NYC: The Ace Hotel opens The Breslin restaurant
Helmed by the owners of the West Village gastropub Spotted Pig—which was famously invested in by Mario Batali, Jay-Z, and Bono—the new restaurant is open off of the Ace's lobby for breakfast, lunch, and (the aforementioned) brunch.
Who could resist trying out this vintage-inspired, hipster hangout? Named after the hotel that used to be at the site, The Breslin fetishizes comfortable, centuries-old British pubs. Think dark wood paneling and flooring. Keeping with the theme, food is served on planks of wood.
Lobbyists from the beef and pork industry ought to hold meetings here. The decor runs to miniature carved pigs and cows—and wall-mounted pastoral prints of pigs and cows.
What to eat? Try the beef tongue baguette sandwich with a cup of lentil soup ($16).
A hotel guest dining beside me was thrilled with her ham-and-three-cheese sandwich, for $16. We agreed that we'd each return for fatty slabs of terrine: guinea hen with morels/"rustic pork"/rabbit and prune/head cheese, served with pickles, piccalilli and mustard (from $25 for a small shared plate).
Traveling solo? Belly up to the bar, a preferred spot for dining because it increases your chance of rubbing shoulders with the locals. Two cask beers are available, plus five more brews on tap, including an $8 pint of Defiant Muddy Creek.
Be patient, though. My meal took 22 minutes to arrive. Yet who's eying the clock while on vacation?
Where—or what—should The Sensible Aesthete review next?
Alex Calderwood, a music impresario and partner in the Ace Hotel Group, reveals the best new design discoveries, in Cool Hunting 2009: New York City
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Amtrak loses $32 per rider
Fun fact of the day: Every time a passenger rides Amtrak, the railroad loses $32 on average, say researchers at Pew's Subsidyscope project. Taxpayers cover that $32 per rider loss through federal government subsidies. Last year, taxpayers gave Amtrak $1.3 billion in direct payments. So it's not just death and taxes that you can count on. You can also count on paying taxes to prevent the death of Amtrak. Amtrak disputes the numbers, saying it only loses $8 per passenger on average. But researchers say that Amtrak isn't including depreciation—that's wear-and-tear on tracks and trains—and overhead (such as the cost of running human resources). The independently calculated numbers count those additional costs. Only three of Amtraks's 44 lines made a profit last year, despite 2008 being the railroad's second-best-ever year for ridership. Amtrak's Acela Express service is one of the rare exceptions. The premium-priced route along the northeast corridor is profitable. The average ticket price for Acela is $41 more than the cost of transporting the passenger. Amtrak has claimed that the Northeast Regional is profitable, making $20 per passenger. But the new Pew study disagrees, saying that the most-heavily-traveled route is—incredibly enough—unprofitable. It loses an average of $5 a passenger, once you figure in depreciation and other unallocated costs of $24.29 per passenger. The worst performing line? The Sunset Limited, which runs between L.A. and New Orleans. It loses an average of $462 per passenger(!) In defense of railroads, highways don't make money either and the government subsidizes their construction and maintenance. Many small airports don't make money, as well, yet they also get subsidies as a cost of keeping the economy humming along. MORE The study is online at Pew's site.
Florence's main piazza bans traffic
Good news! Mayor Matteo Renzi has claimed Florence's crowded central piazza—home to the Duomo and the Baptistry—for pedestrians. Cars, buses, and horse-drawn carriages are officially unwelcome as of October 25, when the city will celebrate with an open-air concert. Traffic previously skirted along the side of the iconic Duomo, coating its marble in a visible layer of grime. Initial response to the unexpected announcement has been enthusiastic, as reported in the English-language paper The Florentine. The only gripes cited are from taxi drivers, as taxi stands in the piazza will have to be transplanted. Renzi is quoted as explaining that the new pedestrian-only zone is "the first step to re-launching one of the world's most well-known cities and improving citizens' quality of life by applying the Greek concept of agora." IT'S A TREND We recently gave the City of New York an Extra Mile Award for converting five blocks in Times Square into a car-free area complete with benches and café tables—as inspired by Copenhagen's Strøget zone. RELATED Ask a Guidebook Writer: What's Better Than Florence's Duomo?
Elderhostel changes its name to appeal to the under-50 crowd
What's in a name? Well, a lot, especially if you're Elderhostel. The popular Boston-based tour company just changed its name to Exploritas, in the hopes of attracting more travelers. The company will continue to sell nearly 8,000 tours in 50 states and 90 countries, all with an educational bent. The new moniker (pronounced ek splÔR i tahs) comes with a few other improvements, including more domestic itineraries in 2010 and a social networking tool on the company website. But the biggest difference is a drop in the age requirement, from 55 to 21. The goal is to attract more people in their 40s and 50s. Chief executive James Moses admits that Exploritas isn't likely to win over many twentysomethings. Elderhostel had 155,000 travelers sign up last year, a drop of 40 percent from a decade ago, reports the Wall Street Journal. So the time is ripe for change. The tour concept got its start in 1975, expanding steadily over time. The budget minded may balk at some of the Exploritas tours. A case in point is Patagonia: Hiking at the End of the Earth, where the picture shown in this blog post was taken. This two-week tour starts at a whopping $5,190 per person and includes accommodations, most meals, and guided hiking trips with local experts. Looking for something closer to home? This 10-night itinerary in Utah starts at $1,528 and includes visits to Zion, Bryce, and Arches national parks and Lake Powell, all with a focus on geology. (Based on double occupancy.) MORE The Real Deals: Great vacation packages hand-picked by Budget Travel's editors
Rental car rates have more than doubled in the past year
Holy moly! Travelers are paying through the nose for car rentals right now. For a one-week compact rental reserved 7 days in advance, the average rate at major U.S. airports has more than doubled since last year. Specifically, if you reserved last Monday for a rental starting today, the average is $347.86. The same scenario in the fourth week of September 2008 would have cost $157.52. That's an increase of 121 percent. "Rates have been through the roof," says Neil Abrams, whose market research firm Abrams Consulting Group keeps tabs on car rental statistics. "This is not an anomaly. Prices have just kept rising far beyond what we've seen in the past." EARLIER Rental car rates skyrocket, despite recession (20+ comments, with helpful tips from Budget Travel readers) The car rental promotion that actually costs you double Three new ways to snag a free hotel room