I’d been living in the U.S for a little over a year, and I still hadn’t visited New York City (or ventured to the East Coast). I decided, nearly six months in advance, that I would visit NYC in 2019, and I would do it during the Autumn colours. It was a great bonus that I was able to use the welcome bonus mileage points from my credit card to book the flights, only having to pay $10-or-so in taxes – yesssssssss.
Day 1 – Times Square
I was super, super fortunate that I had a friend, who had a friend, that had an apartment I was able to stay in. It was even more fortunate when I saw where that apartment was (Upper West Side), and the views from the apartment (which also had a rooftop garden on the 20-somethingth-floor). Sure beat staying in a hostel.
By the time I’d arrived and met with my friend, it was already just after sunset. I didn’t want to get too ambitious the first evening, so I just settled for a walk down to Times Square, eating as many slices of pizza as I could find on the way – I was keen to understand the whole New York style pizza, because up until this moment, I hadn’t really been impressed, or swayed away from Naples style pizza.
It’s weird visiting somewhere you’ve seen and heard so much about. I also can’t help trying to compare it, to relate it to somewhere else I’ve been or know. It felt much more like London than San Francisco, even though London is in another country/continent.
Anyway, I knew that Times Square was going to be crowded, trashy, and filled with tourists (and people are trying to milk tourists for money), but I still felt that it was necessary to visit once – I mean, how many TV shows and movies have showed this neon glowing strip of the city?
Well, the glow certainly lived up to expectations. I was still several blocks away but could already see the illumination bleeding across the streets, giving the air a colour.
I was expecting all the giant signage, but I wasn’t expecting there to be an actual grandstand to walk up to get a better view of the signage (and maybe also the square). Anyway, it was not nearly as chaotic as I was expecting – far less than Oxford Street on a Friday night/weekend.
But, it didn’t take long to be ready to move on and look at other things. I’d been sampling the pizza as I walked (none worth reporting about), but had also been curious about the street vendors selling hotdogs. My friend convinced me to try one, so the next stall we came across (since I figured they’d all be equally terrible) I ordered one. I’d been caught off guard, and hadn’t checked how much the hotdog cost, only to be told after ordering it that it was $7, for one very sad looking hotdog. I was furious at them for scamming me – and at myself for not paying more attention. I told them that they were conmen, and scum, but it was nothing they hadn’t heard before, and just waited for the money – and their next victim. To make things worse, the next block was a brick-and-mortar hotdog store, with a line, selling two for $5.
At least I still had an appetite for more pizza, and after walking past this place (Joe’s Pizza) which had a queue (and a mountain of empty boxes outside), I was keen to try a few more slices and forget about being ripped off. Also, spoiler alert, the pizza was really good – but, I’d still go for a Napoli-style pizza any day.
I’d had a recommendation for several rooftop bars, and one (The Skylark) happened to be in the area. As it was still early-ish (even more so when you convert to SF timezone), I thought it’d be worth going up for a better look at the buildings of the city. The bar itself was like a maze, spread over several floors, with no clear indication of how to get from the elevator, to anywhere. By sheer luck, I managed to make it to the upper floor, and then by further luck found the small outdoor area. The cocktails were good, and amazingly they made SF prices seem quite cheap! And, just because, on the way back to the apartment, I got some more Joe’s Pizza – and it somehow was even better (though, still sub-par with Napoli-style).
Day 2 – Central Park and Greenwich Village
The next morning got off to an early start, keen to try New York bagels, from a Jewish delicatessen. I’d been recommended a nearby deli (Barney Greengrass), so put on my warmest clothing and went for a walk. It was great to see the city in the day light, giving it a completely different feel. I wasn’t used to having so much above me, with row upon row of towering apartment buildings lining the grid-like streets. I found the deli, and was a little confused on the prices – only to learn that I wasn’t confused, I understood them, I just wasn’t able to compute that a single bagel could cost nearly $20… And then I realised it was cash only, and hadn’t brought enough to cover the cost of the two bagels (and the tip…), so became a mad rush to find an ATM (which then also charged me a fee to get cash out, further adding to the cost of the most expensive bagels I have ever bought). So far in NYC, I’ve had an extremely expensive hotdog, lots of cheap pizza, an expensive cocktail, and a very expensive bagel. At least it was good (unlike the extremely expensive hotdog).
The walk back was still a little bit of a combination of nostalgia and awe. It was so familiar, yet also completely new. The weather was crisp in the shade, but perfect in the rare pockets of sunshine that managed to penetrate the rows and rows of towering buildings that lined the streets.
