After leaving Boston by train, we arrived at New York’s Penn Station (I’ve only ever arrived at Grand Central and was disappointed to learn that Penn Station is nearly as grand) just after dark. Since we had our luggage with us, it was easier to grab a cab than to take the subway to our hotel, though we’re normally avid subway travelers. Yes, it’s usually dirty and noisy and it’s forever running late, and don’t even get me started on the Peruvian flute bands, but it’s usually cheaper than cabbing it and, if nothing else, the passengers make for an entertaining cast of characters.
We stayed at the Andaz Wall Street. It’s a Hyatt location and we have a Hyatt Visa, so we look for any excuse to get points. I especially love their handful of Andaz locations—we stayed at the Andaz Napa about a year ago and it was phenomenal. They’re very clean and modern and they add nice touches like greeting you with a glass of wine and a free mini bar (everything but the booze).
You might be wondering why we stayed around Wall Street and it’s not because we adore the Stock Exchange (I don’t even know the difference between a bull market and a bear market). The closer a hotel is to Times Square around New Year’s, a.) the more expensive it will be and b.) the more chaotic the environs will be. So, win-win for staying downtown.
We checked in, enjoyed a glass or three of happy hour wine, and then bundled up and headed to the subway. The Fulton Street station was close to our hotel, and it’s one of the prettiest stations I’ve ever seen. Check out the ceiling:
Whenever we go to New York, our first stop is Mamoun’s Falafel on MacDougal Street, near NYU. And this trip was no different. It’s our favorite food—cheap or otherwise—in Manhattan. To start, I had one and a half falafel sandwiches and Michael had two plus the half I couldn’t finish.
Next we went to one of our favorite haunts, the Village Lantern. They’ve got cheap drinks ($2 beers, a rarity in Manhattan) and they usually have a free comedy show in the basement. Being that it’s New York City, even a free show draws a lot of great up-and-coming talent. On this particular night we caught four or five comedians of varying talent, even the least funny of which were funny by way of the awkward silences they generated.
After the Village Lantern we stopped by Mamoun’s again so Michael could have a midnight falafel before taking the subway back to our hotel. We were wiped out from the day’s journey so we collapsed into bed immediately.
The next day was New Year’s Eve and the city was bustling. We were still pretty full from all the falafel we’d eaten the night before, so we took our time getting ready and made our way to the subway around 11 in time to find some lunch.
Michael led the way and we landed at an amazing little (very little) Italian restaurant on Madison. I wish I could remember the name of it because the food was incredible, but it escapes me! Michael had lasagna and I had the penne arrabiata (I always get arrabiata if it’s on a menu). I loved it so much that I roughly duplicated the recipe at home a few days after our trip.
After lunch we had tickets to see a matinee performance of Cabaret at the Roundabout Theatre, which was once Studio 54. I’ve seen the show at the Wyly Theater in Dallas but never on Broadway, and I’m happy to report that it was so stunning that even Michael, cowboy that he is, admitted that he enjoyed it. I was especially to see Emma Stone in the role of Sally Bowles and the legendary Alan Cumming as Emcee.
New York City travel tip: The Roundabout Theatre offers deeply discounted tickets to people ages 18 to 35 through its Hiptix program, so I was able to get our tickets for $20 each. We had nosebleed seats, but $20 for a Broadway show is almost unheard of.
The show let out around dusk and when we left, the streets in and around Midtown were filling with the ball-drop-watching crowd. We booked it to the subway as quickly as we could and went down to the Village for—you guessed it—another Mamoun’s pit stop. Several more falafels having been consumed, we stopped at a nearby wine shop to get some wine and champagne to have in our hotel room.
Back at the hotel we had some happy hour wine in the lobby and then went up to our room to clean ourselves up and relax in comfy clothes for a while. I’d made a reservation at a nearby restaurant in case we felt like having a fancy New Year’s night out, but it was so cold that the thought of putting on heels and the short sparkly green dress I’d brought for the occasion wasn’t all that appealing.
Around 10 we started to get a little restless and I decided that we could not just stay in our room and miss out on a night out in the city, regardless of how tame it ended up being.
As I mentioned before, the appeal of staying downtown is that it’s calmer and quieter than other parts of the city, at least at night. But, though we didn’t want the chaos of Times Square on New Year’s, we did want at least a little excitement, and that can be hard to find in the Financial District at night.
