Being able to return to the place that is so good they named it twice was a highlight of 2019 for me, New York New York in 2019 you really knew how to deliver!
The trip in December was the 8th time I had been to NYC, I’ve been with different people and on my own but never with my partner. The trip made me re-evaluate that conversation that has been had so many times about going back to the place you’ve been before. You know the way the story goes, if you are a football manager you should never go back, if you break up the band you should never reform, with so much to see in the world why return to the same places; but if you have been to NYC before with others then I can’t recommend enough going back with someone new. Seeing some of my favourite places in the world with someone new was like seeing them for the first time and I loved every moment of the trip for that reason more than any other.
Going to places with new people and the fresh eyes it gives you opens new stories, new perspectives and new things to remember. I was worried it would matter that my itinerary contained so many things I had done before, but once there it didn’t because everything felt different, new, refreshed and definitely worthy of a second glance.
So what did we get up to? Treat this as a set of recommendations, a record for memories sake or even a review of NYC. Here goes…
Arriving the middle of the day in to New York felt like a treat, it felt like we had been gifted an extra days holiday, then we hit the transfer in from JFK, even the New York cabbie couldn’t believe the weather, torrential rain and the traffic, gridlocked all the way, but that view as you come on to Manhattan over Brooklyn Bridge never ever ceases to put a smile on your face.
After getting checked into the Bowery Hotel we decided to set off on a walk, regardless of the rain! The location of the hotel allowed us to be a stones throw into China Town and Little Italy which gave us a great opportunity to really see life bustling around and even though we were getting immediately soaked it didn’t stop us being in awe of the skyline, the steaming grates, the big yellow taxis and the general high speed bustle that only New York really has about it. Every time I have been to NYC the first few hours always feel unnatural, like you have literally just stepped into a movie, walking past the nearest church to WTC1 and knowing that I had been here before, knowing that as we headed down Broadway towards Wall Street we would see the Stock Exchange and the Charging Bull and that like the blarney stone I believe that if you touch the bull you will return.
Knowledge about a place you have visited feels like urban myth sometimes, for example I am sure I have been told that no one knows where the bull came from it was ‘just’ on Wall Street one random morning when New York woke up. Or the ‘fact’ that I was sure that the church near the site of the world trade centre was the ‘muster’ point for 100s if not 1000s of emergency workers that were on leave on that fateful day. When you are in a place with a new person though suddenly these stories take on an essence of their own, you retell them as if for the first time and the thrill of sharing something with a new person is so exciting.
Ultimately the rain got too much for us though and we decided to be brave, the very next open bar we came across we were going to go into, luckily for us it was the Fraunces Tavern. We didn’t know quite how lucky we were when we initially opened the door, found two seats at the bar and ordered a delicious glass of pinot noir and a cheese board each. It turns out that Fraunces Tavern is said to be one of the oldest buildings in NYC, is where John Adams is said to have eaten whilst considering the future of the new United States and has significant links to George Washington too. We were sat in the Dingle bar sharing ideas on what the next few days would hold for us and indeed how we were going to fit it all in. The bar slowly got fuller and fuller, it felt like Christmas was slowly building itself a fortification as a season in this lovely old place steeped in history and it took a long time (and several more pinots) before we were ready to go.
We knew we needed to walk up Broadway to get to our hotel and that a diversion through Little Italy could be a good way to ensure we got some ‘proper’ food of the USA inside us, we fell upon an Italian long-bar less than five minutes from ‘home’ and went in, with the usual aplomb of a New York bar we were seated, told what was best on the menu and having another glass of wine in 60 seconds, and we were made to feel super welcome. The bar had just one serving of the days lasagne left on this cold and rainy night however they knew, us being from the UK, we probably didn’t need the full American portion so offered to add some extra pasta and sauce and garlic bread to ‘fill it out’. Honestly the food was some of the best Italian I have ever tasted when it came, and you could have fed a family of four on the portions we got too. A brilliant night watching people and listening in on the thoughts of New York sat at the bar was a lovely way to finish day one!
