January 2004
Christmas in New York

The Enjoyment Officer

Dear london-eating afficianados, people who love fine wine, fine food and all who have a taste for spending money but who want to avoid costly mistakes, I welcome you to the Entertainment Officer column.

My name must remain a secret, but in the last 20 years I have been witness to and instrumental in the success’s of some of London’s most exclusive and sought after bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants. So let me uncover for you the very best that London has to offer.

Over the coming months I will share the secrets of the world of hospitality, tell the truths others wouldn’t dare and disclose the coolest, most genuinely satisfying bars and restaurants where the service is second to none, the cocktails the best in
town and the ambience as comfortable as your own
front room.

Yours Truly,
The Enjoyment Officer

"Christmas in New York, its a wonderful Town, if you like tiny rooms, service with indifference, mediocre cocktails and electro pop!"

Flying on Christmas day seemed a sensible and maverick thing to do, both friends and family trying to hold back either their envy at not having to eat numerous Turkey dinners or astounded at such an unholy display of decadence. Worst of all were those that sensed impending doom on our outward bound journey to the land of the 'invisible towers'. Well it was the cheapest time to fly and unfortunately no Westerner can avoid turkey on a BA flight. As for the impending doom bit, well if your time is up, why not join the stars with a glass of Tattinger on the most reverent day of the year.

Eventually after four hours of delays, we arrived at Ian Schragers Hudson Hotel, situated at 58 th street by 8th avenue , Manhattan .We were greeted with a huge smile from a lonely 'elf like' receptionist. Purveying my temporary home, sleep depravation and a bottle of Tattinger having weakened my resolve, I laughed aloud as I realised that we had indeed arrived at Santa's, New York grotto. The desk that Chris 'the elf' stood behind was definitely part of the enchanted forest from the lord of the rings and the outside enclave screened by 30 ft windows, was the home of the tree keepers, magnificent mahogany trees stretched as far as the building was tall with snow covered branches and tables. It was the Hudson 's private garden, we had arrived, or had we. Unfortunately the bars within the hotel were closed it was only 1am in the morning and it was snowing on Christmas day, so began my demystification of the city that never sleeps.

Boxing Day morning and the city that never sleeps was bathed in glorious white light as the rooftops and streets all reflected the snowfall kindly sent by the untimely northern wind. I decided it had to be oysters and beer for lunch, after the ritual shopping at Macys and Bloomindales. The Grand Central Station Oyster Bar is a great choice for lunch, full of character with very slick service and over 30 different oysters form the north Atlantic coast alone, each from their own Bay or Point. The beer of choice was Boston Brewery Strong Ale 6%, nutty and smooth, oh and not brewed in the U.K, thank authenticity. Main course was a huge bowl of Manhattan clam chowder which was amazing at $3.95.

The real highs and lows belonged to the evening excursions into the salubrious dens of badly mixed cocktails, funky and I mean questionable 'funky', though at times sexy looking bars and clubs.

In a strange way apart from the 'Man Ray' W 15 th street between sixth and seventh avenue, sister restaurant and same proprietor as the 'football star studded' Paris original, I found, at least during this festive season, that the place to hangout & chill, meet single women and men, depending on your persuasion and basically get pissed on as many cocktails as possible, was the Hudson's very own lounge bar.

Unlike their London counterparts, majority of the bar staff are girls and as with most Ian Schrager hotels they are beautiful & efficient, that's where the positive ends. Insincere, frosty and bad cocktail makers are the other qualities that they share over shaken or bruised was my main gripe when trying their martinis or cocktails. When I asked for a replacement I was given a look that medusa would have killed for. They also use 'awful' fruit flavoured liqueurs to mix their drinks, hardly ever-using real juices.

The Hudson suffers from that 'virulent contagious delusion' of 'your here in abundance because we are the best' well those drinks and the electro pop of yesteryear meant it certainly was not.

One amusing fact though, the young brother of the fun loving criminals lead singer Huey, works the door promoting the place as well as other fine things!

That evening we decided on a bar/club hop, expecting velvet rope service and better cocktails then the Hudson .

Off to our first port of call Pangea, on the outskirts of Greenwich Village , on arrival we were ushered in past the crowd into a dark unassuming r & b bongo playing rectangular room where everyone seemed really underdressed.mm I raised an eyebrow.

We ordered an apple martini and a bourbon and coke It cost $20 and the martini was 'vile'.

It had a smell reminiscent of a bar the morning after, having being washed down with a dirty mop. I assumed it was a range of not so wonderful fruit liqueurs obviously bought on the cheap. We didn't finish the drinks and hastily decided to leave, hopefully to a more upmarket establishment by visiting the Lotus Club.

We were ushered in, asked if we wanted a table sat down and ordered a cocktail each. Only to be told minutes later by the floor host that we had to order a bottle if we sat at a table, so basically if we wanted a cocktail we had to stand at the bar, being smiled at by a beautiful Chinese American girl, who was the hostess could have been a consolation if it were not for two things; one it was so practised and two my girlfriend was not definitely not amused.

I was beginning to think that New York was all apple pie with no cream to be found, until I remembered that my friend, John Beech of Peters & Beech, had said that his favourite restaurant in the whole world was Balthazar down in Soho .

It wasn't easy to a get table on Saturday evening but somehow they said they would try and see us at 9, maybe it was the British accent. What greeted us on 80 Spring street was the most fantastic brasserie I have ever seen, the décor was typically French Parisian 19 th Century, old wood floors, Bentwood style chairs, bare wooden tables, a bar with nothing behind it apart from a wall of old wine bottles and a smoky atmosphere with jazz being played in the background, I suppose the London equivalent could be the Ivy but that wouldn't even come close, the service was pleasurable to the point where I couldn't stop smiling.

As for the drinks, well the Bellini was delicious and my martini, to which I was asked my preferred vodka, came as a relief, at last I had found a real slice of New York . The evening was interjected with informed conversation via our waiter John, a couture designer on the verge of signing a $5 million deal. The food was among the best to be found in New York , as was the conversation.

If the saying "you are what you eat" is to be taken literally then New York is 'a genetically modified big Apple overdosed on caffeine'. The nightlife in New York is at times over-inflated though apparently harmless, with the removal of the sex shops and homeless (known as mole people because they all live in the train tunnels and sewers) it seemed diluted and sanitised. At first the bright lights of Times Square and Broadway leave you startled, blinded by the artificial daylight, huge billboards and skyscrapers but it all seemed a bit tasteless, just like their clubs most of their cocktails and definitely their dress sense.

Love it or hate it London has no competition in the aforementioned areas and is still the best city for overall enjoyment!