As I writer, I'm fairly particular about what venues spur my creativity. My biggest necessity is natural light, and lots of it. In the summer, when I work outside on the waterfront in Battery Park City, light clearly isn't a problem. But, the rest of the year, abundant sunlight streaming into my writing venues, whether coffee shops or public atria, is a precious commodity in New York City. Since I live in a small and, I might add, dark dwelling in Queens, a NYC suburb, I'm not one to work at home. Plus, sometimes I prefer to work into the wee hours of the morning while remaining free of the normal house-bound distractions. That's why I recently chose a mid-week getaway in the Penthouse Suite at the Gracie Inn Hotel on the Upper East Side.
Housed in a century-old building, the five-floor Gracie Inn offers guests a choice of 13 different rooms. And, though a penthouse sounds like it would come with an astronomical price tag, interestingly, this duplex suite accommodates six people. And, with nightly rates of $300 to $400, that's fairly economical, given that it's in Manhattan where ordinary rooms can go for at least that price; it's got a prime Upper East Side location that's way more tranquil than New York's prime tourist neighborhoods; and, most importantly for me, my duplex is designed with a sun room and the outdoor terrace on the upper floor. Light poured in through the sun room's immense window that looked out to the terrace, the two venues where I spent most of my time. I chose the perfect time for my writer's retreat: the winter weather was unseasonably mild at 67°F. (I also made good use of the teal-hued hot tub set just below another window that provided light galore.) Though the lower level was equipped with a kitchenette, living room and bedroom, I found the low natural light conditions on that floor not to my liking.
I checked out some of the other rooms in the inn and found that those facing the street also had some acceptable natural light, while those accommodations looking out to the rear were quite dark. Of course, many people are unaffected by somber lighting conditions, some even prefer it.
Though I took some creative breaks to explore my Upper East Side neighborhood, if you preferred to avoid leaving your room, the Gracie Inn makes it easy given that breakfast is served in bed. Each guest can choose four items from the menu, which includes juices, toast, yogurt, bagels, croissants, fruit and cereal. However, because I try to eat healthfully, which means opting for low-fat dining, I would've preferred if non-fat yogurt, skim milk and whole grain muffins were on the menu.
Another caveat worth mentioning is that, during my stay, I found a number of maintenance issues, including the on again-off again (more off than on) WiFi, the ultra-loose shower head, the blinds that fell off the window in the bedroom on the lower level when I attempted to raise them, the satellite TV connection that also was on again-off again (though there are two plasma screen TVs and only the one on the lower floor was on the fritz), and some curious sooty substance in the hot tub (which didn't stop me from luxuriating in it after I flooded it with running water and soap).
In my book, the Gracie Inn Hotel is a laid-back, low-key bargain. Don't expect luxe furnishings or amenities. The shampoo and soaps are all basic brands and many of the furnishings are antiques from the original apartments in this building. But, because of this sun-filled penthouse and the inn's location in a trendy Manhattan neighborhood, I would gladly stay here again.
When I dragged myself away from my perch in the late afternoon, I walked one block to the East River Greenway. Paralleling the water, the paved path attracts walkers, runners, and bladers or those who just want to lounge on the myriad riverfront benches. The most refreshing section passes Carl Schurz Park, a sprawling green space with winding paths, dense patches of woodland, stone stairways leading to peaceful alcoves and spacious lawns. After jogging north, I retraced my path, cutting into the park that's home to the Mayor's official residence, Gracie Mansion. Mayor Michael Bloomberg never moved into Gracie Mansion -- though he lives on the Upper East Side -- but it's open for tours of the canary-yellow-painted building on most Wednesdays.
On my way back to the Gracie Inn, I found a new spot for wine tasting, Vino-Versity. Part wine shop, part wine school, it's set up to educate the consumer on the intricacies of viticulture in a fun, light and approachable way. They usually offer up to five wines to taste. (I sampled the Santa Julia Chardonnay from Argentina, which had melon notes and another Argentinean variety, Cuma Torrontes, that had a hint of citrus and is said to go well with guacamole.) Every day of the week they hold classes and tasting events with a different theme. Saturday is Bubbles, Bubbles Everywhere. In other words, you'll learn the difference between Prosecco and Cava, while Fridays is The Spiritual Experience where you'll compare artisan liquors.
Chennai, an Indian restaurant where, for $15, you get a choice of appetizers (I opted for the vegetable samosa) and an entree (I chose the mangalorean, a spicy chicken with green chilies, ginger and fresh curry leaves). Back at the inn, my terrace made for a perfect venue for dining on this flavorful cuisine as the sun slowly set.
I still had the whole night ahead of me to work on some creative brainstorming while sipping wine and lounging in the hot tub.