(editor’s note: The TWA Hotel Paris Cafe is currently closed due to the pandemic but is scheduled for a mid-March 2021 opening)
In 1962, a world traveler named Anna stepped into the new shiny Terminal 5 at the Idlewild Airport. Placing her rigid wicker suit-case by her feet, she glanced around the 200,000 square foot open space busy with hurried travelers shuffling off to Lisbon or Frankfurt. Her mouth was parched and her stomach empty. As she looks up toward the thin shell ceiling of the second floor she lays her eyes on the Paris Cafe and the Lisbon Lounge. Well, maybe a cold martini and a warm bowl of soup was just what she needed to calm her nerves before her 15-hour long flight to Paris.
If Anna was a real person, she would have been me. Terminal 5 opened in 1962 and served as the flight center for Trans World Airways at what is now known as JFK Airport in the borough of Queens, New York (The airport was originally named Idlewild Airport, only taking on the Kennedy name after the assassination of President JFK in 1963)
Today we can walk in the footsteps of Anna as she made her way to grab a meal at the Paris Cafe, which is exactly what my Mother and I did. The Paris Cafe and The Lisbon Lounge are to this day in the exact same spaces as they were originally in 1962. The terminal itself remained occupied by TWA and American Airlines until 2002 when it was abandoned and eventually remodeled as the TWA Hotel.
Everything in this hotel is modeled just as it would have been in the 1960’s – from the red signature TWA carpet to the departures and arrivals flap board to the service uniforms worn by the staff. We were seated at a modest white top table with pinky orange leather chairs, next to large expansive windows where diners would have been overlooking the boarding gates and passenger planes. Today we were overlooking Connie, the TWA 1958 Constellation airplane that has been repurposed as a cocktail lounge, sitting outside the courtyard between the two hotel towers.
The TWA Hotel Paris Cafe is run by Celebrity Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Originally from France, Jean-Georges is a 14-year Michelin star decorated Chef with 36 restaurants in operation, including the famed ABC Kitchen in Manhattan.
We started our meal by ordering the Salt & Pepper Calamari served with a citrus-chili dip. I am quite picky about calamari. It’s usually a gamble with me because either the calamari is prepared perfectly, or it’s chewy, rubbery, and over breaded. The Paris Cafe calamari was light and crispy, wholly well done.
I am never one to turn down a root vegetable salad so I loved the Beet Greek Salad with roasted golden and red beets. Feta cheese, black olives, and a tangy red wine vinaigrette balanced out the bitter and savory rooted taste of the beets.
The Butternut Squash Soup was a large serving of thick soup and croutons, topped with a parmesan foam. The foam elevated the soup from ordinary to fancy and was quite hearty, perfect for a light meal in itself.
The Cheddar Cheeseburger was also quite large, enough for a big appetite. Topped with citrus yuzu pickles and crispy fried frizzled onions, this burger was complemented with thick fries and house-made ketchup. One of the best burgers I have had in the city of New York. Not the best, but up near the top of my list.
The TWA Hotel Paris Cafe has a full service bar. After your meal (or during), relax with a whiskey sour or an old fashioned either at your table or at The Sunken Lounge in the hotel lobby, just as passengers did in the 1960’s.
The food at the Paris Cafe is inspired by the original menu from the 1960’s. There’s plenty of options for Vegetarians like Vegetable Curry and Black Truffle Pizza; and choices for larger appetites like Mushroom Crusted Salmon, Prosciutto Wrapped Pork Chops, and Wagyu Beef Tenderloin.
The TWA Hotel Paris Cafe is easy to access from the JFK Air train, just take the train to Terminal 5 and look for the brightly colored TWA elevator that will transport you from the modern day JetBlue terminal to the 1960’s TWA terminal. A quick walk through the iconic Saarinen flight tubes and the Paris Cafe is located on the second floor above the lobby.
Visit more from the TWA Hotel (click on picture for link):
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