A Quick Coast-to-Coast Trip: New York and Chicago
By Stuart J. Faber
Several business commitments required my presence in New York and Chicago. It had also come to my attention that one of my favorite hotels in the United States, The Pierre in New York, had been re-launched by the Taj Group. I have visited a number of Taj hotels in India and other parts of the world and was always very impressed. In addition, a fellow travel journalist had raved to me about the recently opened Trump International Hotel Chicago. It is heralded as the current epicenter of Chicago’s fashionable gatherings. I rarely need an excuse for a trip to Chicago. After all, the Windy City is just 60 miles from my boyhood hometown of Racine, Wis. This trip provided a valid excuse to visit New York, then Chicago, and thereafter depart from Chicago Midway Airport, where I could lurk beneath the Class B airspace and, within minutes, land at the old Racine Horlick Airport (now John Batten Airport), and meet up with some old flying buddies.
Flying into the Chicago area has become, in recent years, a bitter-sweet experience for me. Back in the days when I attended the University of Wisconsin, I would occasionally rent a Cessna 140 (the only available rental with radio capability), and head for Meigs Field in Chicago. The VFR route was a no brainer. I would depart from the grass strip at Morey Airport in Middleton, Wis., gently turn, and then maintain a heading until the compass settled as closely as possible to due east. After a leg of about 50 nautical miles, I would approach the shore of Lake Michigan – a landmark that was difficult to miss. As the lake came into view, I would head south and parallel the shoreline until the Chicago skyline appeared. Soon thereafter, I would crank up the coffee-grinder Narco radio and call Meigs tower for a straight in approach. Flying over the city, descending over Soldiers Field, Navy Pier and the museums, until my glide path was below the tops of the skyscrapers just off to my right, never ceased to be a thrill – until one March midnight in 2003, when Mayor Daley, with sinister intent, bulldozed the runway and annihilated an aviation icon.
My final touchdown at Meigs was in 2002. By then, the route was more complex. A clearance was mandatory to reticulate the Class B Airspace. A swivel neck was required to maintain a healthy distance from the beehive of heavy iron. I recall that, on one flight, I was at the same altitude as an Alitalia 747 and I could almost see the pilot’s face. He was neither waving nor smiling. Nor was I.
I never visit Chicago without making a pilgrimage to Meigs Field. It’s like gravesite visit to a departed loved one. Generally, I try to sneak under the Class B airspace to pay my respects to the remains – or I just take a slow drive-by. By the way, there is a website, www.friendsofmeigsfield.com. The folks are hoping that the new incoming mayor will be more friendly to the site and perhaps, at the least, open a museum.
There were several other factors which motivated me. It was the season when the Midwest and east coast were both being inundated with rain showers. Not only do I enjoy long walks in the rain, I love to fly in the stuff. This mission would enable me to log some actual IFR and simultaneously try out my newly acquired pilot’s luggage and waterproof hiking boots. Of course, there is a paucity of hiking trails in Chicago and New York. But I could walk through Central Park in New York or along the beachfront in Chicago, or just pretend that Fifth Avenue and/or Michigan Avenue were primitive hiking trails.
Pierre Hotel, Fifth Avenue at 61st Street, New York, NY, 10021, 212/838-8000
The Pierre Hotel opened in the 1930s and instantly became the voguish hangout in Manhattan. Ownership and management changed over the years. Since the 1980s, the hotel was operated by Four Seasons Hotels – after which it was closed for a period of time to accommodate a $100 million renovation. Today, this restored Georgian-style landmark has seamlessly combined European, old-world charm with modern day amenities and service. Strategically perched on swanky Fifth Avenue across from Central Park, today’s Pierre has re-emerged as one of Manhattan’s most popular places to gather.
The guestrooms and suites have been scrupulously redesigned to maintain a gentrified residential feeling. Guests are pampered to their heart’s content. A multilingual staff is on board for those who require their services. Voicemail, a theater desk, courtesy cars to the theater district, private bars, elevators operated by real humans, children’s amenities and services, a business center, fax in every room, and high speed internet are but a few of the perks. The staff will even pack and unpack your luggage if you so desire.
