Just like in DC I’ve got a full itinerary, planned to maximise our time in the city, with a number of activities booked in advance. New York is a great city to walk around, but with my father approaching his 79th birthday, Uber is going to be our friend too this weekend.
Bryant Park and a Walk up Sixth Avenue
Out hotel is located on 39th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, a couple of blocks away from Bryant Park. I was here last time in January when the weather was bitter and icicles hung off the fountain. This morning the weather is glorious, and at least yet, the heat not quite as oppressive as it was in DC.
From Bryant Park we walk up 6th Avenue. The road is closed to traffic today, with stalls being set up on either side selling a mix of souvenirs, phone cases and the like. Some of the stalls are selling street food, and the vendors are beginning to roast cobs of corn, and slice mangos and water melons.
We turn right along 50th Street, to the entrance to the Top of the Rock observation deck.
Top of the Rock
Top of the Rock is the observation deck at the summit of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Whilst it’s 200 feet lower than the observation deck on the 86th floor of the Empire State building, it offers a panoramic view downtown including that building and One World Trade Centre.
It also offers views uptown toward and beyond Central Park.
We stay for a while, first of all walking around and admiring the views from all sides, and then sitting side by side for 15 minutes or so and looking downtown towards the Empire State, basking in the warmth; life is good.
Grand Central Station
Descending from Top of the Rock, there are a number of local sights to take in. The first one is Grand Central Station. Opened in 1907, it now serves as a commuter terminal servicing the northern areas of the New York metropolis.
New York Public Library
For some reason I’ve never been in the New York Public Library before. Perhaps the draw of a beer and people watching in the adjacent Bryant Park have been too strong on previous visits. This time I’m determined to take it in, and despite the murmurs of protest about thirst and restroom from my travel companions, we subtlety meander west, toward the place I have planned for lunch.
The main building spans two blocks on fifth avenue, between 40th and 42nd street, with its entrance bestrode by Lions. The interior is ornate…and cool, providing a respite from the heat.
We walk around the building for a while, eventually making our way to the splendour of the main reading room on the third floor.
A Google search a few months before the trip for “best pizza new York”, had thrown up Capizzi’s in midtown on 10th Street as a strong contender. A twenty minute walk from Bryant Park and the New York Library, and it was a tap-in to the Saturday itinerary.
We arrive 10 minutes before opening; I was slightly worried there might be a long queue given its cult status on the internet and its no-reservation policy. As it happens there is just one other group waiting. The food turns out to be delicious, the reviews well deserved.
Food eaten, time to load up the Uber App and get a ride downtown
Statue of Liberty
There are a number of different Statue of Liberty visits possible. From the Staten Island Ferry or the New York Water Taxi, you can get a view from the water. From the Statue of Liberty Ferry company you can land on the island and walk around, and if you book in advance visit the pedestal or climb up into Lady Liberty’s Crown.
This was planned well in advance, the Crown was possible. But there’s no elevator to the crown and thoughtful to my father’s, age, settle on the pedestal. Unfortunately when we arrive, even to the pedestal, there’s only one tiny elevator up, and numerous Americans who look perfectly capable of the 190 steps are queuing. We wait for 20 minutes, but after little queue movement tentatively take the stairs.
We make it to the top of the base. The weather is glorious, the skies blue, the view of Lady Liberty unique.
After some photos head back to the ferry. I’d hoped we could visit Ellis Island, the conduit island for many early immigrants, but this time, time is not on our side, so we take the ferry back to Manhattan. The weather is sweltering; after the ferry, it’s a welcome air conditioned Uber back to our hotel in midtown.
Birdland Jazz Club
For Saturday evening I’ve booked a live Jazz show at a midtown club called Birdland – the Freddy Cole Quartet are playing. Walking from our hotel to the Club, the first suggestion that something’s not quite right is at a traffic intersection; it’s gridlocked and all the traffic lights are out. Looking at the buildings, lights are out there too. Later we found out that there’s been a huge power cut affecting large parts of Manhattan.
We get to the club expecting the performance to be cancelled, but we’re allowed in. The club is dark, with only candles on each table providing light. Freddy Cole has been trapped in his hotel room – elevators are out – but his son Lionel is here, as is the rest of the band. Our money is refunded, but despite this, the show must go on, and they put on a truly atmospheric and memorable performance.
The power has been restored to Manhattan when we leave the club, so the concern about having to climb 32 flights of stairs to our rooms abates.
Day two in New York is focused on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Brooklyn. I’ve booked a “Hard Times” tour at the Tenement Museum to get a feel for how some of the early European immigrants who helped build this city lived.
Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside the two tenements we visit, learning about the lives and daily struggles of the German and Italian immigrants who came here for a better life over a century ago.
Peter Luger’s Steakhouse
Not many restaurants can fill up their reservation book 6 weeks in advance, insist on cash only payment and yet take your credit card details to bill you in case of a no-show, but Peter Luger’s steakhouse in Brooklyn is one. According to some its the finest steakhouse in New York, and having visited Keens on 36th (excellent!) last time I took my father here, Peter Luger’s deserved a visit.
We arrive at about 12:25 with a 12:45 reservation, and people are already queuing outside. I figure it’s eager customers without reservations trying to bag one of the limited number of walk up spots, but they segregate lines just before doors open, and almost everyone in line is queuing for their reservation.
Bacon for starter and a huge prime rib for three for main course; the taste is excellent, up there with Keen’s and some of the very best steaks I’ve had in London. Our waiter turns out to be a Mancunian who grew up about 30 miles from me, and judging by his appearance, of a similar age. He’s quite a character, berating me for not eating the fat off such high quality bacon, and joking about how his trips home to visit his mother happen to coincide with the Manchester Derby.
After a long-ish lunch we take an Uber to Brooklyn Bridge Park, an area which affords spectacular views of the Lower Manhattan Skyline. It’s now early afternoon, the sky blue and the sun is baking Brooklyn.
We think long and hard before venturing onto Brooklyn Bridge in this weather, but decide we can’t pass up on the experience and take it slow and easy. Sitting down at a bench just past the Brooklyn side, a Estonian school teacher strikes up conversation and tells us how she brought her family to the US for a better life. This is something that would almost never happen London.
Fueled by two litres of water, the Manhattan Skyline views, and with a flight five hours away but getting closer, we make it over the bridge and order an Uber on Chambers Street, back to our hotel to collect our bags and then onwards to JFK for the return leg.