There’s nowhere quite like New York at Christmas, says Caiti Grove
It is hard to fasten your superlatives to the ground in this city – great theatre, ground-breaking fashion, beautiful parks – and you want to do it all. But Christmas is a time to feel that sparkly, filmic It’s a Wonderful Life thrill.
The Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre first appeared in 1933. Today an in-house gardener hoists a 100ft tall Norwegian spruce every year. You can skate on the ice rink nearby but for a slightly quieter rink, go down the road to the Wollman Rink in Central Park. Have a spiced cider at the Tavern On the Green to warm up, where they often have live jazz.
A trip to see the New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Centre would plunge the most stubborn Scrooges into a magical universe. Afterwards, go to Dizzy’s Jazz club for a late night session and a visit to Bluebird London in between for a cardamon daiquiri.
If you have youngsters to amuse, consider a trip to the eighth floor in Macy’s where Father Christmas greets children in a 13,000 sq/ft North Pole display. Don’t be afraid if it’s a wanton recreation of filmic Christmas clichés or Yultide commercialism. Baby, it’s cold outside and this is where New York excels.
A mainstay of ‘80s Christmas classics, Fifth Avenue buzzes with feverish energy. The Peninsula was built in a neo-classical style in 1905, it is grandly nostalgic, complete with white-gloved valets to relieve you of your shopping at the brass swivel doors.
The rooms are all white and cream with dark oak furniture topped with vases of roses, looking out onto the city’s iconic skyline. On the 21st floor, a low-lit spa offers a pool, personal trainers who sculpt celebrities into Netflix-ready shape, plus, of course, treatments. Two-hour programs to scrub and tone, drain the lymphatics or an Ayurvedic massage to stimulate the pineal gland to release melatonin for guests on the red eye from London.
Doubles from $695 per night. peninsula.com
Novelty is everything on the Big Apple’s peerless food scene. For a super-special meal booked months in advance, 11 Madison Park is lauded for its elegant art deco design and eight to ten courses of slow-cooked venison and custard dessert with bee pollen.
Or seek out something in the West Village: The Leroy House is an elegant bistro in a grand redbrick townhouse serving a ‘New American’ menu – classics like braised short ribs and burgers alongside scallops and duck confit borrowed from Europe and Asia.
Anna Wintour and Lady Gaga go to New York Vintage (in Chelsea) to supplement their wardrobes with museum-worthy silk dresses and Chanel designs. Upstairs there is an archive to inspire extravagant style and shows the best of every era. Afterwards, take a stroll down the High Line – a former tramline and now a planted raised walkway that stretches from Manhattan to the city’s newest high-rise development, Hudson Yards.
Make for Thomas Heatherwick’s sculptural public space Vessel. Stop at C.O. Bigelow, apparently America’s oldest pharmacy, for its lemon body cream. It’s where where fashion editors and celebrities stock up on their in-house products.
Swing by the Museum of Modern Art, which has just reopened after a £356m refurbishment, and promises performances, film and 30 per cent more space. The museum covets the crème of the world’s modern painting and sculpture – Dali’s melting watches, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Oppenheim’s surrealist fur teacup – it’s all here. Fridays 4-8pm are free which makes earlier that afternoon the gallery’s quietest time. When the gallery starts to fill up, go round the corner to St Patrick’s Cathedral – a huge Gothic landmark of the city. Try and inveigle yourself into their annual Christmas concert (19 Dec, 7pm). It is a New York institution and everyone joins in with the choir for traditional and modern carols.
On a weekend evening, go to the East Village, which has retained its vintage shops and cocktail bars – and a cadre of veteran beatnik artists who acquired their flats 60 years ago. Head to Mister Paradise for a Party Lobster – tequila, garlic and Campari.
The clientele is mostly early thirties and it has an ‘80s song list to match, which occasionally causes the bar breakout into spontaneous singing. You must also walk over the Brooklyn bridge (about 40 minutes) and see the brownstone houses.
Go on a weekend and find Brooklyn Flea, where Manhattanites mine for vintage brooches (Saturdays in Williamsburg, Sundays in Dumbo). Don your vintage treasures and find Maison Premiere for happy hour between 4 and 7.