Epilogue – post-NYC thoughts

DSC00136
NB:  This photograph, taken from Top of the Rock, was captured on my first trip to New York in March 2015

In the week since I returned from New York City I have frequently been asked “what was the best part of your trip?”  Or, “what’s your favourite thing about New York?”  And each time I am momentarily struck dumb as I ponder and search for an answer and invariably fail to find one.  It is impossible to narrow NYC down to a single favourite thing:  it is all of your favourite things gathered together into an enormous, exciting, gleaming package.

Before I’d even arrived in New York for the second time I knew that I would be back for a third.  I can’t get enough of the place, everything about it is so incredibly intoxicating.  I keep asking myself if I should see more of the world, or even just more of the great cities in the United States, but then I don’t think I could prise myself away from New York.  The only question in my mind is not if I should go again, but when.  My thinking had been leaning towards a slightly later time of year, when I could experience the city in a different light with warmer temperatures.  But then I landed on the 7th and found myself in an early blossoming of spring.  I didn’t dislike the heat, but it was definitely uncomfortable at times and made me rethink whether I would really want to come back here during the late spring/summer months.  The barmaid at Rattle N Hum recommended that if I enjoyed the MLS at Yankee Stadium then I should really return to see the place during baseball season, so that would require a May visit (right?) and I’m also quite attracted to the Governors Ball music festival, which usually takes place early June, so at the moment I’m leaning towards late May/early June 2017.

So what did I learn from my second trip to New York City?

My favourite bar was by far Alewife.  Great beers, great food, great service.  Honourable mentions to Rattle N Hum and Peculier Pub, where the barmaid took great care of me.

The best beer I found was either the Hoppy Ending at Alewife or the Ithica Flower Power at Peculier Pub.  I dare say those beers can be found at many other craft beer bars. Nugget Nectar was another I enjoyed.

Best wings were found at Alewife (are you sensing a theme here?)  Their buffalo wings had just the right amount of kick and were superior to the overly sticky wings at the Old Town Bar.

You HAVE to eat a bagel from Ess-a-Bagel AT LEAST once!

It’s tempting to think (as I did last year) that the admittedly fantastic view from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade is the be all and end all when it comes to views of the Manhattan skyline.  But the views from Jersey City and Gantry Plaza State Park are every bit as good – if not better.  If you have time, try both (or all three) for different perspectives of the city.  Brooklyn gives you awesome shots of Lower Manhattan; Jersey City gives you a teasing glimpse of Midtown and great views downtown; Gantry Plaza offers phenomenal pictures of Midtown.

I’ve found myself becoming incredibly irritated by slow walkers since returning home to my wee seaside town.  I always have been, but it’s really noticeable now.  People move QUICKLY in NYC!

Free Tours By Foot are a fantastic company and their “pay what you think it’s worth” policy makes for some great tours.  Next time I would probably hope to take some of their tours of the neighbourhoods I have yet to see, such as Harlem and the Bronx.  There’s a cool looking tour of Bushwick street art I’d like to take too.

The subway is a phenomenal feat of engineering (and the 7 day Metrocard is the greatest bargain in the city.  Second is the $1 slice of pizza) and then you take a moment to look around some of the stations and there are wonderful pieces of art which thousands of people zoom past, completely oblivious, every single day.

But just walking with no set plan or purpose is still the best way to explore New York.

Peter Lugar’s is great, but Keens is on a different planet.  I can’t stop thinking about that meat.

Carrying a small bottle of hand sanitiser in your satchel – the type which dries almost instantly – is invaluable.

The best resources I used for this trip:
Trip Advisor – just reading trip reports and other people’s itineraries gave me so much information and some great ideas.

Bowery Boys podcasts – these are fantastic.  I became immersed in the history of New York so much more on this visit than I had the first time around.  Search their archives and there’s bound to be a podcast on just about every item on your itinerary.

Google Maps – place a star on ANYTHING that interests you on a map and save it so you can pull it up whenever you want when you’re in the city.  You’ll never be stuck for somewhere to eat or drink or for a sight you might want to see but maybe didn’t put on your itinerary.  A huge time saver too.

NYC Subway app – self-explanatory.  Very quick and easy to use.

ohmyrockness – as a huge music fan and gig-goer, this is a comprehensive site for upcoming gigs in the city.

Four Freedoms Park and a free afternoon

Day ten:  Wednesday March 16th:
The dawning of a new day brought with it my final twenty-four hours in New York.  It would perhaps be understandable to be overwhelmed by melancholy at such a prospect, a year of planning and anticipation boiled down to one last day, but I was brimming with excitement at the day ahead.  After all, what more could one want than another day in this city?

Perhaps my most vital goal on this radiant Wednesday morning was to fulfil my  year-long craving for an Ess-a-Bagel bagel; a craving which had intensified significantly since my earlier failure to get one.  I wandered hopefully up Third Ave to E 50th and felt fantastically relieved to see a clear sidewalk outside of the Ess-a-Bagel store.  Sure, the line inside was snaking towards the door, but that seemed much more manageable than my previous visit here.  So I waited it out, thinking of nothing but how that Everything bagel with cream cheese and pastrami would feel once it was in my hands and taste when it was finally in my mouth.  Needless to say it was worth the wait.  I wish I could say that I had savoured every bite – or even ordered another one – but that bagel lasted the proverbial New York minute.

