Images of a torn New York City, whose buzzing boulevards suddenly became silent and empty earlier this year are being replaced with those of a metropolis on the rebound. European-style sidewalk seating adorns restaurants from uptown to downtown, from Staten Island to the Bronx and from Brooklyn to Queens. Museums are reopening and resilient New Yorkers are making the most of their hometown, enjoying many newfound open spaces.
We’re excited about how New York will recreate itself on its journey to recovery and, so, we spoke with Christopher Heywood, executive vice president of global communications of NYC & Company, which handles tourism for all five boroughs to get the scoop on the comeback.
“People who are thinking about a trip to New York should feel confident that there’s been a lot of work done putting visitor safety first; whether you see that in the museums or transportation, or the whole outdoor dining focus,” Heywood told us. Updates on these efforts are posted at NYCGo.com, as are a full menu of things to do across the entire city.
The New York City tourism industry is taking a hyper-local approach to get residents and those 20 million folks in the metro area to enjoy what’s in their own backyard through an “All in NYC” campaign. This is a great time to see New York without the crowds, but make no mistake, the goal is to get people back in the city to redevelop the vibrancy it’s known for.
The “Neighborhood Getaways” program (details on NYCGo.com) encourages New Yorkers to take advantage of deals and offers that are rarely available in the city that never sleeps. MasterCard is a corporate sponsor and is offering a $100 credit, depending on the amount spent.
The “New York Staycation” program has the messaging that “you may think you know New York, but you really don’t.”
Grand Central Station is a New York icon that draws tourists and locals in awe of its architecture. // Photo: Getty Images
“There’s so much to see and do, even for the most jaded New Yorker,” says Heywood. He says that even without Broadway, which will not reopen until next year, there are plenty of public arts available, the museums are open and as always, there are dozens of cultural offerings on a smaller scale to enjoy.
The bottom line, especially for those travelers who are so anxious to take a vacation during these challenging times? Know that the city has flattened the curve of COVID-19 infections and continues to do so. And while it’s beaten back the pandemic, officials are still very cautious and remain hyper-vigilant about keeping the infection rate way down.
“I would say the biggest selling point for New York City right now is that we are the safest place to be in the country,” says Heywood.
The Inside Scoop
We asked New Yorkers to paint a picture of what it’s like to be in the city right now.
“I’m a New Yorker and seeing my city get punched, then slowly recover and adapt during the crisis has been a testament to its resilience. When the doors are closed, we sing in the streets,” says Sekita Ekrek of Sekita Ekrek Luxury Travel Marketing.
“In addition to all the outdoor restaurant set ups, there’s a lot of music and creativity in the streets now, which I love. [On a recent] Sunday afternoon, while running errands in the East Village, I stopped in my tracks to hear a beautiful voice belting out ‘Somewhere’ from ‘West Side Story.’ I turned around to see a crowd had gathered at Astor Place — young and old, all walks of life. The New York Philharmonic was doing a pop-up concert. It was so moving, it literally brought tears to my eyes. The other night, I saw a random play in Fort Greene about 20-somethings dealing with life during COVID. Everyone sat on blankets six feet apart — including the actors. It’s an interesting time in history to see New York. I say, put on those walking shoes and start exploring,” Ekrek says.
Laurie Palumbo, COO of Island Destinations, who is also a local, says, “I love New York City and one of my favorite spots is The Bar at the Baccarat Hotel. I feel like I’m stepping back in time, the setting is so glamorous and decadent; watching the bartenders carefully mixing craft cocktails served in gorgeous Baccarat crystal glasses under gleaming chandeliers always puts a smile on my face! It’s on my post-COVID to-do list!”
“Living in New York City through COVID has been a wonderful experience to see young neighbors pitching in to check on older residents to say they can go shopping for needed supplies from the pharmacies or supermarkets,” says Kitt Garrett of Kitt Garrett’s New York.
Central Park never loses its romance, even as the colder months approach. // Photo: Getty Images
She says other efforts by locals include “pulling the community together to support the local mom-and-pop stores, joining the clean-up with our neighborhood committee, and appreciating the support from our building’s amazing staff to make sure we are all safe, and everything we need is provided. It’s the best of what it means to be a New Yorker, with people helping people.”
