New York, New York

Earlier this year I saw the classic musical On the Town at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and it reminded me that New York New York is definitely a helluva town and one I’ll never get bored of visiting. This year’s trip was no exception and probably our best Girls on Tour weekend to date.

New York

I’ve mentioned before that my annual challenge is to find a short break location in Europe for our girls trip. But this year the location was a special request for a special birthday. So we went transatlantic and the only challenge was making sure we had a fab time and made the most of our three night stay in the Big A.

I think where you stay in New York makes all the difference.  This was my eighth visit and I’ve stayed in a fair few different areas including the Upper West Side, Midtown East, the Theatre District and Soho. But the area I’ve chosen and liked the most is Greenwich Village, so that’s where I booked this time at the wonderful Walker Hotel.

Just off 6th Avenue on West 13th Street, the Walker is an Art Deco style boutique hotel in a quiet street but close to the heart of Greenwich Village, Union Square and the 14th Street subway station. No to mention that just along 14th Street is the brilliant Good Stuff Diner, the perfect spot for breakfast every morning. They do serve breakfast at the hotel but its not cheap and there’s nothing quite like having your eggs at a traditional American diner.

Another US tradition is eating bagels and when we arrived and put our watches back five hours we realised we’d need something to keep us going before dinner. So we popped into Murray’s Bagels, just around the corner on 6th Avenue. Turned out to be a bit of an NYC institution selling really good hand-rolled bagels.

Suitably re-fueled we wandered down towards the village, admiring the clock tower of the 19th century Jefferson Market Courthouse and stopping off for a browse around the wonderful old C. O. Bigelow Pharmacy, which is probably the city’s oldest drugstore. A bit different to the countless chain drugstores that seem to be on very corner in New York.

Turning left up Waverley Place we walked passed the Washington Square Park Hotel where I’ve stayed twice before. Not as nice as the Walker but more affordable. Then into the park itself, which as always was buzzing with people and life. After admiring some anti-Trump badges we walked around the fountain and towards the famous Washington Memorial Arch. You know, the one where Harry drops off Sally when they first arrive in the city.

People were staring at something, so we gathered round unsure what we were looking at. Then what seemed to be a statue on the ledge of the arch moved! Wow, street art at its finest. Impressed we walked through the arch and up 5th Avenue, passing by some of the trendy new New York University buildings before arriving back at the Walker for our free welcome cocktail in the bar.

Eating and drinking plays a big part of our trips and the birthday girl and I put quite a bit of time into researching where was good to go in New York in 2017. It paid off as we didn’t have a bad meal or experience, starting that evening with a visit to Gallow Green, a quirky rooftop bar and restaurant at the McKittrick Hotel in West 27th Street. That meant it was a cab ride for us, but we knew it was going to be well worth it when we were taken up in a blacked out elevator designed to mask how high you are going – I won’t spoil the surprise!

The McKittrick is also home to Sleep No More, an immersive theatre experience telling the story of Macbeth, and has a couple of music venues too, so is well worth checking out. I assume Gallow Green is seasonal as its outside, though most of it was covered and our table was in an old railway carriage with a great view of the Empire State Building.

Talking of which that was where we headed the next morning (special birthday day). I’ve been up all of the high buildings in New York and there’s nowhere quite like the iconic Empire State. Unfortunately it was pretty foggy so the views weren’t as good as they could have been, but the one thing you can’t control is the weather and we enjoyed it anyway.

The Empire State is on 34th Street so it was easy to walk a few blocks along it to get to our next destination, the High Line, a former elevated freight railway line which has been converted into a wonderful park.

When I was last in New York in 2010 the High Line was pretty new and only ran from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking district to 20th. Now it goes all the way to 34th Street, so you can access it through the CSX Transportation Gate at the junction with 11th Avenue. That takes you onto a walkway that has fab views of the Hudson River to one side and the city and Rail Yards on the other.

I thought the High Line was pretty great back in 2010, but now its finished its even more fabulous. Being able to walk above the city with those views and amongst wonderful greenery, plants and flowers is unbeatable. I’d be there all the time if I lived in New York.

Along the way there’s a couple of shops selling really nice souvenir items that help keep the park going. The Friends of the High Line is the group that made the conversion happen and continues to raise the funding to maintain and operate it. There’s also plenty of public art along the way too and some great viewing spots. I love 10th Avenue Square which is a pretty unusual kind of amphitheatre with views of busy street below.

Before that though we popped off the High Line at 20th Street to go for brunch at Cookshop, just opposite the park on 10th Avenue. My goodness do they serve fantastic food and drinks. One friend said was the best Bloody Mary she’d ever had, while another said the same about her chicken salad.

Later that evening we continued the great food experiences when after birthday champagne at the hotel we walked across to Union Square and the Blue Water Grill. I’d been here before and so knew it was a brilliant option for fish lovers. It was also a fab venue being an old bank with marble floors and great architectural features but sadly closed in 2019. There are plenty of bars in the area for drinks afterwards too, including the Flatiron Lounge, Raine’s Law Room and Dear Irving. The latter had a private party that night but we popped into Pierre Loti, a very nice little wine bar that’s right underneath it.