DSC02523

From there it was a gentle saunter up to the Roosevelt Island Tram on 60th St.  I would have to say this:  Flying at 36,000 feet caused me no worries.  Standing on the observation deck of the 1,776 foot One World Trade Center was thrilling.  But standing at the station watching this tram hang over the Queensboro Bridge?  I felt butterflies.  It’s a smooth ride though and minutes later I was standing on Roosevelt Island thinking how silly I was for even briefly feeling uncomfortable about that ride.  Here I enjoyed a relaxed stroll down to Four Freedoms Park at the tip of the island.  The view from down here was much the same as the one which I enjoyed on the first evening of my trip from Gantry Plaza State Park, but there’s a quaint peacefulness about this park, especially when you are looking across the river at a city bathed in sunshine.  The words spoken by Franklin Roosevelt on January 6, 1941 – etched in stone here – feel particularly pertinent now in 2016.  The more things change…

I returned to Manhattan on the tram and made my way towards First Avenue to check in for my 2.15 tour of the UN building.  One of my favourite parts of my trip occurred here when the guide performed the obligatory routine of asking where everybody has come from and a group of college girls from North Carolina literally swooned at my response.  That never gets old here.  The UN itself is as exquisite inside as it looked from across the river this morning.  There are so many rich artefacts to view here, though the true highlight of the tour is the ability to sit in the Security Council chamber.  So cool.

DSC02612
The Empire State Building peeking out from behind the American Radiator Building

The rest of my afternoon was a blank canvas which I intended to paint with a self-guided stroll through some of the sights around Midtown before the true artistry would commence in some of my favourite bars later.  Not for the first time I went jacketless as the gradually lowering sun beat against the city streets.  I took a casual (sweaty) stroll down First Avenue to 38th St and continued along 38th to Fifth Avenue, where I stopped for a bottle of water (and deodorant – just in case!) and snapped some photographs of the multitude of landmarks in this metropolis.  Crossing over to Sixth I spent a little time in Bryant Park, where I enjoyed capturing the Chrysler Building from many angles.  Those gargoyles sparkled like diamonds in the dying embers of the day – and my time in New York.  I then took Madison, which was bustling with office workers escaping for the night, up to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I was pleased to see a little less scaffold here than last time and I was enticed inside for a look and some reflection.

DSC02641
Times Square pre-sunset

After a walk around Rockefeller Plaza I decided to *cringe* brace Times Square for the almost mandatory look at the lights.  I loathe Times Square, honestly, and I learned last year that if you HAVE to see Times Square then – if possible – the absolute best time to see it is after last call at the last bar you visit, around 4am, when it is virtually deserted.  There’s something quite charming about it then.  But any other time of the day and it’s just a circus, as it was here.  But I made my way up the red Tkts steps nonetheless and took some photographs of this chaotic New York scene.  I think I’d read somewhere online that Times Square is best photographed in those last moments before sunset, as that is when the lights are best brought out, and that is a great tip.  I got some lovely pictures here before indulging in that other tourist must-do, the hot dog from the street vendor.  $7 for a hot dog?  Seriously??  $7 for a freakin’ hot dog!  I could probably have thrown that hot dog and hit a 99c pizza place with far superior offering for a fraction of the price.  Alas I begrudgingly parted with my cash and at least enjoyed the mustard.

I began my first night in New York City with a few beers at Alewife in Long Island City and the experience was so enjoyable that there was no way I could leave without making a return visit.  Jess, the barmaid, remembered me from that first night and was once again a charming host, asking me all about the days in between.  She seemed particularly enthusiastic about my photographs from the NYC subway tour.  I enjoyed several of the Hoppy Ending IPA, which I think was my favourite of all the beers I can remember sampling in New York, and another helping of those delicious wings.  Again, probably the best wings I ate on this trip.  The sauce had just the right kick.  Alas, I had one other bar I wanted to visit tonight and I had to say my farewells to Alewife.  Jess gave me a hug, I gave her a high five.  She asked me to say hi to the Oban Distillery (I had pointed out the bottle of my hometown whisky on the shelf behind her last Monday) and I told her I would see her in a year.  What a great bar.  The best in New York.

beer

Leaving Alewife I did something I had never done here before and went all the way into the Uptown subway station.  Fortunately I realised my mistake before I had the chance to compound it by getting on a train, and I crossed the street and into the Downtown station I wanted.  The lady behind the window was sympathetic of my drunken plight and opened the gate for me and it wasn’t long before I was on my way to Rattle N Hum.  Once again the barmaid, Rebecca, remembered me and I thanked her for her successful recommendation of Taproom No. 307.  We talked as I worked my way through their list of drafts.  She gave me a prototype of a beermat she’d been working on – it reads “You NEED beer!!  :-)” in biro – and as the bills dwindled in my wallet I ordered my last beer, with which I played Russian Roulette by asking her to select.  I remember the first couple of malty mouthfuls of this 2/3 pint beer…and the next thing I know is that I woke up in my bed at the Club Quarters.  To this day I have no recollection of leaving Rattle N Hum, no recollection of walking back to my hotel – although I do know that I walked home because my phone contains the evidence of a multitude of failed, blurry attempts at photographing various buildings – no recollection of even my last hour or so at the bar and, sadly, no recollection of saying goodbye to this charming barmaid.  I can only assume that was one hell of a beer she poured me.

