So it’s not lost on me that it might be considered odd to have “stay in the old TWA Terminal at JFK airport…for fun” on my 2019 Bucket List.
Hotel, Motel, Not a Holiday Inn
The Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center was in operation from 1962 to 2001 as Terminal 5 at JFK Airport in Queens. In fact, I arrived and departed from thee several times in my early twenties when I was dating a blonde boy from Long Island with a sister who worked for the airline.
Chances are, you are familiar with Saarinen’s designs even if you didn’t realize, with his tulip and womb chair creations for Knoll furniture. You might be also be familiar with something called the St. Louis Gateway Arch. Saarinen did that, too.
Saarinen gives us curves for days; right angles were his enemy. His style evokes a fluid futurism, and for me, it has become the de facto aesthetic for science fiction. When reading the novel The Book of Strange New Things, I tuned out all of author Michael Faber’s descriptions of the far-far-away planetary station and instead pictured the main character traversing warm, mustard-yellow Saarinen interiors.
After TWA Airlines dissolved at the turn of this new century, the winged, thin-shell concrete TWA terminal was eventually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours were offered, and the neo-futurist space was also used for events. In 2016, developers and JetBlue airlines began to turn the main building of the terminal into a hotel — adding two newly constructed tower wings for rooms and suites — and opened for business in spring of 2019.
Come Fly (and Stay) with Me
When a work trip brought me down to New York in late July, I extended my stay and asked my boyfriend to come meet me at the TWA Hotel. (Always get someone else to cover your mileage.) We booked a Deluxe King Room with runway views. The room was outfitted with a martini bar, Tab cola, Knoll furnishings, and a working rotary phone, and the triple-paned window glass was as advertised — we never heard a single jet engine.
Frenchie and I threw on our swimsuits and headed up to the rooftop infinity pool. As I sipped my “Come Fly with Me” (Grey Goose Vodka, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Fresh Lime Juice & Prosecco), I watched the orderliness of the incessant plane traffic from my poolside vantage point. I found myself pulling and cheering for each one as it motored down the runway towards take-off, willing it into the sky. “You can do it, you can do it!”
While we took day trips into the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and the Whitney, we treated the hotel as the true destination event.
We sipped Veuve in the Sunken Lounge, to the sounds of the click-click-click of the restored split-flap message board. We walked all the curvy corridors and nuzzled in hidden nooks. We took way too many selfies in front of red logos. We sat in bed and watched the green and white runway lights flicker as a huge Singapore Airlines Airbus A380-800 taxied to the jetbridge.
We ate dinner each evening Jean-Georges’s Paris Cafe. One evening, we sat next to a couple of married architects from Tennessee who had flown in just to stay at the hotel and ogle. Perfect timing, as synchronized swimmers in and bathing caps suddenly appeared in formation in the lobby, as a suited guest ran over the join their show.
TWA HAS BDE
Every hotel has a vibe, and if I had to choose one for the TWA hotel, it would be Big Dick Energy (paging Joan Holloway!). It’s a time capsule without the smell of mothballs, and while the hotel concept is rooted in nostalgia, it feels very forward-looking, with an elegance (eleGANZA) and sophistication that mocks the Waco-ization of America. I spent three days in the hotel, and I still don’t think that was long enough to see and absorb everything.
To keep from getting too lazy in our luxuriating, we took a Peloton spin class each morning in the 10,000 sq. ft. fitness center. My last sweaty ride was a “DJ pride ride,” and the instructor looked up and said he had the perfect piece of advice for the class: “Get your life together.” Sounds about right. I’m going to use all that BDE from my TWA experience to do just that.