Lucille Ebbe Pucciarelli, president and CEO of Clark Travel Agency, Inc., lives in New Jersey and took a daytrip into the city recently. “Normally, I would be going to a museum or a play. When we got there we walked and walked…to the Flatiron District and we ate at Il Patio di Eataly, which was phenomenal. We walked through Madison Square Park and then up to Bryant Park, where we sat and enjoyed the view of my favorite park in New York. There were lots of people all about, enjoying the city. It was wonderful.”
New York eases its way into one’s soul and remains, year after year.
“I live in the Upper East Side,” says Ivan Igor Matta, co-owner of aliveXperiences, a boutique tour operator for Europe. “I moved to New York City 16 years ago after spending two weeks there as a tourist. I love the city for its vibe, because even if it is very expensive, the city keeps giving. You can be whoever you like and start fresh any day of your life.”
Limor Dector, a luxury travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group, recalls her first memory of New York City in 1971: “I was only six years old and we had just moved from Israel. We were immigrants, strangers in a new land and I remember going on the Staten Island ferry around Manhattan and seeing the Twin Towers being built, looming over the city skyline. I was speechless. I was astounded to see the world’s tallest buildings [at the time] in progress. That memory is etched in my heart and mind forever. The Twin Towers were the embodiment of the American dreams we came to pursue in the land of opportunity.”
Alison Kraft Blue of Plaza Travel moved to New York from California in 1986. “I was a young girl looking to take on the universe in the hospitality world. I had never been there but wanted a change. The world opened up to me on those streets. It changed me forever,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor.
Adventures in Dining
Amy Grigos, a luxury travel advisor and founder of High Access Travel, reports that, “Contrary to popular belief, New York is not dead. It’s beaten-up a bit, definitely, but it is doing everything it can to come back.”
She recently dined at three New York establishments to sample their outside dining venues. “First stop was Bellini at Mr. C Seaport. If you know anything about Cipriani’s, this is a great outdoor option. It’s slightly off-the-beaten path and you can still experience the same wonderful Bellini from Harry’s Bar in Venice. The hotel is doing a wonderful job as well, with social distancing and protocols. The view from some of the rooms of the Brooklyn Bridge can take the breath away of the most jaded New Yorker. The last time we dined there, we were informed they have heaters on order to extend the outdoor dining option into the colder weather. Bravo, Mr. C Seaport and Bellini!
“Next stop, Pastis on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. This place was an institution — you might remember from ‘Sex in the City’ — and when it closed, everyone was so deeply saddened. When Stephen Starr and Keith McNally reopened it in 2019, the celebrities were back in droves. To expand seating for outside dining, Gansevoort Street on this portion of the block is closed to traffic. It was a very cold night the evening we were there. People without reservations were being turned away, and to-go orders were flying out of the kitchen. They won’t bring you a cocktail until you order an appetizer at the very least. Some of the tables are under hanging heat lamps, but not all. We tried to return the other evening, last minute, but were unable to get a reservation, as they were fully committed. Tres bien, Pastis!
Gansevoort Street is noted for its in-demand dining and boutique shops. It’s busy even during these challenging times. // Photo: Getty Images
“Americans are still unable to go to Italy and enjoy the famous Tagliolini Al Limone at Hotel Santa Caterina and that’s something we have been craving since last summer when we were there. We decided one night to head to Morandi in the West Village to get our Italian fix. Morandi is known for their Fritto Misto di Pesce, which consists of salty, fried calamari; shrimp with the heads on and little whole fish, similar to sardines. This fried, salty combo is definitely a ploy to make your drink more and more wine than you would usually. We take no issue with more vino, especially on a cold Saturday night, eating outside without a heat lamp in sight. Morandi is always crowded, and you can usually dine pretty late, but during the pandemic they have stopped serving much earlier. We arrived just in time to grab a table outside, although they did have a few tables for inside seating (which were six feet apart). We ordered the Pici al Limone (hand-rolled spaghetti with lemon and parmesan) and a bottle of Barolo, closed our eyes and imagined we were on the Amalfi Coast. It was nice to be out and about, supporting New York City restaurants, but we can not wait to get back to Italy. Salute!
“So far on our nightly restaurant rounds in New York City, we are three for three. All three restaurants are doing the best they can under the circumstances, and we are happy to support them and pray things turn around, as New York is known for some of the greatest restaurants in the world.
“We are all in this together, so wear your mask, carry sanitizer, and support these great establishments, as we want to enjoy them and want them to be around for years to come.”