Best tip today:  Bryant Park is a glorious picture taking spot.  You can get some great shots of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the absolutely beautiful American Radiator Building (there’s a gorgeous shot of it and the ESB almost cuddled together) as well as the New York Public Library and Grand Central closeby.  It’s great for a quick coffee stop and some people watching.

A day in Brooklyn – how sweet it is!

Day nine:  Tuesday March 15th:
Another cloudy and cold Manhattan morning; this is the New York I was expecting – – although the unexpected spring would return by early afternoon.  Today was the final of my three tours with the excellent Free Tours By Foot and after a quick breakfast at Grand Central I was off on the 5 train to Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall to meet Bob for the Brooklyn Bridge, Heights and DUMBO walking tour.  As was the case with each of the other tours I took I seemed to be the only patron to adhere to the guide’s request to check in 15 minutes before the 10am departure and so there was a lot of waiting around for the rest of the group to show up.  There was at least one other rival tour leaving from City Hall Park around the same time and it was quite amusing observing the other guide try to steal some of Bob’s group as they appeared!  Indeed, this opposing tour set out before ours (partly because a few of our people were much too tempted by the Starbucks across the street) and we ended up welcoming some of their latecomers.  It developed into a large group.

 

I walked the Brooklyn Bridge towards the Manhattan side last year and enjoyed taking many photographs from the Promenade, but I was hungry to learn more about the history of the bridge and the burgeoning DUMBO area.  Bob’s tour did a very good job of that, despite the difficulty of trying to find a non-obstructive part of the bridge to stop a large group of tourists to explain the unique nature of the cables.  It seems a little crazy to walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn with the incredible view BEHIND you, but I guess it better fits the flow of the tour and I can only imagine the difficulty in trying to organise a suitable meeting place on the Brooklyn side.  The tour took in some of the beautiful brownstone buildings, the epic skyline view from Brooklyn Heights (the cloud had slowly lifted to the point where it now only hid the spire on top of the World Trade Center) and a walk through DUMBO (turns out many of the buildings down here bear the name of the Scottish immigrant who invented the cardboard box!) where we were afforded the opportunity to capture that iconic photograph with the Empire State Building standing between the legs of the Manhattan Bridge – – so happy to have gotten that shot!

DSC02338

The tour concluded at Jane’s Carousel, which I can imagine is quite a vision in the summer, from where I ventured towards Jay Street for a much needed hot coffee at the Brooklyn Roasting Company.  Here I was tempted by the only sweet treat of my journey – a melt in the mouth peanut butter cookie – to accompany the wonderful Nicaraguan blend which I enjoyed immeasurably more than any of the regular coffees I had been drinking.  After three hours on my feet this was probably the best coffee I have ever had.

Ideally when spending a day in Brooklyn my impulses would have taken me up to Williamsburg, having enjoyed a great day in the area last year, but that would only have led me down a troublesome path and I had a couple of items to tick off the itinerary later today, so instead I stayed relatively closeby and took the train to Jay St – Metrotech, where I could walk to the New York Transit Museum.  What a place this is!  The ‘upstairs’ exhibits about how the city’s transport system coped with 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy are extremely interesting, but it’s the downstairs level where this museum really comes into its own.  There must be around a dozen trains from various eras of the NYC subway, each in the condition of the time (decoratively, at least, perhaps not scent and cleanliness wise!)  It is so fascinating to see the posters advertising the new “healthy” cigarettes and the formation of NATO and the vote for “Miss Subway”.  Time sped away from me down here and it was 4pm – closing time – before I knew it.  This was right up there with the best $7 I spent in New York.

On the train back to High Street my mouth was already tingling at the prospect of what was to come.  Last year it was recommended to me that the best pizza in NYC was at Juliana’s – but I somehow ended up eating at Grimaldi’s instead, which was fine.  This time, though, I was going to make sure I got my Juliana’s.  Some people might consider that one of the downsides to travelling solo is that when it comes to eating at a place like this – where pizza is sold by the pie and not the slice – you either can’t go or you have to eat the entire thing by yourself.  Personally I view that as a delicious challenge.  So I ordered the “small” margarita with additions of pepperoni and goats cheese and enjoyed a Brooklyn Lager as an accompaniment.  Seated at the bar your appetite is only heightened when you have a bird’s eye view of your pizza being made from scratch.  The thrill when you see your pizza being eased out of that huge coal oven is the closest to heaven one imagines you can feel.  Or at least it is until you get that first slice in your mouth.  Wow.  This is surely what love tastes like.

DSC02442
“Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!  Stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!” – Walt Whitman, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

I was tantalisingly close to finishing that entire pizza by myself, but the last slice defeated me. I couldn’t take any more.  The waitress asked me if I would like it wrapped, but cold pizza doesn’t appeal to me – no matter how shameful it felt to be throwing that delicious slice away.  I took a walk along the promenade to clear a little of my food intoxication before finding my way to Clark Street station (eventually – hidden inside a building, underneath some scaffold) to take the train out to the Barclays Center for that night’s Brooklyn Nets game.  I went into this well aware that the Nets and the 76ers are two of the worst teams in the NBA – if not the two worst teams – hence tickets being available for as little as $10 on StubHub, but it was thoroughly entertaining fare.  The Nets actually won, comfortably, and Bojan Bogdanovic had what was surely the game of his career.  There wasn’t a tremendously large crowd there, but those who did turn up enjoyed themselves.  It was a fun experience.  Perhaps not as fun as the hockey at MSG last year, but something I wouldn’t hesitate to do again.

