New York……we need to talk

I blame Carrie Bradshaw.

For 10 years, she and her posse swaggered their way across the city of Manhattan – living, dining, shopping and dressed in impeccable style.

It’s been 22 years since my last visit to New York and I had had none of the city experiences depicted weekly on Sex and the City, so it’s no wonder I can’t wait to get back.  I mean, it’s New York, the best city in the world right?

Well…maybe, maybe not.

Don’t get me wrong, our time in the big apple is magic.  We literally leave no stone unturned from our extensive list of things to do and see.  Aside from the Empire State Building, Ground Zero and a quick ferry ride around Ellis Island, we’re two girls on a mission to live like locals, to experience it from the inside out.

And we do.  After three nights in an apartment right on Times Square, the later part of our week is spent in a private apartment in Hell’s Kitchen on W52nd and 10th Avenue.  It’s a proverbial melting pot of cultures, sights, smells and sounds.  Our morning coffee is purchased from NY2 Market on the corner for a dollar, where the good looking Egyptian man says each time, ‘no sugar right ladies, because you are sweet enough?’  When your local convenience man knows you well enough to banter, we’re feeling very much a part of the inner circle 😉

Each day, we leave by 9am and fall into bed around 10pm.  No time is spent in our accommodation.  There’s simply too much to see and do.

A weekly unlimited subway pass for $30 takes us north, south, east, west and everything in between.  We jump on and off the subway so often, we pop up like sewer rats in a new location up to five times a day.  That’s the beauty of New York.  Its neat grid structure on such a compact island means you can do exactly this.  And easily.

For our first few days, we’re staying opposite the ticket box for stage shows on Times Square, where they’ve now erected a massive grandstand for crowds to sit and take photos or simply watch the thronging crowds all along Broadway.

P1010823    Times Square   P1010824

Jan’s plane is late arriving on day one.  I’ve already been in the city since 1pm so I’m quite tipsy by the time she arrives at 10pm.  My bar tab will be the first indication that New York is still one hell of an expensive place.  Three drinks and a bowl of ordinary pasta is $70US.

We waste no time.  A quick change and we head to the Rainbow Room, top of the NBC Studios at Rockefeller Centre, excited to see the first of the ‘stylish set’.  You know, the Carrie Bradshaw’s of the city out for Friday night drinks in one of New York’s most highly recommended rooftop bars.  I’m not exaggerating when I say Jan and I were pretty close to being the ‘stylish set’ (even with a selfie stick).

Me at Rainbow Room 1    Us at Rainbow Room    Jan at Rainbow Room

On Saturday, we walk a few blocks over to shop on Lexington, Madison, Park and 5th Avenues.  Streets lined with either Prada, Valentino, Tiffany’s or Gap, Zara and Banana Republic.  I’m hoping to spy creative, outlandish and super different fashion and people.  Instead, we push through crowds of sweaty, mainly overweight people wearing shorts, leggings (as pants!), t-shirts and sneakers.  Do the locals no longer shop in this area or have we been sold a lie?

Jan makes a few purchases and aside from a gift from Tiffany’s for someone on my own island, I come away with a pair of jeans and a hat bought from a sidewalk vendor.  Hardly the shopping outcome I was expecting.  In the afternoon, we pop into St Patrick’s Cathedral and light a candle for my Nan (and Jan’s Mum), who recently passed.

We end the day with a glass of Moet and dinner at Rockefeller Plaza, set up now for summer with outdoor restaurants and couches.  The weather is hot, the 70s music is playing and we’re pinching ourselves that we’re sitting on the spot where ice skating occurs over the winter season.  The crowd is a mix of couples, girl groups and families.

Jan at Rockerfeller Plaza    Me at Rockerfeller Plaza

Thunderstorms are predicted for Sunday so we change plans from the Greenflea Market on the upper west side to the hop on, hop off bus.  We figure we can at least sit undercover and see a few sights if the weather turns bad.