First we stopped by an Irish pub that had good reviews on Yelp, but we fled the scene when we saw just three or four sad souls drinking gloomily at the bar. We walked a few more blocks and ended up at another Irish pub, and though there was a decent crowd, it felt more like a Bennigan’s than the unique sort of Manhattan night spot we were hoping for.
At long last we ended up at Les Halles (made famous, in part, by Anthony Bourdain) on John Street. It worked out well because it’s one of my favorite New York restaurants, and they happened to be hosting a tame but festive New Year’s soirée.
There were just enough people to make it feel neither crowded nor lonely. The lights were dim and the restaurant was strewn with gold and white balloons and streamers for the occasion. Michael and I sat at the bar and ordered a few drinks and some French fries and mushroom-goat cheese ravioli. Champagne and French fries? I might actually choose that for my death row meal, so I was in heaven.
Just before midnight one of the waitresses came around and handed out silly New Year’s hats, and the bartender poured free glasses of champagne for everyone in the restaurant. The countdown began and we toasted 2015 with a midnight kiss. It was such a simple, serene evening, and it will undoubtedly go down as one of my all-time favorite New Year’s Eves.
After midnight we were exhausted from walking around all day, so we fell asleep relatively early. The next morning we got up as early as possible to get the most out of our last day in New York. I’d preemptively made a plan to take it easy the night before—I’ve decided I’ve reached the age when it’s more fun to have hangover-free a New Year’s Day brunch than a debauched New Year’s Eve.
Back in 2009 we spent Michael’s final semester of law school living in Brooklyn while he did an externship in Manhattan. We (and our Great Dane) had never lived in so little square footage before, but I grew to love our little Prospect Heights apartment, which was just steps from Prospect Park and the magical enclave of Park Slope. We haven’t been back there in a while so we decided to head that way for our New Year’s Day brunch (it helps that Brooklyn is quite possibly the brunch capital of the world).
Michael found a Prospect Heights restaurant on Yelp that he wanted to try, but when we got there the line was around the corner. We were pretty hungry, and we didn’t want to stand in the cold for the better part of the morning, so I suggested taking a hike over to Park Slope. The walk to 5th Avenue, home to many of Park Slope’s best restaurants, never seemed that bad when we were living there, but the six ensuing years we’ve lived back in the suburbs has made us weaklings. The trek seemed to take a fortnight, and our fingers and toes were frozen from the cold, but we eventually chanced upon a diner called Dizzy’s on 5th. The long, frigitd journey was completely worth it.
Dizzy’s was busy but we were seated right away. They have an inventive menu and huge portions, and they give you a little basket of breads to start. I got a veggie omelet and Michael got this wickedly delicious eggs benedict concoction with jalepeño hollondaise sauce. Did you read that? Jalepeño hollondaise sauce. God I miss living in New York.
After brunch we walked to the subway and headed back into the city to visit another of our favorite haunts. It’s one of the most touristy New York destinations but we love to go to the Macy’s in Herald Square whenever we’re in the city. And since it recently had a $400 million makeover, I was anxious to see what new things the store had up its elegant sleeve.
We spent an hour or so wandering through the multi-story labyrinth of shirts and neckties, ballgowns, high-end handbags, jewelry, housewares, and shoes—my God, the shoes! But the crowd was, of course, ridiculous, filled with even more tourists than usual given that it was New Year’s. So we made it out with only a few small purchases and set out to wander around a bit more.
With only a few hours left in the city, we quickly hit a few highlights.
The Empire State Building:
Times Square, to see the wreckage of the previous night:
The New York Public Library, because books:
Rockefeller Center, to see the tree before they took it down:
And Saks Fifth Avenue, so I could drool over the clothes:
After that we went to Mamoun’s again (obviously). Then we went back to our hotel room for a while with plans to go to nearby Trinity Place later on. It’s a bar/restaurant that was converted from a bank vault. But when we got there it was closed for New Year’s Day (blasphemy!), so we did the only logical thing and used our final subway rides for one last trip to Mamoun’s. In total, the two of us ate 14 falafel sandwiches over the course of our two-and-a-half days in the city. Don’t worry. I’m confident we can beat that number next time.
Funny side note: while standing outside Mamoun’s and eating our food we spotted a lonely Jeffrey Ross loitering outside a comedy club. I was able to get this picture surreptitiously because no one was talking to him and he was pretending to check his phone. Now that’s what I call comedy.
We needed to be at the airport relatively early the next morning so we spent the rest of the evening in our posh hotel room, sipping the bubbles we had left over from New Year’s Eve and dreaming about the next time we can return to the city . . .