Hudson Theatre: New York’s oldest theatre resurrected

The oldest theatre in New York is also the newest theatre in New York.

The recently refurbished Hudson Theatre originally opened its doors on 19 October 1903, narrowly beating the Lyceum and the New Amsterdam theatres to the title of the city’s first theatre.

As the years wore on, however, the Hudson was repurposed, operating as a radio and television studio, a night club and eventually, and rather less glamorously, an adult film cinema.

Now, the grand old building has been lovingly restored and reclaimed as a theatre space, reopening last year with a smash hit of a production, Sunday in the Park With George.

So popular was the short-run Sondheim revival, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, that individual tickets were changing hands for upward of $10,000. New York’s oldest-turned-newest theatre was back with a vengeance.

The theatre’s current production, The Parisian Woman, with Oscar-nominee Uma Thurman, is a jaunty play that arrived amid great fanfare, partnering House of Cards creator Beau Willimon with Tony award-winning director Pam MacKinnon. The reviews, however, have been decidedly mixed.

The Week Portfolio visited the Hudson Theatre recently to see the production, take a private tour of the theatre and to try out Millennium Hotels’ new “stay and play” package, which is available at both The Premier Times Square and the Millennium Broadway hotels (both part of the Millennium Hotels group).

If you are visiting the Hudson, The Premier Times Square is definitely your best option. The hotel shares a door with the theatre, so you don’t even have to set foot on the street to get from your room to your seat. And with New York currently seeing record low temperatures, that really is a godsend. The Millennium Broadway has lower room rates and also connects with the Hudson, so the same experience is available if you wish to “stay and play” but are on a budget.

Entering the theatre from either hotel, you arrive at the Hudson’s newly renovated barroom, which is a thing of beauty. The glowing bar offers drinks in, yes, real glasses, meaning you don’t have to drink from plastic cups, unlike in so many other New York theatres. The entry spaces are decorated with Tiffany glass throughout, and include thoughtfully restored original features, including the gilded box office in the main foyer, mosaic tiles and the soaring proscenium arch in the auditorium itself. Generous seats with proper legroom have also been added, meaning people of above 6ft (this reviewer included) can actually sit comfortably – a rarity in theatres of a certain vintage. 

The Hudson also has a VIP Ambassador Lounge, where you can escape the hoy and the polloi to have a quiet glass of bubbly before the curtain goes up.

Of course, the quality of your visit will depend on how much you enjoy the show, but regardless, being able to dawdle home without having to emerge onto the street is a wonderful luxury.

What else to do in New York

The city that never sleeps offers a fantastic selection of places to shop around Madison Avenue, from the Ralph Lauren mansion to small, quintessential New York boutiques selling jewellery, shoes and accessories that make perfect gifts. 

In recent years, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has taken over the building previously occupied by the Whitney Museum – which has moved downtown to the Meatpacking District – and opened a new museum there called The Met Breuer. It is still a relatively well-kept secret, but well worth a visit. 

If you aren’t done with your art fix, there’s also an array of other art spaces nearby – including the Mark Hachem, the Michael Werner and the Yoshii galleries – some of which you may only hear about through word of mouth.

Where to eat and drink

First- or second-time visitors might view New York as a city with a culinary scene dominated by resurgent American “dude food” classics such as burgers and hot dogs. However, there is more to NYC than mere bread and meat combos. Indeed, the city is bursting with great restaurants.

Follow the city’s writers and celebs and head downtown to the Waverly Inn, an intimate eatery with a club vibe and a bistro menu featuring “local and organic” ingredients. Don’t fear, that doesn’t mean New York rat marinated in yellow-cab axle grease, but rather dishes such as house-made ricotta with fava beans, dry-aged New York strip steak, Amish chicken, and the Waverly’s award-winning all-natural burger (there had to be a burger). 

Another great option not too far away is Café Select, a bolthole that’s perfect for pre-dinner drinks or casual dinners – think wiener schnitzels and perfectly constructed avocado and turkey sandwiches. 

There are many fantastic bars in New York City, too. A good place to start is the Brooklyn Brewery, which not only allows behind-the-scenes access to one of the city’s early craft breweries, but is also a massive bar in its own right serving all of the brand’s latest experimental concoctions. Tell the bartenders what you like and don’t like, and your beer of choice might eventually pop up in your favourite bar back home.

For perfectly pitched Chinese food, head to RedFarm, which does a mean Bloody Mary to complement your dim sum lunch. The dim sum themselves are works of art. Many of them are garnished to look like they have two little eyes on top, giving them the appearance of adorable tiny ghosts – an effect fully utilised by the RedFarm kitchen: the menu includes the Pac-Man dumpling collection, which features a sweet potato “Pac-Man” chasing down a plateful of dumpling ghosts.

And, of course, then there are the burger bars. Fight through the midtown crowds to Le Parker Meridien hotel, pass through the red velvet curtains to its in-house Burger Joint, and brave the inevitable queue, and you will be rewarded with one of the best burgers in the city. The menu is short: burgers, fries, shakes and other drinks. Choose from basic toppings including lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard, onions, mayo, and ketchup, or make like a proper New Yorker and get “the works”. Whatever you choose, it will be a perfect burger. No wonder people are still lining up 15 years after Burger Joint first opened its doors.

New York City attracts an annual total of more than 60 million tourists, who flock to the Top of the Rock, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, but if you want an insiders’ guide to the city, try Localike, a new service that helps visitors “live like a local”. The process is simple: complete a 15-minute profile on Localike’s website, highlighting your preferences and interests, and within five business days, the site’s local experts will create a personalised itinerary for you. That may include a Japanese restaurant that doesn’t publish its phone number, an original New York speakeasy, or a tour around a private park in Manhattan where access is usually only granted to the residents of the adjacent buildings. Just be sure to leave time for a theatre trip too.

Millennium Hotels’ “stay and play” package includes accommodation for two nights at either Millennium Broadway or The Premier Times Square, two tickets to The Parisian Woman, pre-show access to the Hudson Theatre’s new Ambassador Lounge, complimentary cocktails for two at the Hudson Theatre bar prior to the show, and dinner for two at Bugis Street Brasserie and Bar. The package is priced from $519 (£386) per night, based on two people sharing a room, and can be booked from now until 25 March 2018. See millenniumhotels.com for more details.

A New York CityPASS allows admission to the top six New York City attractions and are available from www.nycgo.com.

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