It’s hard to believe that Gramercy Park was once a swamp. That is because, as you make have noticed during your first visit here, this is one of the prettiest parks in New York City, and only one of two private ones to boot (the other being Sunnyside Gardens in Queens). The shrubbery is immaculate, the monument of Edwin Booth is well-kept, the black gates that enclose this patch of greenery give it a sense of privacy. The overall aesthetics? Just perfect. This, of course, means lots of wonderful mornings ahead.
There’s a distinct charm and pleasantry about walking through Gramercy Park Hotel. The storied building, which opened in the 1920’s, is New York City’s original boutique hotel. Yes, it has had its share of up and downs over the last the 20 years, but there’s no denying its history and beauty. The lobby is grandiose, from the long red carpets and the gigantic chandelier, to the artwork and the fireplace. It’s no wonder why Humphrey Bogart married Helen Menken here. Continuing to name drop here. Babe Ruth was a former regular of the hotel’s bar. The Kennedy Family, including JFK, stayed on the second floor for several months before Joe Kennedy moved the family to London. The Clash stayed here. So did Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and David Bowie. Just go ahead, take a seat near the fireplace and day dream.
Luckily for your figure, following that amazing meal, there’s another great park to check out. The Union Square Park is the busiest cross-section in the city, given how it connects Greenwich Village with Chelsea, Flatiron and Gramercy. The park attracts chess players and skaters in droves. For most of the year, you will have the Greenmarket taking over the outskirts of the park with organic produce, juices and meats. Around the holidays, the vendors return to sell more gifts. The north side of the park features The Pavilion bar and grill that opens during the warmer months. Today, you just take a seat on the bench to people watch to your heart’s content.
Around the block there’s another great landmark that would give goosebumps to any film lover. The Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute is one of the most recognizable acting schools in the world. The school was founded in 1969 by famed actor and teacher Lee Strasburg. The school is also the birthplace of the method acting style, which conjures real life experiences to produce emotions and actions. As a result, the school has produced famed actors such as Al Pacino, John Leguizamo, Alex Baldwin, Matt Dillon, Laura Dern and Claire Danes. If you have a chance to walk through the school, take that dip. There are also many small theater productions to visit.
Imagine your New York City morning meals begin sitting by a fireplace in room that resembles a cottage. They just may, if you make it over to the Friend of a Farmer. The farm-to-table spot has been a neighborhood favorite for more than 30 years. Their breakfast is out-of-this-world good. You’ll have a chance to have porridge (a big plus since… who actually serves this… anywhere?). But there’s a variety of eggs benedicts – traditional, salmon, crab, and Florentine. To kick it up a notch, you choose the old-fashion pumpkin pancakes. Your eyes literally pop out of place. It’s that good.
In a neighborhood dotted with great restaurants such as The House, Duke’s, ABC Kitchen and Yama, nothing should stop you from taking the dive at The Halal Guys. The Middle Eastern food specialists cough up some of the tastiest bites you will have in the entire Manhattan. In fact, these food kings with humble beginnings (read: food cart on the corner of 53rd St and Sixth Avenue!) are considered the best in the city. The biggest sellers, traditionally, are chicken over rice and their legendary beef gyro sandwich.
As you stroll down the east side of Union Square, at the corner of 17th Street and Park Avenue South, you notice an older building that intrigues you. It’s the old Tammany Hall, a famed building that from 1927 to 1943 housed the political party by the same name. Yes, this is the same political organization that was led by “Boss” Tweed, featured in the movie Gangs of New York. In recent years, the building housed the New York Film Academy. Then in 2013, Tammany Hall became a landmark and is expected to undergo major interior renovations. Today, you can revel in the exteriors of this wonderful historic locale.
Now that you have gotten a taste of acting prowess, make your way over to the legendary The Players Club, the private social club that was created by famed 19th century Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth. The club serves as a club for American and British theatre royalty – from actors to playwrights. If you are granted permission to enter, you will get the chance to see the memorabilia and artifacts. The club is an elite group that awards the prestigious “Edwin Booth Life Achievement Award.” To put that in perspective, you will need to see some of the former recipients (also club members): Jack Lemmon, Jason Robards, Jose Ferrer, Christopher Plummer and Helen Hayes.
The dinner scene in Gramercy is as diverse as they come, with some of the city’s best eateries like L’Express and BLT Prime in the mix. But tonight, you decide to try Upland. The first thing you notice at this American eatery is the abundance of wine bottles that line the walls. The decor is soothing and inviting. The food is just as impressive, with grilled Amish chicken leading the way. There are several other standouts, such as the flying pigs farm porchetta and the pappardelle (with spicy sausage ragu, kale and parmesan). It comes as no surprise that Upland has become one of the most frequented in the area, as the team behind it is the same one that’s behind the immensely successful Il Buco, Morimoto and Buddakan.
Time for a real cocktail! There are numerous craft cocktail spots scattered all over Gramercy, spots like Ampersand and Dear Irving. Still, the premiere drinking place is The Winslow. The British style pub acts as a gin bar of sorts as it hosts its own gin club that meet regularly and features more than 40 types of gin. The décor is also original, strongly imbued with a sense of a British home.
In Gramercy, just as there’s a rich history in acting, there’s also a long history of great, older bars. For starters, there’s the Rolf’s German Restaurant. The German watering hole has become famous for its elaborate Christmas decorations. But the most historical bar in the neighborhood – and probably the city – is Pete’s Tavern. The Irish pub is arguably the oldest bar in New York City, as it dates back to the mid-1800’s. Disguised as a flower shop, Pete’s also served as a speakeasy during the Prohibition. Some of the bar’s famed regular customers include Johnny Depp, Jimmy Fallon and writer O. Henry.