After an amazing nights sleep and oddly no jet-lag impact as such we were ready to put into play our plan of action. We knew the weather was going to be rubbish on our first full day so had a plan to hit the subway up to the Met for the morning, on the way their we had to have a look at one of New York’s most amazing looking hotels, The Mark, which we wanted to return to later that day for a hot dog as they are supposed to be the best in NYC.
Being away from London does remind you how lucky we are to have free museums throughout our first city, although the city pass that had come with the holiday did get us into the Met with no fuss, and surprisingly calm and quiet. First thing to do though was to grab a breakfast sandwich in the café lodged between the American wing and little Egypt. The Met is an amazing museum, so diverse and amazingly well laid out, if you have never been pick three things you must see and go to them first, if you have been before make yourselves go to see something new. For us Egypt, Mark Rothko and Easter Island were the must sees, with the exhibition of musical instruments being the new thing to see for both of us. We had a great four hours seeing and chatting but it did start to get busier and the rain had abated a little bit so we decided to leave and head north just a little bit to look at the Guggenheim Museum.
After a little look around the area we decided to head down to 5th avenue and Madison and explore the lovely shops around that area. Finding Acne Studios, being served champagne in Ralph Lauren and falling across the American Girl store soon took its toll though on the weekend before Christmas, Radio City and the Rockefeller Centre were beautiful and the Adidas flagship innovation store were awesome to experience at this time of year. The perspective your daily concentration gives you struck me at this point though. Having not worked in retail until 2019 I had never really appreciated the world of 5th avenue in the same way before, don’t get me wrong I know what I liked to buy and look at but seeing how brands like Acne and Adidas did the store of the future was really fascinating.
The evenings entertainment had been pre-booked in the form of a visit to Murray’s Cheese Bar and then on to Mezzrow Jazz Club in the lower part of Greenwich Village. Hands down this is my favourite part of NYC where SoHo meets the Village. The rain had gone, nearly which meant we could appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of real NYC on the way. Murray’s was a social media recommendation, a must do, and for me has to be a pay it forward recommendation, absolutely brilliant, dark and warm and full of a bustle with the width of cheese to choose from, so much choice, great wine too. Once we had eaten we were on to the cellar bar known as the Mezzrow Jazz Club, an opportunity to see the Dave Kikoski trio play their first set of the night and a brilliant set it was too with Dave giving a little story between each piece and all of the band being so wonderfully appreciative of each others talents. Jazz in NYC is something I have always had on my bucket list that is now ticked off.
This was the ‘main event’ day really as this was birthday time for my partner. I am such a kid when it comes to birthdays so up early to open presents meant that we could be at Katz’ Delicatessen of When Harry Met Sally fame before most of New York had got up. By being in Katz early you beat the table service requirement which means you queue up with every type of New Yorker order ticket in hand and a confused I’m not from round here look on your face. I am almost certain that the ordering system is made complex to give the team at Katz a giggle but once we had a table and food in hand we knew why the place was so popular for such a long long time. We didn’t sit in the famous Sally chair though but it was very funny to see different people come in and try it out for size!
Given we were on Houston street I knew that with a bit of effort we could find the famous intersection used on the cover of Paul’s Boutique, what as cool on the way there was to see the amazing creativity that the graffiti artists of the area had created. The intersection doesn’t even have an NYC version of a blue plaque and has changed quite a bit but is still recognisable. New York is definitely a city of the Beastie Boys and they are definitely a band of the city, the feeling is palpable when you are in that area of town.
The attraction of the day was WTC One and the 9/11 memorial museum, somewhere new for me and my partner, the day was fresh, cold and still and when you are near the memorial site the silence is stunning for a city normally awash with noise. The museum itself is exceptional in content but so unbelievably busy it was at times hard to be able to pause and take in one of the most atrocious and world changing moments in my life time.
