New York City 2016: a whirlwind spring weekend in Manhattan. A reunion with long lost friends, riding the Staten Island Ferry, seeing the sights, good food, drinks, and dancing.
All of the three times I’ve been to New York City have been quick, whirlwind trips not lasting longer than a weekend, and this trip was no different. This trip was a bit spontaneous, as some long lost friends of mine planned a quick reunion in New York City where our mutual friend Keith lives.
In high school I was an AFS exchange student in Denmark for a year, and while on exchange made some very fast and close friendships with other exchange students in the program from all over the world. With the exception of my good friend Keith, most of us have not seen each other since we parted ways 18 years ago.
Our friend Busi from South Africa was in the states and kicked off the reunion in New York City idea, and when three other friends joined in, I decided I had to go. I was able to stay with Keith in Brooklyn, which helped with expenses (and was a lot more fun than a hotel). Our primary focus was hanging out with each other, but we were able to get out and experience a little of what the Big Apple has to offer.
I arrived at 8:00 AM on a very uncomfortable Delta red eye night flight from Seattle, with the tiniest seats, most constricted leg room, and a screaming baby and toddler two rows behind me.
Slightly delirious and ecstatic to exit the plane, I found my way to the air train to Jamaica Station. (The air train goes to two destinations and alternate stops at the terminals. Be sure you get on the one you want). Upon arrival at Jamaica Station, you buy a metro card at the machines when you exit the train. The Sky Train costs $5.00, and subway fare is $2.75 per trip. A new metro card is $1.00. Once you have your card with enough funds to exit the station to the subway trains ($8.75 for a new card), you can swipe it to go through the turnstile and head to the trains.
I found the J train towards Brooklyn/Manhattan, and in about 45 minutes made it to Keith’s apartment. I crashed out for a few hours while he was at work.
Once refreshed, it was time to meet up with my friends, who were all arriving in early afternoon. I’ve used the New York City subway before, but not by myself. I found it to be extremely easy with Google Maps app on my phone. Just put in the destination, choose the public transportation option, and calculate your route from your current location. Had I not had a smart phone, it probably would have been significantly more challenging.
It took about an hour to get to the Times Square Marriott where most of my friends were staying (there are two Times Square Marriott hotels, by the way, I found that out the hard way). Once we all met up and caught up a bit, I was starving. I wasn’t the only one, so we walked a ways and ended up at the Martinique Cafe in Greeley Square. It was pretty late afternoon, so they had lots of tables available. The lunch menu was pretty average, with burgers, salads, pizzas, and pasta and everyone was able to find something they liked. I had the salmon BLT which was good.
When we finished lunch it was already 5:00, and we wanted to squeeze one touristy thing in that day so we subway towards downtown to see the 9/11 Memorial.
The 9/11 Memorial is comprised of two fountains in the original locations of the Twin Towers. The square fountains are in the footprints of the original towers, with water running down the sides and into a smaller square hole in the middle. Around the edges of the fountains are names of people lost that day. Many trees are planted around the fountains.
The 9/11 Memorial website states that its design “conveys a spirit of hope and renewal,” but that’s not the feeling I got from it. While the trees around it could symbolize renewal and growth, the main focus is two giant black holes with water disappearing to small drain-like holes in the middle. It looked more like two big, black, sad fountains of death with water (often seen as a symbol of life) going down the drain. I suppose that isn’t exactly inappropriate considering the tragedy that the fountains are a relic of, but if the intention was to give a spirit of hope, I think that they missed the mark a little bit.
Design interpretations aside, it was a sobering spectacle seeing the footprints of the towers and remembering the news footage from that day. I can only imagine what it was like to be there at that time.
It was getting late, and Keith was off work. We took the subway uptown to the East Village to meet up with him for a drink.
We found Keith at the Boiler Room, a very dark gay dive bar in the East Village. There wasn’t much light or anywhere to sit, so we decided to move on in search of a good place to have drinks and catch up.
We walked around the corner to the Fish Bar at 237 E 5th St, which had a nice perfect-sized table for all six of us in the corner. The Fish Bar is tiny, and they don’t serve fish, just drinks. There is a fish theme, however.
There is a big fish mural on the wall, colored lights and hanging lanterns around the bar. It’s casual, ambient, and a fun little spot to have some beers and talk.
The East Village is probably my favorite part of Manhattan that I’ve seen so far. There are lots of funky little bars and restaurants, all oozing with character and ambiance.
After several rounds of beers and lots of catching up and reminiscing, it was getting later and time to find some food. We made our way down 2nd Ave and stumbled upon a little tapas restaurant called Bar Virage. They didn’t have enough seating inside, but it was a weirdly warm night for March so we decided to eat al fresco on the sidewalk tables.
The small-plate tapas were perfect, so those of us still semi-full from lunch could get a small bite, and those who were hungry could order a bit more. I had the chicken shwarma sandwich with a side salad, and it was delicious.
We called it a night at 11:00, so that we would have energy for some sightseeing the next day.
