After a 12.5 hour bus ride from Toronto to New York – which left on time but still ended up being 1.5 hour late due to ‘traffic’ and ‘going through customs’, which I am sure would not be different from any other time – I finally arrived at 9th Avenue in New York at 9:30pm.
I raced twenty minutes on the subway to check in to the hostel, dump my bags and straighten my hair (naturally). Another twenty minute subway ride later I was able to meet my good Australian friend Leonard at Jake’s Dilemma, the pub the hostel people had gone to down south on Amsterdam Avenue.
Leonard was pleased to see me and after a few drinks and some mingling with fellow Australians and New Zealanders led me to a rooftop bar he and our temporarily-in-America friend had gone to on Saturday night and which he had loved. It was indeed swanky and warm red blankets were provided for the cool ‘Fall’ night air, but Leonard was disappointed that on this Monday night it was significantly less busy than on the Saturday.
Leonard got caught up talking to some people from whom he found a nearby blanket so I found some others nearby to ask for directions to another bar I was seeking. They too were Australian (naturally) so knew no better than I; but after chatting for a while all five of us ended up heading in a limousine that was parked in the street and randomly looking for custom (don’t look at me, Perth mining money!) to a terribly dodgy dive bar called the Iron Horse that had good reviews on Yelp.com. Turns out it must only be good on weekends because it was rather empty on a Monday night and we got some very incredulous stares when we arrived out front and stepped out of our limousine.
At this ridiculously dodgy small dive bar / saloon with the stereotypical one or two random men hovering around inside, the outgoing bartendress poured us all a round of mixed drinks which were so much more mix than drink we could barely – and I don’t think did – get them down. For example, my vodka and diet coke was basically clear to look at. A game of pool to some fun jukebox music later we got into a regular taxi and headed to the Avenue: a club that one of our number (Perth mining money) had Googled.
This proved to me a more accurate choice for a Monday: the loud and happening club near the Meatpackers District (club district) had a queue outside the front, and although I could have gotten in without issue, the men were refused unless they spent $200 at the bar. This was a tad rich as it was about 3:10am. Instead we (Leonard had joined us at this point) grabbed a taxi to the Australians’ apartment and had some food from a takeaway joint nearby before Leonard and I taxid back to our hostel.
Next morning I slept in heartily. WIFI wasn’t working for me so I got ready and went down to leave and find food. As I walked out of the hostel I fortuitously saw Leonard out of the corner of my eye, so the two of us went out together. I was feeling strangely unhungry (probably all the fried chicken from the night before) so we went straight to Times Square to find a present for another friend and/or half price tickets to a Broadway show that night.
On the subway we were treated to some excellent buskers – this was to temper all the times I later took the subway and had to ignore beggars. Two tickets to that night’s 7pm showing of ‘Cinderella’ (Leonard’s choice!) later, we found a nearby diner to grab lunch: mine was a giant meatball parmigiana open ‘hero’ (sandwich). We then found the NBA store on 6th Avenue and purchased a Miami Heat jersey for our friend.
After checking out the outside of the Rockefeller Centre and the NBC and Lego stores, we figured it was time to wander back to the hostel – after grabbing a requisite giant salty pretzel for a food store – before getting ready to head to our show.
We got there in time for me to grab a pulled pork Pie Face pie (“all the way from Byron Bay, Australia!” – except for the pulled pork part) and Leonard to get a hamburger from a nearby street food cart before the show.
I sipped a Glass Slipper cocktail while watching the naturally well done and pleasantly entertaining Rogers and Hamerstein musical (of which I’d never heard). We recognised some famous faces in the cast. Leonard was enamoured with it, but having seen too many excellent musicals my expectations were probably too high.
After the show it was not yet 9:30pm so we went to a nearby Applebees bar and grill chain (the biggest Applebees in the world!”) and had a drink each and shared a massive and delicious Sample Appetizer Platter – complete with typically American jalapeño poppers, chips and spinach dip, spicy chicken wings and chicken quesadillas. We then headed back to the hostel to have just missed the crew from the hostel who were heading to another pub. After dumping our things we headed there ourselves on the subway.
I was darkly amused to note that the choice of pub was not due to its awesomeness in New York but due to it being another location of the venue from the previous night (same company). I was also a little uninterested to spend my time in New York socialising with Australians (as they basically all were). Consequently, after Leonard left with some people to find a famous Speakeasy in the East Village I left to head to the club – Avenue – we had not been able to get into the previous night, but which was allegedly the place to go out on a Monday or Tuesday.
Not terribly surprisingly, I only had to hover next to the bouncers for a couple of seconds before one came over and asked me how many there was of me (you know what I mean) before letting me straight in, past the group of waiting men and the women with them. Feeling a little guilty but secretly delighted, I purchased a hilariously expensive sparkling wine before sitting down to absorb the atmosphere.
Unfortunately after about one minute it became apparent that this was a strobe light club. My instant resultant nausea, and the fact that it was too loud to try and make conversation with anyone anyway (not sure how everyone was achieving this!) I wandered over to the very nearby Meatpackers District.
I quickly passed a well-lit and not too loud bar at the bottom of the Standard Hotel and made some conversation with some local students before they went home. I had spied the very dodgy dive bar I had been to a year ago and went in there. It was indeed dodgy, but had quite a few enthusiastic drinkers inside. I then ended up dropping back into The Avenue (because I could) on the way back to the hostel, and here I met a studio musician from Harlem who informed me of all the places I should visit while in New York – especially in Harlem.
