Direct flights from Charleston let Mountain State take a bite out the Big Apple

April 16, 2009


Apr. 16--NEW YORK -- The most frequently asked question since nonstop jet service linking Charleston and New York City began last week is, "What can you do in one day?"

Yeager Airport and American Eagle, the regional affiliate of American Airlines, sponsored a media trip last week that proved it is realistic for day-trippers to plan one in-depth activity and one very nice meal.

Barring unforeseen delays, you can expect to land at LaGuardia Airport about 8:30 a.m. and arrive in Midtown Manhattan by 9:30 a.m. You should plan on leaving Midtown at 4 p.m. so you can get back to the airport and get through security in plenty of time for your 6:55 p.m. departure.

That gives you seven and a half hours to explore, shop and savor.

Our trip offered three itineraries. One group visited Ground Zero. Another was scheduled to tour the Frick Museum. The group I was with toured the American Airlines Theatre, then strolled to Restaurant Zereoue's for lunch.

The theater was a revelation. Steve Schaeffer, director of special events with the Roundabout Theatre Co., explained how the nonprofit organization started in 1965 in the basement of a Chelsea grocery store and grew. It is now headquartered in the American Airlines Theatre at 227 42nd St.

The theater, originally known as the Selwyn Theatre, was built in 1918. It became a movie theater in 1934 and by the late 1970s it was showing pornographic films. In the early 1990s the entire block was boarded up.

The New 42nd Street, a nonprofit created by the city and state of New York to redevelop the block, offered the theater to Roundabout in 1997. The theater company had the structure declared an historic landmark and began restoring it. The work was completed in 2000.

Before-and-after pictures displayed in the building attest to the difficulties encountered. The biggest problem: Even before construction began, the lobby collapsed into a pile of rubble and had to be rebuilt in an historically correct manner.

Inside the auditorium, the box seats had been boarded up and everything had been painted a dull yellow. "The decay was rather shocking," Schaeffer said.

A team of architects, designers, historic preservationists and skilled artisans redesigned and restored the theater. They brought back to life all of the theater's original ornamental plasterwork and Italianate architectural details. The removal of layers of paint revealed gorgeous murals, which also were restored.

Schaeffer said everything was done with an eye toward keeping the look and feel of the original theatre while adding modern comforts. The seating capacity was reduced from 1,100 to 740 so patrons have plenty of hip and legroom, an increasingly rare treat on Broadway. Lots of bathrooms were added.

One new feature is a metal-and-glass penthouse lobby. Because the theater is an historic landmark, the penthouse lobby couldn't rest directly on the roof. Instead it floats on the roof, resting on steel supports.

When the dust settled, the planned $20 million restoration project cost $34 million.

Schaeffer said that before joining the staff of Roundabout, he attended a play at the theater and sat in the balcony. He worried when he realized his seat was in a corner but was pleasantly surprised. "The intimacy of the house and stage are quite remarkable," he said.

"Our partnership with American Airlines has been extraordinarily beneficial for us," Schaeffer said. "It has helped support this theater and has enabled us to offer children's programs as well as other programs."

Schaeffer said it was especially important that American Airlines sponsor a theater, giving it a status equal to sports stadiums.

Ned Raynolds, American Airlines' manager of corporate communications, said the airline supports many important American venues and institutions. "To us, Broadway is New York," he said.

American Airlines is paying an undisclosed amount for 10-year naming rights to the theater. Raynolds said the airline often hosts corporate events at the theatre.

During last week's tour, production personnel were refining the details for The Philanthropist, starring two-time Tony Award winner Matthew Broderick. Previews began Friday. The show opens April 26 and runs through June 28.

Zereoue's, owned and operated by former West Virginia University and Steelers running back Amos Zereoue, is located at 13 East 37th St., a 10-minute stroll from the theater.

The cozy restaurant features a couch just inside the entrance, a bar, and a room in back with space for 32 diners. The colors are warm reds and earth tones; there's a smattering of African art, the sound system plays relaxing tunes; and the menu has classic French and West African dishes.

French menu items include onion soup, ratatouille, and slow-roasted chicken. Some of the West African specialties are escargot sauteed in African rum and simmered in African seasonings; mussels in a sweet tomato sauce; and aromatic crushed-eggplant stew served with fish and white rice.

One visitor raved about the curry chicken salad, simmered with aromatic West African-inspired curry seasonings, which was served over a bed of romaine, onions and diced tomatoes. Two guests enjoyed New York strip steaks marinated in a spicy black peppercorn sauce, served with mixed greens and fries.

Lunch cost about $15. Dinners cost from $22 to $30.

