The Big Apple is buzzing, with new hotels, revived restaurants, and a fresh attitude.
There were moments in the past two years that made it hard to believe the pandemic would ever pass. The city’s streets were empty, the storefronts dark, and our nights were spent clapping for healthcare workers, with the noise a helpful reminder that our neighbours had been there all along. Thankfully those difficult months are truly a thing of the past. The throngs of people on the sidewalk, in parks, at restaurants, and snarling the city streets and highways with cars they bought during the pandemic, not to mention skyrocketing residential rents, show that New Yorkers, myself included, didn’t abandon ship. New York is back and open for business.
For those that miss it dearly, let me remind you of the jolt you get when you lift your head from the gridded streets of Manhattan or spy the cinematic skyline from the new observation decks at the World Trade Center or One Vanderbilt. Block after block of glass-and-steel towers rise higher and higher from Midtown to Queens to Brooklyn, with 80-, 90-, even 100-storey skyscrapers dwarfing the 20th-century twins of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Construction is the city’s lifeblood, from the new towers of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s far West Side to the spindled tops of the residential buildings along 57th Street and downtown Brooklyn.
Some of these towers partially emptied during the pandemic, and commercial real estate felt the sting. The office vacancy rate in Manhattan was 17 per cent at the end of 2021 compared with 11 per cent in 2019.This coincided with a jump in work-from-home positions to 10.6 per cent of job openings, or 25,800 of 243,000 postings for December 2021. By comparison, in early 2020 only 4 per cent of job postings were remote.
On the bright side, major companies are renewing their leases and the Manhattan office market is still attractive to large tenants, from big tech to big banks and law and insurance firms. It helps that New York’s commercial landscape is incredibly diversified, with multiple ecosystems of businesses including 73 Fortune 500 companies as well as 410,000-women-owned businesses.
But is anyone in these offices? In typical New York fashion, the locals are adapting to the latest trend: the new hybrid work life. In February 2022, there was a huge 107 per cent increase in foot traffic to Manhattan office buildings over the previous February, according to location analytics firm Placer.ai. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has noticed this trend, too. Ridership on the subway and buses is currently at 60 per cent of what it was pre-pandemic, but twice the rate of 2021. What’s noticeable about these increases, though, is how New Yorkers are using the subway and other public transit, with Mondays and Fridays having fewer riders, due to hybrid work schedules. The MTA is eyeing adding more trains on nights and weekends to accommodate the new normal.
While New York is the cultural capital of the United States, as well as the financial, media, fashion, professional and retail capital, there’s a strong case to be made that it’s also the rival tech capital to San Francisco.
The tech industry employs nearly 330,000 people in New York, compared to 387,000 in San Francisco. It’s a large, well-educated talent pool drawn by New York’s cultural, cosmopolitan and commercial attractions. The big four – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google – employ more than 22,000 people here. Google, which has 12,000 corporate employees in the city, recently purchased a 1.2 million sqm property downtown on the Hudson River, adding to the 15-storey building it owns in Chelsea.
Meanwhile, Facebook/Meta has added roughly 28,000 sqm to its existing 204,000 sqm of office space. Amazon also continues to expand, buying the former Lord and Taylor department store on Fifth Avenue for US$1 billion in 2020. And that’s just developments in Manhattan. The Cornell Tech Campus recently completed phase one on Roosevelt Island and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle of Dumbo, Downtown Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard is home to hundreds of start-ups.
It’s not just workers who are returning. New York has a forecasted 56.4 million visitors for 2022, and international travel is expected to triple to 8 million from 2021 as restrictions are lifted. This growth is reflected in the recent room occupancy rates at the city’s hotels. While April 2022 saw a rate of 61.2 per cent compared to April 2019’s rate of 80 per cent, it was higher than the 2021 average of 58.6 per cent.
While business travel was the hardest hit during the pandemic, accounting for only 12 per cent of all visits, it’s currently on the rebound. The city is courting the meetings and convention market with its campaign ‘Make It NYC’. Chris Heywood, former executive vice-president of global communications for NYC and Company, says, “The city guarantees outstanding accessibility, world-class amenities, and record attendance for meetings and conventions.”
This year, New York expects to see 9 million business travellers or 16 per cent of all visitors. Data from STR, the global hospitality data and analytics company, show that from April 17 to May 14, hotel occupancy on Tuesday nights went up from 78.7 per cent to 83.3 per cent week on week. “Occupancy is edging up during the week which is a great sign that business travel is coming back,” adds Heywood.
Overall the city added 20,000 hotel rooms in 2021 and an additional 10,000 will come online by 2024. This year alone will see 48 new hotels from brands including Ritz-Carlton, Aman Resorts, and Virgin.
Sprucing up New York
As well as new hotels, the city is seeing a raft of infrastructure projects, parks and open space, while new neighbourhoods are also being introduced or planned, giving New York a jolt of energy.
