for a summer’s visit, some shade. At a price.

They’ve kept the old, white arches-style from the old ballpark, with a huge ring of them on the upper deck. You can see the monuments to the former stars out behind centre field, but I’m not sure if they’re as visible as they used to be.

The food was quite good, with a great variety. We had some Carolina pulled pork from Brother Jimmy’s bbq (I couldn’t resist the name) and a couple of large Stella Artois. The price? Just $44. Ahem.

I think the Italian sausages were $8, but they come with sauteed peppers and onions so that seemed reasonable.

The cheapest part of the day was the subway ride from lower Manhattan and back. It’s $2.25 for the subway in Manhattan, and it’s a breeze as the new park is maybe 50 meters from the 161st St. stop on the four, B and D trains. Going up was fine, as people arrive at different times. Going home, on the other hand, is crazy.

Making matters worse is that I had bought a MetroCard, hoping to save time and effort of paying cash fares all the time. But the damned thing hardly ever worked. The magnetic stripe readers don’t seem to get the signal, and my card kept getting refused, even when I had plenty of money left on it.

My card was refused again at Yankee Stadium on the way home. Even though we had dawdled a bit on the way out listening to the refrains of Sinatra singing “New York, New York” there was a crush of fans trying to get onto the subway. Because my card wouldn’t work, I had to join a lineup of about 30 people needing to pay cash fare. And there was only guy working at the entrance we were at, and it was hot and crowded and he was NOT in a good mood and was not working real fast.

I looked around and couldn’t find a machine to dispense the Metro cards. They have the machines all over at other subway stops, but I didn’t see one at Yankee Stadium, one of the busier stops in the city before or after a game I’d think. Crazy.

Anyway, at least the crowds were gone by the time we got on the four train headed south, and we rode in style and comfort. Thank goodness for the NYC air conditioned – and clean – subway cars. Folks who didn’t visit the city in the 1980s probably have no idea what the subway was like in those days. Absolute filth doesn’t begin to describe it, from my memory. Graffiti everywhere and dirty, smeared windows and garbage and probably not much air conditioning, as I recall. A far cry from today. It’s still hot as blazes as you wait on the platforms and traverse the stairs and walkways between train lines, but at least the cars are cool and comfortable.

We got in late on Thursday of last week and stayed the night at the Z Hotel in Long Island City. It’s a fairly new spot we featured briefly last year in Star Travel in a story on new hotels in the “suburbs” or Manhattan.

This one is in Queens, maybe four blocks from the East River, with an absolutely breathtaking view of Manhattan and the Queensborough/RFK/59th St. Bridge. All the rooms face out to the river and the city, although views up higher are presumably a little better. We were on the ninth floor and the rooms have floor to ceiling windows, so it’s QUITE something.IMG_1654

My son has been around a fair bit, but he took one look and said, “Holy s—.”

The rooms have free wifi and calls to anywhere in the world also are free. They also have iPod docks and LCD TV’s and a lot more, including free bikes and free, hourly rides into Manhattan. It only takes a few minutes to get over the bridge and into town, and the shuttle goes to 59th St. and Lexington Ave., near Bloomingdale’s and next to the subway. Central Park is three blocks away, and Rockefeller Center is only a few blocks past that, so it’s a great place to get dropped off.

The front desk folks were nice, but they didn’t tell us about the shuttle or much else about the hotel.

There’s a wonderful view from the bar on the rooftop, with more awesome views (see the morning photo above). Drinks were $12, which is fair and a lot cheaper than fancy joints in Manhattan. It was fairly quiet up there but the bartender told me he’s a month into the job and still not tired of the nightly light show from across the river.

The room we had was small but fine, with an illustration of Billie Holiday on the wall and some cool, funky light fixtures. There also was a steel storage contraption in the corner with some magazines and a purple construction helmet. Why, I have no idea.

The neighourhood is said to be improving but you’re basically staying in what looks like industrial Leaside, with transmission shops and such all around. The other real downside to me was the food downstairs at the lounge/diner. It’s done up nicely with a library/Paris kind of feel to it. The $10 hot breakfast buffet was quite good, but at dinner it took a half hour for the kitchen to deliver up some very mediocre hamburgers. Disappointing, for sure.

Still, it’s not a bad alternative for folks on a budget or looking for something a little different. And you won’t find a view like this in Manhattan.

Rooms in mid-August today were listed from $165 to $260, and weekdays seemed cheaper than weekends. Which is a reverse from most Manhattan hotels that are more business dependent. So this might be a good place for a weekday visit for folks on a budget. You surely won’t find a place this nice – despite its faults – for $165 on a weeknight in Manhattan.






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