By Jeremy Murphy
a) A silky, elastic material commonly found in women’s stockings.
b) An ironic, hipster magazine no one but them understands.
c) A new breed of New Yorker seeking weekend thrills across the pond.
It’s not likely any city could ever supplant the Big Apple as the world’s most upscale destination, but there’s a place that’s nipping at our heals: London. An explosion of swanky private clubs, buzzy lounges, celebrity chefs, ravishing royals and boutique abodes have transformed a previously boring city (fish and chips, anyone?) into a playboy (and girl) paradise.
New Yorkers can’t get enough. Behold, the age of the NyLons: style-conscious Manhattanites (ok, Brooklyn, too) trading their Balenciaga for Burberry as they skip across the Atlantic for a new dose of glamour.
A STYLE ALL ITS OWN
“London is the gateway to the world, and it’s finally acting like it,” says Robert Konjic, a prominent member of the NyLon brigade. “It has the same pulse as New York, but a style its own.” Konjic should know: once the world’s highest paid male model, he now lives in New York so he can raise his six-year-old child with ex-girlfriend It Girl/Influencer Julia Restoin-Roitfeld (yup, Carine’s daughter). But his passport is never out of reach. “I go as often as I can,” he says. “London has a sexy vibe you can’t repeat.”
“New York thinks it’s the city that doesn’t sleep, but London really never sleeps. We survive on naps,” says Rob Shuter, who covers gossip for Z100 and the Today Show among others. Himself a Brit, Shuter has lived in New York for 20 years but has observed the phenomenon himself. “London has gone from Camilla and mushy peas to Harry and the Naked Chef.”
It wasn’t always so. For years, boring royals, bland food, and no nightlife put London on the international B list. And then came Kate. The new princess, and a royal wedding to match, infused the British capital with a potent mix of curiosity, envy, and allure. Suddenly, London was young, hot, and sizzling. Up popped Los Angeles hotelier Andre Balazs, who oozed the libidinous vibe of Chateau Marmont into Chiltern Firehouse, a trendy hotel and restaurant. Wolfgang Puck brought his celebrated Beverly Hills steakhouse CUT to the sexy 45 Park Lane, the former Playboy Club turned hotel hotspot (Tom Ford was one of the first to dine). And even the refined Mandarin Oriental, housed in a nine-story Victorian-era mansion off Hyde Park, turned seductive, with three Michelin-star chef Heston Blumenthal inviting guests to Dinner and New York stalwart Daniel Boulud making fine dining flirtatious with Bar Boulud. Now with Harry and Meghan about to wed, the city is even more attractive.
“It’s too easy not to go,” says fellow NyLon Michael Fratz. “The flight is shorter than going to LA. Before you know it you’re there.” Nearly every domestic airline offers direct flights from JFK as does British Airways, which also invites first-class passengers to its nostalgic Concorde Room. This former waiting area of the legendary Concorde jet is now an ultra-exclusive lounge providing private dining, vintage Champagnes, and even cabanas.
Of course, London’s most famous export is exclusivity. Witness its private clubs where waiting lists go 30,000 long. It’s not hard to get a day pass—just go with a member—but actual membership is elusive. “New Yorkers love a velvet rope and being told you can’t get in,” says Shuter. “But that’s something the British have been saying for centuries. It makes actually getting in that much better. In London, you can cloak yourself in class.”
THE COMFORT ZONES
Most remarkable is the outburst of hotels throughout London, which is now dotted with old grand dames and trendy boutiques. While the well-heeled have afternoon tea and refinement at The Ritz and Dorchester, where grandeur and glamour co-exist peacefully, the more daring opt for new addresses like The Ned or The Nobu Hotel, which combine sleek minimalism with millennial-infused sensibility. Your room may be tiny, but you’re not likely to be in it much. Straddling both these worlds effortlessly, and elegantly, is 45 Park Lane, the cooler cousin to the Dorchester across the street. Imagined by celebrity interior decorator Thierry Despont, the hotel is sleek with a masculine, Mad Men vibe that intoxicates. Most surprising, though, is the re-emergence of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London, “town and country at one address,” according to its legendary PR director Sarah Cairns. (its other side overlooks Knightsbridge). Long a favorite of visiting New Yorkers, it’s multi-million dollar renovation has caught the attention of the NyLon pack who savor its British sheen and Asian serenity.