Earlier this year, New York state governor Kathy Hochul released 14 possible plans for mass transit options to the much-maligned LaGuardia Airport, which has never had a direct subway or rail connection from Manhattan. Additionally, the airport has been renovated at a cost of US$8 billion – its Terminal B was declared the best new airport building by an international panel, while construction will begin on the 23-gate, US$9.5 billion New Terminal One at JFK this year.
The governor also announced plans to move forward with the Interborough Express, a 14-mile transit line that would run from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to Jackson Heights in Queens, connecting residents in outer-borough neighbourhoods that have no or limited rail options.
For those travelling by intercity rail, the new Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station is a bright entry to New York, restoring some of the former glory and grace of the soaring McKim, Mead and White neoclassical structure that was controversially demolished in 1963.
On the nature front, Little Island, a “floating” park designed by Heatherwick Studio, opened in spring 2021 on the site of the former Cunard-White Star line at Pier 54 where Titanic survivors disembarked in 1912. The park was an instant hit, with so many crowds wanting to walk through the multi levels of plantings and enjoy the river views that timed tickets had to be issued. In addition, just south of Little Island, the city is building Gansevoort Peninsula, which will be a large green oasis with a salt marsh and a beach.
What to see, where to eat
Meanwhile, New York’s cultural institutions have raised their curtains to enthusiastic crowds, from the Metropolitan Opera to the bright lights of Broadway, while new museums such as the Frick Madison and Fotografiska are wonderful windows into the city’s art treasures.
The restaurant scene is also hotter than ever, and reservations are required. Otherwise, good luck getting into a popular restaurant even on a weeknight, despite the pandemic streetside sheds which have in some cases doubled or tripled seating. New Yorkers are flocking to old favourites including Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, to sip martinis under the famous murals, and the recently reopened Lambs Club on W 44th Street for pre-theatre dinner or nightcaps. On Brooklyn’s Fulton Street, Gage and Tollner, a Gilded Age eatery originally opened in 1879, has been resurrected by a trio of chef/restaurateurs, complete with gas-light chandeliers and velvet flocked wallpaper.
New York’s top chefs have been busy opening new restaurants, too, ready for expense account diners. Andrew Carmellini’s two-level Carne Mare at South Street Seaport makes dining an event, with table-side plating, generous gin and tonics served in balloon glasses, and high-low dishes such as mozzarella sticks topped with caviar.
At Danny Meyer’s Ci Siamo in Midtown West, chef Hillary Sterling grills whole fish and meats over a wood-burning hearth. Meanwhile downtown, Tribeca and the Financial District are turning into the spot for the best cocktail bars. Not for those with a fear of heights, the 64th-storey wraparound terrace at Overstory has impressive views, while newcomer Holywater offers Sazeracs and seafood towers with a laidback maritime-meets-New Orleans vibe. Alternatively, rock up to the always-crowded Dead Rabbit tap room at the tip of Manhattan on Water Street before 5pm and you’ll still get a seat.
Creativity has always been the name of the game in New York and the key to finding solutions to enormous challenges. We’ve seen workers gain more flexibility in their schedules, companies shed real estate costs by moving into co-working spaces, and restaurants make outdoor dining and cocktails-to-go permanent. The city is as vibrant as ever, just adapting to a new rhythm. Long may it keep the beat.
Take me there
You can book your next trip from London to New York with United Airlines at united.com. United Airlines flies seven times a day to New York Newark from London Heathrow on a 767-300 featuring 46 United Polaris® business class seats, 22 United® Premium Plus seats and 99 United Economy seats. Customers travelling in business class can enjoy access to the United Club℠ at Heathrow’s Terminal Two and the Polaris lounge at Newark Liberty Airport.
The Ned NoMad opened on June 22 in the former NoMad hotel space. It has 167 rooms and brings the same mix of members-only and public spaces as the London property, designed by the Soho House design team. The Library is a members-only workspace by day and cosy bar by night.
Just across Broadway, the Ritz-Carlton NoMad opens this summer in a new-build tower with 250 rooms and 16 branded penthouse residences. The Zaytinya restaurant and rooftop bar are by award-winning chef José Andrés, who will also open The Bazaar later in the year.
The Fifth Avenue Hotel opens autumn 2022 with 153 rooms and interiors by designer Martin Brudnizki in an early 20th-century Italianate mansion with a new-build tower.
Another new tower, Virgin Hotels New York, is slated to open in late 2022. The hotel will house its flagship restaurant Commons Club, an as-yet-unannounced standalone restaurant, and the Funny Library Coffee Shop, where guests can work and meet in a collaborative space open to the public.
The Wall Street Hotel opened in June with 180 rooms and suites and interiors by Rose Ink Workshop, which also designed the lobby’s Lounge on Pearl in an Art Deco style. Guests can request a mobile office to their room: complete with a printer, copier, scanner, a full suite of cables, international adapters, and courier and mailing services.
Aman New York opens in August in the historic 1921 Crown Building on 57th Street with 83 spacious suites, each with a working fireplace. The urban retreat will also have a three-storey Aman spa with banya and hammans, a 20m indoor pool, and a 650 sqm garden terrace with firepits and reflecting pools.
Words: Sunshine Flint