We took a trip to New York, because it’s one of my favourite places in the world. I have been a regular visitor since the 80s, and my first trip was enough to get me hooked. My brother worked for a budget airline that had one old 747 that flew from Prestwick to Newark and back. I got family rates, so it cost me 40 quid return to New York. A friend from uni had a flat (apartment) in Soho I could stay in, and I couldn’t have asked for a better location.
In those days Soho was a run down, ex-commercial area, with old semi-abandoned warehouses hosting artists workshops and stores. It had obviously seen better days, but there was a lot going on. Nowadays Soho is full of designer shops, the sort of place my son once bought a 200 dollar baseball cap from. (don’t get me started). It’s still a good place to hang out, but more for the excellent restaurant scene these days. As a result, we took a trip to Brooklyn, in search of that slightly less polished New York of old.
It turned out to be an excellent choice. Although Brooklyn is quite smart these days, it’s got more character than lower Manhattan currently has. We got off the subway at Court Street, and took a walk down Montague Street. It’s lovely brownstone street, with cafes and restaurants (including the cat cafe, if that’s your thing), so we stopped for a glass of lunch.
But let’s start at the beginning. I had a BA 2 for 1 voucher that was about to expire, and with the short notice we were limited in our options. New york was an obvious choice – lots of availability, and weather is not bad in September.
I managed to get a return in Business, out from LHR to Newark, and back via Gatwick from JFK, starting and ending at our local airport, Glasgow. We had a short stop at LHR, so we visited our good friends at Gordon Ramsay Plane Food. It’s one of the best options for food and drink in Terminal 5, even if you do have lounge access.
A fine martini later, and we boarded to find we had Club Suite, the better option on BA long haul business class. Individual suites with closing doors, with the middle two seats separated by a sliding door. The other option on BA is a terrible ‘ying and yang’ configuration, where alternate seats face in opposite dirrections. This makes sense for the airline, as the capacity is maximised, but it’s a terrible option for the customer, as you are stepping over your neighbour’s legs to get to the aisle.
The flight was pleasant, and before long we were in the enormous queue for immigration at Newark.
I ordered an Uber to our hotel, and that is where the fun started. The car was what I believe the Americans call a ‘compact’ – big enough for luggage, but not big enough to be comfortable. I opened Google maps to check the duration of the route, and that’s when things started to get interesting. Our driver missed the first major turn, confirmed by the Uber app. He then proceeded to miss several others, perform dangerous merges into traffic, and took a call where he complained about having to go to Manhattan late at night. To be fair, it wouldn’t have taken him so long if he had followed the route and didn’t take us on our exciting tour of dangerous looking New Jersey derelict businesses.
We arrived at the hotel eventually, tired and annoyed. The Conrad Downtown is a very pleasant hotel, and the night clerk checked us in very quickly and efficiently. It’s an all suite hotel, so the room was large enough. We had requested an upgrade to a river view room – something we could have as a Hilton Gold member – but none were available. They did however offer to move us the following day, an offer we were happy to take.
Time to explore the area, as we hadn’t spent much time this far downtown. The Conrad is a couple of blocks from the World Trade Centre site, so that seemed a good place to begin. We had a look around at the memorials, and headed north towards Chinatown. It doesn’t matter where you walk in Manhattan, you’re always near something interesting to look at, be it green spaces, or street sculpture. We ended up at Canal street, and wandered East to see the traditional dodgy replica shops.
Sidenote – the first time I took Elaine to New York, she was very excited about replica handbags, and we went to Canal Street for a look. we came up from the subway, and very unusually, the first shops we came to were closed, and shuttered. It was a Saturday morning, and the place should have been busy.
As we walked along the street, we noticed that the shops were open further down, and there seemed to be a lot of activity. Elaine headed off, and I followed up, noticing a lot of U-Haul trucks lining the road. as I got nearer, I noticed that many of the people milling around had big jackets on with words like ‘Police’ and ‘Customs’ written on them. Unfortunately Elaine hadn’t spotted this, and was pushing her way through demanding to see handbags, while the shopkeepers were ignoring her and looking extremely shifty. She figured it eventually.
Next to Chinatown is Little Italy, and we happened to have arrived during the Festival of San Genarro. The streets were lined with food carts and decorations. Here’s one of our favourite NYC tubers explaining all about it.
There are some excellent food carts. I particularly like the Cannolis, and of course pizza is readily available. Little Italy is always worth a visit, but the energy levels jump a few levels during the festival. Worth a visit if you are in town in September.
We jumped on the subway and headed for Brooklyn.
We got off the subway at Borough Hall station, and then walked down Montague Street towards the river. There are a number of good restaurants on this street, so we stopped for a lunch (wine) break. We had the antipasto sharing plate and a very nice Gavi by Monterotondo.
After lunch we continued down Montague Street, passing the Cat Cafe (not for me thanks) until we reached Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which I highly recommend. It’s a pleasant park by the river on it’s own, but as it also has the best views of downtown Manhattan it’s a must-do.
Walking along the promenade you pass apartments with possibly the best views in New York – I believe that some of these are the most expensive real-estate in the US, even more costly than most upscale Manhattan apartments
We made our way back to the subway and headed back to the hotel for pre-dinner drinks. We wanted to try the hotel rooftop bar, which has a speciality drink – wine with an alcoholic ice lolly in it. It’s an interesting idea, but in practice you end up with a dirty looking glass of wine as the lolly melts. The view, however, is excellent – looking over the Hudson with views down to the Statue of Liberty. The weather was warm and sunny, just ideal for a rooftop bar.