Zereoue said he grew up speaking French. Which explains his accent. Meanwhile, he looks as if he could still start for the Mountaineers or Steelers.

Restaurant Zereoue is open from noon to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday. It is closed on Sunday. For more information, visit the restaurant's Web site at

If you're heading for New York City and want to see a Broadway or off-Broadway play or musical, consider shopping for tickets at the TKTS discount booth in Times Square.

Needing tickets for a Broadway show?

The booth sells tickets at up to 50 percent off, a substantial savings when you consider that a typical ticket for a play costs $100 and for a musical, $125.

There are some drawbacks:

--The booth sells only day-of-performance tickets.

--You won't know what's available until you get to the front of line. Steve Schaeffer, director of special events with the Roundabout Theatre Co., said the recession has reduced demand for tickets. He estimated that tickets are routinely available for about 75 percent of the shows. On a recent Wednesday most of the hits were available with one glaring exception: "Billy Elliot," a hit musical with a score by Elton John.

--There will be a line and if it is very long, you'll have to stand outside.

There also are TKTS booths at the South Street Seaport and in downtown Brooklyn that sell tickets to evening performances on the day of the performance and matinee tickets the day before. For more information go to, mouse over "Ticket Services" and click on "TKTS Discount Booths."

Another Web site worth checking out for discount tickets:

Tips to help travelers make the most of quick trips

American Eagle, the regional affiliate of American Airlines, offers nonstop service between Charleston's Yeager Airport and New York's LaGuardia Airport. Flights depart Yeager daily except Sunday at 6:45 a.m., arriving at LaGuardia at 8:25 a.m. Flights depart LaGuardia daily except Saturday at 6:55 p.m., arriving at Yeager at 8:55 p.m. Round trip costs about $250, but discounts are available.

If you can't easily squeeze into the back seat of a Volkswagen, you'll probably think that space on the 37-seat jet is tight. The good news: It's a quick trip.

Once you've landed at LaGuardia, the fastest way to get to midtown Manhattan is to follow the signs to ground transportation and take a taxi. Expect to pay $30 to $45, including tip. It'll take a half hour to an hour, depending on traffic.

If you want to spend some time to save money, you can visit LaGuardia's Welcome Center and choose an alternative. The center is on the Arrivals level of the Central Terminal. Among the alternatives: A New York Airport Service bus ($12 one way; $21 round trip); or a shared-ride SuperShuttle (which is actually a van; $16 one way).

The least expensive option is to buy a Metropolitan Transit Authority one-day MetroCard for $7.50, then take the M-60 bus to Astoria Boulevard station and transfer to an N subway. Note: This is not recommended if you've got a lot of baggage or if you're traveling on a hot day.

For more information visit

If you're going to make a connection to an international flight, you will probably need to get to New York's JFK International Airport. A taxi will take from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the traffic and will cost up to $50 plus tip if traffic is heavy, and the time elapsed runs up the meter. A shuttle service costs $13, one way.

American Airlines spokesman Ned Raynolds said, "Somebody flying into LaGuardia should allow at least three hours to connect with their flight at JFK, especially if it's an international flight, for which passengers are supposed to check in two hours before flight time."

JFK has several convenient features. A light rail system called AirTrain runs a continuous loop 24 hours a day, connecting all of the terminals. AirTrain also has direct links to the subway.

Travelers taking an American Airlines international flight from JFK will enjoy American's $1.3 billion Terminal 8, which opened two years ago. The 1.5 million-square-foot structure, designed to resemble an airplane wing, is the largest single airline terminal at the airport.

The terminal's amenities include moving sidewalks, expansive seating areas, foreign currency exchange service, shops and restaurants. Travelers on long journeys may consider buying a $50, one-day Admirals Club pass. The club has a lounge, a complimentary buffet, wireless Internet access, conference rooms and spa-like showers.

American Airlines spokesman Bill Clark pointed out one of the terminal's highlights: "Skyline of the World," a panoramic drawing by Italian artist Matteo Pericoli that was commissioned by the airline. It depicts landmark architecture from more than 70 cities.

American Airlines operates about 60 flights a day from JFK to Europe, Asia, South America and the Caribbean.

John Sheremeta is in his 32nd year as American Airlines' tower operations manager at JFK. He said the tower operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Its tasks involve "anything that will positively impact the JFK operation." That could range from making sure the proper drinks get delivered to an aircraft on time to facilities maintenance to handling an accident. "We're the eyes and ears of the system" at JFK, he said.

Additional information about JFK is posted on the Internet at

Contact writer George Hohmann at [email protected]">[email protected] or 304-348-4836.