We head downtown to Ground Zero, where the new Observation Tower has just opened (and is now the tallest building on Manhattan).  I find the memorial confronting.  The torrent of water that disappears into the centre of what was Tower 1 seems to suggest that those poor souls were literally sucked into the earth.

P1010784    P1010785    P1010786

Across the road, we head to Brookfield Place to lunch at Le District – a French inspired food hall.  There is another – Eataly (owned by famed chef Mario Batalli) – near Union Square that we don’t make it to, but with Anthony Bourdain having recently purchased real estate at Pier 57 at 15th and Hudson River Park to open a 250,000-square-feet international food hall, this kind of dining and shopping seems to be the trend.

We wander back around Battery Park where families and joggers are out in force, making the most of the steamy hot weather before the storm comes.  From here, we ferry to Ellis Island and up the Hudson River before making our way to the Museum of the Native American.  By 4pm, as we make our way uptown, we’re on a bus of yellow Teletubbies sitting in bright canary plastic ponchos being pelted with rain.  Dinner is in the hotel tonight as we watch a live feed to Times Square – now deserted and deluged by rain, thunder and lightning.

P1010801    P1010804    P1010805    P1010806    P1010807   HOHO bus

Monday sees us off to the Hamptons – a lifelong dream for us both.  We’re standing at the bus stop on Lexington to catch the Jitney with a mother and daughter from Brisbane.  The trip out to Long Island is unremarkable until you reach Southampton, the first of the ‘Hampton’ villages, and where we are staying.  The weather is gloomy and wet.  Thanks to blisters from day one, I’m trying to navigate driving and walking in a pair of Jan’s thongs.

Waiting for Jitney

We’re staying at Southampton Village, a drive-in motel and a quintessential example of true Hampton’s style.  We explore the main street of designer stores before heading to Meadow Lane, or Billionaires Row, as it is often referred to.  It’s here that Calvin Klein and the who’s who of Wall Street have multi-million dollar beachfront homes.  It’s also where I track down the house from Something’s Gotta Give, one of my favourite fun films, and mainly for the house.

Main Street Southampton 1    Main Street Southampton 2    Main Street Southampton    P1010813    Somethings Gotta Give house    Southampton motel 1

As we drive the long stretch, we’re also noting the Ferraris, Jaguars and other luxury cars passing us by, and we’re sounding more and more like Kath and Kim with consistent ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.  Despite the weather, we trek over the dune to stand on the famous Flying Fish Point beach.

me on Southampton Beach

Dinner is at Tutto IL Giorno, owned by Donna Karan’s daughter Gaby.  A truly stunning restaurant and meal, prompting an ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore’ reflective moment.

Tuesday is spent driving to every village on Long Island – Sag Harbour, Montauk, Easthampton, Westhampton, Amagansett, Bridgehampton and Watermill.  The tree lined streets are filled with magazine-worthy homes, so much so, that we give up taking pictures.  We eat rice paper rolls at the most eastern peak of Long Island before stopping at Wolffer Estate in the village of Sagaponack for wine tasting.  Dinner is at the famed Little Red Bar.  Suffice to say, the Hamptons is everything you read, see and hear about and is clearly for the ‘rich kids’.  It will be a major highlight of our trip.

Bridgehampton Inn    P1010814    P1010817    P1010819    Shop in the Hamptons    Us at winery

We’re back to the city on Wednesday and dragging our cases 14 long blocks from Lexington Avenue to our apartment in Hell’s Kitchen.  It’s simply quicker than catching a cab.  This gives us an opportunity to spy restaurants for dinner along the way and we head back to Bamboo 52 for $5 Proseccos and phenomenal sushi, but not before we’ve waited two hours in line to make it to the top of the Empire State Building and that unique 360 degree view of the stunning skyline (and proving beyond doubt that there is no way Meg Ryan would have made it in time to meet Tom Hanks and son at the observation deck on such a ‘whim’ in Sleepless in Seattle!).

