Just Indian things in NYC

Charukesi Ramadurai | Updated on October 25, 2019

Get a taste of India while sauntering around the iconic New York City

As soon as I settled down with my cocktail at Perrine, the signature restaurant of The Pierre in New York, the maître d’ handed me the menu. Pav bhaji, it read. Yellow tadka dal and Malabar shrimp curry too. I had a dinner reservation at the French restaurant; was I in the wrong place? As it turned out, no. The Pierre is a Taj Hotel since 2005 and ensures that Indian guests who come for that brand are not disappointed. I did end up eating off the main menu, but I was strangely touched by the gesture. Around me, locals were catching up at the bar over after-work drinks, while diners seated at the tables looked longingly at the al fresco Rosé Terrace, and willed summer into arriving soon.

Opened in 1930, The Pierre, a Taj Hotel, today manages to combine Western décor and design with traditional Indian hospitality and service; elevator attendants in lily white gloves who chat about the weather and compliment your lipstick shade. My room had views of New York’s Upper East Side, with its concrete skyscrapers and old churches in equal measure. And Central Park was right at the doorstep. A fact I had to keep repeating to myself, for in New York, like in all great cities of the world, location is everything.

In that shoulder season between spring and summer, Central Park was ablaze with the colours of magnolia, tulips and cherry blossoms. Buskers were out in full force, and I sat myself by the Bethesda statue, watching a ballet dancer pirouette gracefully, even as in the distance, a trio of violinists belted out a catchy rhythm. Sprawling over 700 acres in the heart of Manhattan, these grounds are the massive green lungs of the city, complete with a lake, a zoo and horse carriage tours. Central Park is also surrounded by other greats, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, shopping delights from Barney’s to Kate Spade, and even, ahem, Trump Tower for the curious.

I could have spent my entire New York vacation just in the vicinity of Central Park, but come late evening and Times Square beckoned with its twinkling lights and flashing billboards. It was but a mere mile from The Pierre, and I ambled along Fifth Avenue, peeking into designer boutiques and stopping for coffee at a popular chain inside the aforementioned Trump Tower (ok, call me curious).

Times Square gets a bad rap among frequent travellers, those who have seen it all and are enormously bored by it all. It is called touristy, crowded, uncool. Well, I think it is all of those, but it is also alive and dynamic in a way that few other public spaces in the world can hope to be. Men in Spiderman costumes and posters for the latest musicals in the neighbouring theatre district took up all my attention, as I found a quiet corner. Even in the middle of the noise and crowds, that is possible, and that is what makes Times Square my preferred place for people watching.

Back at the hotel, Melissa Braverman from marketing took me around the property, first stopping at the Cotillion Ballroom where Al Pacino danced his brilliant blind tango in ‘Scent of a woman.’ Elizabeth Taylor and Yves Saint Laurent have owned apartments at the hotel, while Audrey Hepburn stayed there while filming Breakfast at Tiffany’s. To be fair, these nuggets of trivia are not shared openly by hotel employees, but are part of luxury legend in the city anyway. And then there was the Rotunda room that led to Perrine restaurant from inside the hotel, all sweeping marble stairs and brass lighting fixtures, with Renaissance style murals created by American artist Edward Melcarth in 1967 as the centre of attraction. The murals feature among other divine beings and cherubs floating amidst wispy clouds, Venus and Minerva (and strangely, celebrity favourites like Jacqueline Kennedy too).

We ended at what Braverman knew was the absolute highlight of the hotel, the Tata Presidential Suite on the 39th floor. From the large windows, I could see Central park stretched out like a brown-green carpet below me, neatly bordered by the brown-greys of the city itself, as if to reinforce the notion that New York itself is an urban jungle. In this suite overlooking the city traffic but completely shielded from all the noise and frenzy, there were a few more distinctly Indian touches like the large Madhubani paintings on the walls and the brocade furnishings.

In this Instagram era, where modern and minimalism is all the rage, I felt quite at home in the unapologetic grandeur of The Pierre, that did indeed remind me of home back in India.

Charukesi Ramadurai is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer-photographer

Published on October 24, 2019

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