Here’s another in a series of travelogues aimed at entertaining our friends and refreshing our recollections when memories begin to fade.
OUR NEW YORK ROOTS. Patricia and I try to go to New York every year. She was born in Brooklyn and although the family moved to Alhambra, California when she was in her early teens, the siren song of “42nd Street” continues to call her home. For my part, I was born and raised in Bakersfield, which, in my early years, could have been the model for George Lucas’ wonderful film, “American Graffiti.” Lucas is from Modesto, not far from Bakersfield in California’s Central Valley, but, about a million miles from New York. You might call Bakersfield the “Anti-Manhattan.”
A few years ago when I started researching my family history I discovered that one of my Great Grandmothers was a Newkirk, a direct descendant of the hardy Dutch who first settled in New Amsterdam around 1650. Most of the earliest Dutch immigrants were engaged in trade of one type or another, but, my ancestors were farmers. They settled in Brooklyn but joined the “Great Migration” and ended up six generations later in Missouri.
I like to brag to Patricia that my New York ancestors precede hers by a couple of hundred years. She says I can’t be a real New Yorker because I can’t pronounce “Park” or “Car.”
My first visit to New York was a 48 hour business trip in the late 70’s, and all I remembered of the experience was that the hamburger on the Club 21 menu cost
$12.00 – an amount about equal to my food budget for a week in those days.
Patricia hooked me on the place about 10 years ago and I’ve written several travelogues about our experiences. One of these days I won’t have anything new to say about New York and I’ll probably stop reporting on our annual trips.
WHAT’S NEW: The New York Times recently ran an editorial in which they coined the phrase, “the Ugly European” to describe the hoards of tourists now visiting New York (and a lot of other places in the States). Lured by the favorable exchange rate for the Euro and the Pound, they’ve come to have a good time at a fraction of what it would cost them back home. And of course, they bring their culture with them.
For example, if you’ve been to Italy you know that Italians don’t “Cue.” They don’t wait their turn in a line, but crowd around a vendor all shouting at once, so that the person who gets served first is seldom the first to arrive, but, rather, the person who shouts the loudest. So, when a group of Italian tourists arrive at a Broadway ticket line they will most likely go directly to the door and try to muscle their way in ahead of those waiting in line. They think it great sport. It’s not rude, just a different culture.
When we go to Europe we expect the people waiting on us will speak enough English so we can order lunch or find the Men’s room. Europeans expect the same. So you’ll find the person ahead of you in the registration line in your hotel speaking to the desk clerk in French, Spanish or German and expecting to be understood.
According to the Times article New Yorkers consider the British to be the most rude of traditional tourists, but they are fast being supplanted by the newly affluent Chinese.
We usually stay at the Hotel San Carlos on 50th between Lexington and 3rd Avenue, a “Businessman’s Suites Hotel” similar to Embassy Suites. This time there were few Business People, most every other guest was from Italy or Spain. English speakers were definitely in the minority.
There’s another place you’ll always hear a foreign language spoken and that’s in your Taxi Cab. New York Cab drivers of old were notorious “Chatty Kathys” who would give you their opinion on the Mayor or the Yankees whether you were interested or not.
Nearly all of today’s cab drivers are immigrants with limited English skills. Since our last trip they seem to have discovered the cell-phone head-set en mass. Now when you climb in a New York Cab your driver will be carrying on a conversation in a tongue very foreign to you, possibly in Arabic, Swahili or Korean with an unseen person who never seems to say a word. Maybe there isn’t anyone on the other end of the line. Maybe they’re dictating their memoirs. Who knows, but, non-stop chatter is what you hear.
Occasionally the driver will break off the conversation and throw a question at you in heavily accented English. Your responsibility is to listen carefully, know when you are being addressed and respond appropriately to the question, such as: “Is this it?,” “Do you want to get out here and walk the rest of the way?” or “You said you wanted to go to the United Nations building, didn’t you?” Failing to answer the question quickly and accurately can get you a lot larger fare than you anticipated not to mention a long walk.
There is one segment of English in which they’ve all become proficient – you’ll be surprised at their mastery of profanity if they think you’re “stiffing” them on a tip.