Me on ESB 1    P1010830    P1010831   Jan and I ESB P1010835   P1010777

Thursday sees us training it downtown to walk across Brooklyn Bridge, a bucket list item for us both.  It’s the perfect day – the sun is shining but it’s not too hot.  We’re on a mission to find Dellarossa’s on Hicks Street, famous for its gluten free pizza.  They did not disappoint.

Jan walking Brooklyn bridge    Me Brooklyn pizza    Me on Brooklyn bridge 2    Me on Brooklyn bridge    Me with Brooklyn bridge police    P1010836   BB view to Manhatten

We love Brooklyn.  This feels more like the New York we were expecting.  Tree lined streets with well-kept brownstones, corner stores and cafes that spill onto the sidewalk.  There’s a fun vibe to the entire central area.  It has character.

The Bronx

Our afternoon is spent back in midtown exploring the stunning Central Station and library, then to the upper east side to the Guggenheim before we make it back to 52nd and 9th Avenue for the Brickyard Gastro Pub’s famous gluten free burgers.  We’re feeling incredibly smug with our day; good pizza and burgers will do that.

Me front of library   Guggenheim

By now, I’m fretting about my lack of shopping success so Friday sees us heading back downtown to walk the much lauded shopping streets of Soho, Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District.  22 years ago, I remember this area full of alternative art, fashion and homeware stores.  Today, there is nothing noteworthy.  Even Google struggles to identify a bona-fide list of shops to visit.

We give up and head west to the High Line, a 2.33km linear park built on an elevated section of a disused central railroad spur called the West Side Line.  The High Line has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway.  Adjacent is The Standard Hotel, best known for its rooftop bar.  Getting to the rooftop is an adventure in itself.  All bags must be checked before stepping into a black elevator.  The stairwell to the very rooftop is graffiti’d, also on black walls and very dark.  At the risk of sounding old, I’m already thinking how many people fall down this stairwell after a few drinks as they make their way to the unisex bathroom.  The view from the rooftop (and bathroom), however, is astounding.  It’s a New York ‘must do’.

Drinks at The Standard    View from Standard bathroom

We’re into our final weekend and determined to make the most of the better weather.  Despite an early rain shower (the weather forecast is something else New York is unable to master), we take a two hour walking tour of Greenwich Village.  The history of this small area is fascinating.  From here, we head to the Chelsea Markets for lunch at the very popular Freidman’s before making our way to the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market.  We spend a few hours here and end our day sipping a bottle of sparkling and sharing tapas.  We decide to walk down to Hudson River (only a block or so away) to spy the exact location where the plane came down and to watch the stunning sunset.  On our way back, we stop by the local park where residents are out playing baseball, cycling, walking their dogs or picnicking.  It’s a balmy night and perfect for being outside.

Greenwich Village street        Me tapas dinner    The Friends apartment    The Huxtable house    Washington Park       Baseball game sunset   Hudson at sunset

It’s only now that the weather is so lovely that we finally venture to our apartment building’s rooftop terrace.  The view is simply breathtaking and I think it’s not until that very moment that I actually fall in love again with the city.  There is no disputing that New York has the most captivating skyline in the world.  There is a birthday celebration in full swing and other groups on the terrace enjoying the evening, sunset and view.

Me on terrace    View from terrace 1    View from terrace 2

Sunday is our final day so it only seems fitting that we spend it strolling Central Park.  First, we train it to the upper west side to the Greenflea markets (and like the other three flea markets we visit, is highly disappointing) and brunch (far more successful).  Central Park in the sunshine is absolutely beautiful.  Jazz trios play in shaded areas as people set up picnics on the grass to enjoy the day or take out row boats on the lake.  We make our way to the Loeb Boathouse restaurant and are lucky enough to score a table in the shade.  We enjoy a glass of sparkling and settle in for some serious people watching.