The ten one- and two-bedroom Grand Suites, the hotel’s most premier spaces, are designed with custom furnishings, hand-crafted finishes and elegant details, such as rich silk and brocade fabrics, Murano glass chandeliers and hand-knotted carpets. Carefully integrated technology includes Bang & Olufsen audio and high-speed internet connections.
Subtle couture touches reflect the Indian heritage of the Taj Hotels. Striking jewel tones and traditional decorative motifs pay homage to the royal Rajput dynasties that created the authentic palaces in India. Contemporary artwork hand-selected by fine arts consultant Mortimer Chatterjee, showcases the mastery of noted and emerging Indian artists.
Business or personal groups hosting meetings and receptions at The Pierre may select from three new comfortably elegant spaces with up-to-date amenities that can accommodate groups up to 75. All three rooms are adjacent to the Business Center.
A sparkling new 1,600-square-foot fitness center is decorated with hand-painted murals and Italian marble, and provides cardiovascular equipment and free weights, as well as a private massage therapy room. Lifecycles, Elliptical Trainers, Stairmasters and treadmills are equipped with individual stereo and television/VCRs. Guests can also arrange to enjoy massages in the comfort of their room. Jogging routes of Central Park are available.
A new cozy bar, Two E, spotlights classic cocktails and coffees meticulously crafted from the freshest ingredients. Every afternoon, tea, scones and sandwiches are served in Two E.
The Pierre seems to exude a more stately and majestic ambiance with each of my visits. To me, it is like returning to my home away from home. The Taj Company has made a great hotel even greater.
Le Caprice, 795 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, 212/940-8195
Located in the Pierre Hotel, this contemporary dining room re-captures the pop-chic of the original London brasseries. When you say, “Let’s do lunch,” do it here. Try a burger-prepared either with ground sirloin or fresh shrimp, each served with homemade pickles. Traditional fish-and-chips comes with mushy peas – that descriptive term makes them taste even better. The big-chunk lobster salad is accompanied by crunchy fava beans. Risotto British style is prepared with bacon, beets and tiger prawns.
Lunch was so fabulous that I made a return visit for dinner. For a brisk spring night, an appetizer of asparagus soup with peekytoe crab and Fresno peppers suited me fine. My friend had the griddled octopus with chorizo and peppers, some of which I sampled. Our group ordered a helping of Berkshire pork loin, which was roasted to perfection and served with cabbage and morel mushrooms. Along came a sizzling lamb chop scented with minted fava vinaigrette and confit potato – outstanding. For fish selections, the Thai-baked sea bass was flakey and just-caught fresh. It was served with scallions, chili, cilantro and fragrant rice. We also could not pass up the New York strip steak, carved from a prime loin, aged 28 days and served with fries. For dessert, I heartily recommend the lemon and raspberry dome and the rhubarb and strawberry pie. This establishment has developed innovative culinary combinations, which work well. They are creative without detracting from the essence of the main ingredients.
Ritz-Carlton New York Central Park Hotel, 50 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019, 212/ 308/9100
There is something about staying across from Central Park South that is very special. In many ways, it is where the midtown of the golden era began – and still endures. Many of the great hotels of the early 20th century were born on this block. This hotel, which offers the essence of the elegance and charm of a private manor, houses 259 lavishly-appointed guestrooms, including 47 suites. The Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge is for guests seeking a heightened level of luxury and privacy.
With striking views of Central Park and the warmth of a home, I felt a sensation of comfort and hospitality when, after a strenuous day, I would return to an aura of quietude within the old world refinement of this hotel. They artfully maintain yesterday’s tradition while infusing every modern amenity.
Your visit starts before your arrival. Expect a pre-departure call from the hotel to inquire about any special needs you might have. The hotel offers a 24/7 technology butler, multi-lingual concierge, complimentary overnight shoe shining service and a full program for kids – milk, cookies and stuffed animals included.
The lavish, yet understated guestrooms, finished in muted shades of celadon taupe and pale rose, are bedecked with special linens, duvets, feather beds and a choice of pillows, data port and fax hookup, DVD players and a library of current films and much more.
High atop the hotel is The Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge. Guests on this floor can circumnavigate the lobby check-in desk and fly via a direct clearance to the Lounge and register. A private business center offers secretarial services, high-speed internet and a conference concierge. Even a temporary office can be arranged.