A few friends from my time in the JET Programme now lived here in NYC, and thankfully they had some time over the weekend to catch up (and play tour guide). We’d decided to meet for a stroll through Central Park, and I was even more thankful that today was a such stunning day for walking around.
Just like most of the other sights that I’d already experienced since I arrived last night, I immediately knew that I was in Central Park. But, walking through the park, there was so much I hadn’t expected, like the rocky hills, the dense woodlands, and the borderline-ridiculous buildings on the southern flank of the park, with skinny fists piercing the sky like antennas to heaven – or something.
For all my meticulous planning to arrive in time for autumnal colours, but before snow/cold, there wasn’t a great deal of colour in the trees here in the park. There was the slight tinge signalling a change was on the way, and a few early birds that were in peak colour. The first time I’d experienced Autumn was after moving to Hokkaido, and I was stunned that something so beautiful could occur naturally. San Francisco does have a few pockets, as did London, but nothing like the scale of Hokkaido.
We could have continued walking around all day (well, I could have done that and remained entertained), but to mix up the day a little, we hopped on the subway and headed to Greenwich Village to do a little urban exploration. I was already getting ‘London vibes’ from walking around last night/today, but arriving in Greenwich Village really felt like going back to (a really nice part of) London. We walked past the crowds of people photographing the apartment from Friends (which I’m not ashamed to admit had to be explained to me), and spent some time catching up over cocktails in a hidden backyard beer garden.
The urban exploration continued, walking all around the area, stopping for coffee, and attempting to dine at a new critically acclaimed restaurant, Uncle Boons – though, sadly missed out on a seating by a few places in the queue. But, as one door closed, another opened, and it meant we could go to (the aptly named) Last Light rooftop bar to watch the sunset – and drink more cocktails.
And, it also meant that we could dine in Little Italy, which was exceptionally exciting for me – and it turned out that it was also exceptionally delicious. As were the additional, and requisite, cannoli (yes, multiple).
It was late, but not that late. So, rather than return I went to check out a bar recommendation (Little Branch) from a restaurateur friend – solid cocktails, and a pretty cool vibe inside. By amazing fortune, walking to the subway at the end of the evening, I passed by a Shake Shack. I felt like I’d spent most the day eating/drinking, but, since Shake Shack is a novelty for San Franciscans (at least until the stores open sometime in 2020), I couldn’t not go in and get one (though, the fact that it was a Double Shack was pure greed/gluttony on my part).
Day 3 – Rainy Day Cocktails
The perfectly crisp and sunny Saturday gave way to a cool, and damp Sunday. Actually, it was more like a wet and miserable Sunday. It may dampen my clothes, but I wasn’t going to let it dampen my spirits.
I’d made plans with my ex-JET Programme friends to have brunch – and I still contest that 2:30PM is no longer ‘brunch’ territory, and is well-and-truly entering ‘late lunch’ territory. It was a fight that was not worth fighting, so I dropped it, and conceded that it was indeed brunch.
That still left a solid portion of the day (and all of the morning, since we were meeting after lunch, not between breakfast and lunch), I got to do a little more walking around town, including a long walk through the rain, dodging puddles and umbrellas to see the Flatiron Building – only to find out that it’s under scaffolding while they undertake repairs/renovations.
‘Brunch’ was at Dante, which was said to have won the title of ‘Best Bar in the World’ – though, I’m not sure where that accolade was from. It was busy, but thankfully my friend was prepared and had made reservations. I realised that some of my friends here I hadn’t seen in the best part of a decade. As much as I whine about the evils of Social Media®, having that connection has allowed us to keep in touch with what we’ve been doing, making that time and distance feel much less.
Anyway, Dante was pretty damn good – especially when 3PM came around and the Negroni Happy Hour started! I’d started with a good Bloody Maria, but the Mezcal Negroni was game changing for me (I have since stocked up on Campari and a good Vermouth to go with my Del Maguey Vida mezcal to make it at home).
Brunch wasn’t particularly large and we ended up being a little hungry still. We’d spied a Belgian fries shop, Pommes Frites, just up the street, so ducked in for a little more eating (and drinking). I couldn’t not get Poutine.
It was early, so, rather than go home, there was time for more cocktails (an amazing peaty Scotch/mezcal/chilli/lime mix from Up and Up), then a trip to McSorley’s Old Ale House, a simple bar with two drink choices (light/dark ale), and just as simple/basic options for food.