For more than a decade, Sean MacPherson has had a major hand in shaping New York’s social scene. A native of Los Angeles, the hotelier and restaurateur left behind West Coast hotspots like Olive and Good Luck Bar in 2000 to set up shop in Manhattan, where he and various partners opened a succession of moment-defining hotels, including the Maritime, Bowery, Jane, Marlton, and Ludlow, as well as the Crow’s Nest out in Montauk. MacPherson is also a partner at the Waverly Inn, which over the past decade has evolved from toughest reservation in town (a title that now belongs to another place) to West Village living room for the fashion crowd. Stylistically, each of these venues is distinct, yet they’re all characterized by MacPherson’s rare knack for imbuing a space with feeling—the sense of a story behind the scenes.
And in a city full of adoptive sons and daughters, he’s maintained a deep appreciation for the romance of Old New York. MacPherson faithfully frequents its iconic enclaves, from the mural-bedecked walls of Bemelmans Bar to the towering bookshelves of the Strand. “New York isn’t set in amber. It’s an evolving place; it always has been and will be,” he says. “But like many New Yorkers, I moved here from another place, and I have an idea in my imagination of the New York I wanted to move to. I’m always seeking that out.”Here, MacPherson defines his ultimate Saturday in an ideal, and still extant, New York City.
This is just on the corner of West Fourth and West 12th, which makes it sort of impossible to find if you don’t know your way around the West Village, and it’s become something of a neighborhood classic. West Fourth Street is arguably the most beautiful street in the Village, from my perspective. The food is good, the environment is good, it’s friendly, and it’s also quite feminine in a way that I like. It doesn’t necessarily look Parisian, but it has the civility of a Parisian café. I’m sure other people go there quite early, but I don’t do anything super early in the morning. I go sort of mid-morning, 11-ish, and typically I just get the oatmeal, but they have quite a good menu and very good coffee. It’s sort of a very gentle and a very pleasant way to start one’s day.
Cafe Cluny, 284 W. 12th St., 212-255-6900
To me, Hudson River Park is the Central Park for downtown people. It’s really fantastically New York in that there’s a great mix of people sunbathing in their bikinis, people playing Frisbee, and older people strolling with their dogs. There’s a crazy kind of transgender scene right around Christopher Street and the river, so it’s sort of all worlds colliding in a way that’s great and very Old New York. More and more the city’s homogenized and corporatized, and somehow the park is built quite democratically. I typically get on my bike and ride through. It’s very pleasant and not very strenuous, and it’s just a way to connect with the city.
I like it here for a lot of reasons. First, it was formerly a house, and I always like museums that are placed into houses—it feels more personal. You can imagine someone living in there, meaning they didn’t gut the interior and force the museum into the site. You don’t get many opportunities to visit an old-world mansion, especially in New York, where there’s so little elbow room, and I like the notion of living on this scale.
I also like the fact that it’s managed well. As great as MoMA and the Met are, they can become sort of overwhelming spectacles, whereas at the Neue, you can really connect with the whole museum in a single visit. It’s got this incredible collection of Schiele and Klimt, art that’s really sensual and special.They also did a very good job of kind of re-creating a Viennese café with Cafe Sabarsky. Both the museum and the restaurant are transportive, and Cafe Sabarsky is a very special, very elegant place. They’ve got a pretty faithful Viennese menu with incredible coffee and pastries, Josef Hoffmann sconces, and furniture by Adolf Loos. It’s just a real respite from the chaos of the city.
Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Ave., 212-628-6200
This is a quintessentially New York venue, and it’s got an incredible selection. What’s their slogan, “18 miles of books”? You go in there specifically looking for a book, and they’ll probably have it, but either way you won’t walk out empty-handed. They also have an incredible art book department. It’s some of the greatest browsing left in the city, and for that matter in the world. It’s easy enough to buy all your books from your phone now, but you can never really browse art books online the same way you can in person.
Strand Book Store, 828 Broadway, 212-473-1452
I think what’s so great about New York is the kinetic and frenetic energy, but simultaneously one needs to take a break from that. If you have time, Lady Mendl’s does a great, proper English tea with the scones and clotted cream. It’s a great way to spend an hour and indulge oneself in the afternoon. And it’s absolutely a social event. It has all the rituals of getting a cocktail but it’s during the day, and it’s typically without alcohol (although I’m sure plenty of guests add a glass of champagne to the mix). I take my tea straight—no cream, no sugar—but I’m something of a purist.
Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon, 56 Irving Place, 212-533-4600
I got involved with the Waverly because I live in the West Village, and I wanted a place where I wanted to go, a place that felt like the New York that I moved here for, a place that’s been there forever. I love these places that only exist in the city where you live. And, I genuinely enjoy going there. I actually had dinner at the Waverly last night. I ordered the grilled vegetable salad and the Dover sole, filleted, not on the bun. It’s a classic. We also have chicken pot pie, which is also a classic, but I’m a bit more pescatarian. The Dover sole is a traditional and pretty old-fashioned dish. I like that about it.
Waverly Inn, 16 Bank St., 917-828-1154
The Carlyle and Bemelmans Bar
I grew up in California, and the Carlyle to me is just iconographic of New York City. I suppose the Plaza is probably a more famous hotel, but because of the size of the Plaza, it feels a little more obvious, whereas the Carlyle feels more genuine to me. I think it’s just the overall feeling and the connection with history; people like the Kennedys stayed there, Jackie O. More and more the Carlyle holds on to some connection to what we all believe is a slightly more glamorous past. For example, Woody Allen plays at the Carlyle with his band periodically—there’s a room there called Café Carlyle where I believe they play once a week. I’ve seen him once or twice.
The Carlyle, 35 E. 76th St., 212-744-1600
- 2008 James Devaney
- Photograph by Andy Ryan
- Courtesy of Cafe Cluny
- Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
- Courtesy of Neue Galerie
- Photograph by James Devaney; Courtesy of Getty Images
- Courtesy of The Carlyle