Central Park 1    Central Park 2    Central Park 3

We’re hungry by late afternoon and decide to pop into The Plaza Hotel’s food court.  It’s another Kath and Kim moment as we munch our way through Maine lobster and shrimp rolls, moaning with delight at each bite.  The lobster roll may have cost US$16 but it was worth every cent.

Our day finishes with hundreds of others outside the Radio City Music Hall to watch the red carpet arrivals for the Tony Awards.   For a movie and TV ‘tragic’ like me, this is simply the closest to heaven I’m likely to get.  I’m screaming names and taking photos like an obsessed paparazzi.  We’re lucky enough to see Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Jim Parsons, Debra Messing, Patricia Clarkson, Elizabeth Moss, Taylor Schilling, Ruth Wilson, Jennifer Grey and Harry Connick Jnr, amongst others.

Tony Awards - Elizabeth    Tony Awards - Taylor    Tony Awards

Nearly two hours after we arrive, the throng becomes too much and we decide to head home.  We finish our night sipping bubbles and eating cheese on our terrace and with a clear view up 50th Street to Radio City Music Hall.  A more fitting finale to our holiday I could not imagine.

In the end, it’s a truly amazing ten days and a trip that is best done in a ‘girls only’ zone.  If I never visit New York again, I am satisfied that – aside from getting to a Broadway show – I did and saw everything I wanted to, plus some.

The people were exceptionally friendly and helpful (aside from the guy who rubbed his erection against my back in the crowd at the Tony Awards).  People would stop and ask if we needed help getting somewhere or would strike up conversations because they were interested to hear where we were from and if we were enjoying our stay.  Everyone finished a conversation with ‘enjoy your stay in New York’.  And most importantly, we felt safe.

But it’s here, New York that we need to talk.  In the entire week we were there, we turned our heads for one woman and her daughter.  That’s it.  Even then, it was only because they were wearing sparkly ankle boots, so we may have just been temporarily seduced by shiny objects.

What’s happened to New York?  Where is the creative, highly individual city I remember from 22 years ago?  Where are the whacky creative types expressing themselves through art, clothing and form? Where are the independent stores selling unique and artisanal products you can’t find anywhere else in the world?  There’s nothing.  Even the flea markets are full of ‘made in China’ rubbish.  It’s all cookie-cutter majors like Zara and Gap, stores you now find in every city the world over.  There’s no hidden lane ways or flea markets where you might find interesting stores, bars, restaurants, food, history and stories, like you do in Paris, London or Amsterdam.  It feels homogenous, soulless, and lacking character.  As a recent traveller to Amsterdam where the personal expression was exceptionally creative and individual –at times even confronting – New York seems almost too afraid to show its true self, like there is comfort in all being the same.  Perhaps this is another sad but necessary legacy of 9/11 in order for people to feel safe and connected again.  Either way, for me, New York seems to have lost a good deal of its once-unique personality.

View of Manhatten from plane

RECOMMENDATIONS

Things to see and do in New York

Fifth Avenue area:

  • Trump Tower – 5th Ave at 56th Over-the-top expensive boutiques but worth visiting for the pink marble waterfall.
  • Rockefeller Centre (between 48th & 51st Streets – extends from 5th-6th Avenue). Have a drink at the Rainbow Room on the 66th floor or enjoy a drink and a bite in the actual plaza.
  • Wander the large Anthropologie store at 50 Rockefeller Centre.
  • Bergdorf Goodman, 7th Floor, 754 Fifth Avenue – Sit at green stone bar overlooking Central Park with a chilled rose champagne (beautiful décor) – a favourite mid-afternoon moment for Sibella Court.
  • Tiffany & Co, 5th Avenue and 57th Check out upper floors (catch the hidden lift secretly placed directly to your left as you walk in from the 5th Avenue entrance).
  • Saks, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales.
  • MoMA – Museum of Modern Art – 11W 53rd St between 5th & 6th The MoMA Design & Book Store is a fab spot to souvenir shop, with gorgeous books, prints and one of a kind knick-knacks.  For homewares, jewellery, bags head to the MoMA Design Store across the street.
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Ave, open 7 Days a Week, Sunday–Thursday: 10:00am – 5:30pm, Friday and Saturday: 10:00am –9:00ppm. $25 entry fee.
  • The Plaza Food Hall; enjoy a Maine lobster roll. To die for!

