I found a reasonable hotel in midtown (Radio City Apartments) on W49th. It was an older building, but the rooms were immaculate and we were mere steps away from the subway and 10 blocks in either direction yielded plenty of restaurants, bars and theaters. However, next to the large signs for absolutely everything else, we didn't see the hotel sign right away, so we walked around for about an hour with our luggage looking for the hotel, only to find it was right where we had been dropped off....the hallways had some wonderfully sculpted plaster rosettes on the walls, and the building also had some really nice stained glass windows.
So, all checked in, we sauntered a few feet past the entrance and had lunch at a small Japanese place - we had rice bowls and Sapporo beer ($3 for 16 oz!) - which were really good. After wandering around for a bit, and finding ourselves in the sheer hell that is Times Square, we headed off to the Japan Society for the Kuniyoshi exhibit - beautiful mid-19th century woodblock prints that were just stunning to behold. The gallery itself is also incredibly beautiful, in the style of a Japanese garden.
After walking around some more (the common theme throughout this trip), we put on our glad rags and headed off to dinner at the Redeye Grill. This restaurant was recommended by a colleague of mine, and it was absolutely wonderful - great staff and service. The strawberry-shrimp roll was outstanding as was the lump crabcake and Dover sole. Drinks consisted of vodka on the rocks for me, Manhattan for J10X. I understand the banana cream pie is amazing, but we skipped dessert and ended up with a big dish of cotton candy with our coffee.....
The it was off to find a quiet bar (not in Times Square- have I mentioned the sheer hellishness of that place? Tourists underfoot everywhere!)) and we were lucky enough to find Nios, a nicely appointed bar that had a decent jazz quartet (trumpet, bass, drum, guitar) playing and a really good bartender with personality. He was rather liberal with the rum samples, much to Bernie's delight. J10X also had a cocktail made with Lagavulin (The Heroin of Alcohol - tm) floated on top - bizarre, but good - I had the Bruichladdich, which was as fabulous as expected.
We were up bright & early on Friday, and made our way downtown to Union Square, with a quick stop at Sephora and a kick-ass costume shop before hitting the Strand bookstore. We had never been to the Strand before, but we made quick work of liberating some Taschen volumes (Surfing, Eric Stanton, Japanese graphic design.) I could easily havespent $5K in there just on the graphic design books alone- I did manage to attain Maximum Visual Overload while looking through them. I found a cheap copy of 'Too Tough to Die' - a DVD of tributes to Johnny Ramone- and two *ahem* passionate patrons in the back of the store....who kindly redressed themselves after I stumbled upon their intense love for, um, books.
On our way to St. Mark's Place, we stopped at a fab little bistro called Jack and had an excellent lunch at the bar- our drinks were free due to some special thingy, so that was nice. We had the chicken quesadilla and the crabcake sandwich (which had avocado instead of tomato) -both were wonderful. I have to say that the city has a lot of really good restaurants, which is great for foodies like us, but you do spend more than you think you will on food....
We hit up Trash & Vaudeville at St. Mark's - it sure has gone downhill, almost seeming more like tourist destination than the cool shop it used to be. The lower level had tons of cool shoes and some cool t-shirts, but that's about it. Across the street was Search & Destroy, which was awesome and more like what TnV used to be - lots of vintage clothes (J10X snagged a nice shirt there), and all sorts of stuff crammed into every corner - sex toys, shoes, studded gear designed and made by one of the adorable Japanese guys working in there, accessories (I snagged a sequined scarf and studded leather ring) and probably more stuff I couldn't even see. We did end up checking out some other used shops, too, but S&D was my fave by far. Plus, their plastic bags had 'fuck you' written on them instead of 'thank you', which delighted me to no end.
Our journey through the East Village continued with a pilgrimage to three tiki bars - Waikiki Wally, Lei and Otto's Shrunken Head. We walked FOREVER to find Waikiki Wally's, which doesn't exist any longer, except for the tikified door handle - good thing, too, judging by the reviews online. Ditto for Lei. So, off to Otto's we went- and that place is pretty much a dump, and tiny. The bartender was very nice, as was her friend, and they were playing some great music - Buzzcocks, Ian Dury and the like. We were there mid-afternoon, and no bands were scheduled to play over the
weekend, so we sipped some frosty ones at the bar. J10X got a tiki mug, natch, with his drink. The decor wasn't great, mostly laser prints of velvet paintings, the occasional gold-painted fish, some puffer fish with differently-colored bulbs in them and some antique postcards glued to a wall. The photos make it look a lot nicer than it is, but it's all very faded and tired and definitely not a hardcore tiki joint. From online reviews, I gather it's a hang out for rockabilly/punk/hipster types at night, so we'll definitely go back to check that out.
After walking for hours, we were delighted to find the subway was a mere 10 minute ride back to the hotel- we got spruced up, then headed to the west side of the Village for the evening. We popped into Bleecker Bob's, which was a total disappointment except for the sweet Johnny Thunders posters. Overpriced vinyl and little to choose from. There were quite a few 'rare live recordings' to be had, but very poorly packaged, so it doesn't give much faith as to the quality of the recordings. We wandered down the streets and found a shop called Generation Records which was cool - the basement had used CDs ($7-8 range), 45s and cool t-shirts. This place was well-lit, well-organized, well-stocked and the goods were in decent shape. And the staff were super nice, but then everyone in the city is reasonably pleasant.
