After years of back-and-forth about construction, permissions and rights, the long-awaited TWA Hotel opened its doors recently at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Trans World Airlines – TWA commissioned groundbreaking Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen to design its JFK terminal in 1962. Following the airline’s closure in 2001, many questions remained about what would happen to the swooping white building. Now, it has a new and exciting second life as JFK’s only on-site airport hotel, with 512 rooms and some 50,000 feet of meeting and event space. The TWA Hotel has opened and visitors can choose a room that overlooks an active JFK runway — perfect for aviation fans who want to watch planes take off — or one that looks into the hotel itself, a good choice for design fans who just can’t get enough.
Highlighting the new TWA hotel are a number of new dining options. New York-based architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle is responsible for returning The Sunken Lounge to its original 1962 design, complete with the same historic shade of chili pepper red carpet. Located in the center of the terminal underneath a split flap departures board and operated by the Gerber Group—which also runs the renovated The Campbell Bar at Grand Central Terminal—the cocktail bar serves 1960s classics like the Aviation (crème de violette, maraschino liqueur, gin, and lemon juice). The Gerber Group has also created its own signature cocktails for the bar, including the Come Fly With Me, a drink inspired by Frank Sinatra’s 1958 album cover.
Eventually, there will be six restaurants throughout the TWA Hotel, but the most exciting one is the Paris Café by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Located on the mezzanine level of the historic building, the 200-seat restaurant takes over the footprint of the terminal’s original Paris Café and Lisbon Lounge, which shuttered in 2001 when the terminal closed. The new restaurant is now open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and serves food inspired by in-flight menus from TWA.
For quick meals, the Departures Dining Hall features food court-style offerings from The Halal Guys, Empanada Republic, and Antico Noè. Intelligentsia has been tapped to provide service at the coffee bar and coffee carts located throughout the hotel, which are open now.
In October 2018, a meticulously restored Lockheed Constellation airplane from the 1950s was moved from Maine’s Auburn-Lewiston Airport to JFK. The 1958 plane has been repurposed into a cocktail lounge just outside the new hotel and is one of eight bars planned for the property. No detail has been overlooked here—even the cockpit has been restored to what it used to look like complete with a hula girl figurine on the dashboard. Nicknamed “The Connie,” it has become one of the hotel’s bars, where retro drinks are featured.
“Trendy” and “near the airport” are no longer mutually exclusive, as this is the first hotel on JFK’s grounds — no taxi required. This is good news for architecture buffs and for preservationists alike, since there had been rumors that the long-empty terminal was going to be razed.
Until now, few visitors had been able to access the TWA Terminal following its closure — just the occasional lucky traveler who was able to snag a ticket to an event through New York City’s annual Open House Weekend. The TWA Hotel’s guest rooms are set in two low-rise buildings and feature Knoll furnishings and old Hollywood-inspired interiors. The hotel also offers 50,000 square feet of conference, event and meeting space.
“From the moment guests and visitors arrive at the TWA hotel, they will find themselves immersed in the ethos of 1962’s rich culture, architecture, sights, sounds and ambiance,” commented Tyler Morse, CEO of MCR and MORSE Development, the developer of the project. “The attention to the smallest of details permeates the entire guest room experience, paying homage to the magnificent landmark and special time in American history.”
The Kitchen Equipment Dealer: Israel Wolner, Culinary Depot, Monsey, NY
The Kitchen Design Consultant: Eric McConnell,
Next Step Design, Baltimore, MD
Gerber Group Chef at TWA/JFK: Fernando Navas, Gerber Group, NY, NY
The General Contractor: Gary McAussey, Turner Construction, NY, NY
The Owner: MCR and MORSE Development, Dallas,TX
The Interior Designer: Sara Duffy, Stonehill Taylor, NY, NY
Fernando Navas’ Approach:
We looked at the TWA/JFK project as an opportunity to showcase our food and beverage expertise. We are known for our cocktail and night club operation but sometimes it gets overlooked that we own and operate seven very successful restaurants in New York City with full menus.