My plan was to finish the night off at a couple of bars I’d noted in the vicinity of the Barclays Center, but with the subway stop right there in front of me I was enticed into taking the Q train back to Manhattan to visit one of my favourite bars from 2015 – House of Brews out on W 46th.  Having formulated plans in my mind for my last night in New York tomorrow I knew I wouldn’t have another opportunity to return here, and I wanted to tick it off my list.  This place doesn’t have the huge selection of craft beers that many of the other bars I visited offer, but there’s a kind of charm about it that makes it feel like your local back home.  I didn’t manage to repeat the fabulous 4am walk through Times Square from this bar that I experienced last year, but I did enjoy a couple of beers before retiring for the night.

Best tip today:  Don’t be afraid to tackle Juliana’s as a solo traveller!  Also, if you have the opportunity, take the Q train back from Brooklyn at night.  I got an unexpected surprise when I was scrolling through the music on my phone and realised that those trains I was watching travel across the Manhattan Bridge earlier today…well, I was on one!  You can get an excellent view of Lower Manhattan from this ride.  Of course, actually walking the bridge back would be even better – but this has to be the best train ride in the city.

A rainy day at the World Trade Center

Day Eight:  Monday March 14th:
Monday was a morning of revitalisation and reenergising.  This was a day I had been looking forward to since I left New York last year, for One World Observatory was still a couple of months away from being opened when I visited in March 2015 and being something of a skyscraper enthusiast, and having visited both Top of the Rock and Empire State Building first time around, I was determined to see it.  I admired the majesty of the World Trade Center from afar and I HAD to see the city from its windows.

So when my eyes flickered to life on Monday morning, the beginning of my second week in NYC, and I heard an unfamiliar sound (at least unfamiliar to this trip) lashing against the window of the 26th floor of the Club Quarters my soul filled with dread.  I wearily turned on the television as I prepared to shower and the news was confirmed:  rain.  And lots of it.  New York City was a washout.  There had been nary a cloud in the sky up until now (and the rest of the week would be good too after a cold start on Tuesday) and yet here they were, congregated en masse around the skyline on the very day I would be soaring to its highest summit.  I briefly tried reorganising my itinerary in my mind, being that I hadn’t actually reserved OWO in case of this very scenario, but I only had another two days in New York and they were both locked down pretty tight.  Plus I was down at the Tribute Center and Museum today anyway; I was going to have to grin and bear it.

I waded down Lexington to E42nd to Pershing Square, where I would enjoy a substantial sit-down breakfast.  The service was smooth and attentive and I wasn’t seated too long before my order of the New Yorker was in front of me and being devoured.  The New Yorker consisted of fresh orange juice, tea or coffee, toast, eggs cooked to your taste (I went for poached), bacon and hash browns.  Very filling for $20.  I had regretted not visiting this place sooner, considering that it was virtually on my hotel doorstep.

DSC02304
One World Trade Center, shrouded in a blanket of clouds

 

It was around 11.20am by the time I’d made it to the World Trade Center and navigated my way around the various construction sites.  There is a LOT going on down here and the area feels so much bigger than it was even a year ago.  At One World I could walk unhindered to the ticket booth – though I’d imagine that was as much due to the weather as anything else – where I was warned before I purchased my ticket that visibility would only be ten miles (I believe on a *perfect* day it is up to fifty miles?).  I begrudgingly accepted this and made my way through security and to the foundation level, onto the elevators.  I’d read about the video presentation on the walls of the elevator and it is indeed impressive.  It put into pictures the history I had learned about the growth of Lower Manhattan from the various tours last week.  And, of course, that brief moment where the Twin Towers are visible is quite haunting.

The presentation at the top is slick and professional and the slow reveal of the Manhattan skyline is impressive, even on a day like this.  You are then taken down another couple of levels to the observation floor (why tease you with a view from a higher level??) where you are free to explore the city from above.  I got some great photographs of the bridges and the Woolworth Building in particular (which I was especially pleased about considering the green top is largely obscured from the ground by scaffolding) but sadly much of Midtown was cloaked in clouds, and what was visible was difficult to photograph through the rain kissed glass.  As disappointing as that was I knew what I was getting into before I bought my ticket and I was still thrilled to be up there.

DSC02267
The view from the One World Observatory, taking in the Woolworth Building and the Manhattan & Brooklyn Bridges

Having done all three observation decks in New York City over two trips I feel I’m placed to rank them against one another:

Top of the Rock was by far the best experience.  Both in terms of service and, more importantly, view.  Going up there half an hour or so before sunset is the best advice you’re going to get going to New York.  The view is unforgettable.  If you can do only one observatory in NYC, make it Top of the Rock.

I’d rank One World Observatory next, but I’m cheating a little there by imagining what the view must be like on a clear day.  The video presentation is very impressive and I loved the tantalising reveal of the city.

Empire State Building, like the crown of the Statue of Liberty, would be a “bucket list” box ticker.  It’s the most famous of the skyscrapers and I can completely understand why people want to visit it.  The view is excellent too, but it doesn’t have Central Park (unlike TOTR) and it doesn’t have, of course, the ESB (like the others do).  And the glass really hinders the photo-taking opportunities (as it does with OWO).  The lines were worst here, too.