SPRINGTIME IN NEW YORK: Through sheer luck we happened to be there for their first really nice spring weekend. The temperature was in the low 70s and the sun was shining. You may remember a freak snow storm hit Manhattan in April, so New Yorkers were really excited about the nice weather.
Sunday was Mother’s Day and we planned to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It turned out the museum was mobbed with tourists and their mothers, so we decided to spend our Sunday exploring Central Park.
In front of the Museum we saw the one and only demonstration we saw during the entire week – a group of about 12 women, all dressed in pink, waved signs calling themselves “Grannies for Peace.” Only a couple of them looked old enough to be a Granny, most were college students. Nobody paid any attention to them except for a lone Television Crew recording the whole thing as if it were news.
Nearby were a couple of tall burly young men holding up signs saying, “9-11 was an inside job.” Nobody paid any attention to them either, although there are a million or so New Yorkers who might feel they were being insulted. As we walked by one of the youths offered a leaflet and Patricia waved him away. “You’re brainwashed, lady” he shouted after us.
The park was packed with New Yorkers - few tourists here. Some people simply lay partially clothed in the sun; while around them children skipped rope. Footballs and baseballs filled the air. It had been a long time since I’d seen anyone fly a kite, but there were dozens of them in the air, with many more being coaxed up by kids running full tilt.
We stopped at the little pond set aside for radio operated miniature sail boats. There must have been 25 boats on the pond each being propelled by someone in the crowd. I expected most of the operators would be children but, most were middle aged and older men, some in full yachting regalia.
In Central Park you’ll find one of the truly democratic things in New York - the Ladies Restroom line. Elegantly dressed ladies from the Upper East Side waited their turn behind “Bag Ladies” and Nannies. In line Patricia met and befriended a Black Woman from Harlem who told her that she always brought her kids to Central Park to play because she didn’t feel their neighborhood park was safe.
There were many different playgrounds with swings, slides and teeter totters filled with kids of all colors and nationalities having a wonderful time. The Petting Zoo was particularly popular as children attempted to feed the already well fed sheep and goats.
We had a wonderful time “People Watching.” One great thing about a walk in the park, it’s free, unless you buy a tee shirt or a snow cone. It’s also terrific exercise.
THESE SHOES ARE MADE FOR WALKIN’ One of the things we enjoy most about New York is the opportunity to stroll. If it’s rush hour or lunch time you’d better move at a pretty brisk pace if you don’t want to get run over by a New Yorker who knows exactly where he is going and doesn’t have much time to get there.
Walking is cheap and a good way to shed some of the calories you’ve consumed in those terrific New York Restaurants. And there are so many things to see.
Walking in a roughly 1/2 square-mile in Midtown you’ll see The Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the Palace Hotel, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, NBC and Fox News studios, the New York Public Library, Grand Central Station, Radio City Music Hall and Saks 5th Avenue.
One day we took a cab to Union Square, browsed in the open air market there, visited the original Barnes and Noble Store (4 stories of books), had a great lunch at the Union Square Café (reservations required), strolled about 6 blocks to Washington Square Park, gawked at the stately buildings of New York University and explored shops in Greenwich Village before grabbing a cab back to the hotel. We ended up on one street where all the businesses sold nothing but sex toys and on the next street over was the semi-famous “Non-Imperialist Used Book” store. We were pleased to see that “The Village” has cleaned itself up (thanks, perhaps, to Rudy G.). Remodeling and restoration was going on in every block. Then we hopped a cab back to Midtown before the late afternoon Rush Hour. It was a very entertaining and inexpensive afternoon.
For another great walk, go “Downtown” and explore Wall Street, the Site of the World Trade Center 9/11 terrorist attack, Historic St. Paul’s Church where 17th century tombstones were charred by the 9/11 blast, then on to Battery Park to catch the Ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
All this walking by New Yorkers may account for the fact that nearly every obese person you see is a tourist.
BROADWAY SHOWS: During the 5 Days and 6 nights we were in New York, we managed to attend 3 shows. All were terrific. How did we choose? We simply watched the “Tony” awards in 2006 and selected the winners.
