Monday the 28th of May began for me at around 5am local time as Circadian rhythms launched me involuntarily into the New York madrugada. Unable to rest, I tramped around for a while, picking up two coffees and a cinnamon bagel on Second Avenue before pestering the OH to get up for an equally early second breakfast at the New York Luncheonette of enough ham, eggs, hash browns and toast to fuel an epic day.
We set off walking the four blocks to Times Square to collect our 48 hour passes on the Hop-on Hop-off Grayline bus. We planned to do the Downtown loop today and the Uptown loop the next day. It was Memorial day, the traffic was very light and the bus made good progress so we actually managed twice around the circuit. With limited time we have no qualms in taking an obvious tourist option.
This excellent open top bus with it’s Korean lady tour guide ( took a bit of tuning in ! ) took us from Times Square past Madison Square Gardens, Macy’s, the Empire State Building, the Flat Iron building, Washington square, then it headed off into Greenwich Village and then across back down Broadway to the financial centre. There we passed the strange Municipal hall which to me looked like a building from the fifties Eastern Bloc in contrast to the nearby beautiful Woolworth building , once the tallest in the world. On to the financial district and the charging bull at the bowling green and the deserted canyon of Wall street.
It is Memorial day so we make quick progress through light traffic and reach Battery Park in good time. The bus begins its northward journey through Manhattan past yet more skyscrapers and then inland into the lower East Side where the constant waves of immigrants changed their complexion and gods every few years. The Chinese themselves are now Fujianese rather than Cantonese, (Fujian , a province in China many westerners would never have heard of, has a population of over 38 million . More than Poland, Canada or Australia. ) This is Chinatown and we get off at the heart of this area where so many of the tired, hungry, huddled masses began their lives in the USA. Once a predominantly Jewish area , it is now an extension of Chinatown and we feel like we are back in Hong Kong.
On Eldridge street we seek out the Museum housed in a synagogue which is the first major house of worship built by Eastern European Jews in North America. It is surrounded now by Chinese businesses and appears to be closed but a rabbi arrives to conduct a service and helps us gain entry. We spend an interesting half hour before leaving to pass through the streets noting the gradual gentrification around Ludlow and Orchard streets to aspirational cafés, shops and hotels , the epitome of BoHo New York loft living. Soon we reach our goal , the legendary Katz’s Deli on East Houston Street, famous for that scene in When Harry Met Sally. Despite the early hour, we share a gargantuan pastrami sandwich and some pickles. Rye bread with around two inches of solid but moist meat slices, what’s not to like?
We head back to pick up our bus on First avenue, travelling northwards until the bus reaches the southern boundary of Central Park and brings us back to our start point at Times Square. We stay on, now making for Greenwich village and our plan to eat reputedly the best burger in New York at the Corner Bistro on West 4th Street.
We get off at Sixth Avenue and West Eighth street and spend a few minutes in the green oasis that is the Jefferson Market Garden where volunteers maintain a beautiful oasis of green full of European shrubs, roses and perennials in the middle of the city. We press on the Corner Bistro and enjoy a fantastic cheeseburger and fries in a back booth in this characterful bar. rarely have we eaten better burgers at such reasonable prices. We continue to meander through the West Village soaking up the atmosphere and the heat before almost collapsing in Washington Park where the famous chess games seem to be coming second to a somewhat colourful and animated discussion between two Afro-Americans. It’s like a soundtrack from a NWA CD. We were not entirely sure if it wasn’t a put up job for the tourists as the traded insults never really reached the expected physical confrontation.
We left the park heading south into Soho along Macdougall street pausing at an old Italian café, Cafe Reggio for a drink and a break from the heat. Eventually we found the bus again for a few stops down to the Ground Zero Memorial to meet our friends with the entry tickets
Ground Zero – a place of souls in torment or a fitting tribute to the thousands of innocents? The two memorials based on the exact footprint of the towers are so impressive you could not fail to be moved (or perhaps not as some people gathered for team photos as if were some bank holiday picnic!)
The scale of the memorial was at once both surprising and appropriate, we filed around in silence each lost in their own thoughts. All around new buildings arose symbolising the resilience of the American people and possibly the best response to this barbaric act committed by mad fanatics with their medieval view of the this world. Exhausted now spiritually and physically, we took a taxi ride back to our hotel to recuperate for a busy evening.
At around 7.30 four of us took a cab over to Hell’s Kitchen alighting at the Pony Bar on 45th street and 10th Avenue which offered no less than 22 American craft beers and a short but tasty menu of reasonably priced and interesting bar food. Revived by such delights as Turkey & Black Bean Chili and a Veal meatball sandwich with tomato sauce and cheese, we found our second wind and next called at Rudy’s bar and grill before our visit to the famous New York jazz venue Birdland. Rudy’s was excellent worth a blog post on it’s own. With various beers starting at $2.50 a pint, free hot dogs and a great juke box we had found the ultimate real life New York Bar. it is reputed that Frank Sinatra used to meet Ava Gardner here and, more recently, Drew Barrymore used to sneak in and drink under-age. The place was full of character and characters with navy caps and army bulled boots much in evidence as their owners celebrated Memorial day. All that was missing was the fight scene from the film , The Last Detail.
Our evening finished with our visit to Birdland. We had booked tickets for a well known Monday night event known as Jim Caruso’s Cast Party. Monday night is traditionally Broadway’s night off and apparently many performers head down to Birdland to take part in an open mic session. The club itself was everyone’s vision of a New York Jazz club with tables with low lights surrounding a stage. Out came the house band of piano, double bass and drums, setting the bar at a very high level that continued all night. The performers on the night are detailed here in this link. This was easily the best £13 I have ever spent on entertainment and we were royally entertained over the next 2 to 3 hours by a host of performers including cabaret singers, jazz singers, virtuoso musicians, a comedian (Greer Barnes) and a finalist from American Idol, Joshua Ledet, which for me, was like listening to a new Otis Redding !
We were still awake as we passed through the lights of Times Square in our last cab. That was some busy day! And tomorrow we can do it all again …Uptown.