By Terry Trucco
At a glance: There’s travel, and there’s time travel. And then there’s the TWA Hotel at JFK International Airport, which gives you both.
Opened in May 2019, the hotel is a paean to multi-era multitasking. Situated in architect Eero Saarinen’s soaring, gull-winged TWA air terminal from 1962 — as redolent of early ‘60s optimism as space travel, miniskirts and The Beatles — the TWA is part theme park, part museum, part food hall, part 21st-century hotel (the WiFi is excellent).
It just may be the nimblest hotel in New York, as ideal for a wedding reception (the banquet hall is cavernous) as an overnight stay, a place to crash between flights (day rates are available) or a staycation for locals (the rooftop infinity pool works equally well for swimming and plane spotting).
Saarinern’s exquisitely restored masterstroke, the hotel’s raison d’être, is breathtaking and well stocked with camera-ready toys like the tail-winged Lincoln Continental parked outside the front entrance (yes, you can climb in). A 60s playlist — Sinatra, the Beatles, Dusty Springfield, the Beach Boys — wafts in the background. And the staff members you see blend with the setting — porters outfitted in striped jumpsuits like airplane mechanics, women behind the check-in desk dressed like stewardesses. They seem to spend half their time posing for photos.
It’s easy to while away a day exploring the premises. The enormous, sunken bar in TWA red and white doubles as a sitting room by day flaunting banquettes and faithful reproductions of Saarinen’s marble-topped pedestal tables. The stylish, retro-esque Paris Cafe offers Jean-Georges Vongerichten-devised pastas, pizzas and burgers, a cut above the standard fare served up elsewhere at JFK. Our favorite detail: the museum-quality display of Mad Men-inflected flight attendant uniforms designed by Oleg Cassini, Ralph Lauren, Valentino and Stan Herman, among others. (Herman, at age 90, also devised the retro uniforms for the hotel staff).
Stroll past the mannequins, and discoveries abound, like the mini hall of mirrors with mildly psychedelic striped wall coverings. Keep going and you find a room crowned by a halo of lights said to have been inspired by a visit by the Pope. Need reading material? Pull up a molded plywood George Nelson chair and page through an art book in the sprawling Phaidon Henry Miller Reading Room.
There’s even an Intrepid Museum moment: witness the 1950s TWA “Connie” (for Constellation) prop plane parked out back. It houses a bar outfitted with airplane seats (two per row) and stocked with a bar serving tweaked vintage cocktails like Cucumber Martinis.
It’s a heady place, enough to make you almost forget you’re at one of the world’s busiest airport and all that entails — like being 45 minutes from Manhattan if the traffic is moving. It’s a long ride in to see a Broadway show, in other words. As for the 510 guest rooms housed in gently curved towers bracketing Saarinen’s big white bird of a building, they’re smartly designed but small.
But the TWA Hotel is no ordinary hotel, airport or otherwise. And that alone makes it worth a trip to JFK, even if you’re not catching a plane.
Rooms: The rooms remind you that, for all its history and panache, this is an airport hotel. Though spotless and cleverly designed, they’re compact, more businesslike than romantic, configured as double queens or kings and priced according to the view (you’ll pay extra for runway views from a high floor). For anyone catching a plane, it’s hard to imagine a better location: the hotel connects to Jet Blue’s Terminal 5 — and the Air Train to the other terminals.
Rooms are upbeat and clever, making the most of their limited space. White walls, 60s-inflected wood paneling, vintage copies of Life and Look on the desks, retrofitted vintage Western Electric 500 rotary phones — Don Draper would feel right at home. The beds eat up much of the space, but they’re gorgeous (and comfortable), dressed in fluffy white sheeted duvets. There are no closets, but hooks are provided beside the built-in walnut cocktail bar. Each is gifted with a custom, lipstick red Womb chair designed by Saarinen (and downsized slightly by Knoll to fit the rooms).
Also of note: 4 1/2-inch-thick windows keep out the sound, and floor-to-ceiling blackout curtains keep things dark for guests catching a few winks between flights.
Food and drink: The Paris Cafe overlooks the lobby below and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks. As mentioned above, the menu was curated by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, but expect stylish airport fare like high-end pizzas, pastas and burgers, not the five-start dining of his signature restaurants. The retro room, outfitted with furnishings designed by Saarinen, is an enjoyable place for a meal and a chat. A food court is located on the ground floor opposite the check in desk. The sunken bar in the lobby is spacious and good-looking. Drinks are also served above the Connie, the vintage TWA prop plane parked outside the terminal.
Keep in mind: You can see into rooms on lower floors from the main terminal, so book a high floor if you’re planning to spend a lot of time in your room.