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a trip report in place

    Summer 2019 saw a bumper crop of 50th anniversaries: the Stonewall Riots, Woodstock, the moon landing. Those you should know. My birthday, understandably, may have flown under your radar. Not to worry! Here you'll get a recap of one of the birthday-celebration highlights: a night at the new, yet old, TWA Hotel at JFK. 


    While the actual birthday occurred during the last weekend in June, this overnight with the husband on Monday, July 1, was certainly birthday related. I've kept my birthdays relatively low-key over the years, having learned early on that they can be emotionally fraught. My later father tended to regard birthdays highly, going so far as to whip up a chili relleños feast for my 12th birthday in Tunis. That's challenging for me, even with a Latinx grocer a block away. My late sister, Megan, inherited that jubilant gene, and managed to celebrate her own kids wholeheartedly, going so far as to prepare a Three Stooges-inspired, pie-fight birthday party for a pack of youngsters while living in Japan. (Garbage-bag smocks and whipped-cream-filled pie tins. Children's instincts can take it from there.) 


    My birthday planning has been primarily reserved for others, particularly husband Fernando, in that he loves surprise parties afore which he generally cooperates by asking few questions. But, this being 50, it seemed high time to dive in. The TWA Hotel's May 2019 debut made it the perfect accompaniment to my shared Stonewall anniversary and return to Lugano birthday blowout. That I had once passed through the iconic TWA Flight Center – with Megan, June 1978, en route to Tunisia for our first 'divorce summer' – added a measure of sentimentality to my avgeek excitement.   





First things first! Before leaving Manhattan, incredibly thoughtful friends Matt and Billy ensured I had a proper birthday send-off by commissioning this gorgeous – and equally delicious – gateau from Empire Cake. We plowed through plenty while watching the June 30 Pride Parade. 

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The approach to the hotel is genuinely exciting. At least, it was for a simple romantic like me. Check-in brought us back to reality. It's all designed to be futuristically self-service, but my last name's apostrophe tends to be the wrench in all that digital machinery. With some assistance, however, we eventually became official guests. And those little maps at the front desk? Grab one! They're more than simply helpful. They are a necessity if you hope to take a look around. And you'll definitely want to take a look around. 

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Heading from the front desk to our room, I appreciated being greeted by a wall of David Klein's TWA travel posters. With a week ahead in Switzerland, I had an obvious bias. Moving deeper into the property, those old enough will be reminded how luxe brass once seemed. Polished wood, deep red carpeting, and brass trim? The glamorous life! The beautiful TWA elevator was merely a hint of all the branding we'd find in the room. 

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    Our room, on the second floor of the Saarinen Wing, was something of a bargain. Rooms began at about $215, so I upgraded to something larger for about $50 more. While there are plenty of rooms around JFK, the TWA Hotel is the only one on-site. And it's certainly worth the premium versus staying at one of the nearby properties. Granted, my limited experience has me comparing a night at the TWA Hotel to once staying at the airport Crowne Plaza to catch an early flight. CP was fine. But the TWA Hotel is so much more than the room rate would imply. It's practically an amusement park! Even if the only ride is the stationary Connie. But Connie comes later. Now, on to the room. 

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How on earth did I neglect getting a shot of the bathroom? Perhaps I was simply dizzy from excitement! But here's the room, generally. I thought I'd booked a runway view. Seems not. But since they were letting us check in early (noon), I wasn't complaining. 

Check the fun desk! These are the sorts of thoughtful touches that run throughout the property. Like the branded pencils? Fifty cents a pop in the gift shop. I can't advise whether the LIFE advice regarding fallout was sound, as I didn't read it – timely as it seemed. And the charge for pinching the magazine? No idea. Didn't do that, either. 

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Obviously, plenty of thought when into this minibar. Go ahead and enjoy a retro Tab! Doesn't even cost more than a Diet Coke! At $5, it really doesn't need to. Despite the prices, it's the most handsome in-room minibar I've ever seen. The styling, the glassware, the selections were all 5-star. Not that I sampled anything – or even touched any of it, having immediately noted the '30-second rule.'  If ever you want to hole up for some sort of debauched 'Lost Weekend,' this is the minibar you want.  

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Before we leave the room, another nod to the branding. If there was an opportunity to customize, the TWA Hotel team took it. TWA logos were everywhere, on everything. Fine by me! Please excuse my morning-after selfie, executed merely to show off the robe. And please be kind, considering I was a just beginning my third day in my 50s! 

    The only downside to our room – aside from not providing sweeping views of plane traffic – was a disturbing noise coming from the HVAC system. We noticed it upon entering, but we were showering when maintenance called to advise they were coming. We didn't want to be dancing from shower to suitcases, prepping for the evening, while a maintenance guy worked on the system for an unknown amount of time. So, it didn't get examined, much less repaired. This wasn't a problem till we went to bed. Every time the system turned on, it did so with an enthusiastic clunk and whirr. But the hotel is LEED-certified, so I'll give benefit of the doubt to the environmental systems. 