After exiting the World Trade Center I had 40 minutes for a quick lunch before the next scheduled item on my itinerary, so I made my way across to Brookfield Place and the plethora of lunchtime options on offer at Hudson Eats.  This place was crazy busy and there was a lot to choose from, but I eventually ate a very tasty shrimp noodle from [whichever place was selling the noodle boxes]

The 9/11 Tribute Center is a very different experience from the 9/11 Museum which I visited last year.  The artefacts on display and the stories being told are of a much more personal nature.  The first exhibit demonstrating how much of a community there was inside the World Trade Center was very moving and humanising.  Their survivors tour, which was altered somewhat to account for the conditions outdoors, offered an entirely new perspective on that fateful morning.  It was surreal to be standing by the memorial pools having the route of the planes pointed out and hearing the words “you are now standing in what was the lobby of the Marriott Hotel”.  The emotion is still very palpable and the tour was very respectfully and beautifully done.

DSC02301

I had probably gone overboard by following that up with the guided tour of the 9/11 Museum, but despite spending four hours in there last time I felt there was still a lot more to see.  To be entirely honest, I don’t believe that the 60 minute tour offers any more perspective than the free audio guide app which is downloadable from the official website.  And it certainly pales in comparison to the personal stories of the Tribute Center tour.  The guide takes you around the main points of interest in the museum and then leaves you to explore the two larger presentations at your leisure.  After around an hour or so of this I was feeling thoroughly fatigued and emotional.  I had definitely under-estimated how much there would be to take on board doing these two tours so close together.

Upon leaving the World Trade Center site I had no firm plans for the remainder of my evening.  I decided to take a walk in the relentless drizzle and, much akin to tossing a coin, I would take the first subway train I encountered to the nearest bar I was familiar with.  Holding Rebecca (the Rattle N Hum barmaid)’s list in my satchel this turned out to be the R train from Cortlandt St to 23rd St for Taproom No. 307 on 3rd Ave.  This was a great recommendation, with over 40 beers on tap and a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere.  The wings were also pretty decent, although the carrot sticks weren’t particularly crunchy.

Following a good sampling of the drafts on offer at Taproom I left with no real idea of where to go next.  It was on my mind to return to Grand Central and walk out to Hell’s Kitchen for one or two of my favourite bars out there, but the rain was getting on the heavy side again, matching the weight of my emotions after an afternoon spent contemplating 9/11.  So I decided to get a relatively early night and save my energy for tomorrow.

Best tip today:  Don’t under-estimate the emotional turmoil a visit to any of the 9/11 sites might leave you with.  I didn’t feel it so bad last year, but it was definitely too much doing both of the guided tours.  On that note, if you are minded to do one of the 9/11 tours – and it is worthwhile – then I’d highly recommend those offered by the Tribute Center.  These personal reflections deserve to be heard and their memories ought to be kept alive.

A day watching soccer at Yankee Stadium

Day seven:  Sunday March 13th:
I can’t say whether I was still feeling somewhat sheepish after the events of last night or if I was struggling with the loss of an hour to Daylight Savings Time, but I found it tough to get motivated on Sunday morning.  My itinerary tentatively called for a trip to the Upper East Side for some breakfast prior to an afternoon wander around the MET, given that I had failed to visit any of the  major museums during last year’s trip, but I couldn’t rouse myself from my chamber for that effort.  Instead I found myself watching some terrible television, eventually getting up to take inventory of my spending money (to date I had spent approximately $125 per day on food and drink, excluding the dinner at Keen’s.  It seemed more than I was expecting, but in retrospect – taking into account that a good IPA would cost me $8 + a $2 tip – it shouldn’t have been surprising) before finally heading upstairs to the lounge for a coffee and a snack.

[Spoiler alert:  As of two trips to New York, I am yet to visit any of its world famous museums]

It must have been somewhere between 2-3pm when I had found the will to leave the Club Quarters.  The only solid thing on my itinerary for today was the NYCFC season opener at Yankee Stadium at 5.  In the early planning for this trip it was a toss-up between the soccer and the Rangers game at The Garden.  I absolutely loved the hockey last year and so it was top of my list, but the price for Penguins @ Rangers was much more than I was willing to pay.  I guess it’s a pretty big game.  Checking in on the score before I left the hotel and it looked like I missed a great game (finished 4-3 to the Pens, I think)  I took a long walk across 45th to St. Andrews on W46th.  I know, travelling all the way from Scotland to visit a Scottish themed bar in Times Square.  Ugh.  But the brunch was fairly well recommended on Trip Advisor and food was much needed.  So I sat at the bar and ordered a drink and was waiting for the barman to come back so I could get his attention for a menu.  But he put my order on a tab – which isn’t unusual in New York, but I found it only ever happened automatically like this when the bar staff recognised you and trusted you – and I never managed to get his attention since.  He spent most of his time up at the other end of the bar, barely acknowledged my existence, and by the time I was reaching the end of my beer I had decided that I wouldn’t be eating here.  I eventually managed to summon his attention to settle my one drink bill and I left.

