herald

Wednesday 3 September 2014

LA woman or New York gal?

EAST or West? Vicki Notaro gives her verdict after a break with pals in both New York and Los Angeles.

America is the land of opportunity, a vast and rolling land mass that encapsulates many different kinds of cultures as vast and diverse as its geography.

Having travelled across the United States by train at the tender age of 20, I have experienced every type of America you can imagine; from green New England to sandy Nevada, dusty New Mexico and the beaches of the Pacific coast.

However since that trip, two cities have stuck in my mind on either side of the USA – the bicoastal behemoths of New York and Los Angeles.

Each a shining beacon of its respective coast, both towns are known for their hip culture and world-famous attractions. When my friends and I were deciding on an itinerary for a girls-only trip to the States, we knew we'd have to go both east and west to get a real sense of what's hot right now in the US of A.

Nadia, Laura, Marie Claire (or MC for short) and I set off first for Los Angeles. Since the discontinuation of direct flights from Ireland, many Irish travellers fly from London with British Airways or Virgin Atlantic. We chose the former, and 11 hours after setting off from Heathrow (and enjoying the complimentary champagne) we landed to the sight of palm trees swaying in the late October breeze. Balmy and fresh, it was refreshing to leave Ugg-boot weather behind and slip into flip-flops and sunnies.

Car hire is essential in Los Angeles, as the city famously has no centre and instead consists of over 20 boroughs, each with their own charm and characteristics. As the purpose of our trip was to see, be seen and party, we chose to stay in Hollywood where the bars, restaurants and sights are on your doorstep.

The Roosevelt hotel proved a fantastic choice, situated on the famous Hollywood Boulevard itself opposite Graumann's Chinese Theatre and its notorious hand and footprints, and the Dolby Theatre where the Academy Awards are held each year.

Slick, hip and luxurious, the Roosevelt manages to retain a boutique feel despite its size and prominence, and its opulent decor makes you feel like a celebrity might be just around the corner – and they often are.

During our four-night stay there were no fewer than three premieres and after-parties held in the surrounding 50 yards. The Roosevelt definitely makes you feel like you're living like the rich and famous, but with extras like valet parking (there's no regular option sanctioned by the hotel) and wi-fi costing more than you might expect, bills can add up. That said, it was the perfect base for exploring, and I would stay there again in a heartbeat.

We danced at the famous Roxy Theatre, Rainbow Room Bar and Playhouse night club, ate at the illustrious Mel's Drive In, visited Disneyland (about an hour by car), and drove out to the scenic Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade.

We got mani-pedis on Melrose, visited the Farmer's Market for some gourmet street food and ventured to The Grove, an impressive complex of shops, restaurants and a movie theatre that often sees TV show tapings in its ground and gets more visitors each year than Mickey Mouse does in Anaheim.

Chilled out, glamorous and full of recognisable sights, we were sad to leave LA so soon but excited to see what the east coast had to offer.



An internal flight with Jet Blue took us Kennedy airport. A Manhattan aficionado, this was my seventh trip to the Big Apple in as many years, but a couple of the girls hadn't been to NYC since they were kids.

However as I usually visit New York with my boyfriend, I knew this trip would be different.

We checked in to the Hotel Beacon on the Upper West Side, and found our gorgeous suite was more like an apartment, complete with a sitting room and kitchenette, while the view of Midtown was nothing short of spectacular.

We ventured out in the cold (feeling the chill like real Los Angelenos) to the Meatpacking District that first night, seeking fun and frolics with the hipster set. After dining at chic (and only slightly overpriced) Mediterranean restaurant Fig & Olive, we went for drinks at the Hotel Gansevoort, famous for housing the Kardashian siblings when the Californian sisters film their New York-based spin-off shows.

Feeling like Kim, Kourtney and Ko commuting between the two cities, we sipped expensive cocktails in the rooftop bar while looking out over twinkling lower Manhattan before heading on to a hip hop club nearby. HLB is situated beside the famous High Line park, and attracts a young, urban crowd who drink cocktails, and dance to chart music accompanied by the nightclub's saxophonist.

During the day we visited the Bryant Park winter market where ice-skating, hot ciders and personalised Christmas decoration stores brought out my inner child.

We people-watched on Time Square and strolled down Broadway.

A trip on the East River ferry allowed us to see the wondrous midtown skyline for a fraction of the price of a tour, and deposited us in the achingly hip Williamsburg in Brooklyn where we attended an outdoor flea market and picked up some treasures.

We frequented a couple of sports bars in our neighbourhood where we played Jenga, drank Bud Light and ate wings – Dive 75 is perfect for a low-key night, while Blondies is where it's at for Monday Night Football action.

A highlight for all four of us was our visit to 230 Fifth, a bar that frankly has to be seen to be believed. The indoor part is underwhelming, with decor that resembled what MC imagined Prince's bedroom to look like.

However their roof terrace is bizzare and incredible – hundreds of customers decked out in red, hooded robes on a freezing November night, clutching hot toddies and admiring the breathtaking view of the skyscrapers under fairylights and patio heaters.

I don't think I was happier or more awestruck on this trip than I was sitting in the glow of the Empire State Building, hood up and beaming in the moonlight.

Yes, combining LA and New Yor is a lot of travelling for a short holiday, but taking in both the differences and similarities of America's two biggest cities is an eye-opener, and definitely a break from the norm any time of the year.

I'm a person who’s permanently in a New York state of mind, even when in rainy Dublin, but I won't lie – I've been California dreaming ever since I got home.

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