New York City – Day 1: Terminators, Meatballs and a Lack of Pickles
This wasn't the first time I'd been to New York, but after the last time I wasn't really sure when I'd make it back... or if I even wanted to for that matter. In 2008 a couple buddies and I drove from Chicago all the way out to the East Coast, going through Detroit and Canada on our way. The plan was to go to as many baseball stadiums as we could in 2 weeks; We managed to hit 6 as well as 2 "Hall of Fames". And while it was cool to go to NYC, I preferred the pace of Boston and was quite annoyed with most of New York. It didn't help that we didn't really know anyone there, didn't have a plan, were staying in the basement of a Howard Johnson in Queens with only one queen bed that barely fit in the room, and there were 3 of us. But even hotel aside, there was just too much going on in the city for me. Of course we were tourists, so the only things we knew were the touristy things and the things we didn't know almost came to bite us in the ass; Don't try to get a cab in Manhattan to take you to Queens at 4:30PM during the week. So naturally when my wife wanted to take a trip to visit her friends in New York, I wasn't terribly excited at first. Not that I didn't want to visit them, but rather because I didn't enjoy the city the last time and just assumed it would be more of the same... I was wrong.
The trip was a quick one, Friday to Sunday, but our Friday flight was early enough that we arrived in New York just before lunch. This gave us enough time to get from the airport to our hotel, check-in, and find somewhere to eat before all of the Wall Street people flooded the streets looking for food. And let me just say, before I talk about anything else, if you're going to be flying from Chicago to New York take Delta Shuttle into LaGuardia. Delta Shuttle flies into the Marine Terminal at LaGuardia which consists of 6 total gates and a lounge, and when leaving, no security lines. But I digress... back to the actual trip.
Upon arriving at our hotel, The Millennium Hilton, it was hard not to realize just how close we were to Ground Zero. Our junior suite overlooked the construction of One World Trade Center as well as the North Tower Memorial and it truly was a sight to see. After dropping off our bags and changing, we decided to grab some lunch in the financial district. Our friends wouldn't be getting off of work until later in the afternoon and we didn't have to be at the 9-11 Memorial until 2pm. We decided to harness the power of FourSquare to find a place in the area that people seemed to enjoy. Our navigation skills lead us in a bit of a circle before we eventually found what we were looking for, Ulysses'.
Ulysses' has a great outdoor seating area off the back of the restaurant that is literally on a shut down street. In fact, there were about 3 or 4 restaurants that all backed up to this street and all of them had picnic tables set up to eat at, it was perfect. We had a great lunch and a couple of beers before heading out to wander the city before our 9-11 Memorial time slot.
Since we were so close to the water we decided to take a journey down to the pier and see what it was all about. It kind of reminded me of Chicago's Navy Pier, but not as modern. There is an old ship museum there that you can pay to go on, we did not, there's a few restaurants, a giant human heart, and then a ton of random street vendors selling all sorts of souvenirs. Right across the street is Fulton Street, which is a large outdoor mall-type area with your name brand shops and such. There is also a giant silver statue that appeared to be of the T-1000, but upon further inspection it turned out to just be a giant, underwear-clad, David Beckham. Funny enough, if you follow me on Instagram you saw me posting a bunch of pictures of NYC, but the one picture that could have won me money, I refused to take... the underwear-clad David Beckham. It turns out Addidas or Puma or someone, is running a contest where you snap a picture of the David Beckham terminator statue and post it on instagram with a certain hashtag, you're entered to win $10,000 or a night with David Beckham... or something like that. Now if the prize were a night with his wife I may have considered it, but only if she smiled.
After escaping the towering T-Beckham, we made our way back towards the 9-11 memorial as our designated time was fast approaching. The 9-11 memorial ticket system works similarly to the Pearl Harbor Memorial; tickets are free, but you are assigned a certain time in which you can get in line. You are also able to "purchase" your tickets online ahead of time so that you don't have to worry about getting their early to get a decent time. Unlike the Pearl Harbor Memorial, however, if you order them online they are free, Pearl Harbor charges a $3 processing fee for some reason. The memorial itself was really cool. My wife and I spent most of the night on the 10th Anniversary of 9-11 (9/11/2011) watching the different specials and documentaries surrounding the new buildings and the memorial and such, but to see most of it come to life was really cool. The reflecting pools that encompass the footprints of the North and South Towers are incredible in every aspect. Unfortunately the museum has had some troubles with construction and funding, so it was not completed while we were there, but we'll check it out next time.