Instead I grabbed a quick soup and sandwich at a Pret near Bryant Park.  I was reluctant to eat here as Pret is my go to coffee chain when I’m in UK cities and I wanted a more authentic NY experience, but Saturday taught me that I should eat (and drink) when the opportunity presents itself.  I felt better for it and took the train from Bryant Park to 161 St – Yankee Stadium.  I maybe shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many NYCFC shirts around the station, but then I’m unfamiliar with the popularity of the MLS in the United States.  I stopped off at the Yankee Tavern on my way to the stadium and the bar was filling up nicely with a good atmosphere around an hour before the game.  Another beer here and I was ready to progress across the street to experience the pre-game build-up inside the stadium.

DSC02220

Yankee Stadium is quite pretty from the outside – as far as sports stadia go, anyway – and the interior arena looks great too.  But it’s very clear that NYCFC are merely tenants here.  The football (soccer) frankly looked quite ridiculous played on a baseball park.  There were a couple of guys a row or two back talking about how they can’t watch MLS on television because it “looks terrible” and I can sort of appreciate that.  That aside, I had a great time here.  Enjoyed a couple of beers in the late afternoon breeze (and they had some good beers on draft here, unlike my experience at MSG last year) and the game was entertaining enough.  NYCFC led 2-0 but were pegged back to finish 2-2.  The singing section behind the goal were in great voice the entire game.

Post-game I returned to Midtown and to the Empire State Building to snap a couple of pictures of the skyscraper bathed in the blue of NYCFC before stopping into Heartland Brewery right underneath the ESB.  They have a smaller selection of beers on their menu than many other craft beer bars, but the difference is that Heartland brews their own beers.  I ordered a fillet steak skewer with macaroni cheese from their food menu, which I enjoyed well enough with a couple of their classic beers.  By virtue of its location – not only in Midtown, but literally right underneath the Empire State Building – this would probably be considered more of a tourist destination than a proper craft beer bar – but it was a comfortable place to unwind and enjoy a simple meal.

RattleNHum
Rattle N Hum, E 33rd St

With The Ginger Man scratched from my Sunday plans following my earlier experience there I rounded out the night at Rattle N Hum on E 33rd.  Now THIS is a craft beer bar.  A suitably extensive menu of beers, a small but entertaining crowd of mainly locals gathered around the bar and a fantastic playlist – which curiously, for a bar named after a U2 album, featured no U2 (I confirmed with the barmaid that the bar was actually named after the 1988 album.)  The barmaid, Rebecca, was very friendly and attentive and supplied me with a list of four or five personally selected bars to check out.  An enjoyable Sunday night was spent here.

Best tip today:  I found following the NYCFC game that the best way to avoid a crowded subway train is to walk as far down the platform as possible.  It always amazes me how people get down those subway steps and stop a few feet away; I know I tend to be guilty of it too, it’s just easier.  But then those cars which correlate with that particular section of the platform naturally fill up more quickly.  I walked to the end of the platform at Yankee Stadium and found that the car, while obviously still a little busy, was nowhere near as crushed as those further back would have been.  I first noticed this when Darryl took us to the end of the platform at one stop during the subway tour and put it into practice later in my trip and the theory seemed to hold strong.

A day amongst the writers and drunkards in Greenwich Village

Day Six:  Saturday March 12th:
By rights I should probably have been much more tired and/or hungover than I was when I awoke early on Saturday morning, but I was excited about the day ahead.  This was exactly the type of day I wanted to come back to New York for:  to make amends on areas I barely scratched the surface of the first time and to find new experiences.

I had my second tour with Free Tours By Foot scheduled for 10am this morning, meaning that I had to meet up with the guide in Greenwich Village by 9.45.  Fortunately the meeting place was right outside the Waverley Restaurant, so I could feed two birds with one scone and get my breakfast bagel and coffee whilst making the meet with Renee.

This seems like a good place to mention one of the minor issues I was still experiencing with navigating New York, despite being on the sixth day of my second visit.  When exiting a subway station it is pretty difficult to find your bearings, particularly if there is a mass of people ahead of and behind you and you’re almost forced into making a snap decision on which direction you should be travelling.  Of course, using the correct subway exit in relation to where you’re wanting to go would help immensely here, but I had a habit of using the first exit I confronted unless I absolutely knew there was a better one.

So how do people know which way to go when hitting street level?  It’s a lot easier around Midtown where you can almost use the tall buildings as a compass:  you know that the Empire State Building is north, the Chrysler is north-east and if you can see the World Trade Center you know that’s downtown.  But uptown vs downtown wasn’t really my issue, it was more east vs west.  So much so that I had developed a little trick which allowed me to fool my fellow pedestrians into believing that I was a competent traveller.  When I would invariably head west on a street only to realise after a block that I should be walking east, I would move into the side, look at my phone for a couple of moments until anyone who is behind me will have passed and then turn and stride confidently in the opposite direction.

Anyway, having eventually located the Waverley Restaurant I had a brief moment to grab an on-the-go breakfast and meet the guide outside.  As was often the case I was the first member of the group to sign in, so I spent some time chatting with Renee.  She asked where I was from and what brought me to New York, and my response seemed to impress her.  Not so much the content, but the delivery.  To paraphrase:  “You’ve already learned to slow down so we can understand your accent.”  I wasn’t aware that I had done that, but in retrospect it was noticeable that I was only having to repeat myself once on many occasions, rather than two or three times initially.

