When traveling to large cities, such as NYC, Chicago, London, Paris etc, it’s often a challenge to find a green way of doing it. On a recent trip to NYC, I was pleasantly surprised to find a new level of consciousness arising in the hotel industry. For now, with their massive and often archaic infrastructure, it’s pretty hard for for old school hotels in any city to change, however, like an old person stuck in their ways, some are at least taking a stab at it. So before landing in the big apple, I sniffed around a bit, and found The Benjamin Hotel, which is bang in the center of the city (mid town), and is a jewel among a lot of other rather large hotels in this bustling area of the city. Built in 1927 and recently restored to it’s original grandeur, this is a hotel that has green initiatives aplenty:
They have partnered with Clean the World, www.cleantheworld.org, which is an organization to provide impoverished people recycled soap products along with appropriate educational materials. They donate their used solid and liquid soap amenities to the program. They use a purveyor who buys products from local farmers. Energy Efficient components in the building such as motion sensored light switches, automatically turn off when no motion is detected. Energy Efficient lighting is used in guestrooms and public spaces. The guest rooms have temperature control that is moderated by an energy efficient thermostat which keeps track of the energy. They have a water conservation program in place. This allows for the showers release only 2.5 gallons of water a minute (that is about half of what power showers use) and the bathrooms are equipped with heads designed to give the feel of a full-throttle shower. They partner with an environmentally friendly laundry vendor. Finally, they use the now rather ubiquitous Energy conservation notices on all pillows at turndown (placed in wooden rosette) which notifies guests of our commitment to the environment and gives them the option of not having daily laundry service for linens and towels.
Two touches that I was tickled by was that they have a pillow menu, where you can choose from 12 different pillows every night – I was tempted to order them all and then like Goldilocks, start a process of elimination. I opted for the buckwheat pillow, which was great except that I woke up with a big crease across my cheek (probably from mushing my head into it!) – not great when I had to appear on National TV with crease still very visible!
I also loved that they provide eco-friendly/preservative-free dog food for your pooch – not that I would have even entertained the idea of bringing Phoebe to this city. oh – and one more thing: I had an usually great massage in the hotel’s small but more-than-adequate spa.
The staff are hugely friendly and helpful, giving this boutique hotel more of a personal feel.
Walking around the city, I was pleasantly surprised to see a number or small farmer’s markets pop up on different days. I was particularly impressed with the Union Square Green Market, which you’ll find open and ready to go, four days a week. This is a market that takes green very seriously – apparently each vendor is screened from many different angles before being allowed a stall. This is the market where I found the wonderful composting program for apartment dwellers: schlep your kitchen scraps down to their stall and they’ll whisk them away to be composted.
As far as eating is concerned, The Candle Cafe and it’s upscale sister restaurant, Candle 79 are an absolute MUST for the Gorgeously Green girl. The whole thing started back in 1984 when Rick Potenza bought a health shop/juice bar called Sunny’s and transformed it into a cafe where guests could come and eat the most delicious vegan food. A few years later, Joy Pierson became his partner and they’ve been going strong ever since. The Candle Cafe is now legendary in the city, and is frequented by just about anyone and everyone whether they’re vegan or not. The Cafe is cozy and has a very busy feel to it. It’s loud and chatty, which I love, especially when dining alone. It’s the kind of cafe where you can take a good book and be perfectly happy sipping on a delicious juice and tucking into a tempeh burger.
If you want something a little more upscale or romantic, Candle 79 is to die for. My meal sent me to heaven and back: I started with a mushroom trio which incorporated dozens of different tastes and textures, including crunchy cornmeal crusts and grilled trumpet mushrooms sitting on a heart of palm puree – yummy! I then ordered the pumpkin seed crusted seitan with chipotle tomato aioli. If you have any doubts about vegan food, this restaurant will convert you for life. I was so blown away that as soon as I got home, I started working my way through the Candle Cafe cookbook, and every single thing I’ve tried so far has been a hit with the family!
For a little eco-retail therapy, a trip to Kaight in the East Village is a must. This charming boutique is crammed with guilt-free (credit card aside!) goodies. You’ll find the biggest selection of Tom’s and Melissa shoes you’ve ever seen, plus plenty of carefully chosen pieces that are well worth forking out for. The owner Kate, is just lovely and if you do pop in, be sure to say hi to her adorable rescue mutt, Leo – I fell in love!
So if you find yourself in the big apple, you can take a large eco-bite out of it, even if the rest has a long way to go…