Before this trip I would tell someone, "I'm going to New York City for a few days. I've never been, so I'm really looking forward to it (or some variation on this dialogue)." And almost every time the response was, "You've never been? You?!" And, honestly, when you look at my traveling track record, my line of work and just me in general, it is pretty astounding that I had yet to travel at least once to the Big Apple.
So about a week ago, I packed a duffle, hopped on a plane and met Sarah (a good friend I met on the way to the airport from a com expo in February of this year) in LaGuardia on a Tuesday morning, hopped in a yellow taxi (another first) and hopped out on the sidewalk in front of her friend's apartment in Brooklyn. We stayed in Brooklyn both nights we were in the city, near Prospect Park, which turned out to be the best possible location for our excursion. We covered a lot of ground in two and a half days, and Sarah, a NYC regular (of sorts) said the trip was her best yet to the city, which is saying something considering how we scrambled to get to as many neighborhoods and find as many local gems as possible.
Okay. So we were obviously hungry after our flights so we quickly dropped our stuff in Brooklyn and made our way to the Shake Shack near the top of Central Park. I'll admit, one of my favorite movies lately is Something Borrowed, and I was hoping to make a stop here while in NYC. Check. We then proceeded to mosey on through a little bit of CP, but since we didn't have much time for a tour, we didn't dally too long. We did meet a Chinese man playing a Erhu while on our stroll and he was eager to tell us all about how his instrument was made, and I never wanted so much as right then to be able to speak another language!
DC is one of my favorite cities, and I feel like the metro there was a little bit of a primer for the subway in New York. Sarah and I were a bit surprised by how well we were able to navigate the trains while in the city. In a comedy show we saw on Wednesday (trying not to get too ahead of myself) there were several jokes regarding locals and the train verses tourists and the train (anchor leg, looking both ways regardless of where you are going, etc.). We headed though Times Square and I had to stop myself from looking like a shoobie. But cut me some slack. Everything was so tall! Finally heeding the call for caffeine, we stopped at Stumptown Coffee Roasters for a cup, and had to stand because of the crowd: makes sense. Delicious.
One of the things I wanted to make sure I saw while in the city was the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Tuesday evenings are free, so after circling the incredible memorial for almost half an hour and hanging out by the marina, we were able to go inside. I have never been so affected by a museum before. If you only have one night in New York and you haven't seen this yet, this better be your new plan of action. So much thought went into every detail, I wish I had had time to appreciate each one.
A friend that I met during my internship at Elevation is now a project manager at the West Elm corporate office in NYC. She lives in Brooklyn, so in lieu of just heading back to the apartment, we met Margo in Dumbo and had glorious tacos at Gran Eléctrica. I had a couple fantastic carnitas tacos: cilantro town. The extensive "bebidas" menu hosted several delicious looking margaritas, and the outdoor seating was to die for. The weather was perfect, so sitting outside made for the greatest dinner for our first night, and a perfect time to catch up and say goodbye to friends all at once. There really isn't much better than rejoicing in God's goodness and provision over chips and guac.
On Wednesday, to my everlasting shame, I left my Canon at the apartment. Some random part of me said, "You don't want to lug that thing around with you all day. Your iPhone is just as good." Yeah, sure, it's good. But it's definitely not the same. Regardless, we did some amazing things on Wednesday and there's proof.
We began the day looking for Scratchbread, but upon discovering that it was closed, we Yelp'd our way to Lunita's, the most adorable and intimate Argentinean café. Eggs any way you'd like–sandwiches, omelets (my personal favorite) and what not. It's not every day you find a place with a good iced espresso, Lunita's gave Café Strudel a run for their money. The space was light and bright, and the owners were precious. Sarah made quick friends with the barista, Diego, due to the fabulous tunes they were playing, and the elusive trifecta (outlets, free wifi and clean bathrooms).
