Gotham, the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps, New York, New York, so nice they named it twice – Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Jay Z and Alicia Keys, and many others have sung about it. It became so much more than just the setting of popular sitcoms and TV shows from Friends and Will Grace, to Sex and the City or Gossip Girl, it practically became a character of each of these shows, and its landmark sites – from the Empire State Building to the Plaza Hotel, or even Central Park or the Brooklyn Bridge – have featured in so many films and TV shows, its cityscape seems familiar. After all, who can forget Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant’s doomed plans for a rendezvous at the top of the Empire State Building, or Barbra Streisand tenderly brushing the hair away from Robert Redford’s eyes in front of the Plaza with the immortal words: ‘Your girl is lovely, Hubbell’ at the end of The Way We Were? And I’ll admit it, I cried when Miranda and Steve met on the Brooklyn Bridge and reunited during the Sex and the City Movie. New York is a pop cultural icon, its streets and avenues are immortalised on the screen and in song. I had been once before, when I was a child, very briefly, on a family holiday – just a couple nights with my parents, brother and some family friends, before heading to Florida and Disney World – but the occasion had been somewhat marred with my brother contracting shingles and my parents having to take him to hospital (younger brothers, eh, always causing trouble!). Plus, now I was over 21 and could indulge in the joys of Cosmopolitans…
I decided to do something really special for my 26th birthday, even though it wasn’t a ‘milestone’ birthday – I just fancied doing something different to hosting people for food and drinks. So I convinced my friend to go to New York with me for about six nights over the October half-term, with our last night falling on my birthday. October is a great time to visit the City – Autumnal colours, and long cooled since the heat of the summer, but before the weather turns colder with snow. I found that a week wasn’t nearly enough time in New York, but we did our very best to fit as much as possible in! There were certainly a few bars I’d researched prior to our trip that we didn’t have time to, er, ‘sample’ (namely: The Beauty Bar, in the East Village, which offers a Martini and a manicure for $10, and Bathtub Gin, a speakeasy which takes you back to the days of Prohibition, complete with a hidden entrance in the back of a café and a bathtub of gin, or the chance to enjoy a jazz bar).
Two of the bars we did get to visit, though, which I would recommend were Lederhosen, a bit of Bavarian Germany in the heart of the West Village. A quirky little themed bar with a quirky history, set in the former Court House Play Theatre, but since transformed to resemble a traditional German bar, offering German beers, which could be served in ‘Das Boot’, a large glass boot – just watch out for the bubbles towards the end! The other themed bar I found particularly memorable was The Trailer Park Lounge in Chelsea. This really was a colourful bar, filled with memorabilia and whimsical trailer-park-themed trinkets, and unique themed drinks, such as the ‘Dog and Pony Show’, a tasty fusion of Corona beer and margarita – and I can’t say I’ve drunk champagne out of a can before, or since!
However, we did make sure we got our fill of the main sights we wanted to see. From our hotel room, we overlooked the East River and could see both the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings and – in the further distance – the World Trade Centre. On our first full day in New York, we did the obligatory Hop-On, Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus; I find it a useful way to orientate yourself around a city, and get a feel for its sights, with a bit of extra commentary thrown in. In New York, they tend to offer two routes, an ‘Up Town Loop’ and a ‘Down Town Loop’, and you can – theoretically – hop from one route to the other at some mutual meeting point at Central Park. I say ‘theoretically’, because we had a little trouble connecting our loops. After having completed the Down Town Loop, we missed where the Tour Guide pointed out to pick up the Up Town Loop, and couldn’t seem to find it, despite being pointed to different bus stops by different employees of the bus company. Suffice to say, our patience eventually wore thin, and it was approaching almost 5pm, the time when the last tour departs, so we decided to resign and return to our hotel.
