As strange as it may sound, the best time to visit New York is in January. Just ask Maurice Dancer – yes, that really is his name – a native New Yorker who has been head concierge of the uptown Pierre hotel for 22 years.
Maurice calls January ‘relaxation time’ and says it is his favourite time to invite family and friends to the Big Apple.
It is an odd time to visit because, as everyone knows, the city is bitterly cold at this time of year, with icy winds whipping off the Hudson River and driving the temperatures down well below zero.
But that shouldn’t be a deterrent – the skies are usually a clear cobalt blue and, apart from the occasional bracing Sunday afternoon walk in Central Park, most of the time you’ll want to be indoors in the bars, clubs, theatres, restaurants and shops.
This is New York as an indoor treasure house that is brimming with bargains.
And the city is relatively empty. The December rush is over, the pavement crowds have thinned and previously jammed subway trains are miraculously roomy.
There is a post-Christmas calm in the air, as if the great city is pausing and drawing breath in preparation for the year ahead.
The sales, however, are in full cry and there are great deals to be found, and not only at flagship department stores such as Bloomingdale’s (Third Avenue at 56th Street), Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman (754 Fifth Avenue), and Barneys (66 Madison Avenue for the main store and 101 7th Avenue for the downtown store).
You will also discover bargains in the upmarket Madison Avenue boutiques (Elie Saab, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren and the rest) and in the downtown cut-price emporiums such as Century 21 (21 Cortlandt Street), where you could easily unearth a Gucci, Prada or Dolce & Gabbana gem for just 20 per cent of the listed price.
New York-based Gail Heimann, a self-confessed inveterate shopper, says that although shopping’s centre of gravity has shifted to online transactions, there is still a great deal to be said for visiting New York’s department stores in person. She says they’re the first destinations for her British friends.
‘British travellers who are looking for iconic brands at dramatically reduced prices can still find them at stores such as Bergdorfs, Barneys and Saks,’ she says.
‘And for people who want to loll around their hotel room and don’t want to get out of whatever high-end pyjamas they are wearing, they can set themselves up with a NYC address for a few days.
‘Net-a-Porter delivers within five hours and so do the others such as Moda Operandi and Rue La La for women and Bonobos and Mr Porter for men.
‘They also pick up returns the next day if the ordered item doesn’t fit.’
But it’s not just shopping and sales that make January the go-to month to visit. Transatlantic air fares are discounted – British Airways, which operates 82 flights a week between London and New York, offers a sale price of £386 return based on a seven-night stay, compared with the standard £426. And Manhattan hotels also offer deep discounts and special packages in January.
The other bargain involves Manhattan’s normally eye-wateringly expensive shows. Broadway Week, which actually runs from January 16 to February 4, comes with a range of two-for-one ticket deals for many of the major shows that a month earlier were sold out at premium prices.
In December you would expect to pay more than $1,000 (£745) from brokers for tickets for popular shows such as Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Hello Dolly! with Bette Midler, and The Parisian Woman starring Uma Thurman – that’s three or four times the face value.
If you are lucky, these shows will be included in the Broadway Week offers for 2018, although Bette Midler leaves Hello Dolly! on January 14, to be replaced by Bernadette Peters.
There are more than 8,000 restaurants in Manhattan, and whereas in December you’re lucky to get a table at the best ones, in January you can often stroll in without a reservation. Many of these will be offering incentives to draw in more customers.
For all the sales, deals and price incentives, the main reason to visit New York is, well, it’s New York – the world’s most exciting and vibrant city, a heady mix of history, urban legend, wild enthusiasms and dark pleasures.
It is one of those cities where you feel you can reach out and touch its cultural, historic reference points. When I first visited Manhattan in the 1970s, I would walk into the Midtown jazz clubs and listen to legends such as Roy Eldridge playing in half-empty rooms.
Today legends are still playing at the Village Vanguard in the West Village, or the Blue Note and Minton’s in Harlem, but now the rooms are full of European travellers connecting to that marvellous musical tradition that is distinctly New York. Benny Goodman may be long gone but his spirit lives on in these clubs and streets.
Finally, on a recent trip I stayed way downtown for the first time in years (at Hotel 50 Bowery, right in the middle of Chinatown) and I thoroughly recommend it. The views of the city from the rooftop bar are second to none, the cocktails are superb, and you are a five-minute walk from Little Italy, where you will find the best pasta restaurant in Manhattan.
Aunt Jake’s (151 Mulberry Street) is superb – and even if you’re not staying downtown, it is still worth the journey.
Source: Daily Mail