New York City

Hunting murals in New York City

If you want to see some of the greatest art in New York City, steer clear of the museums and the art galleries.

"Flight"  James Brooks  Marine Air Terminal, Queens NY

Head instead to the bars, restaurants, skyscraper lobbies, airports and public buildings where the walls are adorned with murals by the likes of Marc Chagall, Roy Lichtenstein, Maxfield Parrish, Keith Haring and other celebrated artists.

“It’s like a museum, except the art collection is scattered around town and not just under one roof,” said Glenn Palmer-Smith, author of “Murals of New City: The Best of New York’s Public Paintings from Bemelmans to Parrish,” a new book with lush photographs from Joshua McHugh and detailed essays documenting the stories behind more than 30 of the city’s important murals.

Some of Palmer-Smith’s favorites may take a little work to find, but many are clustered in midtown, just steps from the shops, restaurants, museums, theaters and attractions likely to be visited by many of 5 million visitors city tourism officials are expecting in town this holiday season.

MuralsofNYC_Radio City

In Radio City Music Hall, where tourists flock to see the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” there are three notable murals. Ezra Winter’s 40-by-60 foot “Quest for the Fountain of Eternal Youth” – a painting Palmer-Smith said was originally “reviled and ridiculed” by critics – is above the main lobby’s grand staircase. “Men without Women,” by Stuart Davis, is in the men’s lounge and, in the women’s lounge, there’s a mural by Japanese painter Yasuo Kuniyoshi that’s based on the flower theme that Georgia O’Keefe had originally created and been commissioned to paint.

Grand Central Terminal, NYC  Ceiling Mural: Paul Helleu

The city’s largest mural is Paul César Helleu’s 80,000-square-foot depiction of the constellations in the night sky. It stretches across the ceiling of the main room at Grand Central Terminal and, as it took an amateur astronomer to point out about a month after the terminal opened in 1913, the mural displays the signs of the zodiac in reverse. The mural was restored in 1945 and, after becoming blackened by smoke and city soot, refreshed again in the late 1990s.

When you’re in the terminal, look up in the northwest corner,” said Palmer-Smith, “There’s a patch of the ceiling that was left untouched, so you can see what it looked like before the cleaning.”

Mural with Blue Brushstroke, 1986.  Roy Lichtenstein. ©Estate of Roy Lichtenstein  Equitable Tower, 787 Seventh Ave., NYC

Keep looking around the city and you’ll find two murals by Marc Chagall at the Metropolitan Opera, a mural 62-feet tall and more than 35-feet wide by Roy Lichtenstein in the atrium of the Axa Equitable Center (787 Seventh Ave.), Maxfield Parrish’s 30-foot-long mural in the King Cole Bar in the St. Regis Hotel (2 East 55th St.) and work by Keith Haring in several spots around the city.


And then there are the two murals created by Edward Sorel, whose illustrations and caricatures are familiar to readers of The New Yorker and many other magazines. Sorel’s mural in the main dining room of the Monkey Bar in the Hotel Elysée (60 East 54th St.) is populated by a caricatured crowd of celebrities from the 1920s and 1930s, everyone from Isadora Duncan, Joe Lewis and Fats Waller to Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Babe Ruth, Cary Grant and Mae West.

The Waverly Inn and Garden, Bank St., NYC  Murals by Edward Sorel

“The Monkey Bar mural is a lot of New Yorkers who were famous celebrities between the first and second World Wars,” said Sorel. “But my favorite is the mural I did for the Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village. That one has caricatures of a lot of the creative, bohemian people who lived in the Village and those people were more interesting to me than the celebrities.”

The Waverly Inn and Garden, Bank St., NYC  Murals by Edward Sorel

Forty-three people are portrayed in the mural Sorel created for The Waverly’s dining room, including Allen Ginsberg, Fran Lebowitz, Edgar Allan Poe, Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer and Jack Kerouac.

Public murals “provide a lens through which visitors or viewers can understand the city with some historical perspective,” said Joshua McHugh, the book’s photographer. “Additionally, though, like all successful artworks, these murals create room for dialogue with viewers of any era, helping to make them living and breathing documents.”

Of course, New York isn’t the only city with an impressive collection of publicly accessible murals. Artists hired by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression painted murals that remain in post offices, libraries, courthouses and other civic buildings around the country.

And in tiny Toppenish, Washington 75 historically accurate outdoor murals dot a city less than two miles square. Each year, on the first Saturday in June, the Toppenish Mural Society sets up bleachers so onlookers can watch artists complete another mural in just one day.


Courtesy Toppenish Mural Society


“People come in the morning to watch the process begin. Then they go grab lunch, maybe look at the other murals in town or visit a winery,” said John Cooper, president and CEO of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. “They might return in late afternoon to see the end result or just stay and sit and watch the paint dry.”

