Been there, done that, but have you really? Traveling back to your hometown doesn’t have to mean visiting all the touristy sights you’ve already experienced. There’s another layer to every city; an underbelly of interesting, sometimes magical destinations that are there for the taking, but only if you are aware of them.
So, with a desire to rekindle some great memories and see something new, Mr. Wiz* and I set out to spend a couple of days in good old NYC.
Prices have skyrocketed in New York hotels, so when we noticed the Arlo Hotel Midtown, a four- star hotel, was offering a 40% room discount on hotels.com if you booked your 2023 room reservation by Dec. 1, 2022, we jumped at the chance. Before jumping too high, I researched a bit further and found out the discount was being offered at all their hotels, which made me feel more secure.
Located on 38th street and ninth Avenue, its central location suits us perfectly. While rooms are on the small side, they are nicely designed and oh, so peaceful and quiet. The lobby area, with its multiple sitting areas and alcoves, including a glass topped atrium, gives off a very cool vibe. Unfortunately, the rooftop terrace was not yet open for the season. We are given vouchers for tea and coffee at their café, saving $4 per cup each day and offered a once daily 20% discount at their bar or restaurant. The staff is very courteous, or maybe it’s the English accents that they all seem to have.
Not wanting to waste a minute, our first stop is the West Village, a charming neighborhood in lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. With its 19th century townhouses, cobblestone streets and flowers blooming everywhere, it’s easy to forget you’re in NYC. After a bite at Fairfax Tavern, a small French Bistro, we peruse the area and head back uptown.
Grand Central Terminal houses the iconic Grand Central Oyster Bar, but what most people don’t know is that if you walk toward the restaurant, stand near the domed arches, put your ear against the tiles and take turns speaking in the softest voice, it is also a whispering gallery. And if that’s not clandestine enough for you, how about a cocktail at The Campbell Bar? The private office and reception hall of financier John W. Campbell, now, a bar and event space, celebrates 1920s opulence with its 25-foot hand painted ceilings, majestic furniture and a grand fireplace. For a lovely, peaceful end to the day, we head to the New York Public Library, with its impressive architecture and interesting free exhibits, and then for a stroll through Bryant Park.
First thing in the morning, we’re off to the Nederland Theater box office to secure two tickets to that evening’s performance of “Shucked.” If you are able to narrow down your choice to one show, it is much easier to go directly to the box office, rather than standing on the long lines at the TKTS ticket booth at Broadway and 47thStreet. Be sure to check the theater’s seating chart and choose a few seating options before arriving.
Choosing a show, then purchasing a $4.95 access code on NYTIX to use for discounted tickets seems simple enough. Unfortunately, after multiple attempts, the code did not work on Ticketmaster and I sympathized with those young girls with no Taylor Swift tickets crying into their computers. It did work perfectly well at the box office. We saved the extra handling service charge and secured $130 seats for $69 each.
Thank goodness area residents convinced the City of New York to save the historic elevated rail line. The High Line is a refreshing touch of nature and art and a great way to walk to Hudson Yards, our next stop. A brand-new neighborhood, boasting 14 acres of public plazas and gardens, this chic area has revitalized the area between 10th and 12th Avenues from west 30th to west 34th streets.
The Vessel is the area’s focal point. With interconnecting flights of stairs and multiple landings, the large gleaming sculpture serves as visual eye candy, treating the observer to views of the city from various spaces and offering different perspectives. The Shed, an entertainment venue, is able to adapt itself to its ever-changing calendar of events. After a stroll through The Shops at Hudson Yards, an elegant indoor mall, we’re ready for lunch and the main reason we are here.
We’ve followed Chef Jose Andres since he worked his magic on food that resembled science experiments at the restaurant, el Bulli in Spain (now closed). When he came to the rescue of hurricane victims, first in Puerto Rico and then all over the world, by setting up World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit devoted to feeding victims of natural disasters, he won our hearts. So, we just had to visit his new endeavor Mercado Little Spain Food Hall. If you’ve ever been to an Eataly, this is the Spanish version, selling both food and merchandise. What makes this more impressive are the large signs explaining how to pronounce the names of Jose’s favorite foods along with explanations of what they are; very unintimidating for any gringos. We “yum” our way through Fabada, a bean and Spanish sausage stew, while we enjoy the restaurant’s music and energy.
Walking back uptown, we have just enough time to freshen up and enjoy a glass of wine in one of the lobby seating areas before heading to dinner. It’s good to be back at Victor’s Café, an old family favorite. With its colorful art, white tablecloths, elegant, tropical feel and Cuban music playing softly in the background, it brings back wonderful memories.
We hardly need to look at the menu and both agree instantly on Lechón Asado, roast suckling pig served with yucca (a root vegetable) and Moros (a combination of black beans and rice). Since this is one of the few restaurants we’ve encountered that actually uses real saffron (one of the most expensive spices in the world, it’s made from the dried stigmas of a crocus; a little goes a long way), we also can’t resist the Paella De Mariscos, saffron infused rice with shellfish.
To me, the excitement of Broadway starts with everyone on the streets rushing to their respective theaters and ends with the doors all reopening to let the throngs back out on to the street. In between, we swoon over the talented cast, the singing and dancing and how Shucked keeps us chuckling until they take their final bow.
As we head back to our hotel on foot, NYC is just getting started for the night, but after 10 miles of galivanting today, I am happy to cuddle up in our quiet room and fall asleep with visions of my hometown, still as exciting as ever, still dancing in my head.
Photo courtesy of Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
*Who’s who? “Cast of Characters on the “About” page.
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