That was on my first day in Manhattan, stood on Lexington Avenue facing the Waldorf Astoria hotel and with a nice view of the Art Deco Chrysler Building if I craned my neck and looked downtown.
I hadn’t realised that apart from Central Park and pockets of open space like the Rockefeller Plaza and the steps of the New York Public Library, Manhattan was … shady. NYC is still seen as the capital of the western world, if not the whole world, and it’s partly because of its mammoth, manmade skyline. OK the tallest buildings on earth might be elsewhere (the Burf Khalifa etc) yet only New York has the clout to pull its commanding presence off.
A couple of days later, I could appreciate that just as I’d get no work done in a Mediterranean country, New York’s peculiar atmosphere of sun and shade motivates everyone to get great things done. Everyday. Then have a bike ride and picnic in the park on the weekend.
I was pretty thankful for downtown Manhattan and Williamsburg, then – sprawling but both much more manageable, much more European. My favourite few hours of my four day trip were spent walking the High Line from the Meatpacking District, getting chocolate orange ice creams in Chelsea Market, walking aimlessly through Greenwich Village, visiting the Earth Room on Wooster Street, Soho and sipping a glass of wine in the sun.
I also ticked plenty of cliched New York activities off my to-do list. Spotting stereotypes was one (kids playing baseball, a yellow school bus, dog walkers, suits with cigars, Park Avenue princesses, an acapella group rehearsing in Washington Square Park). Hunting down movie and TV locations was another – I walked along Bleecker Street which is where Woody Allen goes to watch old movies in Crimes and Misdemeanors, sat by the lake in Central Park and watched the joggers and yes, even thought of Gossip Girl as I reached the “steps of the Met”.
There weren’t too many celeb spottings though – I left the morning of the Met Ball. But I am absolutely positive I saw Christopher Bailey crossing 5th Avenue with a well-dressed Chinese lady not far from the Burberry store. And when I met some friends in Lucky Dog, Bedford Avenue in trendy, trendy Williamsburg (where dogs are welcome) they told me I’d just missed Josh Hartnett and his very pretty girlfriend on the terrace at the back.
Do I want to live in New York now that I’ve finally been? I’m not so sure. I love how easy the city’s grid makes getting around. I love that people eat out almost every night and that taxis aren’t that expensive. But I also love London’s low, historic buildings and its mixture of wealth and grandeur with reality on every corner. I do know one thing though: I have never been a person with lots of “get-up-and-go” in the mornings but New York inspired me, forced me, willed me to get a hell of a lot done in those four days.
Where to stay: I stayed at the W Hotel on Lexington Av for most of my trip – the room’s were small but it’s very close to 5th Avenue, Times Square and Central Park so really easy for getting the basics out of the way. Just be warned, they took a couple of hundred dollars off my debit card for incidental damages and a week later, the refund still hasn’t shown up. Silly American rule. On my last night I had to “slum it” at the New York Loft Hostel in Morgan Avenue, Brooklyn, but it was super cheap, even last minute, had free Wi-Fi, a cool decor and is great for getting back to JFK airport early in the morning. The area isn’t as developed as Bedford Avenue, it’s got a Hackney Wick vibe about it at the moment.
Where to eat: The best meal I had in New York was at Catch in the Meatpacking District. It’s a fancy seafood restaurant but on the night we were there, we had a buffet which also included amazing slabs of beef and lamb plus tray upon tray of canapes. In the day, I’d recommend grabbing a $4 slice of pizza to go because sitting down to lunch can quickly get expensive.
In Williamsburg, we missed out on the Fette Sau BBQ because you can’t book and there was a massive queue. So if you find yourself there, head down early. For bagels, cupcakes and ice creams Chelsea Market is adorable and puts London’s markets to shame and Smorgasburg, In Dumbo just behind the park by the Brooklyn Bridge on Sundays is one of those food markets where you’ll want to have one of everything.
What to do: The high fashion shops around Mercer Street in Soho have a very cool vibe about them so I’d say head here for shopping – unless of course you want to make a beeline for Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany’s right by Central Park.
I went to the Top of the Rock observatory deck and I’ve been told by friends who have done both this and the Empire State that the Rockefeller is the best – you can’t see the ant people on the street but you are in the open air and not behind glass.
MoMA was brilliant and since the ticket price gets you into everything, it’s worth seeing what temporary exhibitions are on.
As well as the main modern art and design collections I saw the Dieter Roth exhibition on the artist’s book “Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions” and WW2 photographs mixed with imaginative beach nudes in “Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light”.
Finally, the highlight of my last day was catching the ASSSSCAT 3000 Sunday night show at Lesley Poehler’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre on West 26th Street. I got there at 7.30pm, queued up for half an hour for my free ticket to the 9.30pm show, went to grab a hot chocolate on 8th Avenue then headed back for the improv show.
There weren’t any huge Saturday Night Live names there that night (I’d been hoping for Jason Sudeikis) but it was very funny and there was an interesting crowd too. If you book in advance you can pay $10 to secure a ticket for the 7.30pm show.