“Murals are big and bold and beautiful,” said Jane Golden, executive director for Philadelphia’s Mural Arts program, a city where more than 3,600 murals have been created in just the past 30 years, “and a welcome departure from the billboards all around us.”

(My story about murals in NYC – and beyond – first appeared on NBC News Travel in a slightly different form. All photos, except Toppenish, WA by Joshua McHugh.)

From the Inn Bin: New York’s YOTEL

(Inn Bin posts share things I’ve enjoyed at some places I’ve had the good fortune to stay.)

If you’ve spent some time at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, or at Heathrow or Gatwick Airport in London then perhaps you’ve already seen or spent some time at a Yotel.

These are affordable, short-stay hotels (minimum booking is four hours) located inside the airport terminals with small cabin-like rooms that are perfect for napping, working, showering and just resting between flights. While short on space, the rooms have the essentials: a comfortable bed, free Wi-Fi, a good shower, a small desk, complimentary hot drinks and a flat-screen TV.

I stayed for a few hours at the Heathrow Yotel a few years back after an overnight flight from Seattle that arrived in London at 6 a.m. and then headed into town for a full day of business meetings and touring feeling very civilized and unrumpled.

yotel heathrow

Single cabin at the Heathrow Yotel.

Spending a few hours in a tiny hotel room at an airport is one thing, but I wondered if staying in a room at the off-airport Yotel in New York City would feel claustrophobic.

It was fine.

Yotel Room mockup, June 2010 Designed by Rockwell group, NY

The Yotel in New York City is not far from Times Square, Madison Square Garden and the Port Authority bus terminal. After checking in at the ground level “Mission Control,” where a “Yobot” stays busy storing luggage in cubicles, guests go to the fourth floor, where there are bars, a restaurant (where the complimentary morning muffins are served), a large outdoor terrace and some public seating areas. The rooms are on the floors above.

Yotel patio

Outdoor terrace at Yotel in New York City. Photo by Harriet Baskas

The “cabins” at the New York City Yotel are 30% larger than those at the airport properties – but at 170 square feet a basic “premium” cabin was still quite small. Still, it has all the essentials: a bed that folds up into a futon-like couch during the day and – at the press of a button – extends flat for sleeping, a tiny desk with a chair, a large flat screen TV, a shelf and a bar to hang clothing from, free Wi-Fi and a floor-to-ceiling window.

The bathroom area of the room has a curtain, but no door, although there’s a partially opaque glass door you can pull closed if you’re sharing the room and want a bit of privacy in the toilet or the shower.

(Rates usually start at $199; which seems reasonable compared with what you’ll pay for other hotel in New York City).

There’s a hip vibe at the hotel, but not so hip that you’ll feel you’ll need to be all pretty and dressed up to go grab that complimentary morning muffin.

Here’s another hip and fun new offering at the Yotel in New York City: this summer staff will be surprising some guests with complimentary “Only in New York” tours (value $65).

Tours to where? That’s a surprise: up to two dozen people will be taken on a two hour adventure somewhere in the city. Find more details about the Only in NY tours here.

Yotel robot

Rooms are small, so it’s nice that the Yotel’s Yobot will store luggage. Photo by Harriet Baskas


(My stay at the Yotel in New York City was at a reduced rate; opinions and impressions are very much my own.)

Souvenir Sunday at JFK

New York City Souvenirs  at JFK

It’s Souvenir Sunday at That’s the day we take a look at the fun, inexpensive and “of” the city souvenirs you can pick up when you’ve got time to spend at an airport.

This week’s finds were spotted in the shops at Delta Air Lines’ Terminal 3 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport – JFK.

New York City souvenirs

And, while they’re not “of” New York City, these cute kitty-bunnies caught my eye.

Hello Kitty at JFK

If you find a great souvenir next time you’re Stuck at the Airport, please take a moment to snap a photo, jot down some notes (price, why you love it, etc.) and send it along.

If your souvenir is featured on Souvenir Sunday, I’ll send you a special travel souvenir.

Finished shopping? If you’re in Terminal 3 at JFK, be sure to visit the iPad village.

Skate-and-fly in NYC at The Pond at Bryant Park

If you’re planning on being in New York City anytime before January 25th, you can go ice-skating for free at The Pond at Bryant Park. (Lockers are free as well, but there is a charge to rent locks and ice-skates, if you don’t have those with you.)


(Courtesy The Pond at Bryant Park)

Tomorrow morning (Tues, Dec 30th) MetLife has four-walled the rink so that 400 NYC school children can skate with the Peanuts gang, but Snoopy will be hanging around between 1:30 and 3:30 pm to take photos with anyone who shows up for public skating in the afternoon.

Don’t know how to skate? Free lessons are offered Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9am – 11am, courtesy of Citi.

And – here’s the fly part – from now through January 25th, Delta Air Lines is giving away round-trip airline tickets to any destination their fleet flies.  Ask about details when you show up and lace up.