30 days to the hour ago I had logged on and got a reservation for a table at NoMad restaurant, a cookbook I have had for a few years and an ambition for us both to eat there since deciding to go to New York. NoMad didn’t disappoint, awesome location, superb staff and wonderful food.
The night started with a trip to Vin Sur Vingt at the high numbers of Broadway. A wine bar setting the standard for how to make the experience truly wonderful for the punter, a wonderful cellar to choose from with knowledgeable and friendly staff, great location too.
Its worth taking to the internet to look at the menu for NoMad to get a feel for the food, exciting combinations but always with a nod to that Sunday afternoon dinner feel. We didn’t have the Chicken which is one of the things NoMad is famous for but I have since recreated it at home and it is decadent and amazing I can assure you.
We decided not to have a desert at NoMad for no other reason than we wanted to try another famous location, Lafayette Grand café and bakery where again we managed to secure ourselves a lovely seat at the bar to watch the late night roll by. Walking back through Maddison Square Park topped off the day and certainly we went to bed knowing we truly had been able to build our own New York State of mind!
I think we thought that by day four we would have a better handle on the time differences, we didn’t we were up and at them straight away, subway up to just south of the park and then on into Sarabeth’s for a true American breakfast experience with the park just out of the window. Sarabeth’s is a very classy joint, we giggled a lot at the massive differences between Katz and here. The whole restaurant is the epitome of what we think of when we think of Sex in the City style doing brunch, very beautifully laid tables, a clientele that got up looking beautiful and lots of diamonds, unless of course it was Tiffany’s work breakfast and we just didn’t realise. Next for us was a proper walk into the park, the Home Alone bridge, Ice Skating, Strawberry Fileds and the dog that saved New York, a debate then about which building was actually the place where John Lennon was shot saw that I had been wrong the last seven visits to NYC!
That night was one I had been looking forward to a great deal; going out in the Village, Three Lives and Co and then Stone Wall and then Jeffrey’s Grocery. Books, social history and oysters, in that order! Jeffrey’s is a place I fell upon many years ago after a visit to Three Lives and I have been going ever since, it almost feels like some visits to NYC are there just to get a Jeffrey’s fix in. Some of the most amazing sea food you can find anywhere is served here with a great wine choice and superb location in the heart of it all. Washington Square looked absolutely beautiful that night too with views north and south of the icons that we all know as New York.
Our last day, day five; another recommendation from social media was Balthazar’s which was just around the corner and well placed for the adventure that was to be shopping in the village and SoHo. Balthazar’s is tucked away on Spring street and was absolutely jumping when we arrived, work meetings, family get togethers, deals being done relationships being sealed all happening at speed and high volume, quite superb to be part of.
But what this final explosion of effort was to be about was retail therapy of the best kind, gift buying! I believe that some of the best shopping that NYC can offer is around SoHo and Greenwich village including; Bathing Ape, Acne, APC, Housing Works Book Store, Stance, Vans and Goose flag ship stores, Y3, Theory and the Nike innovation centre. The best boutique brands that any city in the world has to offer all located in lovely buildings and seemingly supporting each other, shop assistants with perfect attitude and aptitude. Some of the cool stuff in NYC is the uniqueness of it all, being able to get a very special young man something from BAPE that is only available in New York we knew would make his Christmas Day, seeing some of the coolest stuff in APC made me excited to get to Coal Drops Yard on my next trip to London to refresh the wardrobe (by this point the suit case was so full I thought it best not to fill it anymore!)
But then we were done, we were out of time, time to head back to the hotel and grab our last big yellow taxi to JFK. That end of holiday blue feeling started to land on us, but we did leave knowing we would be back with a list of stuff to do again and a list of stuff we need to make happen, together.
New York, I left a bit of me with you as an excuse to keep coming back, but I also took a piece of someone else away with me to keep me happy forever.
For more photos of the places above check out my twitter feed under #DecemberHoliday