Madison Avenue area:

  • Stroll back down Maddison Avenue to Barney’s – 660 Madison Ave at 61st Street – Chelsea Passage 9th floor (homewares).
  • Browse the designer boutiques, stop for coffee, then detour on any of the side streets in the upper 60s and 70s to see the townhouses of the affluent New Yorkers.
  • New York Public Library tour (free).
  • Grand Central Station – dine at the Oyster Bar.
  • Empire State Building at sunset (anticipate a two hour wait irrespective of what time you go).
  • Lincoln Centre – stroll across the Central Plaza to the fantastically lit 10 storey colonnade of the Metropolitan Opera House – one of the most glamorous things you can do.
  • Peninsular Hotel – Pen-Top Bar for a cocktail offers stunning view of Central Park.

Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea:

  • Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market.
  • Chelsea’s Antiques Garage, 112W 25th
  • Annex Antiques & Flea Market 6th Ave at 26th or the Amex, an indoor market just around the corner at 112 West 25th St and at the Showplace 40 West 26th St with 135 dealers on three floors.

Sixth Avenue Superstores (between 18th and 23rd):

  • Macy’s – 151 West 34th St at 6th Ave – world’s largest store.
  • Homewares – Bed, Bath & Beyond 620/6th
  • Casual Clothing – Old Navy 610/6th
  • Bargain Fashion – TJ Maxx & Filene’s Basement 620/6th
  • Eataly, 200 Fifth Avenue,New York (owned by Mario Batalli); this Flatiron megastore carries the most impressive selection of Italian food goods this side of the Atlantic. A stroll through these aisles will lead you to olive oils hand-picked by store experts, counters selling whole fish, artisanal salami, fresh-baked breads, hand-pulled mozzarella, plus books, housewares, and top-of-the-line cooking utensils. There are also several restaurants and cafés within the store.

Union Square:

  • Greenmarket – colourful NY scene not to be missed.
  • The Strand – 828 12th Street – the city’s biggest used book store.
  • Continue up Broadway to view the famous Flatiron Building and rest at Madison Square.
  • Theodore Roosevelt birthplace – 28 East 20th St between Broadway and Park Ave South.

Lower Manhattan:

  • World Financial Centre – Battery Park City at West St. The centre of the complex is The Winter Garden, with atrium and marble steps.  Take the 9/11 tour.
  • St Paul’s Chapel – Just walk into this chapel, NY’s oldest public building ($2 donation) – directly opposite Ground Zero.
  • Battery Park – Esplanade offers views of Statue of Liberty. Free Staten Island Ferry at (Whitehall Terminal).
  • Museum of the American Indian at the US Custom House, 1 Bowling Green, between State and Whitehall Streets.
  • Le District- huge French hall of food markets, bars, restaurants and shops; Brookfield Place, 225 Liberty Street, New York City (right near the World Trade Centre) and opposite Ground Zero.
  • Brooklyn Bridge – (Bridge begins behind City Hall, Broadway and Park Row) – Stroll across and find yourself in Camden Plaza Park. Coffee in nearby Smith Street and then walk the boardwalk at Coney Island.  Lunch on outstanding pizza at Dellarossa’s on Hick Street.

