Gramercy has a distinctive appeal: the neighbourhood feels so European, reminiscent even, of Barcelona with its wrought-iron balconies, greenery, Gothic architecture and relaxed vibe. Located only a blocks away from the hustle of Park Avenue and the bustle of Union Square, Gramercy makes for a peaceful enclave in an otherwise busy part of Manhattan.
There’s a lot of history here, mixed with intrigue and a dash of bohemia. Bordered by 14th and 23rd streets, and 1st and Park Avenues, Gramercy’s grid was traversed by Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt and Washington Irving, who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Irving Place, which runs between 3rd and Park Avenues, is lined with great dining spots – from the coffee underworld of 71 Irving Place to Casa Mono by Mario Batali. This street leads to the heart of the Gramercy neighbourhood, its park.
Oh, and Oscar Wilde lived on the corner of 17th Street and Irving Place for a while.
Gramercy Park is located between 20th and 21st streets, and ends Lexington Avenue, with Irving Place abutting it on the southern end. It was designed as a private garden, to be enjoyed by the residents living along its perimeter. When Samuel B. Ruggles constructed the area in 1831, he gave those buyers a key to its gate. The public may access the garden only on Christmas Eve.
Overlooking this garden are homes where once lived prominent figures including former NYC mayor James Harper, actor James Cagney, painter and teacher Robert Henri, actor John Barrymore. More recently, Winona Rydner, Kate Hudson, Jimmy Fallon, and NBC News anchor, Ann Curry, have lived/live in the area. While this is no secret garden, it is certainly one that you hope to have the privilege of entering.
Also opposite the park, and alongside architecturally elaborate neighbours, stands the modern and boxy Gramercy Park Hotel. Behind its limestone facade, you’ll discover richly textured interior design.
The hotel originally opened in 1925. It plays host to the stars, and back in the day, was a frequent gathering spot for artists and writers. Humphrey Bogart married his first wife here; Bob Marley favoured its reputation for discretion; Madonna, Debbie Harry and David Bowie were guests.
Fast forward a few decades, and in 2003 the Gramercy Park Hotel received a needed renovation. Ian Schrager and Julian Schanbel were the modern-day masterminds behind its reinvention, a grand and opulent revival that pays homage to its days of glory. As soon as you enter the lobby, you’re welcomed by a dramatic crystal Venetian chandelier, and enveloped in rich red velvets, centuries-old furnishings, and art by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, and Schnabel himself.
The interior design puts you in a state of wonder – exactly how you’d like to feel when staying in a home away from home. It’s so plush and inviting, eclectic yet harmonious, chicer than shabby. It’s “luxurious bohemia”.
I’m no stranger to the Gramercy neighbourhood or the Gramercy Park Hotel, yet today’s jaunt left a lasting impression on me. I felt a world away from the usual and I found comfort in that. Perhaps the perfect winter morning – blue skies, mild temps – had something to do with it. I really didn’t want to leave.