29 June 2022

An (Almost) Midsummer Week in New York City

I was last in New York in February 2020, a work trip that also took me to Seattle for a conference. It was a strange time to be there, as COVID cases began to climb, and no one really knew how to act as we didn't know what was to come. I did what I usually did and tried to go to as many of my favourite NYC places as possible, saving the rest for the trip with my parents I had booked in for May 2020. Of course, it turned out that it was my last foreign trip for 18 months, and the two-year gap until my return earlier this month was my longest absence from my favourite city in more than 15 years.

COVID cases are starting to rise again as the BA.5 variant spreads, but I was glad to be able to make it to New York and back for a much-needed holiday with my parents. We had to take a supervised lateral flow test to get into the US but that rule was axed a couple of days after we arrived. Rates of mask-wearing, meanwhile, were a lot higher than in London — public transport and Broadway theatres were among the places requiring masks while I was there.

I had treated myself to premium economy flights for my original booking, and I was delighted when my parents offered to treat me to a business-class ticket for the rescheduled BA flights. It had been a while since I'd last flown in Club World and I was very impressed. The lounge at Heathrow T5 was pretty meh (not least because it was so busy and not very relaxing), but the Club Suite cabins on the plane were spacious and comfortable. The food was great (my main was slow-cooked beef with potato gnocchi), and I even had a rare glass of champagne. 

On the return journey, I enjoyed the lounge at JFK T7 a lot more: there was Aviation Gin and delicious cocktails from Mr Lyan, and a pretty decent cheeseburger, all of which could be ordered direct to your seat. Jumping on a trend, you could also order gummy vitamins from Nourished. I did, of course. The flat bed in the Club Suite made for as comfortable night's sleep as you can get on a 6h30 flight.

As for our accommodation, we were staying at the Harvard Club of New York on West 44th Street. This was further north than I usually stay, but we were close to Bryant Park and there are excellent subway connections to everywhere else in the city. (Speaking of the subway, the other good news is that you can now pay with contactless credit cards or ApplePay; hooray!) My room was quiet and comfortable, and I enjoyed the historical Harvard memorabilia (I was staying in the Class of '34 room) and the views of Midtown from the gym.


On the first morning, we strolled all the way down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square and SoHo. The sun was shining and as it was still early, it was fairly quiet on the streets. It was so good to be back in Manhattan and seeing so many of my favourite places once again. There may have been some COVID-related closures, but New York hadn't lost its New Yorkiness. But I even if I've walked down a block dozens of times before, there are always new things to discover, like the E. V. Haughwout Building on the corner of Broadway and Broome, which is the location of the world's first passenger elevator.

Staying in Midtown meant that I was able to spend some time exploring those famous sights around 42nd Street. I stopped by Grand Central just before rush hour, and captured Times Square, Radio City Music Hall and the Empire State Building by night (especially when the lights turned 'Ruby and Rainbow' to honour Judy Garland's 100th birthday and Pride Month).


We also partook in some culture, enjoying the excellent Hadestown at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Anaïs Mitchell's musical is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in a dystopian near-future world ravaged by climate change. The performances, songs, costumes and sets were all superb, with several of the tunes remaining in my head several weeks later. We were also able to go to the first Bryant Park Movie Night, a sunset screening of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The park was packed and we were lucky to nab a table and chairs at the back, where we ate our Whole Foods picnic. It was quite the dramatic setting to watch the film, with the surrounding skyscrapers lighting up as the sun went down.

A couple of new viewing decks have opened up in New York: Summit One Vanderbilt, and Edge at the shiny new Hudson Yards development. Edge boasts the highest outdoor viewing deck in the Western Hemisphere and very impressive it is too, even on a very hazy day. You can step right up to the edge, pose on a glass-floored section and look down 100 floors, and climb to an even higher section at the back. I was even permitted to do a leap or two — "but no handstands or anything funny like that."

You can step right out of Hudson Yards onto the northern end of the High Line and then wander your way back to the Meatpacking District. I did exactly that, although my parents and I had already done the walk in reverse the day before. I love the mix of greenery, art and cityscape and skyline views that the High Line offers. Just before the end (or the beginning, depending on your perspective), you can take a detour to Chelsea Market. I didn't buy anything this time but loved the fun t-shirts and sweatshirts at French York. C'est normal.