Greenwich Village/Soho:

  • Take a free walking tour with Free Tours by Foot. Bookings are essential and they leave from the corner of Waverly Place and 6th  Duration: 2 hours.  Distance: 2kms.  info@freetoursbyfoot.com or call 646 450 6831.  Website:  http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/new-york-tours/walking-tours/greenwich-village/
  • Bleeker Street and further on Canal Street – crowded with pedlers, flea market finds, bargain stores, although not the good kind (think Bali on a good day).
  • Jonathan Adler, 47 Greene Street – Furniture and Homewares – very Palm Springs and tongue in cheek.
  • Soho – Drink at Jimmy at The James Hotel (360 degree views of Manhattan).

Recommended New York bars and restaurants:

Bars:

  • The SkyLark:  200 W 39th St.
  • The Roof:  Viceroy New York, rooftop, 124 W 57th St.
  • Rainbow Room; top of the Rockefeller Centre. 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
  • Press Lounge: 653 11th Ave.
  • Jimmy’s Rooftop Bar, James Hotel in Soho. 27 Grand St.
  • Sonny’s Soda Shop: 9 Crosby St.
  • The Standard Hi Line Bar; 848 Washington at 13th

 Restaurants:

  • Isola – great for lunch, 9 Crosby Street (same address as Sonny’s Soda Shoppe, which also does casual meals).
  • Budakken; Meatpacking District (only open for dinner, serving mainly Asian inspired dishes).  75 9th Avenue.  Reservations: 212 989 6699.  Where Carrie and Big held their pre-wedding dinner.
  • Brickyard Gastro Pub; 785 Ninth Ave.

Gotham West Market, 600 Eleventh Avenue, 212-582-7940

While not technically a restaurant, this grand food hall plugged into the ground floor of a monstrous Hell’s Kitchen development houses a bunch of heavy hitting operations. And it’s already received a good deal of praise despite the fact that it’s been open for less than a week. Such buzz is no doubt due to the roster of big name chefs and Brooklyn notables the operators were able to entice; Seamus Mullen, The Cannibal, and Court Street Grocers have all set up shop. Ramen fanatics can even get a taste of Ivan Orkin’s noodles before his spot debuts on Clinton Street. The traditional broths and mazemen are all in top form.

Mercato, 352 West 39th Street, 212-643-2000

A piece of Tuscany resides inside the modest confines of this true blue trattoria, like some inter-dimensional rift preyed upon by savvy travel agents. The kitchen is at its best when cooking pasta. Seafood linguine coated in fiery fra diavolo practically bursts with mussels, squid, shrimp, and clams; cavatelli supports gamy, piquant wild boar ragú. Settle in for an evening, sample a few Italian wines, and end your night with a caffè corretto — Sambuca-spiked espresso with a sliver of lemon peel.

Taboon, 773 Tenth Avenue, 212-713-0271

The flavours of the Mediterranean merge with those of the Middle East at this cosy restaurant on an industrial stretch of Tenth Avenue. Pillowy focaccia arrives at the table still warm from the oven, great on its own or perfect for dipping into hummus, baba ghanoush or a Middle Eastern cilantro and chili pepper condiment. Prices are high, but the contemporary spin on traditional flavours is a particular highlight, as in a dessert of goat cheese cheesecake with poached figs and quince marmalade.

Accommodation:

  • Doubletree Hilton Suites, Times Square; options for hotel room or apartment.
  • Airbnb or Trip Advisor to book a private apartment.

Recommendations for Southampton:

  • Explore the Main Street shops.
  • Hildreths, 51 Main Street (homewares and fashion) and the oldest store in the area. A must-see!
  • Drive along Meadow Lane, otherwise known as Billionaire’s Lane. Calvin Klein has a house here and the home from Somethings Gotta Give is at number 576.  The home addresses of celebrities can be found online.
  • Dinner Options: Tutto Il Giorno, 56 Nugent Street (owned by Donna Karan’s daughter), Plaza Cafe, 61 Hill Street or Little Red Bar.
  • Accommodation: Southampton Village Motel.
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