Walking through Williamsburg, we happened upon a smattering of great places. A few were stores I cannot for the life of me remember, but here are a couple highlights.
Mast Brothers Chocolate, where I've never been so indecisive with sweets in my life. It's one thing when I can't choose between a York and a Kit Kat at the grocery store; this is a whole 'nother beast. I ended up finally (after walking around the room holding at least five bars) choosing the Papua New Guinea bar, with smoky and bacon-y tasting notes. Well worth the seven Washingtons, especially considering we pulled them out to eat at East River State Park gazing at the city across the river. Check.
Brooklyn Art Library, where I was introduced to the Sketchbook Project. I promptly understood that a friend of mine (mentioned later) did a little freelance for this org, and realized the stellar quality of the project as well as the sheer number of books they have in the library. It's truly amazing.
We subway'd over to Broadway to visit Strand Bookstore. If you know me at all, you know it's incredibly difficult to get me out of a bookstore, and that I see them and must enter. Instead of most tourist-y things, I would rather visit bookstores (used or otherwise) and food and drink establishments. Strand was no disappointment. The place is enormous, and the selection and collections are extremely impressive. First editions, gold foil on everything. Just imagine.
Afterwards, we had a fantastic Yelp-review-worthy (the customer service rep even messaged me back!) lunch at Beecher's Handmade Cheese. Mac & soup, to be exact. The red lentil I could eat every day and never grow weary of. At this lunch, I located a nearby tattoo shop for Sarah, and we spent the extra time waiting for an appointment sitting in Café Grumpy enjoying more caffeine jitters and a chocolate chip chai scone. See resulting tattoo below in Thursday's photos (again: not my arm, my skin is still smarting from my last zip).
After the dramatics of Sarah's first tattoo, we rushed over to the High Line Park to meet up with one of my aforementioned friends, Ashley, a designer who lives in the city. She's been there almost a year, which is crazy to us, since in December the studio I worked for in Columbia was finishing up a job from her firm down the street. Crazy. Sarah and I had reservations for the Comedy Cellar that evening, so the plan was to head to the Spotted Pig for dinner, where another friend would join us. Crowded as all get out, we left the Pig and settled on Mirch Masala for some crash course Indian (even though this was my first time in New York, I feel that Sarah had just as many–if not more–firsts than I did on this trip).
While I was packing for this week, I continually checked the weather like a madwoman. Sunny skies, 75 degrees. Basically perfection. When we woke up to rain on Wednesday, I was in a little bit of a panic. Ain't no way I was leaving my camera behind this time, and I had no umbrella, jacket, hood or anything. I had a t-shirt. Basically perfection. So I braved it.
Our first stop was Levain Bakery, a small little French-esque bakery with $4 cookies. Yes, you read that correctly. But I will tell you this: they are worth every penny. All four hundred pennies. Most delicious cookie I have ever tasted. Around the corner was Housing Works Thrift Store, which aims to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through advocacy and other services. These stores are wonderful. Great stuff, great prices, and a good cause. Plus we found an umbrella here for seven dollars. Then we played and listened to steel drums while waiting on the subway (I take no responsibility for the condition of my hair or the state of my facial expressions in the subsequent photographs).
The night before Ashley had recommended McNally Jackson Books and she really hit the nail on the head. This place was wallpapered with book pages, lit with book lamps, and had two stories of notebooks, cards, paperbacks and periodicals. I could have stayed there for ever. There was a café as well, so I really could have. We left the bookstore, stumbled upon a lovely little boutique: Brooklyn Industries and got lost in overpriced hipster layers for a bit before heading across the Brooklyn Bridge. After meeting people from three countries and hearing at least seven different languages, we got to the other side. Wandering seemed fit to waste some more time before our afternoon flights.
For a first timer, I feel that I squeezed just about as much New York as I could out of less than 52 hours. I was mistaken as a local three times, and though I'm still not (completely) convinced I could become one, I am very much looking forward to a round two. New York, I like you.