After paying our respects at the memorial we decided we need a drink. I thought the drinks in Hawaii were expensive, but that's nothing compared to when you decide to go drinking at the rooftop bar at The W Hotel. I know, I know, it was our choice to go to The W, and there are plenty of other cheaper options in the area, but we were tourists and the rooftop was enticing. We made our way up to the rooftop only to find out that the bar didn't open until 3PM, it was like 2:50PM... so naturally we did what anyone would have done, we unlocked the door and went outside and sat at the bar... with no bartender. It took a few minutes before a manager came out and asked if we'd seen the bartender, at which point he said he would go yell at him to get out there. We felt bad since we had essentially snuck out there before it was even open, but we weren't about to tell him not to get the bartender... A couple minutes later the bartender arrives and we order drinks. I'm extremely cheap, so I didn't want to drink my normal Captain and Coke since it was going to be around $12, so I opted for a $7 beer instead. My wife on the other hand, decided that the $20 mojitos would quench her thirst much better than any beer could... Needless to say I didn't stop her since she's the one that opened the tab at the bar, so I clearly wasn't paying. And no, just cause we're married doesn't mean we share all of our money (at least not at this point in our marriage). We each had a few drinks as we waited for another friend of ours to show up, at which point we went back to our own hotel to hang out for a few minutes while waiting for yet another friend to meet us.
Our group had now grown from 3 to 5 as a couple of our friends met us as we got ready to head out for the night. The first stop of the night was a happy hour party for a friend of a friend at "1492 Food". 1492 is apparently a tapas place, but we only stuck around long enough to get a couple of sangrias as well as a contact high from the cooks smoking weed in the kitchen. At this point we were met by another friend, so our group had now grown to 6. After getting our pre-buzz on, we decided to head out to get some food at "Meatball Marinara" or "Meatball Massacre" or "Meatball Whatever It Was Called"... some place that's supposed to have delicious meatballs. Needless to say, when we arrived at around 8PM, it was packed and had a 2 hour wait for a group of 6. We weren't about to wait around so we went around the corner to a place called "Spitzers". Unfortunately this was not Elliot Spitzer's restaurant, as far as I know, as there weren't $1000 prostitutes running around everywhere, but there were pickles... or at least there should have been.
We were told Spitzers would be an hour wait for the 6 of us, but with no other plans for the night we decided to just wait it out and have a couple drinks at the bar. Now I don't know if they could just tell we were from out of town and didn't want to cater to us, but it literally took 10 minutes for a table to open up for us. Way less than the hour they had originally claimed. The food was good, and the drinks were strong, my only complaint is that we ordered a "bowl of pickles" appetizer and at some point it magically turned into another order of fries... It didn't bother me since I don't really like pickles, but when you're expecting pickles and get fries it makes some people very upset. And, on top of that, they had still charged us for them... which we promptly made them take off. So even with the pickle mix-up, the food was good and the drinks were delicious. Then it was off to the bar.
"Epstein's Bar" is where we ended up at after dinner. After drinking since the moment we got off the plane, I had to slow down a bit if I was expected to walk around the city all day on Saturday, so I ended up not drinking at the bar. However, the drinks at dinner got me nice and "warm", which carried me through the rest of the night just fine. Epstein's is a small place, kind of divey, but the music was incredible. I'm a pretty big fan of hip-hop, even though I'm the whitest guy you'll ever meet, and the music here was everything you'd find on my iPod... minus Kanye West. I hate Kanye West. Just because I'm from Chicago doesn't mean I have to like the guy or his music... Anyways, the music was awesome, a nice mix of newer and older hip-hop, mostly mainstream stuff, but still a nice mix. Hell, for all I know it was someone's iPod, I definitely didn't see a DJ anywhere.
By this point everyone was pretty tired, and after one drink decided to call it a night. The 3 of us jumped in a cab and took it back down to our hotel, while our 3 other friends went off in their own directions back to their respective apartments. All in all it was a great first day and I couldn't wait to see what day 2 had in store for us, although I'm sure you can guess what that was... more walking, more food, and more alcohol.