Sunday, July 13, 2008

Swimming In The City

When you live in the concrete jungle of Manhattan, it's inevitable that you sometimes feel landlocked and crave an escape -- especially when the mercury rises. It can take some ingenuity to stay cool during summertime here. With the help of an article in Time Out New York, I managed to do just that yesterday, during a visit to that piece of NYC nirvana known as the private pool.

The privilege of bypassing family-deluged public pools is something locals are willing to pay dearly for -- a one-year membership to trendy hotspot SoHo House will set you back $1,400 (Sex and the City's Samantha opted to masquerade as a member there instead just so she and the girls could access the rooftop pool). I discovered a much more cost effective and delightfully low-key urban oasis yesterday, at Room Mate Grace.

A boutique hotel located a few blocks from Rockefeller Center, Room Mate Grace offers indoor relaxation to non-guests after 5pm daily. The hotel's small but more than serviceable pool is 3 foot 9 inches deep and connected to a bar, so you can order a cocktail while going for a dip. Best of all, it will only cost you a few drinks, or $10 on weekends, to get wet.

Against the modern chic backdrop of soft, spa-like lighting and an eclectic soundtrack ranging from 60's classic "Hang on Sloopy" to a trippy cover of "Let's Get Physical," I kicked back on a lounge chair before going for an exhilarating swim. Not only was the water comfortably cool, but I had the pool all to myself.

Still, it was easy to imagine New Yorkers mingling underwater, so I asked the bartender what the poolside vibe is usually like.

"Pretty chill," she said of weekends at dusk, adding that it becomes quite a scene as the evening progresses.

I was feeling pretty chill myself post-swim and more than happy to pony up my $10 for it. The bartender, however, told me not to worry about it and to "just go and have a great day."

Her generosity exemplified one of New York's least-publicized and yet most enduring assets -- the kindness of strangers. Even in a city of 8 million people, it's easier to find than you might think.

And, yes, I tipped the bartender.

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