I grew up in South Africa and started my career in Durban before rising through the ranks of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and becoming General Manager of The Carlyle hotel in Manhattan. It was The Carlyle that brought me to New York originally – Flip Maritz and Lew Wolff, the then owners, alongside the Hunt family, gave me this wonderful opportunity while I lived and worked in London.
The Carlyle was a pivotal moment in my life where I met some of the most interesting people in the world, including my business partner Chris Burch. He is still close to my heart to this day. When I’m in New York, I spend a lot of time there. I love the tradition of the place, the music at Café Carlyle and Bemelmans Bar, the simple elegance and how it exemplifies the feeling of home away from home. It attracts very interesting and quirky people and has employees who embody that spirit. When you get to Bemelmans, be sure to ask Dimitrios, the manager, for the best table in the house. Some of my favorite memories there include listening to the festive tunes of the iconic Steve Tyrell while on vacation and the late Bobby Short at Café Carlyle, with a side of chicken hash or sole. Jazz singer/pianist Loston Harris plays at Bemelmans Bar – pure bliss, especially when accompanied by the bar sliders.
When I’m in New York, I often start my day with a run along the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park. The 1.58 mile track around it is my favorite destination for a scenic run, especially in the spring for the cherry trees and rhododendrons in bloom, and in the fall for the vibrant changing foliage.
I then make appointments during the day at the Whitby Hotel in upper Manhattan. I love Kit Kemp’s decor, she has such a unique way of furnishing spaces with a colorful and carefree spirit. I like to have my meetings in the living room, seated at a garden table hidden towards the back. It’s quieter in the day, with the hum building slowly in the afternoon and continuing into the evening.
For lunch I go for one of Whitby’s delicious charcoal oven pizzas, and between meetings I try to walk everywhere, easily taking 20,000 steps a day. I often pass some of my favorite shops on my walks, including Belgian Shoes. This store is a New York City institution, showcasing hand-sewn and hand-turned artisan loafers made in Belgium. I love stores that only exist in one place in the world – they’re so rare these days.
For dinner, I’ll head to Via Quadronno on the Upper East Side — if I had to pick one dish in any restaurant in the world, it would be their San Dona tiramisu. Although my schedule is always tight, I make time for what is surely the best tiramisu outside of Italy – it’s deconstructed so that the mascarpone, espresso and ladyfingers are served separately, which which means it’s perfect for dipping and sharing. Via Quadronno’s rye vegetable soup is also a must, as well as panini caprese when you’re on the go. The food here is so consistent, and the produce and bread are of the highest quality.
Some of my other favorite restaurants include Frenchette, a contemporary French bistro in Tribeca, and Chef Andrew Carmellini’s Carne Mare, an Italian chophouse that overlooks the East River. Carne Mare offers playful twists on classic dishes (the savory Wagyu strip loin with Gorgonzola, for example), and it never fails to delight.
For something more casual, Electric Burrito, a hole-in-the-wall in the East Village, serves up the best California-style burritos. I also can’t resist Shake Shack and remain one of the faithful lining up at the original in Madison Square Park, rain or shine. I used to take my son Sterling there when he was a little boy for a malt and a burger, so it’s a special place that brings back fond memories.
After dark, my last place for evening entertainment is Casa Cipriani, located at the top of the Battery Maritime Building in the Financial District. It’s one of New York’s newest members-only clubs, and its hotel exudes the New York of yesteryear with its breathtaking architecture, wide-open spaces, and interiors by Thierry Despont. The jazz bar is absolutely amazing, and no one knows food and hospitality quite like the Cipriani family, who in 1931 opened the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice.
James McBride is the partner and CEO of Nihi Hotels, including Nihi Sumba in Indonesia and Nihi Santo Tomás in Costa Rica (opening in 2023)
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