THE DINING SCENE
From Roganic, which offers plant-based cuisine (think: beetroot sorbet or artichoke broth with smoked yolk) to Evelyn’s Table (eat: cuttlefish ragout or rock salt fillet), London has no shortage of restaurants that will scintillate your tongue. “The culinary scene just exploded,” says Shuter. “It may not win, but it gives New York a good food fight.” Creating the most stir is Park Chinois, a mixed bag of regional Chinese cuisine, 1930s Shanghai décor and an odd sampling of live performance. More enticing is the quirky, three-restaurants-in-one Sketch. Its many rooms are absurdly-designed, and the menu is as whimsical (Balfego tuna, the fried egg from Saint Ewe, braised British Ox cheek Raviolo). Still creating buzz with across-the-pond patrons is Sexy Fish, an Asian seafood restaurant housed in Berkeley Square. Hosting up to 200 guests, the restaurant has kept its three-year buzz with a mix of inventive cuisine and crazily curated decor. Installations (including a 13-foot black silicone crocodile) from superstars like Hirst, Frank Gehry, and Martin Brudnizki fill spaces to give a sensory explosion that is pure delight. Kooky and casual is Randall & Aubin, an unexpected brasserie in London’s SoHo district that mixes French and British classics (onion soup, hand-picked Devon crabs, rotisserie chicken) under 18th-century chandeliers and a glittering disco ball. Even the venerable Ritz offers a glamorous ride at Bar Rivoli, which evokes a 1920s Orient Express vibe (and tasty lobster club sandwich). Similarly, The Grill inside the Dorchester, a den of zinc, copper and glass, complements the courtly elegance of the hotel with a fresh take on British favorites (Welsh Rack of Lamb, Surrey Farm Black Angus Ribeye). And offering upscale comfort is Bar Boulud, a brassy contrast to the celebrated chef’s Park Avenue Restaurant Daniel. The Hyde Park outpost is both cozy and chic, with a pleasing design and satisfying menu (think the BB Burger: a combination of beef, wine-braised short ribs and foie gras).
The hardest door to pass is 5 Hertford Street, a members-only haven discreetly nestled in the Mayfair neighborhood. Started by Robin Birley, 5 Hertford Street is the most bewitching home for AMEX Black Cards and in-the-know NYers. “They looove it,” cooed Joanna Della Ragione, a top marketing executive in the UK and a keen observer of London trends. “Ever since that Vanity Fair feature, it’s at the top of people’s lists.” A stately mix of rooms with fireplaces, over-stuffed couches and oil paintings is contrasted wildly with its downstairs club Lou Lou’s, where celebs break bread (and martini glasses) with the come-hither gentry. The over-the-top decoration (including a giant stuffed giraffe, a bar made of seashells and illuminated peacock) came courtesy of fashion misfit Rifat Ozbek, whose design dazzles those who can get in. “It’s that combination of British aristocracy upstairs, and Damien Hirst/Patricia Field influences below that really intrigue people,” noted Della-Ragione. Over at Annabelle’s, the club recently undertook a massive transformation, shedding its gallant facade in a gambit to go younger. The reservoir of London’s most revered has officially moved buildings (a couple of townhouses down) expanded floor space, contemporized décor, loosened rules (sneakers, cell phones and laptops now allowed), and shed its roles. That’s right: every member had to re-apply to assure a heady mix of new, young, thirsty and sublime. Then there’s SoHo House, an outpost of the ultra-exclusive lounge that began in New York and now spans worldwide. Models, photographers, editors, influencers and actors crowd its halls, all looking cooler than the next. “It’s the only place I go,” said Konjic. “You see a lot of familiar faces from the New York scene.” And for the artsy crowd, there will always be the Groucho Club, a nightlife asylum and the nightcap that shouldn’t cap your night.