In addition to upgraded rooms and suites, the Club Lounge has a huge parlor in which mini-meals and drinks are served three times a day. Included in The Club Lounge tariff is access to sumptuous breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night snack items. The challenge is to limit your intake. Additional perks include a business center with internet access, a CD and DVD library and a host of goodies for the kids. After too many fly-bys to the buffet, I spent a few detox sessions at the fitness center and the La Prairie full service spa.
If your plans include a high level meeting or just a friendly family rendezvous, I can’t think of a better location. The hotel staff has mastered the art of pairing intimate meeting rooms with impeccable service. From exclusive board meetings to product launches and corporate celebrations, they are the indisputable experts. Select from a broad selection of rooms including the Olmstead Boardroom, a 300 square-foot retreat overlooking the park. Four other state of the art meeting rooms can accommodate ten to 150 attendees. They offer high-speed internet, ISDN lines for video conferencing and a dedicated Conference Concierge.
BLT Steakhouse, 106 E. 57th Street, New York, NY 10022, 213/752-7470
BLT Steak combines a clubby bistro ambiance with impressive steakhouse fare. The interior of this bistro is imposing but not ostentatious. On the night of our visit, we were surrounded by locals, tourists, and a few high-profile celebs. Some folks were adorned in their finest attire-most were in smart casual wear. I showed up in jeans and my new hiking boots. Everyone appeared to be content and comfortable.
Steaks are presented in classes ranging from Certified Black Angus to USDA Prime, plus pricey offerings of American and Japanese Kobe Beef. A selection of sauces from béarnaise to horseradish is available but, in my view, superfluous. Add selections of fresh seafood, signature salads and blackboard specials, and the standard is set even beyond today’s modern steakhouse. Lamb, chicken and fish selections are equal in quality to the steaks.
We launched with a hangar steak, difficult to prepare correctly, but this chef-in-residence achieved the highest level of perfection. It was tender, juicy and with a sublime flavor and texture. Bone-in rib eye should not be missed. At 22 ounces, two non-aggressive steak eaters will have enough to share. Sides, such as creamed spinach, Parmesan flavored gnocchi, oversized onion rings or glazed carrots were extraordinary. Don’t miss the peanut butter chocolate mousse or the warm chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream.
Trump International Hotel & Tower, 401 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL, 606111, 312/588-8000
Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, opened in January 2008, and is located in the heart of the city on trendy Wabash Avenue. We discovered and used the back door, from which we could emerge, stroll along a series of walkways with gorgeous views of the Chicago River and its skyline and, within moments, we were in the center of the Magnificent Mile.
The developers of this hotel have surmounted the overwhelming challenge of imbuing a warm residential feeling into an ultra-modern, upscale hotel. The result is a venue that can simultaneously serve as a family getaway or headquarters for a high-powered corporate pow-wow.
The hotel, comprising floors 14-27 of a 92-story residential tower, houses 339 luxuriously appointed guestrooms and a host of suites of every size and shape. Sixteen, a fine dining restaurant, The Spa at Trump, which includes 53 spa guest rooms, the Trump Health Club Rebar, a flashy cocktail lounge, and Bridges, an outdoor dining space, are scattered throughout the complex. Designed by the noted architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with interiors by McGinley Design, Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago is a stunning addition to Chicago’s distinguished skyline. It’s my new favorite in the Windy City.
The 23,000 square foot Spa offers signature treatments, 11 private treatment rooms, plus Kate Somerville products and skincare services. Pamper yourself in the placid surroundings of one of the 53 specially configured spa guestrooms. The Trump Spa is undoubtedly the most up-to-date, invigorating and relaxing in Chicago. Try the ultimate hydrating oxygen treatment, a Dermerlucent Skin Rejuvenation, a manicure or pedicure. The health club features resistance training and free weights, spin, yoga and Pilates studios, personal trainers, 75-foot heated indoor pool, steam baths and sauna. It’s easy to spend the entire day in these luxurious and tranquil digs.
Guestrooms are modern, streamlined and extremely comfy. Floor-to-ceiling 10-foot windows afford sweeping views of Lake Michigan. Furniture is custom designed and Italian linens are fashioned by Bellino. A 42-inch flat screen TV, Bose Sound Wave system, limestone finished bathrooms and personal attaché service will leave you without a care in the world.
