The new TWA Hotel opens at John F. Kennedy airport today, bringing with it a slew of new dining options to Queens — from a rooftop bar with a runway view and an infinity pool to a restaurant from Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
It’s all housed within the historic Trans World Airlines terminal, now restored to include a 512-room hotel, a restaurant, three bars, a coffee counter, a food hall, and more to come. It might seem weird to build such a splashy drinking and eating spot near the airport, but the owners think it will stick. When reservations for the cocktail bars opened, including the lounge inside a 1950s airplane lounge, MCR/MORSE Development CEO Tyler Morse claims that hundreds rolled in within 45 minutes.
For those flying out of JFK soon, or planning their own visit to the hotel, here are a few things to know before you go. Take a look at photos of opening day here.
They’re planning for big crowds
It’s an over-the-top project with big ambitions. Despite the fact that it can take over an hour to get to the TWA Hotel from Manhattan, Morse says he expects people to come in from all over. He’s expecting about 10,000 people daily — that includes people who work at the airport, flight attendants and pilots, Queens residents looking for something fun to do, and a slew of aviation geeks, he says.
As such, hotel rooms, many of which face a busy runway, can be rented in four-hour periods. The idea is to give aviation lovers and others a chance to rent the room for a couple of hours to take photos, or give people from early flight arrivals a place to shower before heading into the city.
As for overnight stays, the owners are hoping that people who live in Long Island or New Jersey with early flights will choose to stay at the hotel overnight rather than deal with traffic in the morning. The developer is aiming for 200 percent occupancy, Morse says, the goal being to sell each room twice a day.
There are ballrooms available for weddings and other social events as well; they’ve projected 100 weddings and 50 bar and bat mitzvahs each year.
It’s supposed to feel like you walked back into the 1960s
MCR/MORSE Development, the developer behind the project, aimed to bring the building back exactly as it was in 1962, the year it was built. The terminal has been dark since 2001, when American Airlines purchased TWA. As such, restaurant and bar servers will be dressed in outfits inspired by the original TWA flight attendant ones. (Those original outfits can also be seen in museum exhibits throughout the space.)
The lobby itself can feel like a scene out of The Jetsons, as designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen. There’s a neo-futuristic dome seemingly held up by air alone, with zero columns and only four points of contact with the ground, Morse says. The decor, too, pays tribute to an older era, with bright red carpet throughout and vintage furniture.
There’s a 30-person bar inside an airplane
The cocktail bar inside the Connie — a restored 60-year-old airplane known for breaking the transcontinental speed record on a flight from California to New York in 1946 — fits more 30 at a time. The plane has been gutted and brought to up to building code, including a full sprinkler system, an A.C. system, and two methods of egress.
A cocktail bar sits in the back of the plane, and two-person tables line the walls. Near the middle of the plane, there are four rows of original, 1958-era airplane chairs. And in the cockpit, which will be open for all, people can push the throttle, play with the yoke, and tune into JFK’s live air traffic control feed.
To get in the plane, people have to walk onto a tarmac decked out in navigational lights. Morse wants the bar to be walk-in friendly, but reservations are now being taken.
An outdoor park and coffee shop are coming
There’s an outdoor garden underway, with new trees planted and 100 “Central Park-style” benches arriving later. A 1960s van converted into a coffee shop is supposed to be parked there, too.
These are the five vendors at the food hall
There’s a five-vendor food hall home to New York City favorites like the Halal Guys located on the ground level of the lobby, to the right as you walk in. A new vendor has been added: popular Italian panini shop Antico Noè. Previously announced vendors include Empanada Republic, Fresh&Co, and Playa Bowls.
There are three cocktail bars to choose from
All three cocktail bars in the space have their own 1960s or aviation elements.
The Connie — that bar within an airplane — will serve a tight, classic list of cocktails such as a Negroni, Old Fashioned, and Manhattan.
There’s the Sunken Lounge, located in the center of the lobby with big windows facing the Connie. Snacks like olives, hummus, and a charcuterie board will be on tap here, as well as a series of aviation geek-approved cocktails, like the “Come Fly With Me,” a vodka-based drink with St. Germain liqueur, prosecco, and lime juice.
Over on the rooftop Pool Bar, poolside fare includes fruit salads, fish tacos, and a fried chicken sandwich, plus summery cocktails like one made with vodka, freshly squeezed lemonade, and mint. The draw, though, will be the infinity pool and views of the JFK runway. Open all year, the pool will be heated up to 100 degrees in the winter.
Cocktails start around $16, a spokesperson says. All bars are run by the Gerber Group, which also runs sceney Manhattan bars Mr. Purple and Taco Electrico.
It’s home to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s 38th restaurant
Famed French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is helming the kitchen at Paris Café, a reboot of the original that has been closed since 2001. But ignore the French name and the French chef: It’ll be an all-day restaurant with standard American fare — eggs and pastries for breakfast, then salads, pizza, pasta, and burgers for later. Day to day, airport restaurant operator Tastes on the Fly will be running the ship, not Vongerichten’s team. As such, this restaurant may be less destination dining and more of an amenity for travelers.
The expansive breakfast menu offers pastries, pancakes, eggs, cereals, and smoked meats and fish, plus fruit juices, smoothies, and smoothie bowls, according to a sample menu sent to Eater. Pizzas arrive later, such as a personal pie topped with smoked salmon, dill mascarpone, and pickled onions, and a crust infused with “everything” seasoning. An angel hair pasta with asparagus pesto and a turkey burger with balsamic onions and chipotle mayo are also planned.
Seared salmon, Parmesan-crusted chicken breast, and a wagyu beef tenderloin are the more protein-centered dishes. And there are some appetizers too: soups, hummus, calamari, and a sushi roll. A couple of vegetarian options are also in the works.
It’s a 200-seat restaurant located in an open space on the upper level of the lobby. There’s also a small bar of about 12 seats called the Lisbon Lounge, meant for waiting for a table with a drink, and a separate champagne bar.
TWA Hotel may have the largest hotel lobby in the world
The TWA Hotel lobby spans 200,000 square feet, making it the largest in the world, Morse says. The following restaurants and bars are located in the lobby: Vongerichten’s Cafe Paris, the Sunken Lounge, the food hall, and a coffee bar.
There’s non-food stuff there, too
Retail stores from luxury watch brand Shinola and hip eyewear store Warby Parker will be on site, as well as Priv, which offers on-demand salon and spa services. There’s also a big gym, several museum exhibits, over 40 meeting rooms, a news stand, and banquet rooms.
How to get there via public transport
Take the subway to the AirTrain and take that to Terminal 5. Remember the AirTrain costs $5 to go and $5 to come back; the fare is not included in MTA cards. Then, take the escalator upstairs to the parking garage and take the elevator down to Level 1 of the garage. Find the way out of the garage and cross the street; the TWA Hotel is the massive winged building.
The developers are now building a walkway to link the AirTrain and the hotel directly, which should be completed in August.
Finally, make reservations here
Any venue that takes a reservation will do it through TWA Hotel’s website. The Paris Cafe is open for reservations from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; the Sunken Lounge from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and the Connie cocktail lounge and pool bar are open from 11 a.m. to midnight and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., respectively.