In addition to our multiple cocktail lounges all serving some sort of innovative food menu, we came to this project with a number of creative ideas. We worked closely with Culinary Depot on getting the kitchen just right for the “Connie” lounge. They were incredibly helpful making the back of the house work for us. We challenged them to help us build out two kitchens: one for the Connie and one to serve the pool. In both cases, our approach was to find the very best ventless cooking solutions. Our menu strategy was to create a menu for the Connie that offers a couple of signature entree items and then a creative selection of tasty bites. We knew that with being positioned right off the terminal as part of the airport, the goal was to keep the menu as simple as possible. The focus is on quality with great avocado based items and tasty hummus and cheese offerings. We of course have created a specialty cocktail menu that includes the GG Manhattan and a Cold Brew Martini. We spent a lot of time on getting the customer experience right.
So we used our Manhattan base to do the hiring three months out. We then did extensive training to make sure that when TWA/JFK opened, our team was ready to create a great customer experience. This was really a special opportunity for our team to be a part of such a special project.
Eric McConnell’s Approach:
The developer MCR brought us in on the project. I thought it was a very exciting opportunity for Next Step Design. I knew after we met with Tyler Morse of MCR that there was a great fit, and I was thrilled that we were awarded the job shortly thereafter.
Our first step was to help them create and build-out a commissary/banquet kitchen that would have the flexibility to handle both the committed operators they had on board and then the additional operators they were working to attract. MCR’s marching orders were very simple: understand that you have a tight deadline to meet, and that efficiency was key in the spaces.
The plan also included the build-out of multiple satellite pantries to service the ballroom, junior ballroom, and meeting rooms. In addition, we needed to focus on building separate restaurant kitchens for both the Gerber Group and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
It’s important to understand that the project included the original, historical terminal and then the addition of two new hotel towers behind. We built the main kitchen in the cellar and designed for a restaurant in the mezzanine of the flight center called Paris Café. What’s interesting is that it sits in the same space and has roughly the same configuration as the original Paris Café some 50 years ago.
Among the key design elements was the balancing of the old with the new. For instance, what used to be counter service at the original Paris Café in the 60’s has evolved into an exciting chef’s tables with an exhibition kitchen.
Certainly, with efficiency in mind, I would have preferred a central holding area with walk-ins to serve the entire facility. The reality was we needed cold and dry storage support to service the hotel, à la carte restaurants, and banquet facilities. We began with the bank of walk-ins in the basement and supplemented them with walk-ins in each of the independent kitchens.
of the challenges throughout was planning the necessary infrastructure in the historic flight center building, especially positioning drainage. This required working together with the engineering team to consider issues including raising drains, working with curbs, and creative drainage drops.
Our approach to custom fabrication was very much dictated by time. With the clock running to get the hotel open, we were very fortunate to have two talented firms in EMI Industries and Carbone Metal Fabricator. EMI handled all back-of-house facilities, while Carbone focused on the exhibition elements at the Paris Café. In both cases, they worked closely with equipment dealer Culinary Depot, led by Israel Wolner and his team, to do a great job and get the project open on time.
I will look back at this project as a unique opportunity to be part of a team that has re-created something of historical significance.
Israel Wolner’s Approach:
Our job was to support the kitchen design from Eric McConnell senior vice president of Next Step Design. We also worked closely with the teams from the developer Morse/MCR and Turner the contractor. From the very beginning, you could feel the passion for the project. Due to the fact that they had added two additional buildings, we were involved in the construction of three new kitchens. It was fascinating watching how they dug down 40 feet and pumped out the water. Many of the challenges in the kitchen were focused on the installation of gas and electric.
For example, the hoods needed to be redesigned due to the need to meet low profile load and height restrictions. Halton made the process easy with their energy efficient solution. In fact we were able to create a system with Halton in which a fan is only operating when it is in use, which creates enormous savings. The fabrication was a challenge not so much in scope but in terms of time line. Next Step had preferred vendors who simply could not make the timeline. So we opted for South Jersey Metal. Their guy Eric has done a great job for us through the years on a number of different projects. We brought in Carbone to provide the finishing custom fab touches for the Paris Cafe. Next Step looked to us to help them build a series of cooking lines that could support a wide diversity of needs from catering to high end a la carte. We utilized Montague’s ranges to meet those needs.
Keep in mind that you are dealing with supporting the cooking needs of five different areas from the “Connie” to Jean Georges Paris Cafe. Among the special touches are a WoodStone oven that is being used for pizza and more. What an amazing experience to work on a truly once in a lifetime project like this and be part of such a special team. Beautiful.