For family get-togethers or a pilot’s meeting, you can select from classy boardrooms, a skyline room, a grand ballroom or five other function rooms of various sizes. There is also a full service business center.
This hotel has, in just two years, become a trendy hangout for locals and tourists alike. Lounge around the rooftop bar, visit the Trump Terrace or head toward Rebar and have a signature cocktail or a neo-Japanese snack.
Sixteen Restaurant, Trump International Hotel & Tower, 401 N. Wabash Ave., Chicago 60611 312/ 588/8030
As you head toward Sixteen Restaurant on the 16th floor, where renowned Australian Chef Frank Brunacci will orchestrate your dinner, be prepared for a momentous dining experience. This signature restaurant features superbly crafted, eclectic cuisine with emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Dramatic 30-foot floor-to-ceiling windows frame spectacular vistas of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River and the Wrigley Clock Tower. You can dine inside or savor a balmy evening on the outdoor terrace.
The menu changes daily, so there is no danger of getting yesterday’s reheated leftovers. One of the best appetizers is the foie gras tart with rhubarb, buttermilk, basil and suffused with a honey thyme caramel. The pea soup with duck sausage, brioche and foie butter is rich and delicious.
For the beef selections, you have a choice of American or Australian wagyu. The prime beef tenderloin is tender and with a remarkable texture. It is served with a crispy potato terrine and maitake mushrooms. Lobster is butter poached and served with a chorizo ragout. The fresh Alaskan halibut is lightly sautéed and dished up with a fennel puree, fresh pasta and a shrimp and fennel salad.
The chefs also serve a daily tasting menu. I strongly recommend the seared diver scallops with watercress, English peas and wild mushrooms. The vanilla au jus delivers just the right touch for this exquisite dish. For an unusual dessert, which hopefully will endure as a mainstay, sample the Gianduja cremeux, roasted white chocolate powder and cocoa nib ice cream.
My New Pilot Luggage
During this trip, I took the opportunity to test fly some of my new luggage. West Coast Trends of Huntington Beach, CA has designed some great items especially for pilots. The CEO of West Coast Trends, himself a pilot, surveyed scores of airline pilots about what they liked and disliked about their current luggage. From these surveys, he developed some of the most pilot-friendly pieces I have ever used. The result: A rolling carry-on with two clothing organizers, a magazine pocket and an extra heavy “J” hook. A stabilizer, which they call a “yaw dampener,” keeps the bags from sliding. A companion piece is the 2.5-pound VLK (for very light) flight bag. It is ideal for pilots who are going paperless yet who still need a kit for flashlights, clipboards and other stuff. For the paper approach-plate set, a full sized flight bag accommodates up to six manuals, plus extra paraphernalia. I was extremely impressed with the roominess of these bags, the numerous compartments, the light weight and the durability. Plus, as you can see from the photo, you can hook them all together. I’ve noticed a number of these sets in airline cockpits. They now have a home in my cockpit. I highly recommend them. For more information, or to purchase online, visit www.clubglove.com.
Although I love to land at La Guardia, the logistics of negotiating a slot, plus the overnight tie-down cost, drives me to Teterboro (KTEB), a general aviation facility and much more pilot- friendly. Just about every type of instrument approach is available at KTEB. Runway 1/19 is 7,000 feet long and Runway 6/24 is 6,013 feet long. First Aviation is a relatively new FBO. They are located midfield, which makes things easy. Contact them at 201/288-3555 or www.firstaviationteb.com.
As far as Chicago is concerned, Meigs is just a memory. My choice is Midway (KMDW). DuPage or Chicago Executive are other options, but ground transportation and rental car availability is better at Midway. Besides, in 1954, I landed there in a Taylorcraft BC12-D, so it brings back some wonderful memories. There are two sets of parallel runways – one set has three runways. Runway 4R/22L is 6,446 feet long, runway 4L/22R is 5,507 feet long, runway 13L/31R is 5,141 feet long and runway 13R/31L is 3,859 feet long. Runway 13C/31C is 6,522 feet long. I prefer Atlantic Aviation, 772/582-5720 or atlanticaviation/kmdw.