This was another very warm day in New York.  The hat, scarf and gloves I had packed were lying redundant back in my hotel room and the drawer full of t-shirts were untouched as a single layer was adequate.  I could probably have left the light jacket back in the room too, but that would have been tempting fate.  Ideal conditions for exploring the diverse and bohemian neighbourhood of Greenwich Village on this walking tour.  This area felt like it was pulsating with history, and Renee did a good job of explaining the roots of the village.  It was interesting to note how they almost have their own identity down here, with their refusal to adhere to the grid system and maintain their old street names, not to mention the various bizarre attempts around the Washington Square Arch to declare Greenwich Village independent.  The story of the Stonewall riots was fascinating, infuriating and uplifting and I loved seeing the tiny square of property of the Hess Estate across the street by the cigar store.  Much of the tour was dominated by the celebrities and writers and artists who have resided in the village over the years, giving a real flavour of the cultural influence Greenwich Village has had.

DSC02212
Washington Square Arch

The tour ended at Washington Square Park and I finally got a look at the fabulous white marble arch, which I had neglected to see last year.  From there I made my way towards Hudson Street, but first I had promised myself that I would get a photograph of the Sex and the City building for my aunt back home.  Having never seen the show this posed a bit of a problem, but I had a rough idea of where it was and it became immediately clear upon turning onto Perry Street as the site was marked by groups of excited young women and their intensely bored looking partners.

Onto The White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street and undoubtedly the most unique tour of my visit – the Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl.  I am by no means a great connoisseur of literature, but you don’t have to be to enjoy this tour.  The two guides have a great rapport and over the course of three hours and three bars they have constructed a highly entertaining and insightful tour.  Many of the names discussed – Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Bob Dylan – will be familiar to even the lightest reader (me), and even if they’re not you’ll still see some great bars and learn about this beautiful neighbourhood.  Several of the sites visited during the walking portion of the tour were seen and discussed on my earlier tour, though from a different perspective here (there were a few anomalies between the two on stories about Chumleys and the Stonewall riots and the door on the Washington Square arch)  We drank at The White Horse Tavern, Kettle of Fish and finished up at Marie’s Crisis Café.  A thoroughly enjoyable three hours and highly recommended if you’re looking for something different.  They had a Brooklyn tour scheduled for the next day which I would have loved to have joined, but unfortunately my Sunday afternoon was already taken.

From there I enjoyed a slice of Sicilian from Bleecker Street Pizza before heading up to Blind Tiger.  I’d read a lot of good things about this bar previous to my last trip but couldn’t enjoy it due to the large crowd.  Thankfully it was a little quieter on this Saturday afternoon and I was able to take a seat at the bar.  I sampled a couple of beers from their extensive range and left satisfied this time, on my way back for a second visit to Peculier Pub on Bleecker Street.  After a drink there the barmaid I remembered so fondly from last year – having not been on shift on Thursday – started work, and I was pretty thrilled to see her.  Even moreso that she actually remembered me too!  I was impressed that a barmaid in New York City, on this popular drinking street, would remember a Scottish tourist from a year ago.

So I caught up with her and ordered some wings, having remembered that I particularly enjoyed the wings here in 2015, and put a couple of dollars in their excellent jukebox.  I had a few more beers and switched my attention between the various games on the television’s…and then there came a point where I realised that a glass of water had appeared in front of me.  Unusual, I thought, but I sipped at it along with my beer.  It was soon empty and a while later another water was before me, and it was then that I realised that I had been falling asleep at the bar!  Those two glasses of water roused me back to a normal drunken stupor, and it became clear that I had spent too much time in the sun today without properly hydrating.  My forehead was red – not painfully, but it was burned – and I remembered that since that coffee at 10am this morning all I had drank was beer.  Pretty stupid.  I passed my apologies to this barmaid who I had been looking forward to seeing for a year and thanked her for taking pretty good care of me in the circumstances and retreated on the 6 train back to my hotel around midnight.

Best tip today:  Prepare for all seasons – and keep yourself hydrated!  I came to New York anticipating the same chilly end of winter conditions I had experienced last year, but instead spring was in full blossom during the majority of my trip and I was facing conditions I would usually consider to be a pretty good summer back home!  I learned after today to drink plenty of water during the day and to order a glass every other pint during the night.

A night at the oldest bar in New York City

Day five:  Friday March 11th:
Emboldened by yesterday’s fabulous foodie experience I was up and about early today, eager to discover more of NYC’s culinary offerings.  By FAR the best bagel I found in 2015 was from Ess-a-Bagel, right near my hotel between 50th & 51st, and I was determined to eat there at least once on this trip.  So I skipped up Lexington Ave and onto Third salivating at the prospect of this breakfast treat…only to encounter a line coughing out the door and halfway down the street!  My stomach has no patience for these things and I compromised by heading back over to Lexington and eating at the Fresh & Co next to the Doubletree Hilton.  This was a Café Metro last time I visited and I was fond of the bagels last year.  This one wasn’t quite as good, but it coffee and a bagel.

I took the E train down to Spring St and began my exploration of SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown.  I’d only taken a walking tour of this area last year, so I was keen to do a little further self-exploration.  I’d taken a note of Free Tour By Foot’s suggested self-guided walking tour and followed that closely (I constructed a Word document totalling around 25 pages for my trip and had that downloaded on my phone.  It was an invaluable source).  Here I visited the Earth Room, an art installation on Wooster St which is – quite literally – a room filled with earth.  Sometimes books are exactly as they are on the cover.