On that first day, it was the Saturday before Hallowe’en, and the 25th annual Tompkins Square Park Hallowe’en Dog Run. In other words, New Yorkers flocked to this park in the East Village with their pooches, proudly parading the dogs in a variety of costumes exhibiting a wide range of ingenuity and creative flair, from the sublime to the ridiculous – and a good few ‘hot dogs’ too! We had to witness this spectacle, briefly hopping off the sightseeing bus near the Park, and I think some of my favourite costumes included Spider Pug, and a dog dressed as Donald Trump (complete with Trump Towers on his back), although I don’t know which won. If you’re around New York during Hallowe’en this year, be sure to check out the dates for this event (not yet released), or have a look at Time Out to find any other themed events. New York really goes to town for any festivity, including Hallowe’en, and events include Flash Dances to Thriller and floating out Jacko Lanterns onto a lake in Central Park, plus masked parties. However, we would be happy to help with any suggestions to make your New York trip that bit extra special and memorable!
Of course, we made sure we did the typical ‘New York’ things you’re supposed to see and do whilst out there, from enjoying a bagel and coffee (the breakfast of champions), to visiting the main landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty. We took the option of getting tickets on a ferry which took you both to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, but in hind sight, I wish I’d simply chosen to do one of those cruises or ferries which takes you around the island, not actually on it. Even though we’d got up and left reasonably early, by the time we got to Battery Park for the tickets – at about probably 10ish, if not slightly earlier – there were already massive queues. If you’re early enough, you can get tickets for the Crown (which had been inaccessible for a number of years until recently, due to security concerns), but I’m not sure whether our Explorer Pass included that, and at any rate, these extremely limited first-come-first-served tickets had already been served. So after a painfully long time queuing to redeem our tickets, we then had an even more painfully long queue to join for security to get onto the ferry, snaking in what seemed to me to be quite an unorganised fashion. I’m pretty sure most of our morning was taken up with queuing, and eventually we got onto the ferry, which was crammed. This was something of a dampener on the experience, and by the time I got close to Lady Liberty I was not impressed; in fact, I thought it was very underwhelming, and I would consider this to be a very over-rated experience. It was a queue to file off the ferry, and go round the island, and later a queue to get back on. I didn’t have the heart (or the patience) by this point to bother getting off at Ellis Island, as by this point I’d felt I’d already had my own ‘migrant experience’ being crammed onto a boat, so we just stayed on until we returned to Battery Park. I felt it was a complete waste of time. In fact, the whole day that day seemed to be filled with queues (we called it ‘queues-day’) – later, we headed to the Rockefeller Centre to get tickets for Top of the Rock, but by the time we’d got there, and queued, we’d already missed the last slot for sun set. However, we simply booked the sun-set time for the next day, and then continued to The View – a revolving restaurant on the 48th floor of the Marriott Marquis in the middle of Times Square – where we had reservations. Lo and behold, there was another queue! Which we, being stereotypically British, patiently joined, not wanting to be seen to push in, and waited for about forty-five minutes to an hour, getting slowly closer to the front of the queue…where we soon discovered that, having had reservations, we needn’t have queued!
It might sometimes be referred to as a ‘concrete jungle’, but New York has one of the most famous skylines in the world. Its towering skyscrapers also offer some great panoramic views, and some of the best views in town can be viewed from the top of the Empire State Building or from ‘Top of the Rock’. The beauty of the ‘Top of the Rock’ is that you can see the Empire State Building, one of the city’s greatest and most symbolic landmarks. We visited both on the same day – we called it ‘Views Day Tuesday’ – starting with Empire State Building, almost as soon as it opened up to avoid the queues (we’d learnt our lesson from the previous day!). We’d already purchased an Explorer Pass allowing us entry to up to five different New York attractions, so we used this towards both Empire State and Top of the Rock. It is possible to choose other options, allowing you to visit three or seven different attractions or museum.