We stopped for dinner at Indian Raj, and that was a bit weird. The staff were really formal and kinds of tense/uptight. The food was decent, not great, but my vindaloo was beyond edible as it was so freakin' spicy and hot. Ridiculously hot, and I like spicy food.
We left there, with a bag of ice strapped to my tongue, and stumbled across to the Lost World : this place was everything Big Lebowski, down to the store owner kitted out as The Dude, bathrobe and all - totally fun. And his cat was on a leash, lounging on the sidewalk outside, very mellow as one would expect. BL bobbleheads, t-shirts, other BL merch and some comics. The owner has also written/illustrated children's books so I bought one for my niece and he was kind enough to sign it.
We did notice a lot of 20-somethings standing in long lines to get in all the clubs - I guess between NYU expanding and kids from NJ coming into the city to party, this is pretty standard. So, we headed back to Nios for a nightcap, but in 24 hours that place made a sea-change - no cool band, just crap club music, bitchy waitress and not so hot bartender. So, we sucked down our nightcaps and called it a night/morning. Fun fact: you can buy beer at the markets at 1:30 am, much to our delight....
Ok, so Saturday we were feeling the effects of walking everywhere, and merely dragged ourselves to a coffee shop breakfast two blocks away and then to the fabulous King Tut exhibit. I have a life-long love for the style of art represented in Egypt at that time (18th Dynasty, Amarna style art), so I was absolutely gobsmacked to see items I had only viewed as photos in the past. The exhibit was really well displayed, with some very dramatic lighting, and a fair amount of info was represented. I highly recommend this to anyone even slightly interested in seeing the exhibit. It's also far cheaper than admission to Madame Tussaud's wax museum...
Since it was super warm and humid out, we decided to continue by visiting the American Museum of Natural History - a first for both of us.
On our way, though, we stopped at Columbus Circle to have lunch at Cafe Bouchon, which was also recommended my colleague. It's located in a fancy-pants mall at Columbus Circle, but the cafe itself had the best coffee I had ever tried and breath-taking view of Columbus Circle. Then, it was off to the museum!
Of course, there was no way we could see everything, but we tried anyway: the Hall of Biodiversity had amazing displays, the most impressive of which was the Spectrum of Life, which showed the evolution of different species laid out on the walls and soaring to about 12 ft high. The hall of Ocean Life was also amazing, despite the fact there was science exhibit going on that kind of cramped our viewing of the dioramas. We also hit up the Bird Hall, the Mammal Hall, the Northwest Coast Indian Hall and the Pacific Peoples Hall. The NW Coast Indian Hall had some beautiful and impressive pieces, but was really run-down and dimly lit, with many displays missing lights. The Pacific Peoples Hall was very fresh and new-looking, so there's hope that they'll restore the dingier areas of the museum in time. I think it may take 3-4 more visits to get in the rest of the museum and I don't suggest going on a Saturday.
After several hours, we had visual overload, so it was off to clean up and find some dinner. We ended up at the Oldcastle Pub, which was largely unoccupied except for the large staff of spanish-speaking waiters and bar staff.
[I will take some time to mention that NYC, at least within 15 blocks of Times Square in any direction, has more Irish pubs than Boston does, which is saying something.]
After dinner we ended up at some random fairly quiet bar with a pleasant, good bartender and a band in the back, so we hung out there until the wee hours.
The next day, Sunday, was our day to bid farewell to the fair city, so we checked out early (and the the hotel hung on to our luggage for us- sweet!) and headed to one of the Brooklyn Diners for breakfast - good food, nice staff and the incomparably entertaining conversation provided by the Noo Yawk cop sitting on the other side of the row of tables divider. This guy did not take a breath the entire 45 minutes he was talking at his companion, who may have actually been able to get a word in edgewise, at one point. The stream of conversation went from.... I dint wanna work there, so I tole 'em to go screw in so many words and just packed up my desk...she's a model so I tole her she could shoot me anytime, honey, heh heh heh.......I got divorced about 15 years ago, still tawk to da kids......so we were talking with that film guy, uh, he's a director, Steven, Steven...yeah, Spielberg.....so this broad's a photographer but a real hot tamale, so I just lugged her equipment around for a while........yeah, you know, Jim, he's a real gennulmen, his kid, Tom got his ahm blown off in Fahloozhah.......
It was all I could do to not bust out laughing.
We beat feet for the Hell's Kitchen flea market (in the failed attempt to avoid the Puerto Rico Day parade - oy.) We found some small treasures, but the highlight was J10X and I both getting the best massages we had ever had in our lives by some lovely Chinese people who set up an area. So, totally pain-free and relaxed, we attempted to find several other flea markets that unfortunately no longer existed. It's always a crap shoot when your info is a month old!
Then, several coffees and many blocks later, we decided to grab our stuff and head out for home, pleasantly tired.
So, who's buying my house so's I can move to NYC?