10 ways to make the best of this vibrant city, once you are through with the Empire State building, Times Square and other iconic sites
IT is not hard to fill a book with favourite New York moments. Suggestions fly thick and fast, when I announce my trip to Manhattan. Thanks to the role of the iconic cityscape in popular culture, the usual suspects are Sex and the City. And the inevitable reference to The Seven Year Itch, starring Marilyn Monroe and a subway grate. But there are gems too. The Farmer’s Market at Union Square from luxury travel writer Fiona Caulfield, is one. As is lunch at the homey and seasonal Gramercy Tavern, “an oldie but a goldie” she rightly says. A school friend recommends Eataly, a big slice of Italy in Flatiron District. A colleague insists I visit Geminola in West Village; she knows my weakness for vintage frocks. And yet another co-worker, a millennial, suggests I keep my camera ready for the phenomenon called Manhattanhenge. As seen on CSI:NY seven years ago, it occurs in summer, when New Yorkers stop traffic, whip out their phones and record the sunset aligning with the streets on the Manhattan grid. So let’s get counting.
#1 On day one, I hop on to the red TCM classic film tour bus, a good way to get an insider’s view of movie locations and parts of NYC you wouldn’t usually see. Cinephiles – think classic rom-com, When Harry Met Sally fans – and charming elderly tourists from the UK make up the rest of the group. We pose by the brownstone from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, contemplate Monroe’s subway grate, and argue over memories from Ghostbusters (which unlike the 2016 remake shot in Boston is New York all the way). Movie clips help refresh foggy brains, as do frequent coffee stops. Fortunately, the bus is equipped for any kind of
#2 All this movie talk can work up an appetite, so a lunch break at Eataly, Chef Mario Batali’s huge Italian food market, is recommended. Be warned, you will be carting a lot of cheese (over 400 types are sold here) and fresh and dried Italian produce back to the hotel. After you have sampled the Neapolitan pizza or the Prosciutto di Parma or grilled ribeye or littleneck clams or whatever your Italian heart desires at the many stalls or restaurants here, grab an espresso and head out for another tour. Details: eataly.com
#3 Get a lay of the land, so to speak, with a fashion walk on Fifth Avenue. The Fashion Window tour conducted by WindowsWear begins at Macy’s Herald Square and ends at Barney’s. Be it Lord & Taylor, the oldest luxury department store in the US or Dolce & Gabbana and Tiffany’s, our guide, well-informed and chipper, fills us in on trivia, fashion magazine commentary, the ocassional quiz and keeps us on our toes. A nifty set of earphones ensure you don’t get lost even when you start fantasising about the Gucci sheath in the Bergdorf Goodman window. Details: windowswear.com
#4 You can’t be in New York and resist the many cultural and entertainment options. Since tickets to Broadway’s blockbuster, Hamilton, a hip-hop musical about America’s founding fathers, are still elusive, we head to the Metropolitan Opera for the late film director Anthony Minghella’s production of Madama Butterfly. Movable shoji screens, women in colourful kimonos and a life-size Bunraku puppet heighten the impact created by the powerful voice of Kristine Opolais. The Latvian soprano, in the title role, does justice to Puccini’s lush score. The romantic tragedy about a young Japanese geisha who falls in love and marries a visiting American naval officer, and who ends her life when he rejects her for another, is heartrending.
#5 The next day is devoted to museums. To begin with, a solo show of French artist Edgar Degas underway at the Museum of Modern Art. A genius from over a century ago, Degas’ monotypes, a hybrid of drawing and printing, are in abundance at the museum, all titled A Strange New Beauty. There are his famous ballet dancers on stage, nude women attending to their personal needs in the privacy of their rooms, and entertainers, mostly singers. Degas’ experiments are still delightful, many years on, and liberating. Of course, no trip to MOMA is complete without a visit to the gift shop, with bright and original art experiments for adults and children and quirky stationery. Details: moma.org
#6 With an appetite for more, we get tickets to the postmodern spectacle from Buenos Aires, Fuerza Bruta the next day. Acrobatics, high volume music and strong wind machines go to make the show. Imagine acts of daring, with a white-suited man on a treadmill, doomed to be shot, and flexible women frolicking in an overhead pool. There is audience interaction as the pool is lowered and within our reach; and the drums build to a frenzy of furious energy. Since this is New York and the night ends only when you want it to, we make plans. Hanging out with a friend from college, it appears, also makes one nostalgic and we sneak into a rock concert next door for old times’ sake – Norwegian hard rockers, Kvelertak, are at it, in masks with gnarly horns, performing in their native tonge. We learn later that the lyrics explore sci-fi fantasies and a famed witch burning. Thanks to heavy riffs and frontman Hjelvik’s persuasive growl, no one’s complaining. Details: newyorkcitytheatre.com
#7 All that headbanging begs nourishment and we head to Beauty & Essex, a bar and restaurant in disguise in Lower East Side. Operating behind a fully functioning pawn shop, it serves up buttery roasted bone marrow with rioja braised shallot marmalade, a sight for sore eyes, with a respectable wine list. beautyandessex.com
#8 All good things must end with a tub of Van Leeuwen. The artisan ice ceam brand is made in Brooklyn and the salted caramel and macha flavour I order is creamy and luscious. It is so good, that on walking back to our car, only to find it has been towed (illegal parking), we Uber it to NYPD tow pound, pay the fine, and take selfies too, all in a cheery cream-fuelled haze.
Craft beer is booming in New York, and the brick-walled Brooklyn Brewery is a good example of how the beer brewing process is being shared with fans. Incidentally, the founder, Steve Hindy, was introduced to homebrewing when stationed in the Middle East as a war correspondent. A tasting tour at the Williamsburg staple includes tokens for beer, and a presentation that is as hipster as the place and its bartenders. Expect to see New Yorkers making a picnic of it, with kids in tow, young couples, and birthday groups. The tour can include visits to Brooklyn bars and pizzerias. Details:urbanoyster.com
The spice route
The High Line urban park, formerly an elevated train track, is a great place to unwind in summer, when you need a break from Times Square’s lights and billboards. Look out for a friendly group of stargazers, who will teach you a thing or two about the night skies. On Tuesday nights through October, dusk to 8.30 pm. Later, drop by the lavishly decorated Buddakan in the meatpacking district for dinner. Or Spice Market, recommended for its curried duck and quick service. One Asian restaurant that is creating a buzz , even among non-Indians, is Chef Manish Mehrotra’s Indian Accent, serving inventive pan Indian treats like duck chettinad
and foie gras on idli. indianaccent.com
By Rosella Stephen
The writer was invited by NYC & Company.