Two weeks ago, we stayed at the newly restored TWA Flight Center and newly constructed TWA Hotel at JFK Airport in NYC for a couple of days. For modern architecture lovers like us it was an absolute treat and if you have the chance, we definitely recommend visiting. Whether you have a night to spend in NYC or you're at JFK with a long layover, this is the place to be. Built in 1959 and expanded in 1962, the structure is possibly the best known testament to when air travel was promoted as an experience - before high-volume, discount travel took over and the terminal was deemed obsolete.
The flight center really is a tour-de-force of architect Eero Saarinen's sensual design sense and he uses scale to wow you into appreciating it. From its grand sweeping exterior forms, to the intimate spaces created in its folds, the organic curves of the TWA flight center are mesmerizing and inviting.
Most surfaces within reach are covered in original dime-sized ivory tiles, like the scales of an undiscovered creature. The two soaring manta ray-like wings, the skylights that run like sea urchin pores and the cavernous recesses of the check-in desks all evoke underwater imagery. In contrast when you ascend the gentle flights of stairs up into the waiting lounge (now a cocktail bar known as the Sunken Lounge) and look out onto a massive window to the sky, you know your journey has begun.
Like all great architecture, experiencing the space at different times during the day is magical. Start with early morning light streaming through the huge eastern wall of glass by the sunken lounge casting huge shadows down into the main lobby...
...while midday sun casts defined lines through the skylights that run diagonally across the roof, meeting at the very center above the three faced clock....
...and at night the structure takes on yet another character of an almost alien spacecraft or deep ocean jellyfish.
Where to Eat and Drink at the TWA Flight Center
The TWA Flight Center boasts a number of food and drink options apart from the previously mentioned Sunken Lounge including the Departures Hall Dining Food Court with a nice range of fast but quality items such as sandwiches, breakfast bowls, salads and the like. For pricier fare head upstairs to the Paris Cafe where you can dine in style at on genuine Knoll Tulip chairs (Pedestal Group) also designed by the architect Eero Saarinen. It's definitely part of the experience and well worth it in our opinion.
On the opposite side of the building above the check in counters is a quieter section with plenty of seating. There is a small permanent exhibition of TWA uniforms and memorabilia which is worth checking out.
There are also a number of unique seating areas to be found secluded in tunnels with some fantastic retro colors. The lighting in these areas wasn't functioning when we visited but we are interested to see what will happen here.
See Connie at the TWA Flight Center and Hotel
A bonus attraction is a TWA Lockheed Constellation plane named 'Connie' parked outside the East window which you can tour. Or, just climb on board and have a cocktail!
You are free to walk around and take in the plane and the exterior.
The Inside Scoop on Visiting the TWA Hotel
We visited the hotel a week after it opened and there were undeniably teething problems and kinks to work out such as restaurants running out of staple ingredients, faulty blinds in the hotel room, drilling in the room that could be heard during the day, some attractions not finished yet and thus unavailable etc...however we really enjoyed being there and it was a great place to unwind, refresh ourselves between trips into NYC proper. The rooms were very comfortable (each even has its own Womb chair!) and well thought out.
A few recommendations for any other visitors who choose to visit the TWA Flight Center and Hotel in the coming weeks and months:
• You don't have to spend the night. If you have a layover at JFK, just walk right over from Terminal 5. You can see the Flight Center with suitcase in tow. If you have a few hours, it is possible to book a room for a few hours or most of the day - ideal for a quick nap during a layover and a martini or two in your room.
• Call ahead to confirm your reservation and the type of room you've booked a day or two in advance. Get the name of the person you're talking to, and mention it at check-in if there's a problem. The staff are incredibly helpful and kind, but things were a bit chaotic - as to be expected at a brand new hotel.
• Lower your expectations for the Paris Cafe. It was touted as an upscale restaurant under the direction of Jean-Georges Vongerichten. While the space itself was fantastic, the meals we had there were pretty standard hotel fare. Perhaps a few more weeks of operation will lead to better service and cuisine.
• The Sunken Lounge is NOT a lobby. In the morning, when it's not busy, you're free to sit down, read a book and enjoy the view. By mid-afternoon, it turns into a true cocktail lounge. Which is to say...if you're not a paying customer, you're taking up valuable real estate! It's still well worth paying $16 for a cocktail in that amazing space.
• Get a room with the Historic TWA view. There are also rooms with runway views, but architecture buffs will definitely want the TWA flight center view - after all, that's what you're there to see!
• Get up early! Sure, it's tempting to sleep in after a few martinis in the Sunken Lounge, but the best time for photos might just be early in the morning. The light makes it look amazing, and it's great to see the Flight Center empty - making it ideal for photos.