The architecture in SoHo is truly magnificent.  As much as I enjoyed the Flatiron District for architecture porn, this place is something else.  The colours, the cast iron, the whole feel of the place is tremendous.  I particularly enjoyed finding the floating subway map on Green St and the old Bishop’s Crook lamp posts on Broadway.

DSC02130
Beautiful cast iron architecture in SoHo

From here I entered Little Italy with one thing in mind: the cannoli at Ferrara’s.  I sat down outside in the sun with a small coffee and this delicious creamy pastry, and while my sweet tooth isn’t nearly as dominant as the savoury tooth this was a treat.  I immediately, however, regretted my decision to wear black jeans as the sugar from the pastry snows everywhere and I imagine it looked quite conspicuous.

I made my way through Little Italy – or at least what remains of it – dodging the restaurant maitre d’s in search of lunchtime trade, unlike the unsuspecting tourists ahead of me, towards Chinatown.  I stopped off for a moment at the Church of Most Blessed Blood and admired some of the street art along the way (if I remember rightly it forms part of the L.I.S.A Project (Little Italy Street Art) before becoming enchanted by the many scents and fragrances of Chinatown.  Of course, the modern influx of migrants from Asia are spreading to the outer boroughs, but there’s still something a little magical about this place; the fish markets and the sight of customers bartering with the merchants.  I took in the iconic postcard scene on Pell St before heading down Mosco for some fried dumplings from the appropriately named “Fried Dumpling”.  The guide last year described the woman behind the counter of this place as being like the infamous soup serving character in the Seinfeld episode – “the dumpling Nazi” – and it’s true that she has a very to the point ordering system.  You basically walk in, hand over your dollar and get given a plate of five dumplings in exchange.  And they are sublime.

DSC02156
That Chinatown scene

I enjoyed my dumplings as I approached Columbus Park, where the Chinese folk musicians were out playing in the afternoon sun, on my way to take the J train from Canal to Essex St.  As I had around an hour to spare before my scheduled tour at the Tenement Museum, and because I was in a real foodie mood, I decided to partake in a tourist favourite and eat at Katz’s.  The place is absolutely frantic and I was thankful to find myself a little back in the line so I could observe and understand the ordering system before stepping up for my pastrami on rye.  It was as good as the reviews suggest.  And that bread was so packed full of delicious pastrami that it was straining to stay together in my hands.  I was so stuffed that I couldn’t bear to eat another meal on this day.

Having waddled my way to Orchard Street and the Tenement Museum I was ready to take the Irish Outsiders tour.  I felt that this justified my earlier decision to skip Ellis Island and provided a very informative and moving account of the history of the early Irish immigrants into New York, and indeed the early formation of the city as a whole.

As it was now approaching five o’clock on Friday I was finding myself in the mood for beer and rock ‘n’ roll, so I headed north on Bowery for a photograph of Joey Ramone Place and the Led Zepplin “Physical Graffiti” building on St Marks Place.  I stopped off for a cold one at Proletariat next door.  This was a nice bar with an interesting range of beer concoctions – some ranging as expensive as $34 (or $43, I can’t remember!)  I continued on to Tompkins Square Park, which had drawn a sizeable crowd to enjoy the last rays of sun of the day, and all the way through E 7th towards the East River Park.  I’ll be honest:  this little walk is probably the only time I felt unsafe in New York.  Not necessarily threatened, just…uncomfortable.  But I was committed to experiencing new places and new opportunities for photographing the city and so I carried on through to the park as sunset approached.  If you like the Williamsburg Bridge then this is the place for you as there are some great pictures to be taken of the bridge down here; otherwise it probably isn’t worth the effort.  I didn’t walk all the way through as I had developed the taste for beer but I don’t imagine the parts I missed could even come close to the several other waterfront parks in NYC.

McSorleys
McSorley’s Old Ale House; older than the Brooklyn Bridge and the oldest bar in New York

From here I ventured back up E 7th, stopping at a forgettable dive bar along the way, until I reached Jimmy’s No. 43.  The attraction of this place was initially the free bowl of popcorn, but they also had a favourable selection of beers too – including the stylishly named I Hate Myself IPA, which was the source of much amusement (for me at least) any time I ordered it with the barmaid (“that usually comes at the end of the night” etc.)  I stayed for two or three before heading across the street to the fascinating McSorley’s Old Ale House.  The oldest bar in New York City and boy does it show!  Legend has it that there is an invitation to the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge somewhere on their walls – and the barman confirmed it to be true – but the place was so busy that it was difficult to get close enough to have a good look.  They have two ales on tap – light or dark (after much experimentation I think I favoured the dark) – and you get two mugs for your $5.50.  But what truly interested me about McSorley’s was their method of registering sales, or lack thereof.  I still can’t figure out how they do it.  There is no cash register, nobody appeared to write anything down, and there is literally a PILE of cash in the corner of the bar.  Incredible.  I finished the night along at Burp Castle, which was an unremarkable bar, before returning fantastically drunk to my hotel via the 6 train from Astor Place.

Best tip today:  It has to be McSorley’s!  There are no frills here, none of your gastropub nonsense or hipster craft beer menus.  Even if you’re not much of a drinker and only come for one (or two, as the case is) it is utterly fascinating to watch what goes on behind the bar, or the servers carrying up to ten mugs at a time to the tables in the back.  They apparently take nothing down from their walls, so the bar is literally steeped in history.