Two of my favourite neighbourhoods in Manhattan are Greenwich Village and the adjacent West Village. I love shopping, finding cute new eateries and coffee shops, and just wandering around, hunting for my dream home (if only). I was glad to see two of my very favourite shops — Greenwich Letterpress and Three Lives & Company — still going strong. One evening, we took in some jazz at Mezzrow, a low-key but fun subterranean spot on West 10th Street.

Perhaps my favourite New York walk of all is the one across Brooklyn Bridge. I usually prefer to walk from Brooklyn back to Manhattan but this time, we took the subway to City Hall and walked over the bridge to Brooklyn. Although it was another hazy day and the skyline views weren't their very finest, we enjoyed the walk and then cut back through Brooklyn Heights to DUMBO. We had lunch at Time Out Market (see below) and then took a few photos at that famous spot on Washington Street where you can capture the Manhattan Bridge in the background. When it was time to return to Manhattan, we hopped on the NYC Ferry's East River line back up to 34th Street: not bad for $2.75!


I've already written about my speciality coffee experiences in Brooklyn and Manhattan, but I do, of course, have plenty of other nibbles and tipples to share. Starting at the more breakfast end of the spectrum was the Dominique Ansel Bakery in SoHo, where the genius baker was showcasing a series of travel-inspired trompe l'œil sweet treats. I started with the 'haute dog' (raspberry cream 'dog' in ladyfinger 'buns' with passionfruit 'mustard' and coconut 'kraut'), and went back another day for the burrata. Worth the money and the queue! In Crown Heights, I waited 45 minutes in the drizzle for a breakfast burrito from the New Mexican-inspired Ursula. And I would do it again in a flash! Closer to my hotel, I had my signature B.E.C. bagel at Hudson Bagel.

Downtown, we lunched at an old favourite in SoHo — the 175-year-old Fanelli Cafe — and I brunched at a rather newer spot called Banter in the West Village. Yes, I was drawn in by the name and yes, the fried chicken sandwich was very good.

I had Pat LaFrieda burger at Time Out Market New York on my previous visit too but couldn't resist ordering the double-patty delight again, even though I was a wee bit jealous of my parents' mac and cheese and fried chicken. We also wished we'd gone up to the rooftop to sample the Little Neck oysters with the Manhattan views. We did get our seafood fill at Jeffrey's Grocery, though, which makes a mean lobster roll.

There was another burger opportunity for me at Boucherie where we had our last lunch in the Flat Iron District. But the 'signature' meal of the trip was Quality Bistro in Midtown. The steak-frites and cocktails were very on point, as was the sleek, airy setting. But the star of the show was the 'butter service garni — pour la table.' You might think that $28 is a lot for bread and butter, but it comes with so many accoutrements — from slices of ham to home-made crisps, to aubergine and tamarind dip — it probably could have fed the three of us as a main course. And then there's the theatricality: the waiter presents the tower of butter and ceremoniously lops off a large wedge onto a platter, seasoning it with salt. It was so good. I wouldn't have ordered a starter if I'd understood.

Finally, cocktail hour. I started my trip with a bang by meeting up with two dear friends at the Sunken Harbor Club in Brooklyn. I gave jet lag the middle finger and dived into the 'abyss' section of the nautical-themed bar's menu. The Grog of Two Brothers featured two rums, black pepper and raspberry, and arrived in a large flaming vessel. It was divine. I returned to 'the shallows' for my second drink, the Wave Break — a mojito with a few twists, which was just as beautifully presented.

The cocktails were just as fab at Pebble Bar near Radio City, an elegant bar with marble tables and a relaxed vibe. I had the Friend of Dorothy and the 500 Miles High, both of which were delicious and beautifully presented. NB: fancy cocktails are a lot more expensive in NYC than London these days once you've factored in tax and tip — the delicious nibbles (like the pork belly at Pebble Bar) may be small but they don't come cheap either. Oh, how I miss the days when there was a decent GBP to USD exchange rate!

No comments:

Post a Comment