America's cities are a feast for the imagination
From Atlanta to Manhattan, Stephen Bayley is caught up in the romance of America's cities
Stephen Bayley is an author, critic, columnist, consultant, broadcaster, debater and curator. With Terence Conran he created the influential Boilerhouse Project in the Victoria & Albert Museum, which evolved into the Design Museum. Stephen writes a regular column for The Independent on Sunday’s Travel section, and contributes features that have previously covered anything from travelling through Japan via the iconic Shinkansen, to the artisans of Florence and driving a vintage Fiat 500 around Sicily.
Friday 16 November 2012
Preferring, at a younger age, French girls and Italian art, I was a late starter with the United States. But I soon compensated for lost time. With an imagination over-stimulated by Scorsese, plus Wolfe, Vidal and Vonnegut, and a new-found appetite for whiskey sours, my first visits to Manhattan were, I now see, among the most influential experiences I have ever had.
Nowhere makes me so nostalgic as New York. Lunch at The Oyster Bar of Grand Central Terminal: just seeing the Westchester sign has a dramatic contact to suburban yearnings that powered so many great novels. Nearby, for years my first stop was always The Four Seasons Brasserie for eggs Benedict. In terms of design and gastronomy, there's no better cure for jetlag.
Only last year I discovered the landmark King Cole Bar in the St Regis with its brown wood, hushed carpet and fabulously kitsch Maxfield Parrish murals: Old New York at its grandest. One more whiskey sour and you will swear you have met the ghost of John Jacob Astor. And I love that sight of the yellow cabs heaving in the aerial perspective up and down the bumps of Park Avenue. When the Chevy Caprice and the Ford Crown Vic are finally replaced by the prim Prius and the faceless Nissan, I will be bereft.
But New York is an isolated city state and American explorers need to see more of the outlying republic. Boston, for example. Clam chowder and lobster at Legal Seafoods on Long Wharf. (It's a chain, but a small and good one). Then the Harvard Bookstore, where reading still seems to matter. Or Chicago for its incomparable architecture: the horizontal and eccentric Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park or the vertical and elegantly rational Mies van der Rohe beside Lake Michigan. Modernism needs no more advocacy that a visit to 860-880 Lake Shore Drive. I once stayed in one of these apartments, having driven there in a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. There was an Alexander Calder mobile in the bathroom and I was nearly ecstatic.
Lesser-known cities contain surprising delights. Wilmington, Delaware, has wonderful robber-baron headquarters as if by Edward Hopper. Or Atlanta's 1967 Hyatt Regency, John Portman's first essay in high-concept hanging-garden hotel design hilariously satirised by William Boyd in Stars and Bars.
But if I had to capture the overwhelming sensation of American cities it would be this memory: it is Pittsburgh International Airport one wet Saturday more than 30 years ago and I am a long way from home. Flights are being delayed, but there's a promising Oregon pinot noir on the wine list and, hell, if it's delayed much more, I can visit The Carnegie Museum of Art. For me, steel plus city equals romance.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 The difference between a psychopath and a sociopath
- 2 Cara Delevigne addresses awkward interview on Good Day Sacramento
- 3 Top Gear team of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May officially heading to Amazon Prime for new car show
- 4 How to cancel Amazon Prime: after Top Gear hiring, how to leave premium service
- 5 MH370 debris: Investigators 'confident' that Boeing 777 wing found - live updates
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
I am the Jeremy Corbyn supporter that many will tell you doesn't exist
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
Calais crisis: For desperate migrants it is 'England or death' as they brave dogs, riot police and speeding trains
COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...
£25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...
£17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...
£12500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Drivers wanted for a family run...