First was “Jersey Boys,” the hit show that follows the careers of Frankie Vali and the Four Seasons. The music is, of course, sensational and the cast incredibly talented. It’s not the kind of show to which you want to take your grandchildren, if it were a movie it would be rated “R for language and adult content,” but it accurately portrays life in New Jersey in the 60s. We think you’ll love it.
The second was “The Drowsy Chaperone,” winner of the Toni for Best Musical last year. It’s a parody of the great Musicals of the 1920s, and it’s great fun. We recommend it.
Finally, we learned that Kevin Spacey was going to be appearing in a Eugene O’Neill play, “Moon for the Misbegotten” on Broadway. We’ve always been big Kevin Spacey fans, so we got tickets. The play is a downer, like everything O’Neill did, but, the acting was really spectacular. I’d never seen anything like it.
We almost missed it. Every Broadway show we’ve ever seen has started at 8 PM, so, when we got the tickets for the O’Neill play I didn’t even look at the start time. It turned out that it started at 7 PM. It was a good thing we arrived early so we only missed a few minutes. We’ll never make that mistake again.
One other lesson we’ve learned, we’re going to make Monday our travel day. Nearly all Broadway venues are “Dark” on Monday, so if we’re going for a week we’ll plan to arrive on Monday and leave the following Monday to maximize our “Showtime.”
EATING IN NEW YORK: As we’ve mentioned many times before, we love eating in New York. There are thousands of restaurants competing for the business of millions of New Yorkers most of whom “eat out” two or three times a day. Also, leasing costs are astronomical so if a restaurant isn’t terrific it will probably be out of business the next time you come to town.
In the neighborhood we stay, around the Hotel San Carlos, there were four new restaurants but two others had gone out of business since our last visit. O’Neill’s Steak House, across 50th Street from the Hotel is gone and replaced by a Tapas Bar and Night Club which seemed pretty popular. La Magenette an Italian place on Third Avenue is gone, replaced by a very busy Mexican place. The other two new restaurants were “The Mint,” an Indian place and “Ferro’s” yet another Italian place where we enjoyed the food and service.
Another of our old haunts was a disappointment. Montparnasse, a neighborhood French Restaurant on E. 51st we’ve recommended in the past has been sold to new owners who have not maintained the quality of the food or its preparation. We should have known something was amiss when only three tables were occupied on Mother’s Day. It’ll probably be gone next year.
On the “plus side” we decided before we left to make reservations at several restaurants we’ve never been able to enjoy because they require reservations so far in advance. Many fine restaurants now use “Opentable.com” to handle reservations making it super easy for visitors from out of town. Simply “google” your restaurant choice and follow the directions on their website.
CLUB 21 certainly doesn’t need my endorsement; it’s one of the finest restaurants in the world. A “Speakeasy” during Prohibition, Club 21 rates “5 Stars” from all the critics and rightly so. The dining room is only open for dinner, but the “Bar” is open for lunch. We chose to go for lunch. Menu prices were just as “Jaw Dropping” as they had been on my last visit 35 years ago, but a “Prix Fixe” Menu is available at $35 a head. Warning - it’s also one of the few places with a dress code for men, requiring a tie and jacket for dinner, or a jacket but no tie for lunch.
Patricia had Braised Lamb while I had the famous Club 21 Sandwich. The menu included salad for her and Manhattan Clam Chowder for me – Apple Tart for her and Crème Broulet for me. Later that night, after this big lunch, we shared a small pizza for dinner.
Where did the name Club 21 originate, easy, it’s located at 21 W. 52nd Street.
As we were leaving we found a half a dozen Firemen, axes in hand in the lobby and 5 fire trucks on the street outside. Someone had seen smoke coming from a nearby basement but it turned out to be a false alarm. It did allow us a closer look at the fire-trucks, each of which had a bronze memorial plaque for their “Fallen Brothers” from the 9/11 attack and each flew an American Flag. No short memories in this crowd.
