Inside of New York City, June 2023

View from Summit One Vanderbilt, New York City, June 2023
View From Our Room, Washington Square Hotel, New York City, June 2023

As I’ve done on previous trips to other cities (particularly NYC), I’m going to take a dive into my most recent trip, which ended a week ago. As we did last summer, Urban Daughter and I stayed in the Washington Square Hotel in the west Village. We extended the trip from five days last summer to seven days this year with the theme of stretching the parts of Manhattan we experienced and to stick out toes into Brooklyn. With the extended time, we hoped it would be a relaxed visit. We succeeded in the coverage portion, but pretty much ran the whole time (about 125,000 steps in seven days). It’s a big city.

We flew Allegiant and took the train to Penn Station. And we collected a partner in the ride. Downtown’s favorite guy, Oslo Cole was on the same flight and we shared the train ride in. It was his first trip to New York City and we loved seeing his face as he walked out of the station and onto the street. We parted ways (he was staying with a friend in Brooklyn) and walked to the hotel. Once there, we dropped our bags and got small orders of falafel from Mamoun’s and she headed to “her tattoo parlor” for her second annual tattoo, while I settled into Caffee Reggio, our defacto headquarters, for my first of many cappuccinos.

Matt, Piano Tuner, Caffe Reggio, New York City, 2023
Caffe Reggio, New York City, June 2023

Here’s the truth, and it was reinforced immediately: For the most part when you travel, people are as nice to you as you are to them. Be friendly, and people are friendly. I fell into a delightful conversation for the next hour with a seventy-something piano tuner named Matt. He lives in the upper east side and told me his life story, most of which was in New York City, where he was born. His passion is a progressive radio station where he does podcasts. When he learned we were from Tennessee, he told me (matter-of-factly) he thought everyone in the south was racist and expressed surprise that we agreed on a lot of issues. It opened up a very human, honest exchange and I hope helped him question his ideas about who we are. He gave me his card and CDs and we parted pleasantly.

Mamoun’s Falafel, New York City, June 2023
Buvette, New York City, June 2023

We had dinner at Buvette (recommended by a romance novel in which my daughter indulged herself). We enjoyed the French restaurant and ate there several times, ultimately agreeing that we loved the breakfast/brunch menu the best. After dinner we crossed Manhattan to Grand Central Station, which she had never seen, before moving next door to Summit One Vanderbilt where on the 91st to 93rd floor the art installation “Air” invites a very cool immersive experience, while offering stunning views of the city.

View from Summit One Vanderbilt, New York City, June 2023
View of Bryant Park From Summit One Vanderbilt, New York City, June 2023
Air Art Installation at Summit One Vanderbilt, New York City, June 2023
Air Art Installation at Summit One Vanderbilt, New York City, June 2023

Windows faces out in every direction and mirrors cover the floor and ceiling. It’s disorienting and exhilarating. One level, clouds appear on a screen with the participants faces embedded, sculptures and more await. It ends on the rooftop bar with views of the city lights coming on. It’s the kind of exhibition I’d love to see more of in Knoxville. We stopped in at the Kimberly Hotel rooftop for a bite and a drink and then ended the first evening at Caffee Reggio.

Rooftop Bar at the Kimberly Hotel, New York City, June 2023
Mosque at Night, East Midtown, New York City, June 2023

As a part of stretching our experience of Manhattan, on Tuesday we took a cruise around the city via a 1920s style yacht for a three hour narration by a member of the American Institute of Architects. Of course we saw the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc., but most interesting, to me, was learning how the city is thinking about climate change in their structures. He indicated no one is giving up ocean-front property, but Hurricane Sandy, which flooded many parts of the city, really caught their attention. In some cases buildings are starting further off the ground, others have designed their lobbies to handle a flood with little damage, emergency generators have been moved from basements to rooftops where they are protected from flooding.

Architectural Boat Tour, New York City, June 2023
Chelsea Hotel, New York City, June 2023
Chelsea Hotel, New York City, June 2023
John Mellencamp, Beacon Theatre, New York City, June 2023
John Mellencamp, Beacon Theatre, New York City, June 2023

We stopped into the bar at the Chelsea Hotel, which is the subject of the current book I’m reading. So much history there, you can feel the ghosts. We had dinner at the Tavern on the Green and loved the environment, but thought the food leaned toward average. Still, it’s an experience we’ve wanted. From there we walked to the Beacon Theatre. We first went there for a Dylan concert in 2018, saw Ringo Starr there last year, and this year’s bill was John Mellencamp. After a weird start (footage from old movies for twenty minutes) and despite strange stage design (mannequins scattered about), it was a great show. We ended the night back at home base (Reggio).

Smoke Covering the Sky, New York City, June 2023
Parade, Broadway, New York City, June 2023
Parade, Broadway, New York City, June 2023

Wednesday was Broadway day, but I started with a game of chess against Marty, the guy I met on the square last summer. Same guy, same table. We caught up a bit and it was fun. It was also the day that the smoke from the Canadian wildfires really settled into the city. It started the evening before and was sudden, but Wednesday was the worst as the day went. The official advice was for no one to go outdoors. Even healthy people. In a sort of reverse from COVID-19, probably 25% or more of the city was masked outside, while pulling the masks off once they were inside. Even with high-quality masks, our throats and eyes burned. It was better by Thursday.

