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Inside the TWA Hotel, JFK’s Formerly Abandoned Midcentury Terminal

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Guests can sip cocktails inside a restored airplane outside of the Eero Saarinen–designed TWA Terminal at JFK.

Photo by Lyndsey Matthews

Guests can sip cocktails inside a restored airplane outside of the Eero Saarinen–designed TWA Terminal at JFK.

Here’s what it’s like to stay at the TWA Hotel, which welcomed its first guests on May 15.

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When the TWA Flight Center opened in 1962 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (then called Idlewild Airport), the jet age was just beginning. The Eero Saarinen–designed building wasn’t completed until after the architect’s death in 1961, but it remains one of his most well-known projects, along with the Washington Dulles International Airport and St. Louis’s Gateway Arch. The terminal closed in 2001—along with its namesake Trans World Airlines—because it could no longer support the size of modern airplanes. 

Nearly two decades later, the landmark building reopened on May 15 as the TWA Hotel, JFK’s first on-airport hotel. AFAR recently had the chance to spend the night at the new TWA Hotel—here’s what it’s like.

A recreation of TWA owner Howard Hughes’s office is located near the elevator between the historic terminal and Terminal 5.
Getting to the TWA Hotel

Located directly across from JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK, the TWA Hotel is accessible via car, AirTrain, or directly from the arrivals level of the terminal. The simplest way to enter the hotel is by having a car drop you off directly in front of the property. If you’re arriving via public transportation, take the AirTrain to the Terminal 5 station and follow signs into the terminal and down to baggage claim. From there, you’ll see signs for the TWA Hotel, which will lead you to a special elevator that takes you directly up to the hotel’s iconic flight tubes and into the lobby area. While it’s a little complicated, there are fun details to keep an eye out for along the way, like elevator buttons for “Present Day JetBlue” or “1960s TWA Hotel” instead of “Level 1” and “Level 2” and a recreation of TWA-owner Howard Hughes’s office.

Guest rooms include authentic furniture designed by Eero Saarinen.
The midcentury modern–inspired rooms

The TWA Hotel is full of retro details that nod to the terminal’s past, but the 512 guest rooms are actually located in a pair of new buildings that flank the historic terminal. In addition to the midcentury modern–inspired furniture and lighting reminiscent of the project’s 1962 origins, the rooms feature other aesthetically pleasing details like tambour walls and walnut martini bars made by a family-owned business in Ohio’s Amish Country. The minibar is stocked with period-appropriate snacks like Tab soda and Big Hunk candy bars. Be careful though: It’s lined with sensors, so if you remove a beverage for more than 30 seconds, your account will be charged.

The design details in the bathrooms are also on point, with terrazzo-tiled floors and Old Hollywood–inspired vanities with bubble lights. However, during our recent stay we found the water pressure in the shower to be lacking, and the bathroom door kept sliding open, which made for a few uncomfortable moments.

At least the rooms block out any airport noise you might be worried about. The hotel was built with a glass curtain wall by Fabbrica that is seven panes and 4.5 inches thick to muffle sounds from nearby runways. That means that you’ll be able to see planes taking off through the floor-to-ceiling windows and the queue of taxis at Terminal 5, but you won’t be able to hear them. 

Overnight stay rates start at $249 a night, but the TWA Hotel offers shorter day-stay reservations (from $139 for four hours) for guests who have long layovers or are arriving on early morning flights and want to freshen up before heading into Manhattan for meetings.

The Sunken Lounge features a split flap departures board by Solari di Udine.
The Sunken Lounge

Even if you don’t want splurge for an overnight stay or a day pass, the TWA Hotel’s common spaces are worth checking out before your next flight out of JFK.

New York–based architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle is responsible for returning the 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) as well as the Royal Ambassador (champagne, orange juice, and Grand Marnier), which was once served to TWA passengers in gold-flecked glasses. 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.

The Paris Café by Jean-Georges Vongerichten serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Paris Café, a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant

There are multiple places to eat throughout the TWA Hotel, but the most exciting option 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 Hall features food-court style offerings from The Halal Guys, Empanada Republic, and Antico NoèIntelligentsia has been tapped to provide service at the coffee bar and coffee carts located throughout the hotel.

For guests who check in during the evening, it’s important to note that the restaurants close surprisingly early at the TWA Hotel. During our recent stay, the Paris Café and all of the venues at the Departures Hall close by 9 p.m., leaving the small bites menu at the Sunken Lounge as the only option. Since we arrived later in the evening, we made do with a dinner of cocktails, hummus, and a meat and cheese platter (but we saw others order in Chinese food and pizza from local spots near the airport).

The cocktail menu at the Connie Airplane lounge includes classics like Martinis and Negronis.
A cocktail lounge in a repurposed Lockheed Constellation L-1649A

In October 2018, a meticulously restored Lockheed Constellation L-1649A airplane from the 1950s was moved from Maine’s Auburn-Lewiston Airport to JFK. The 1958 plane has been repurposed into a cocktail lounge outside the new hotel. No detail has been overlooked here—in addition to four large banquettes, there are also eight vintage airplane seats reupholstered with a retro pink and orange plaid fabric that guests can sit in. Even the cockpit has been restored, complete with a hula girl figurine on the dashboard. 

It’s not a big plane, so be sure to make reservations to secure yourself a seat the next time you’re in transit through JFK (however, if it looks fully booked online, rest assured they hold seats for walk-ins, too). Children are welcome to explore the cockpit and the plane—they even have Shirley Temples on the menu for the littlest guests.

From the rooftop infinity pool, watch planes take off.
A rooftop pool and 10,000-square-foot fitness center

Whether you’re an avid plane spotter or just love rooftop bars, The Pool Bar at the TWA Hotel is another highlight of the property that is worth visiting even if you’re not spending the night at the hotel. Looking out over JFK’s Runway 4 Left/22 Right, you can watch JetBlue and Delta planes take off while sipping a cocktail at the bar or while swimming in the infinity edge pool. The pool here is inspired by the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibes, France, but keep in mind that you’re at an airport so it’s much more windy at this pool than, say, the southern coast of France.

The pool and bar are open to hotel guests from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Non–hotel guests can make reservations to order refreshments and swim in the pool between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Below ground, the 24-hour fitness center at the TWA Hotel clocks in at 10,000 square feet, making it apparently the world’s largest hotel gym. Operated by Jay Wright, a celebrity trainer and CEO of The Wright Fit, the center has both strength-training and conditioning machines, a yoga studio, and an on-site galley with juices and snacks. The gym is free for hotel guests, but day passes and monthly memberships will be sold to anyone looking to freshen up in the locker rooms after a red-eye flight.

See how flight attendant uniforms have evolved over the years at the TWA Hotel.
Museum exhibitions curated by the New-York Historical Society

The TWA Hotel follows Eero Saarinen’s original plans’ specifications, using the same materials where possible. It also features more than 2,000 artifacts mostly donated by former TWA employees and curated by the New-York Historical Society. On the mezzanine level, you can peruse the evolution of flight attendant uniforms from the 1940s to the 1990s. You’ll spot designs from Valentino, Oleg Cassini, and Balmain. On the main level, you can see 43 TWA travel posters from the 1950s and ’60s that are icons of the jet age.

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If you’re loving the midcentury design, you can pick up some new TWA-branded gear at the shop on site (or online right now). They have everything from TWA carry-on totes, to kids’ T-shirts, to a bright red tracksuit for the bold to wear on their next flight.

The TWA Hotel is open now with rates starting at $249 per night.

This article originally appeared online on February 24, 2019; it was updated on June 18, 2019, to include current information.

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