Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shopping and Dining in NYC

Before I left for New York I already had it in mind that this particular trip would be about shopping. Not necessarily spending, but shopping. I wanted a retail experience this time. I had been to New York City on four previous occasions, so I had already seen the galleries and the museums, the Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, the landmark buildings and monuments, Central Park and its subsidiary greenspaces.

Naturally, one of the first stops on my list was the flagship Macy's store on 34th Street to see the Martha Stewart Collection and all its finery. I had seen the collection up close on a trip earlier this year to Detroit, but to see it in New York City was special. The bedding, bath and kitchen sections were all separated and I had to travel across the store to visit them all, but it was well worth it, especially since one gets to ride the old wooden escalators! (Oh, I'm a simple fellow.) The collection is so well presented and I was glad to see the brand so evenly dispersed throughout the store. That Martha Stewart logo is everywhere! It was great to see. I didn't buy anything this visit, although I was so tempted by a very small and refined cake stand in glimmering white porcelaine with an elaborate fringe detail around the platter portion of the stand. It was gorgeous! But I had nowhere to pack it to bring it home with me on the plane. Since carry-on restrictions were still in place, I could not bring it with me on board and I didn't want to risk breaking it. Next time I'll drive.

In terms of dining, we played it fairly low-key, although one could spend a fortune on the amazing restaurants in this city. Even the restaurants that are not expensive offer truly delicious food: some of the best food in the world can be had for a bargain in Manhattan!

Here is a partial list of the restaurants we tried: Jaya Malaysian at 90 Baxter Street, just off Canal Street near Lafayette, where our hotel was located in the Soho district of Manhattan; Thaison Restaurant, directly across the street from Jaya, which had delicious and plentiful Thai cuisine but a somewhat discourteous staff; Café Café for brunch at 470 Broome Street, which had amazing omelets, homemade muffins and breads, pancakes and waffles; Famous Famiglia Pizzeria for lunch at 1630 Broadway - so delicious; Connolly's Pub on West 45th Street between 6th and 7th, which had a scrumptious menu for lunch in a warm and cozy atmosphere; Oscar Bar and Bistro for late-night cheesecake and wine at 50 MacDougal Street in the Village; Café Espagnol for delicious Spanish food at 172 Bleeker Street; the Mercer Kitchen at 99 Prince Street in Soho for a more expensive but memorable meal. We also couldn't resist some of the street vendors and their mouthwatering offerings!

Below is a gallery of some of the shops we went to explore:

Being the good employee that I am, I made it a point to visit the Anthropologie stores in New York, for research purposes and self-training...and fun! The store at 40 Rockefeller is the largest store in the company and is one of the most striking examples. Above is the glamorous entrance!
The store is two levels with a grand marble staircase at its center.
The merchandising at Anthropologie stores is legendary. If you've never been to an Anthropologie store before, I urge you to seek one out and dazzle your senses. Anyone interested in the creative arrangement of furniture, the mixing of patterns (done correctly) and the addition of whimsical touches to an interior space will be so inspired.
One of the display elements at the store was this perched peacock made of papier maché. Its tail is comprised of plastic spoons and chopsticks in their orange paper wrappings. Brilliant.

At the store in Soho, the aviary theme continues with these two large papier-maché ostriches overseeing a table laden with an array of dishware and decorative accessories.
Colour play at its finest at the Soho store. I've always loved this Astrid chair. Also shown are vintage telephones (which work!) and many examples of our store's famous Capri Blue scented-candle program: Volcano is the best scent.
Anthropologie offers a mix of reproduction and found (often antique) furniture that the buyers at home office select from all over the world. I fell in love with this antique cabinet, which was selling for a mere $28,000.

More creative display elements at the Soho store: a bed mounted on a platform of chopped wood under a canopy of 'snow and ice' gorgeously rendered from various materials for an artistic and magical feeling.
The details are so important at Anthropologie, from how the towels are folded to the use of potted plants and green trim to accentuate the feeling of a particular concept.
Anyone who knows me knows my interest in Ralph Lauren. Like Martha Stewart, he is an ambassador of American lifestyle, albeit a more glamorous one than the one Martha advocates. (Did you know that they are neighbours in Bedford?) I had always wanted to see the flagship Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue and this visit I got my wish. The store is located in the Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo Mansion, which is a massive French Rennaisance revival built in 1898. It is the perfect setting for Ralph Lauren's ultimate vision. Lauren acquired the building in the early '80s and began its restoration in 1983.
Inside the store, there is the warm, lustrous glow of mahogany and a grand central staircase surrounded by original artwork. The architectural details are stunning.Ralph Lauren adores Hollywood glamour and this vignette in the housewares department of the store speaks to this obsession. A framed photo of Marlene Deitrich sets the tone for the black-and-white palette, which shimmers with silver, crystal and leather accents.
Ralph Lauren also adores what can only be described as "rusticated elegance" - a kind of English Country gentrification of the home. Gorgeous examples of his bedding, above, looked tremendous in this wood-panelled room.
At the other end of the room a living room vignette continues the theme.
From a merchandiser's perspective, few do it better than the designers at Ralph Lauren. The presentation is straightforward but guided by an aspirational aim. The Ralph Lauren dishware and serveware looked stunning under the lights on this multi-tiered table with its polished surfaces.
I had first heard about Takashimaya on the Martha Stewart Show when a florist from the Japanese retailer created some of his gorgeous arrangements with Martha on the air. The department store was founded in 1829 in Kyoto, Japan, by Iida Shinkichi. The store at 693 Fifth Avenue is one of only two in North America. It is an impressive six floors with a massive entrance hallway, shown above.
As always it is the housewares department that lures me in first, although the store does boast men's wear, women's wear, handbags and accessories, a garden shop, a tea shop and restaurant. All of the furniture, dishware and accessories are from Japan and made of the highest quality.
This table was $25,000 and the cabinet behind it was $38,000. Ouch. (But beautiful!)
I fell in love with glass tea set with its puckered, mirrored stand.
A visit to New York is not complete without a visit to the Strand Book Store. It is three floors of new, used and rare books. It is packed with books! And I mean jam-packed with books! Notice how the windows above the entrance are completely obscured by books. There are thousands and thousands...
....and thousands and thousands...
...and thousands and thousands of books!
It's always busy at The Strand, I was told.
Right around the corner from our hotel in Soho was a wonderful store called the Pearl River Mart, which specializes in Chinese imports. There were fantastic treasures in here. It was a Chinese feast for the eyes!
Year of the Tiger meant seeing lots of tributes to felines. These vessels are not even remotely priceless, but they are attractive, especially when viewed en-masse like this.
We were a bit surprised to see so many posters devoted to General Mao Zedong, who was not the friendliest of men. These were for sale. There were all kinds of paper lanterns.

In the middle of the store is a big staircase backed by a waterfall that trickles down a cement wall from the top floor.Traditional and non-traditional masks were in huge abundance at Pearl River Mart, as were Chinese dragons. I also loved the handmade papers and stationery. While we were there we also visited the Taschen bookstore and another great store from Japan called Muji, which had wonderful bins for storage and all kinds of sleek, crisp housewares. (There's that word again!)

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