Urban Daughter picked Parade for our matinee, really wanting to see Ben Platt. He was great, as was the entire cast, but it was a heavy, heavy topic. It tells the true story of a Georgia lynching of a Jewish man from New York City. It was, powerful, provocative, and depressing. I also thought about my conversation with Matt as we watched the racism of the south on stage. We had to lighten up. We ate Pizza at John’s (always good) and saw an evening performance (my selection) of New York, New York, an adaptation of the 1970s film. It has gotten mixed reviews, but like Parade got a number of Tony nominations (they each won one). I’d scored first-row seats and we looked down into the orchestra pit, which was very cool and when the cast emerged from the pit at the end, they were practically on top of us.

Met Cloisters, New York City, June 2023
Smoke Jazz Club, New York City, June 2023

Thursday we got an early start, taking the one train to the Met Cloisters which is about as far north as you can go in Manhattan without bumping into the Bronx. The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses their medieval collection there, with numerous works dating to the end of the first millennia. Largely endowed by the Rockefellers, the collection is the best I’ve seen outside of Europe. The building looks like a castle and actually includes portions of one inside. We left there for Harlem (where we’d never been) and had a misadventure that turned into the best thing about the whole trip. It gets its own article.

We ended the day with dinner and a show at Smoke Jazz Club on the upper west side. We got there a little early and they hadn’t opened, but a guy who was sitting outside (and we chatted up a bit) said he’d stick his head in and get us a drink while we waited, if we liked.  He brought our drinks to the howls of a nearby waiter who said, “He never serves anybody!” It was the owner. The food was great (salmon made just the way is should be) and out seats abutted the stage. As in, I could have patted Orrin Evans on the back from my seat as he debuted material from his brand-new album, The Red Door. It was a magical night of Jazz in a great listening room.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City, June 2023
Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, June 2023

Friday we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn. It’s a beautiful structure and worth the experience. We had brunch in Brooklyn before walking to the Brooklyn Museum. We found a Picasso exhibit and dove in. We had no idea what we were getting into.  It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby offers a critical look at Picasso’s work through a feminist lens, and has stirred quite a bit of controversy since opening earlier this month. While I didn’t necessarily agree with everything I heard or saw, it offered a challenge I’ll keep with me when I view his works in the future. And isn’t that what an exhibition should do?

We’d intended to spend the evening in Brooklyn, but we’d changed our plans – more on that in the subsequent article.

Saturday was all about American History (except that we awoke to an Indian Festival on the Square, which was cool). Urban Daughter has taken a deep dive into American History, reading the major biographies of the founding fathers, Hamilton, and the Hemings family (slaves of Jefferson, including his long-term lover, Sally — who he also owned). While there are very few NYC remnants of the colonial or revolutionary era, there are a few. We saw Trinity Church, Hamilton’s grave, the site of Jefferson’s Home (the room where it happened, for Hamilton fans), and we toured the museum and ate at Fraunces Tavern, where (in a room you can see), George Washington said goodbye to his troops.

Fraunces Tavern, Site of George Washington’s Farewell to His Generals, New York City, June 2023
The Oculus, New York City, June 2023
Inside The Oculus, New York City, June 2023

Since we were in the area for the history portion of the trip, we stopped in to see the Bull of Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, and Fearless Girl. We walked right past her at first. On the walk home through SoHo, we bumped into a stunning building that turned out to be the Oculus at the World Trade Center. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more extraordinary building. We also visited the 9/11 Memorial, which is quite sobering. We ended the day enjoying the music and crowds on Washington Square. Beautiful.

Sunday was flexible, and that turned out to be a great thing: We learned that it was Puerto Rico Day in the city and the parade ran along Fifth Avenue. We booked it up there and had a great time with the colorful parade amidst all the Puerto Rican flags. There were lots of pleas for statehood and, I think, some others for independence from the U.S. We loved the first hour, we hung on through the second hour, and we started walking out during the third hour.

Puerto Rican Parade, New York City, June 2023
Puerto Rican Parade, New York City, June 2023
Puerto Rican Parade, New York City, June 2023
Puerto Rican Parade, New York City, June 2023
Puerto Rican Parade, Fifth Avenue, New York City, June 2023

We grabbed lunch at a Pret off Bryant Park we’ve eaten at before, and walked to the J.P. Morgan Library and Museum. This was another literary tie-in, which turned out to be a theme we didn’t see coming. Urban Daughter just read a book (a fictionalized true story) about the librarian, who was bi-racial, but passing, and became one of the most successful antique book collectors in the world – using J.P. Morgan’s money. The library, connected to his opulent home on Madison Avenue, is as amazing as you might expect, or more so. Just a couple of examples of what is there: Three Gutenberg Bibles. About 180 were printed. Of those 48 or 49 (disputed) still exist. My favorite, however, was a hand-printed chess instruction book, in French from around 1300 AD.

Chess Instruction Book (circa 1300) J.P. Morgan Library and Museum, New York City, June 2023
The Perfect Cannoli, Monte’s, West Village, New York City, June 2023

Our time was over and we walked back to the Village. We lingered in Washington Square before eating our final meal at Monte’s on McDougal Street. At 105 years old, it is just older than Caffe Reggio. We had a wonderful meal, good wine, topped with a perfect cannoli. We had a final cappuccino at Reggio and ended our week.

As a final word, I would like to say the city feels more “normal” than it has since the pandemic. Store fronts seem to be opening in formerly empty spaces. Some of the worst looking sheds on the street are disappearing. There continue to be struggles for the city and lots of empty office space has to be reckoned with, but it feels hopeful, at least to my limited perception. It was another great trip to the city I love.

But the best story happened in Harlem. I’ll have that next. In the meantime here are many more images. Enjoy.

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