    After we unloaded in the room, it was time to fulfill the first of our four venue reservations. It was time for lunch at the Pool Bar.

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It was a blazing July afternoon, so we bypassed our reserved poolside table and headed to the bar for shade. To the left, those beautiful planes; to the right, Manhattan. In front of us, lunch. I have no photo of my chicken sandwich or grapefruit IPA. Lunch was satisfactory, the service was warm and attentive, and those views were breathtaking. So breathtaking that I forgot all about the pool. You'll need to look elsewhere for a picture of that. But planes! 

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An overview of the menu makes it obvious that the hotel needs to push the booze. Makes sense. If it's an occasion, splurge! This is a world away from picking up some bottles of Veuve at Costco. (Which is far more my speed, believe me.) Go nuts!

   After lunch, we had more time to meander. Our next reservation – three more to go! – wasn't till about 6 p.m. So, plenty of time to explore this iconic landmark. Much of our company, it seemed, were folks who simply had a layover, and popped in for a view. This only became obvious while looking out the giant windows toward Connie. So many were climbing up the steps with carry-on luggage. Obviously, they'd walked over from Terminal 5 and had nowhere to store their little wheel-bags, so up the stairs they went. If you find yourself  in this position, I suggest leaving your bags on the ground. Seriously. 

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It's easy to get lost for an hour or two wandering the TWA Flight Center. There's so much history, along with a little whimsy, around every poured-concrete curve. Notably, the newsstand periodicals are not for sale, though the sundries and candy below them are. Those old enough should enjoy the exciting clickety-clack of the Solari flip board. It's a long-lost terminal sound that leaves me wistful. Like the old uniforms on display, the mock-up of Howard Hughes desk – right down to the plastic highball – is part of a lovingly curated experience. 

    We could only spend so much time wandering, as we had those aforementioned reservations to hit. And, as with the pool, there were some elements inside I missed. I've got no photos of the TWA shop, which was nearly overwhelming in its array of offerings. SO. MUCH. TWA. And it ain't cheap. If, however, you want to look perfectly jet-set in a TWA sweater, this is the store for you. We also bypassed the giant gym. "The world's biggest hotel gym." Our planned Swiss exercise was all to be walks in the countryside, so we brought no gym clothes. Could've bought TWA trainers if we changed our minds. 

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As promised, the Sunken Lounge Martini indeed comes with a set of TWA wings. The lounge itself is very relaxing. It might be unnerving if there'd been strangers facing us. As it was, it was more or less theater-style, with people heading up and down the stairs to Connie as the show. 

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Welcome to the Paris Cafe! On a summer evening with the sun streaming in, it felt a bit more like brunch than dinner. The decor grew on me. At first, it seemed the furniture had been molded out of cosmetic foundation, something possibly labeled, 'California Mystical Bronze.'  It screamed an invitation to a super model in a caftan and giant Jackie O sunglasses. As for the cuisine, it was very satisfying. The steak may have been a better choice, but, as I've mentioned many times, I'm Will and I'm a carboholic. The calamari was fried perfectly to an airy crispiness. No dessert. 

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Last date of the night: Connie! And that means heading outside. Follow the guidelines and walk right under one of the iconic connector tubes. Across the tarmac, following a dazzling journey, Connie is back home and ready to serve. 

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Upon 'boarding,' take a peek to your left to see the restored cockpit. Recorded air-traffic chatter wafts out of it. Mention of JetBlue alerts guests that it's not exactly period chatter. Still helps set the mood, tho! Look to the right and peer the length of the cabin. First, two red banquettes face one another; rows of vintage seats follow. The actual bar sits in the back. During our visit, seemed there was a festive birthday party back there. A great spot for a memorable event! I'll admit, however, I thought the plane would look a bit more authentic, with luggage racks, a genuine period interior, etc. Unique, nonetheless. And attention to detail? Just check out the swizzle stick! 

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It's fair to say that Connie is more impressive outside than in. Approaching the plane was exhilarating. And the stairs make everyone look 'jet-set.' Take that descending stranger, for example. No idea who she is, but, boy, does she look glam walking down those TWA stairs. Get your selfies out of the way on the stairs! 



    So, after roughly 24 hours at the TWA Hotel, sampling a room and four venues, the verdict is that this visit was absolutely worth it. Granted, there was a bit of sticker shock at check-out – like getting your bar tab on the last day of a cruise – but we charged everything to the room. Thanks for the birthday gift, Fernando! And thank you P+C for the gift card that took the edge off! 

    Whether for a special event, a treat for the avgeek in your life, a bit of magnificent architectural history, or just a super-comfortable on-site JFK hotel because your connecting flight has been canceled, there's more than enough reason to stop by. Truly, the TWA Hotel is in a class of its own.  

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