Dining out, Manhattan-style

New York is famous for a few things. The Empire State Building. The Mets. Crazy cab drivers. Aggressive residents. And great restaurants. When thousands of delegates descend upon the Big Apple for the ASTA World Congress Nov. 4 to 7, many will want to go out on the town.

So, several of New York's finest agents shared with us their favorite restaurants and watering holes -- all of them accessible to agents by subway or taxi. For dining in high -- and very high-priced -- style, Valerie Wilson, president of Valerie Wilson Travel, named her favorites: Le Cirque, Daniel and Le Bernardin.

Other New Yorkers in the know at Valerie Wilson Travel came up with a few more upscale suggestions: Home cooking at An American Place, 565 Lexington Ave., (212) 888-5650; French food at Brasserie, 100 E. 53rd St., (212) 751-4840, and Asian-Cuban fusion at Asia de Cuba, 237 Madison Ave., (212) 726-7755. Jenni Lipa, president of Spa Trek Travel, offered several eclectic suggestions:

• Sushi Samba, at two locations: 245 Park Ave. S., (212) 475-9377, and 87 Seventh Ave., (212) 691-7885.

"It's Latin American and sushi -- Japan meets Brazil," Lipa said. "They do amazing, very delicate presentations of summer and sushi rolls."

• Rain, at two locations: 100 W. 82nd St., (212) 501-0776, and 1059 Third Ave., (212) 223-3669.

"It's Thai/Vietnamese food, and it's fabulous," Lipa said.

• Avra, 141 E. 48th St., (212) 759-8550.

"It's Greek food; fresh, fresh fish. You can choose your own fish."

Lipa also suggested some places to unwind and have a few drinks after diner.

"A fun place is always the Marriott Marquis," she said, referring to the rotating Broadway Lounge at the top of this theater-area hotel at 1535 Broadway, (212) 398-1900.

For younger, hipper agents, Lipa mentioned Tenth Street Lounge downtown, 212 E. 10th St., (212) 473-5252. For agents who want to go someplace "cool" but a little more "adult," the Monkey Bar, 60 E. 54th St., (212) 838-2600, should do the trick. For the elegant and refined, try the uptown Carlyle Hotel, 35 E. 76th St., (212) 744-1600.

Michelle Peluso, president and chief executive officer of online agency Site59, contributed Bubble Lounge, 228 West Broadway, (212) 431-3343, to the list of nightlife. "That's a fun champagne lounge, with lots of little rooms," she said. Bubble Lounge is across the street from another Lipa nightlife pick, El Teddy's, (212) 941-7070.

Because both bars are near the World Trade Center site, Peluso said, agents might not be able to take a cab all the way there. They can take the subway or a cab to West Broadway and Canal Street and walk about three blocks south.

David Buda, executive vice president at Tzell Travel, offered up a couple of gay-friendly spots in the Theater District, close to the Jacob Javits Center: Barrage, a bar and lounge with a mixture of locals and theatergoers, 401 W. 47th St., (212) 586-9390; Don't Tell Mama cabaret nightclub, 343 W. 46th St., (212) 757-0783, and 44 & X Hell's Kitchen, 626 10th Ave., (212) 977-1170, where American comfort food is on the menu.

"They are all mainstream, gay-owned or operated businesses -- nothing shocking or over-the-top," Buda said. "All are nice neighborhood gathering places."

Angela Crane, a senior consultant at World Travel Partners' on-site at Turner Broadcasting, has lived in the New York area her entire life.

Where would she go? "Salute," at 270 Madison Ave. at 39th Street, (212) 213-3440, she said instantly. "It's a really great Italian restaurant," she added. "I've been there a couple of times."

Wing Wong, a consultant for Linden Travel, was caught a little off guard when asked about New York -- she spends her days arranging travel to other cities. "We know the hot spots in London, Paris," she said with a laugh.

There was silence for a few moments. "I'm thinking," she said. Finally Wong got her top picks in order. She voted for Carmine's, 200 W. 44th St., (212) 221-3800, a midtown spot that's good for groups. In fact, this boisterous, popular Italian eatery limits its dinner crowd to groups of six or more -- and meals are served family-style. Wong also mentioned Becco, an Italian restaurant right off Ninth Avenue at 355 W. 46th St., (212) 397-7597.

That stretch of 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues is known as Restaurant Row because it's filled with popular yet affordable restaurants and bars. ASTA delegates who are undecided can easily troll Restaurant Row and stop in wherever the food looks good.

-- Rebecca Tobin

Brave new world

Today, the industry faces two new significant challenges -- remaining financially viable for the short- and long- term and getting people traveling again. While there are no magic bullets, there are common efforts that we see our customers taking. Many of these efforts are not new, but the need to communicate and support travelers is greater than ever:

• Addressing concerns

One of the most obvious requirements post-Sept. 11 is to provide assurance to customers about their travel plans as well as information about airport security requirements and baggage check-in procedures.

• Alternatives and discounts

As the industry struggles to recover, there are more discounts available than ever, which provides agents a great opportunity to reestablish contact with clients. Great deals are available on airline tickets as well as hotels, tours and cruises. Some travelers remain nervous about flying. Rail, car and cruises are possible alternatives. Many agencies that did not emphasize these forms of travel previously are quickly building their expertise and offering these options.

• Building alliances

In rebuilding the public's confidence in travel, it is heartening to see the teamwork and professionalism demonstrated by the travel industry. Agencies are joining forces, industry organizations are promoting the value of agents and CRSs are providing financial relief to both airlines and agencies. It will take all of our joint efforts to get through this period, and agencies should continue to build alliances with others in the industry.

• Technology

While the focus of many today is on survival, travel agencies need to make decisions that will position them for the future. For instance, large and small agencies realize that they must have some Web presence to survive long-term. The Web offers a way to communicate cheaply and efficiently with clients -- from providing security information to basics such as flight alternatives. An agency can take advantage of several inexpensive options today to establish their online presence and reduce the agency's overall cost structure.

Ellen Keszler is senior vice president, North America, of Sabre Travel Agency Solutions. Contact her at [email protected]

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