The Power of the Staycation: 24 Hours in New York
Do you ever stay in town to celebrate important events? I had the pleasure to do so recently to celebrate my 20th Anniversary. These days, hotel and restaurant professionals realize the power of the so-called "pink dollar." You don’t even see a raised eyebrow or confused look when you check in with your significant other even in the finest restaurants and hotels. I want to tell you about a wonderful example of this that I recently experienced in my hometown, New York City.
Both of us had agreed to take one evening and arrange events for each other. I had Friday and he had Saturday. To celebrate this important event-and surprise my partner with an unexpected evening of gastronomic pleasures-I was determined to find a special eatery that would offer an extraordinary culinary experience. When I read Sam Sifton’s three-star review in the New York Times about Ai Firoi (Italian for "among the flowers")-the new restaurant in the recently opened New York Setai Fifth Avenue-I knew that I’d found the perfect romantic destination to celebrate any occasion. I figured, how could I go wrong with a restaurant that the NYT’s referred to as "the best restaurant to open in New York in the last 12 months"?
As I began thinking about how the evening would unfold, knowing that I wanted to create a "total" anniversary experience, I decided to add a hotel stay, a night out on the town, and morning-after regime of rejuvenating spa treatments to complement the romantic package. It was at this point that I realized my anniversary dinner had turned into a staycation. The word staycation (or stay-cation, or stacation) is a neologism-a word that’s gained popularity in current hard economic times in which unemployment levels and gas prices are high so families are looking for alternatives to expensive out-of-town vacations.
An attentive cadre of friendly service pros greeted us at the hotel’s reception desk-led by the incredible manager of personal assistants, Brian P. Fahey. What sets the New York Setai Fifth Avenue apart from any other luxury property in New York, is its ability to make each and every guest feel welcomed. Not only is the mood unpretentious-and given the luxury setting, it could easily be-but there are none of those annoying canned responses. Each guest is assigned a personal assistant upon check-in. Brian Fahey was our assistant-immediately offering us his private cell phone number, explaining that his availability to us from check-in to check out. Brian truly thought of every detail, making us feel like we were staying in someone’s home - right down to the 5 x 7 picture of us that he’d blown-up and framed sitting beside the king-sized Duxiana bed.
When I sat down on the bed and fell back onto the down pillows, I was hooked. The room was so luxurious and offered a host of in-room amenities, including: Pratesi linen, built-in closet, Turkish towels, complementary refreshment center, Marble bath-with both a glass enclosed floor to ceiling rain shower and oversized soaking tub-and bathroom amenities by Lorenzo Villoresi Firenze for Botega. The room was wired with all the latest high-tech goodies, from a sophisticated telecommunications system with 2-lines and personalized voicemail to wireless access and an iPod dock. I’ve been in the top hotels in the city, but have to say that the new Setai Fifth Avenue has truly set the bar in New York.
The dinner at Ai Firoi did not disappoint-truly exquisite. Service was very attentive and friendly, but this restaurant comes down to the cuisine. To be very succinct, the food was fantastic. We had the Soglioa-the wild Holland Dover Sole served with beurre noisette with hazelnut butter (the best sole I’ve ever had by the way); the Lobster Velouté-big chunks of lobster, shaved chestnut and black truffles; the Risotto-riso acquarello (organic rice) with escargots. The dinner was truly a one-of-a-kind experience that we’ll cherish for years to come. A bottle of Brunello di Montalcino 2004 didn’t hurt either.
After dinner, we set off for Carnegie Hall and a presentation in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the iconic Judy Garland concert. The concert meticulously recreated the orchestration established for Judy’s triumphant return to the stage. Sung by a trio of Broadway singers and Judy’s daughter Lorna Luft, the concert provided insight into what it might have been like on that same stage fifty years earlier.
Following an incredible night in the well-appointed guest room we enjoyed an indulgent day of spa treatments at the hotel’s secret gem, the Auriga Spa. In addition to a traditional manicure and pedicure, I took advantage of the spa’s signature Moon Phase Treatment-"Waxing Moon" to be exact. The uniquely development full-body treatments are inspired by the phases in the lunar month-New, Waxing, Full and Waning packages correspond with the moon’s particular stages-supposedly tapping into the energy and universal rhythm of the earth’s natural satellite.
A fine hotel offers a late checkout. 4:30 is very civilized. A noon checkout is for the birds! That night I had a surprise visit to the Metropolitan Opera, but that’s another story! Ultimately, "vacation" is more about a state of mind than about where you are. If you can relax, leave work behind, and do fun stuff with someone you love, then that’s a staycation. It’s the perfect alternative to packing things up to leave town. You won’t regret it.