Keith had to go hunting for a new apartment that day, so we made breakfast together and then parted ways. I took the J train from Brooklyn down to the end of the line at Broad Street to meet up with everyone else at the Staten Island ferry terminal. When I exited the subway, I found myself right in front of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street.
We had decided we wanted to be tourists and see the Statue of Liberty, and Keith suggested taking the Staten Island ferry instead of the Statue of Liberty boat. The Staten Island ferry is free, and the Statue of Liberty cruise costs around $18-$21 depending on if you want to climb up to the crown or just stand on the island and look up at Lady Liberty. As I was walking through Battery Park towards the Staten Island ferry terminal, I saw a gigantic line winding through the park to get tickets and another gigantic line to get on the boat. No thanks.
If you aren’t hell bent on going up in the crown or seeing the Statue of Liberty up close and personal, you can get a great view including the Manhattan skyline from the Staten Island ferry, which departs every half hour on the half hour. And it’s FREE.
When we got on the Staten Island ferry, it was clear that everyone else seemed to have the same idea we did. Getting a spot on the outdoor viewing deck on the right side of the boat to see the Statue of Liberty is at a premium. We were able to get a spot.
You do get a pretty great view of the Statue of Liberty. Not super close up, but good enough for us. The view of Manhattan in the background is great as well.
The ferry ride took 30 minutes. You can’t stay on the boat and ride back, you have to exit. Most people seemed to exit and try to get right back on, but we’d never been to Staten Island and were hungry for lunch, so we thought we’d walk around a bit and find a bite to eat.
Staten Island isn’t really set up like a typical touristy island, so there wasn’t a whole lot to see right near the ferry. A couple restaurants were even closed and open only for dinner. We ended up at Steiny’s Pub on Hyatt St. The food was average, and the homemade chips were greasy, but it was a nice little place to hang out with a friendly bartender.
On the ferry back to Manhattan, I was able to get a couple good shots of the passing ferry going the opposite direction from the main level front of the boat. There weren’t as many people on the main level, everyone seemed to want to be on the upper decks.
My friends staying in Times Square wanted to go back to their room to change before we went out to dinner, so we headed back to their hotel to charge phones, chill, and let them change clothes. But first, obligatory cheesy Times Square mini Statue of Liberty tourist pics.
Keith texted us to meet him at Nurse Bettie, a bar on the Lower East Side. Nurse Bettie was a tiny and adorable little bar with a pin-up/burlesque theme to it and a surly bartender playing 80’s goth hits.
After happy hour at Nurse Bettie, we ventured out in search of sustenance. Finding a table for a group of 6 on a Saturday night at 7:00 without a long wait was most likely going to be a tall order, but we got lucky down the street at Sauce, an Italian restaurant where another group of 6 was just finishing up.
Sauce had nice ambiance, and good service. I had the arugula salad with a simple dressing of salt, olive oil, and lemon with some thin sheets of parmesan cheese laid flat on top, and the porcini mushroom raviolis with truffle oil and brown butter sauce (a special that night). Both were delicious. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their meals as well, although my friend Ginger said the chicken parmesan was a little mediocre.
After dinner, we went out in search of another spot for drinks. We wandered uptown and into the karaoke bar Sing Sing on Avenue A, deciding to see what the people at the bar were singing. There wasn’t much singing going on at the bar, mostly in the private karaoke rooms for rent. After my friend Kevin stood at the bar for close to 8 minutes waiting for service and kept getting ignored (it wasn’t even that busy), we decided to move on.
Just a half block down from Sing Sing we came upon the Pyramid Club, which Keith was trying to steer us towards. Pyramid Club is all 80’s, all the time. It was early, but people were starting to trickle in. There was a very random mix of people dancing to some very eclectic 80’s new wave on the main floor, with another dance floor downstairs playing techno. We had no problem getting drinks from the friendly bartender, and danced the night away. As it got later and more packed, the music get less eclectic and the DJ started busting out all the hits. I wound up with a pair of bunny ears. By 1:00 AM, we were exhausted from bustin’ moves to “Billie Jean” and “It’s Raining Men,” and belting out lyrics with the crowd to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” It was a cheesy good time.
It was all too short of a visit and it was time for me to go home on Sunday. Keith and I slept in a bit and then had breakfast at Little Skips, a hipster coffee shop near his apartment in Brooklyn. He had a grilled cheese sandwich and I had a burly “Philly Bagel” sandwich with lox, tomato, avocado, and cream cheese. It kept me full all morning and afternoon.
I flew back on a 2:00 PM direct flight to Seattle on Jet Blue, which is now my favorite airline. If Jet Blue flies to New York from your city, I highly recommend it. So much better than the cramped Delta flight I had on the way over.
There is so much more of New York City I want to see. I left this trip feeling like a pro at the New York City subway system, which I’m pretty happy about. Paddy and I are hoping to get back there next year on the way to Europe. Stay tuned for more of our adventures.