There is something wholly rewarding about finding a pocket of peace in a city of dreams – a nostalgic sentiment akin to scouring the beach in childhood, running your tiny fingers through grainy sands in pursuit of a seashell jackpot.
And I’m not talking about that City of Dreams, not the Hollywood-hills boasting, La La Land humming city of dreams. It’s the other one that fills my thoughts, the concrete jungle where dreams are made, the city of dreams that doubles up as my dream city. Four times in my adult life, I have found myself in New York City; four times, I have parked up in the Midtown and Times Square regions. Touristy, crowded and cliché? Perhaps. But for me, it’s where New York feels most alive and most far removed from my own city.
Shamelessly dripping in neon slogans and banners, panoramic LCD screens capture the wealth of capitalist culture that surrounds them, as a mesh of stationary yellow taxis, push down on their horns, out-competing each other with the decibels of their impatience. The camera-wielding, wide-eyed visitors see past this, incessantly clicking to frame the quintessential New York taxi shot. I am one of them but like me, there are many. This is Times Square.
I smile at the irony that time is so boundless in a destination, which takes the name, Times Square. Days roll into nights, nights back into day in a perpetuating loop of gripping magnetic energy, only distinguished by nature’s light patterns. In this micro-cosm that permits souvenir shopping and cupcake consumption at 1am, I smile at the fanciful notion of jumping out of my pyjamas in the dark of night to hop outside for a mini red velvet and a mini smores.
For two days, that possibility is my reality.
Casablanca Hotel, Times Square
Nestled between the chaos and mayhem of Times Square lies a miniature sanctuary of relative silence, concealed behind an unassuming facade on a Midtown side street. I find myself within the movie-come-Moroccan-themed walls of Casablanca Hotel, a charming boutique hotel inspired by the eponymous 1940s film, where I have been invited to stay at the start of my trip. It lies moments away from Times Square and when I say moments, I mean step out of the hotel and look immediately to your right.
Contrary to our expectations, our sleep that first night is still. Far from the piercing NYPD sirens and clusters of merry voices I had imagined, I discover that only my own circadian swings will rouse me in the early hours. Perhaps I was exhausted from the anxiety of my first international journey alone in twelve years, the worry about whether I would even make the flight on time; or maybe the walls of the of the hotel were soundproofed to perfection, I don’t know. One way or another, though, my first sleep in NYC is a deep one, the fuel of rest I need for the flurry of fun that lies ahead.
Hours earlier, we had gazed through the window of the airport transfer coach that brought us to Bryant Park, a short walk from Casablanca Hotel. Swathes of sunset hue spilled down onto skyscrapers and night was falling in New York City but what I lacked in cheesy photos, I more than made up for in actual cheese.
The Daily Cheese and Wine Reception
Sunset, it emerged, coincided with the daily cheese and wine reception at Casablanca – three full hours of cheese and wine on offer for all hotel guests but a couple of small plates sufficed for us, as we saved valuable stomach space for our first dinner in the city.Streaky blue, smoked Dutch and mature cheddar vied for our appetites, as wine and champagne flowed freely and the dichotomy was clear to see – he dabbled in most of the wine whilst I consumed most of the cheese.
Over cubes of cheese and the crunch of crudites, we familiarised ourselves with the cosy, rustic qualities of Rick’s bar. Tomorrow, it will evolve into the breakfast room and at almost all other hours, it will serve as the emergency cookie and tea room, where hotel guests like us wander in at midnight, munch on cookies and sip on cups of chamomile after 13 hour days on foot exploring New York.
Casablanca Hotel Breakfasts
When I return home to England and a few weeks go by, I will look back on these breakfasts at Rick’s bar, where the welcoming waitresses smile at me, as I rummage indecisively between mini pastries and boxes of American cereals, interrupting me briefly to offer “hot oatmeal with different toppings or bagels, for example lox bagels.”
I will regret not tasting that bagel when I am back on home soil but in the moment, we resist our bagel urges, marred still by the memory of the weight gain that afflicted us on our first visit together to New York. It took the best part of a year losing the extra pounds all those years ago and we are mindful that a heavy breakfast is a dangerous strategy when we have a full day of New York food consumption ahead of us. With this, we stick to our bowls of fruit and the lox bagels are added to the ever-lengthening list of things we save for our next visit.
Casablanca Hotel Bedrooms
Not up for unpacking just yet, I distract myself from my jet lag with one final creamy sliver of Brie at the cheese and wine reception, before taking the lift up to our new abode. For a Times Square property, I am pleased to find a relatively spacious room, even if the bathroom feels a little squishier in comparison. In this big cities, the bath tub and slouchy robes comes as a surprise luxury but with a location as buzzing as Times Square, we are much too busy exploring to indulge in such comforts. The amber tones of the room somewhat interfere with my photography plans but transport me back to a collection of special trips and priceless moments.
Flashbacks of my wedding day strike me, as I lift the corners of the patterned, crimson throw, freckled with gilded fabric plaques and reminiscent of the Indian bridal attire I spent so long browsing a few years ago in a New Delhi bridal boutique. The shutters fly me back to the riads of Marrakech, where Pumpkin had taken me on a similar February birthday a few years ago and the orange and sandalwood toiletries evoke some of the aromas that ebb and flow through the mysterious souks.
It is a hotel with so many of the amenities and services that make a hotel – a concierge and bellman, a turndown service with Belgian pillow chocolates that we leap on possessively, painfully aware of our mutual penchant for the cocoa bean and all its facets. And yet, when we are wrapped up in the warmth of Rick’s bar, mug of tea in hand and reading the daily papers, I had the strangest desire to get into my pyjamas and curl up under a blanket, rather like I do in my own living room.
London is home. It has been for half my life but whenever I am on these streets of New York City, I feel like I belong. Here’s hoping that never changes.
Disclaimer: Many thanks to the Library Hotel Collection for hosting our stay in NYC with a partial complimentary stay and partial media rate stay. All views are my own.