As we walked a few blocks north to 57th Street we found about 30 Police Cars parked around the Trump Tower. All had their headlights on and motors running. It turned out Queen Elizabeth was in New York that day and was in the Tower, paying her respects to “The Donald,” no doubt.
PATSY’S is located on 56th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue; it’s another of New York’s traditional Italian restaurants. A favorite of Rush Limbaugh, Patsy’s walls are filled with photos of the rich and famous. We left our theater at 46th and Broadway and walked the 10 blocks to Patsy’s.
As an appetizer we had Asparagus stuffed with Mozzarella followed by Lentil Soup, then Pasta (I had Linguini with Clams), and ended with the finest Italian Cheese Cake you are ever likely to consume.
Patsy’s has a website, but doesn’t take on-line reservations, you’ll have to invest a few of your “Anytime Minutes” to call them for a reservation, but, you won’t be sorry.
THE UNION SQUARE CAFÉ: Another “5 Star” eatery where we’ve always wanted to have lunch is the Union Square Café. Located at 21 E. 16th Street, a half a block from the Square, it’s unobtrusive from the street. It turned out our waitress was originally from California, now in New York to become a “star.” I think every kid who wants to make it big on Broadway is waiting tables or tending bar somewhere on Manhattan Island.
Patricia had the Chicken Cutlet Salad and I had the Tuna Salad Sandwich (don’t laugh, it’s one of the things for which they’re famous) with homemade potato chips. The food was outstanding and the service excellent. The check was about $60 for the two of us.
OTHER MEALS: The other places we ate this trip are not the type you’d take a cab across town to visit. Most of our Breakfasts were eaten at the San Carlos Hotel’s complimentary Continental Buffet. At the New York Luncheonette on 50th St. near Lexington you will get a fast full breakfast and your eggs will always be exactly the way you specified – exactly. If you ask for “Crispy Bacon” it will be crispy - always. That’s why it’s lasted 30 years in a space which will hold at most 25 people at a time. The ambience is “50’s diner.” Oscars in the Waldorf, is always excellent, but, pricey.
We had lunch wherever we happened to be. On Mother’s day we had a corned beef sandwich at Kaplan’s Deli after Mass at St. Patrick’s, a Jewish Deli located adjacent to St. Patrick’s Gift Shop. Is this a great country or what? Kaplan’s will never replace the Carnegie Deli, but we weren’t complaining.
There’s a great “Take Out Pizza Place, “La Bellezza Pizzeria,” on 49th near 3rd Avenue where you can get a large piece of Pizza baked when you order it. None of this cooking the whole pizza in advance and popping the piece you want in a microwave. It has been here more than 20 years and sports a sign that says “Under old ownership.” You don’t get Pizza like this in California. And, they’ll deliver it to your hotel room if you’re nearby – it’s a lot cheaper than room service if you’re at the Waldorf.
As to dinner. We always have our first dinner at San Martin on 49th Street, it was superb as always. Patricia had Veal Parmagiana and I had Capellini Pomodoro. The same waiter has been waiting on us every trip for 10 years.
We also had good pasta at Ferro’s which has an extra bonus if the weather is nice, you can sit outside. For those of you who can’t stand smoke, be warned, the outdoor tables in New York are the only place a person can smoke in a restaurant, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg. Lots of folks complained about it, there are many more smokers per capita in New York than most any other American city, but they re-elected the mayor anyway.
FLYING HASSLES: No matter where you fly, you’re going to get hassled. I won’t go into the indignities and frustrations of air travel in LAX or JFK, but I will say that we try whenever possible to fly United. I know people who collect Frequent Flyer miles on multiple airlines. I’ve learned that you get the greatest benefit by sticking to one whenever possible. As a “United Executive Premier” Frequent Flyer I get to check in at the First Class window, board the plane first and I have preference for upgrading to First or Business Class. I also get bonuses on the miles I fly, paid in extra miles of course.
If you’re not flying First or Business Class you’d better plan your food in advance because a 5 or 6 hour flight without a meal is pretty uncomfortable.
IT’S OVER AT LAST: As always, we had a unique and enjoyable stay in New York. I hope you all get to go there soon.