The next day I went to find the Soul (Southern American) food joint called The Pink Teacup that the Harlem musician had told me was the best in his opinion. Unfortunately it had closed down, so I went to a nearby taqueria and had authentic Mexican instead. Well, I assume it was authentic because people were speaking Spanish inside and the sign outside referred to its mention in the New York Times.
My giant steak burrito later, I decided to sightsee all the way from the West Village to the East Village via Greenwich Village on foot, which I promptly did. On the way I passed again through Washington Square Garden, saw NYU, Bleecker Street, and so on.
A hearty hostel nap later I got ready, grabbed a slice of pizza from Broadway Pizza nearby before heading to East Village where I intended to find that prohibition-era style Speakeasy Leonard had been to the previous night (‘Please Don’t Tell’). I found it, dialled the phone in the hot dog place that was its entrance and was greeted by the concierge who opened a secret door and took my name for a 30-40 minute waiting list.
Shrugging, I wandered away to find a bar in which to have a drink while I waited and immediately passed a little joint that had a live three piece Latin band playing. After enjoying this for about half an hour I found another packed bar with a cool vibe. After over an hour with no phone call from the Speakeasy, I started to walk towards Greenvich Village where I had read there was a good club on a Wednesday – Le Poisson Rouge.
On the way I passed some people going into a blues bar. I went in and enjoyed a drink and some no doubt high quality blues before realising blues aren’t really my thing and leaving to head on toward Le Poisson Rouge. At the door, the smiling, good looking bouncer asked if I was here for the free party or Miami Horror. “Er, Miami Horror?” I said, surprised. “That’s pretty cool!” I paid my $20 and was thrilled to find a packed club room enjoying Miami Horror, the Australian electronic music group of which I am a fan and happened to have already seen live at a music festival.
In this venue I met some people from Queens who afterwards took me to a swanky rooftop bar therein with an amazing view of New York. However, it was pretty quiet, as it was Wednesday.
The next day I slept in again then headed to Sylvia’s, another popular Soul food place in Harlem that had been recommended to me. I ate some delicious wings / ribs with sides of macaroni cheese and ‘collared greens’, as well as some accompanying ‘bread’ which was basically warm cake. I had meant to sightsee in Harlem but I didn’t immediately see anything that interesting to observe (without a tour guide) so instead headed to 34th and Washington Square, where there was a huge underground network of stations and shops that is interesting to see (as recommended to me by the Harlem musician).
I exited toward the giant and packed Macy’s department store and went in there, eventually finding a very-difficult-to-locate restroom. Which reminds me, I had the same issue in Canada too. It seems Australians like to populate their shopping centres with many bathrooms – and so they should.
I then walked along 34th street and saw the Empire State Building in one direction and Madison Square Garden in the other, before jumping on the subway toward SoHo – another cool area to the south. I walked along in SoHo for a while, passing the actor who played Mr Medina in Gilmore girls (significantly older and more haggard looking), who looked right at me as I passed.
A few more parks and photos later I went back towards the hostel to find the awesome deli from which I had purchased multiple turkey burgers over a year before, and which I figured was nearby. By finding the other hostel I had stayed at and retracing my steps, I finally found it, bought my turkey burger and ate it in the darkening light of Central Park. Of course – although the weather had the whole time felt balmy, summery and all sorts of more unseasonably amazing than had been the humid and stifling weather of the previous July when I was there – it was actually no longer summer.
After yet another nap I rose, meaning to join the hostel pub crawl at 9pm. But after hovering in the foyer with the other Australians I changed my mind and hot-footed it out of there to find the Village Vanguard – a famous and recommended jazz club. I found it, but the next show didn’t start until 10:30 and it was only 9:40. I walked on to Smalls – another recommended one – and got straight in: the show had just started. I enjoyed this high quality jazz for about an hour – although I do prefer a singer.
After this hour I headed to the Meatpackers District. Having looked up a few well-reviewed clubs I was unsure which one to go to but soon passed LeBain – of which I had read and which turned out be the ‘rooftop of the Standard’, of which which I had also heard and thought was the actual name of the club on the top of the Standard Hotel. Although I didn’t have an ‘invitation’, as a woman by myself I went straight in.
The view from the club was spectacular – over the city and the Hudson river. The drinks were very pricey, and not helped by my spilling one as soon as I bought it when I foolishly put it down on the carpeted floor. There was also a small heated swimming pool on the lower level! It was still fairly quiet at the time though, so I headed out to look for somewhere else to go first.
I found a slice of pizza and a hot dog and looked at some other bars (the one called Cielo clearly needed a ticket for some DJ show) before deciding to head back to the Rooftop, which I had noticed was filling up as I left. Sure enough the place was now packed with beautiful people and playing some good music. I figured out before long that most of the ridiculously good looking and well-groomed men were gay. When I commented on this to a friendly local he simply said ‘this is New York!’
Eventually I sought a change of scenery so headed to the Giansevoort – another venue on the top of another hotel, but not as high – to which I had been the previous year. Here I met three friendly locals and we eventually went on to another small bar before I had to call it a night: early bus back to Toronto the next morning – or the same morning, really…
I noted that this time of year was actually the ideal to visit New York: apart from the perfect weather (unlike the stifling humidity of July), the place was actually populated with locals instead of tourists! I didn’t worry about what I didn’t do or see this time because I am certain I will be back, only without the crushing desire to move there that hit me when I first visited but has definitely abated after living in the not-so-dissimilar Toronto.