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Why JFK’s TWA Hotel has Quickly Become the Stuff of Legends

Nobody wants a layover. That is, unless they’ve stayed at this extremely cool airport spot.

July 6, 2020
TWA Hotel
The TWA Hotel is way more than a gimmick, as it offers fantastic amenities and dining as delicious as the setting is stylish. TWA Hotel

The beauty of living in Florida and traveling primarily to the Caribbean is that my layovers are never much more than a quick airplane change in Miami. Although, if I have to spend a little extra time in an airport, I’ve always crossed my fingers that it’s Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where I can swing by Casa Noble and grab a Casa Old Fashioned, which is way better than any airport drink should be. But anything more than two hours should require a thorough reexamination of the booking process, unless you’re looking for a layover that will actually be an instant highlight of your entire vacation.

A pre-vacation to the primary destination, if you will.

In that case, you’re going to want to route your next trip through New York City’s JFK Airport. I know, I know—we already do whatever we can to avoid the world’s biggest airports, so actually planning to fly into the Big Apple for, say, a Caribbean getaway sounds insane. But if you’re heading somewhere like the Guadeloupe Islands, then a flight out of JFK might already be your only option, so you owe it to yourself to add one more night to the vacation and stay at the airport’s amazing TWA Hotel.

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Time Travel is Real

TWA Flight Center
Interior design firm Stonehill Taylor reconstructed the Sunken Lounge from the original shop drawings and photos from the ’60s. The designers were even sure to use Saarinen’s “Chili Pepper Red” color for the seating. TWA Hotel


Going from the JFK concourse to the TWA Hotel’s lobby is a fascinating experience, a juxtaposition unlike any other as you scurry through the crowd of zombie-like wanderers to an unassuming elevator tucked away in a corner. Such an unceremonious entrance actually enhances the entertainment value of entering the hotel, because the moment those elevator doors open, guests are struck by wave after wave of nostalgia.

First, you’re greeted by former TWA owner Howard Hughes’ office and it immediately feels like you’ve entered an old hotel, but it’s still somehow so new, as if architect and designer Eero Saarinen completed his neo-futuristic TWA Flight Center the day before you arrived. The two “flight tubes” feel like they were designed for a Stanley Kubrick film, as the red carpet and curved white walls and ceiling are so delightfully indicative of the 1960s vision for the future. (I kept waiting for the Jetsons to fly past me in their car.)

The hotel’s public area, which is still Saarinen’s mind-blowing 1962 airport terminal impressively preserved and updated, is like a Choose Your Own Adventure museum, as you’re greeted by “Connie” through the massive windows, while the Solari split-flap message board ticking away at all hours. Reconstructed by design firm Stonehill Taylor using the original shop drawings, the Sunken Lounge is still as vibrant as it was so many years ago when Beatles fans gathered to watch the band’s arrival, and there’s even a Twister room, because why wouldn’t there be a Twister room?

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Meeting Connie

Connie
Following her intense restoration, Connie was delivered to her new home at JFK, where she became the TWA Hotel’s centerpiece. Aaron Locke

Commissioned by Hughes in 1939, “Connie” was a Lockheed Constellation that set the aviation world abuzz. The Connie that serves as the centerpiece to the TWA Hotel is a 1958 model that was a shell of her former glorious self when she was purchased for restoration in early 2018 (“She was missing a nose,” the hotel’s website muses). But now she serves as equal parts museum and cocktail lounge, where guests can enjoy a truly splendid array of cocktails as if they’re cosplaying as extras on an episode of Mad Men.

In bringing the Connie Cocktail Lounge to life, Stonehill Taylor’s team designed a one-foot-wide backlit “reveal” that uncovered the aircraft’s raw bones, running almost the full circumference of the cabin at its belly. In Layman’s terms, that means they created space suitable for a swingin’ ’60s party vibe.

Modern Twists on Vintage Cuisine

twa hotel drinks
(Clockwise from top left) No voyage back to the 60s is complete without the Sunken Lounge Martini; what’s a trip to New York, New York without the Come Fly with Me cocktail inspired by Frank Sinatra; there’s nothing old fashioned about this airport, but the drink is divine; this might be the best cucumber margarita I have ever had. TWA Hotel

If your stay at the TWA is only one night, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Depending on the time of year, you’ll want to grab cocktails at the rooftop pool bar, where you can also take a dip and watch airplanes land, which undoubtedly makes this one of the coolest airport bars in the world. If you’d prefer a more intimate setting—perhaps one with better climate control—the Sunken Lounge is vast and feels like a spontaneous Loco-motion dance could break out at any time.

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hotel pool
Not many hotel pools offer a bird’s eye view of airplanes landing. TWA Hotel

Given the cold temperature of my visit and late time of my check-in, I was more than happy to grab a seat at the bar in the Paris Café, where the friendliest bartenders of this or last century picked my cocktails and meal for me, and I’ll never forget them for their wise choices. It’s not often that a steak and eggs would make me text home or boast on Instagram, but Ron Swanson himself would have done the Frug after a few bites of this incredible meal. Or maybe it was enhanced by the perfect old fashioned and cucumber margarita that served as the respective bookends to my late dinner. (They also threw in the black truffle pizza because… well, they insisted, and it was amazing but still so much that I passed it off to my new friends, a family also taking off for the Caribbean the next morning.)

Lace Up for the Runway Rink

TWA rink
Lace up and enjoy an experience you won’t find at most other hotels. TWA Hotel

Even if it’s cold outside you don’t need to be stuck inside the TWA Hotel. The Runway Rink is easily one of the coolest amenities you’ll find in any hotel, and while this ice-skating facility is seasonal, it’s a pretty unique and enjoyable way to kick off any fall or winter vacation to the Caribbean or anywhere tropical. But of course the same could be said about any other aspect of this incredibly fun, stylish hotel.

There’s an Etch A Sketch in My Minibar

TWA hotel room
The rooms are simple, yet they feature the same attention to detail as the hotel’s public spaces. TWA Hotel

Staying only for the night, not long enough to get my full seven hours, I wasn’t too concerned about lavish comfort and all the bells and whistles of the French Caribbean resort I’d soon visit. But Stonehill Taylor still designed these rooms to maximize comfort during short stays, and the team incorporated Saarinen-designed Knoll furnishings, as well as truly cool vintage “artifacts” like TWA posters, rotary phones and terrazzo tiles with Hollywood-style vanities in the bathrooms.

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They even offered Tab soda in the minibar and a tiny Etch A Sketch in a tray filled with classic goodies. Never before have I been so tempted to break my minibar embargo, but I settled instead for a few TWA logo pencils. No way I was leaving without something to remind me of how cool this hotel is.

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