The next morning we opted for a more somber start to the day and visited the 9/11 Memorial. But actually its really lovely, a wonderful and very moving tribute to the people who died here. The two pools represent the footprint of the original towers and the names of the victims are inscribed all around the edges.

We decided not to go into the museum and instead spent time in the eight acre memorial park which is filled with hundreds of oak trees. In amongst them is the Survivor Tree, a pear tree which was damaged but survived the attack, so was rehabilitated and brought back to be replanted in the new park.

Also looming over the park is One World  Trade Center, now the tallest skyscraper in the US. I went up the original twin towers several times, particularly when staying at the Marriott World Trade Center just nine months before they came down. I have some wonderful memories so not sure how I feel about going up this one. Maybe next time.

Next we headed across to South Street Seaport and were sad to see that the original Pier 17 was no more. The whole area was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and they are still rebuilding. Apparently its going to be a bit cooler than it was before to attract the locals. Yes it was touristy but I’m a tourist and I liked it! This photo is from a previous trip as a final homage to the old Pier 17.

We were actually there to do the Statue of Liberty Express Cruise. We all fancied seeing some good views of both the famous lady and the iconic Manhattan skyline and this was a quick and cheap way to do it. I booked it half price through Trip Advisor for £12 and the one hour trip was perfect on a sunny New York Sunday.

We were headed to the Lower East Side next and decided to keep walking rather than get the subway as you see so much more that way. In this case it was the sights, sounds and smells of Chinatown and Little Italy, before we found ourselves crossing Delancey Street (an exciting moment for lovers of that film..) and walking along it to Orchard Street and the highly recommended Jewish cafe, Russ & Daughters.

Two friends and two guide books had suggested it, so we were really pleased to get a table. You can’t reserve so we were happy to have a drink while we waited the estimated 30 minutes, but we were in our booth in 10. It would have been worth the longer wait though as was definitely the best smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel I’ve ever had.

From there its a nice walk back to Greenwich Village through Soho, another favourite area of mine, perfect for browsing the trendy shops and galleries and admiring the cast-iron architecture. Not that its obvious the buildings are made of iron, the only bit that clearly looks metal are the fire escapes, but its hidden behind the facades of around 150 buildings, particularly in Greene Street.

Soho is also a great place for eating and drinking and from previous trips I can recommend Aquagrill, Balthazaar and the Mercer Kitchen. But for us it was a night out on our local manor, starting at Extra Virgin a  neighbourhood favourite in West 4th Street. That’s just around the corner from the house in Perry Street (photo below) that was used as Carrie’s apartment in Sex and the City. SJP herself used to live in Charles Street and as Extra Virgin is between the two I like to think it was a local haunt for her and Matthew Broderick.

If you’re a fan of the show you can also check out the Magnolia Bakery in Bleecker Street (though be prepared to queue) or if Friends was more your style you can see the the outside of Monica’s apartment building at the corner of Grove and Bedford. There’s a restaurant underneath called Little Owl but its nothing like Central Perk, that was pure fiction created in a TV studio.

There are stacks of bars in the village and of course famous jazz venues like the Blue Note and village Vanguard, but there’s also some great speakeasy style venues that combine the best of both. Small and intimate but with great music. We headed to Little Branch on 7th Avenue at Leroy Street, which is easy to miss as its just a door with a very small sign on a very narrow building.

Once inside you immediately walk downstairs into a very dark space with a low ceiling, a great jazz band and fantastic cocktails. When we went past midnight it was my birthday so it seemed rude not to stay for another drink or two. Needless to say our final day started with a final visit to our favourite diner to soak up the excesses of the night before.

After breakfast we headed uptown for some shopping at Macy’s, where you can always get a 10% off discount card at the visitor centre but they often have even better deals. I got 25% VIP discount off a watch that was already 20% off in the sale. The exchange rate might not be great but there are still bargains to be had.

Then we walked up through Times Square and across the Rockefeller Centre to Fifth Avenue and a visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s the largest decorated Neo-Gothic-style Catholic cathedral in North America and takes up a whole city block. It’s nice contrast to the high end shops and the frenetic nature of that part of Manhattan.

Talking of frenetic our next visit was due to be Tiffany’s, but we were thwarted because Trump was in his tower which is the same block as the famous jewellery store. Masses of police and barricades meant a detour after which we were out of time as our lunch booking in Central Park was coming up.

The park is another nice respite from the hectic city streets, so we wanted some time for a leisurely walk through it to reach our destination, Tavern on the Green. Its just inside the park near to West 66th Street and is a restored New York icon that was originally built to house sheep that grazed in the park. There’s seating inside and out with great views, lovely staff and very nice food. There’s even a little shop where we made a few final purchases before heading back to the Walker to pick up our cases and head to the airport.

Needless to say Trump in town and the United Nations in session meant for a slow ride out of Manhattan, but we had plenty of time so I didn’t mind one last long look at my kind of town. There’s nowhere quite like New York City and I know I’ll be back again before too long.

Click on an image below to scroll through the gallery and check out my earlier post New York for Starters which suggests 10 things to do if you’re a first time visitor.

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