We visited Brooklyn, crossing the famous Bridge in the pouring rain (the only day during our trip to rain). Despite the torrential rain, and the fact that we were certainly not geared up for the inclement weather – only afterwards did I get round to buying a coat, in a case of ‘horse’ and ‘stable door’ – we sauntered across. Along the bridge, people have written messages, and we were having a bit of a peak. Eventually, looking like drowned rats, we made it across, and sought shelter in a café, before cracking on for lunch in a Five Guys – a burger chain which began in New York, and has since moved over here, too. Afterwards, we were in search of Brooklyn Beer; after all, it felt an appropriate beverage to enjoy. We found a bar on Henry Street, a street which may be familiar to Barbra Streisand or Funny Girl fans. Called Brooklyn Heights, this was a friendly wine bar and kitchen, resplendent in warm woods. Plus, the bar tender gave us a free beer as it was my birthday the next day – score!
My birthday in New York was probably the most memorable I’ve had so far. We started the day with breakfast at Sarabeth’s, right opposite Central Park. A little on the pricey side (the restaurant is a favourite haunt of the fictional socialites from the Gossip Girl TV series), Sarabeth’s is a chic, sleek, modern and popular upmarket restaurant offering breakfast, complete with refreshing mimosas (one of the few places to offer them on a weekday), and very tasty salmon eggs Benedict, with the eggs poached to perfection. From there, we sauntered and explored Central Park, enjoying the chilly October sunshine and Autumnal colours. We had only made reservations for Afternoon Tea at the Russian Tea Room, where we were greeted and served by waiters in smart black uniform, with a very Russian ambiance, and tea served the traditional Russian way with sour cherries, and a complimentary glass of champagne. The grand finale to my birthday was Broadway, where we enjoyed a brilliant performance of Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre, followed by a meal at a nearby Mexican restaurant, Taloache, where we enjoyed very quick service and fresh, zesty tasting food.
A trip to New York just offers so much: a smorgasbord of food options, after all the city is a renowned melting pot of cultures, world-class museums, shops of every variety, and so much more, making it an excellent destination to celebrate something special with friends and family.
Amy’s top tips for New York:
Our nearest subway station was Grand Central, and we used the subway quite a few times. However, it took some getting used to, and – much as London’s Tube can be a complete pain – the Subway makes the Tube look good. Unlike the Tube, the subway train does not stop at every station, which can cause some problems. A classic example is when we were trying to head uptown to the Rockefeller Centre, but ended up going so far uptown we were in the Bronx! You may also find that - whereas if you miss one train on London's underground, the next one is just a minute or two away - the wait for the next Subway train to your destination is five minutes or longer. Be careful to make sure you're getting on the right train, as this is less straight-forward than London's Tube, but downloading the Subway app can help you find your way a little better.
Brunch is a New York institution; it’s practically a religious ritual. New Yorkers love their Mimosas on a weekend, and the ‘hottest place in town’ tends to vary. If you do your research beforehand and set your heart on a restaurant for brunch, be sure to make a reservation, or you may end up disappointed. We thought we’d chance Agave (hello, bottomless brunch), because it had a reputation for being the ‘in’ place, but it was – of course - rammed. However, we were in the West Village, and didn’t have to walk far to find somewhere else serving mimosas with brunch, a charming little Italian place called Morandi. It turned out that we weren’t far from Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment, either, so that was another plus!
BroadwayFor me, an absolute must-do in New York is to take in a play or musical on Broadway. This was the highlight of our trip to New York, and a great way to celebrate my birthday. My friend and I try to go to the West End as much as we can, so we decided to watch something we couldn’t necessarily see in London, ultimately choosing Chicago, which was about to end its run. I would’ve loved to have watched Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which sadly ended just a few weeks before our visit. Of course, the must-see play this year is Hamilton, which stormed the Tony Awards, breaking records. I’ve heard it’s possible to get cheap tickets, but this seems to require standing around in queues waiting and hoping; we pre-ordered our tickets in advance.
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