Time now to head uptown as I have work to do. We headed for Columbus Circle and into the shopping mall – this has some high-end restaurants on the 4th floor, including Porterhouse steak house, our location for the evening.
We arrived at a very busy Porterhouse, and introduced ourselves – we had been told to ask for the manager by name by a mutual contact, and sure enough, he found us two seats at the bar. Its a busy bar, and seems to be populated by locals, given that everyone seemed to know each other and the bar staff.
I ordered a martini – that’s the work part – and got a very competent Hendricks martini just as I like it – very dry and very cold, three olives. Elaine had a very nice Chardonnay, and to keep it classy we had an order of chips. We didn’t stay for steaks, but from the ambience and the service I would recommend this place. We’ll try the food next time.
Back at the hotel, we got the news that our room change had been completed, and we now had a room with a Hudson view. everything had been taken care of by the hotel, and it was a pleasant surprise to return to.
Friday morning, and we had work to do. Our large Brics suitcase had lost a wheel on a previous trip, and it turned out to be easier to take our case to be repaired in NYC than it was to pack it and send it for repair in England. I had found a Brics repair specialist in mid-town, and conformed that they could repair by email before we left. We headed to midtown on the subway (empty suitcases are extremely easy to move around) and found the repair shop easily enough. We dropped the case off and headed for breakfast.
We found a place called The Harold, selected for its fine reviews on Google, and settled down for some grub. Elaine had a huge eggs Benedict with all the trimmings, while I went for the pancakes and bacon – I was on holiday, so it’s perfectly acceptable for an elderly man. We washed this down with tea, coffee, and the freshest of fresh orange.
We wandered the area, and I graciously allowed Elaine to stand outside Macy’s for pictures – much cheaper than letting her go in and shop. we then returned to Modern Leather Goods to pick up our case, which was expertly repaired. Thanks to Tony and co, highly recommended if you need any repairs.
We went back to the hotel to drop the case, and then wandered over to the nearby ferry stop, where we picked up a ferry back up to midtown. The ferries around Manhattan are one of the few bargains to be had in NYC – 4 bucks gets you a water based tour of the island (don’t bother with the over-priced Circle line – it’s too expensive and too long, and spends too much time in places you don’t want to see).
As we had some time to kill, we wandered around the area, and in particular Brookfield Place and the marina. Some amazing boats are parked up there, well worth a wander, and of course there are refreshments and outdoor seating. Keeping an eye on the time, we headed back to the pier and jumped on our ferry.
We jumped off at Pier 78, which is around 39th Street, and wandered South East to pick up the High Line walkway, an excellent free activity in NYC. We wandered all the way down to 15th street and dropped in to Chelsea Market (highly recommended) for a drink and snacks. If you don’t know the market, it’s full of excellent small shops and a huge variety of food and drink outlets.
Suitably refreshed, we wandered over to the river and Little Island, a man-made island gifted to the city by some multi-millionaire, and built on concrete crocus-like legs – it’s a lot nicer than it sounds. Its a lovely place to spend a couple of hours, with winding paths and interesting activities and art installations. The views are of course superb.
We continued to wander south towards Greenwich Village, just enjoying the neighbourhoods and occasionally stopping for refreshments. We eventually reached Bleecker Street Pizza, which is one of many pizzerias that claims to have the best pizza in NY. It was, of course superb, and very reasonably priced. Miniature bottles of wine were also available.
We continued South along Bleecker Street, stopping for the most expensive ice-cream cone I have ever bought, from a specialist chocolate store called Venci. I am told it was delicious. We continued along Bleecker as is bends its way across 6th Avenue, and into the familiar territory of SoHo. More refreshments at some of our favourite bars, and as it was now dark, we hopped an Uber back to the hotel.
Final day in New York, and the weather had turned. We wanted to get a gift for our son back up at Canal Street, so we braved the wind and rain and headed back up to Chinatown to do some final shopping. I’m normally pretty good at directions, but for some reason we managed to get completely lost in the huge maze of interconnecting tunnels that allow travel between most of the subway lines as they converge around lower Manhattan. We ended up heading South on the J train, which only goes one stop before it’s the end of the line.
As we got off the emptying train, I saw a lady come out of an office and decided to ask her the best way to get to the Northbound J platform. She told us to get back on the train – she was about to drive the train through the ‘graveyard’ and onto the Northbound track – apparently it’s a special treat to get to stay on the train through the graveyard. We thanked her and got back into our carriage.
After an uneventful graveyard trip, we took the train for 3 stops back to Canal street and concluded our business. We headed back to the WTC mall on the subway, and as we wandred the enormous mall, we realised that the WTC mall and the Brookfield mall – opposite our hotel entrance – were interconnected by more passageways. We could have gotten to Canal Street and back without suffering the weather if we had known!
It was now time to head to JFK for the flight home. we took an Uber, which thankfully was a lot more direct and uneventful than the arrival cab. security at JFK was quiet and we soon arrived at the Greenwich lounge, BA and AA’s shared business class lounge. This is a well appointed lounge, with a number of areas, including a beer tasting room, and has hot food and free flowing drinks.
If you make your way to the right when entering and keep going, you will find the Bridge Bar, which seems to be a lot quieter and has a fully stocked bar, not self service, but quiet enough that there is little or no waiting.