48 Hours In The City
In September of 2015, my company sent myself and some co-workers back to New Jersey for additional training at our specialty school. The following two weeks were not only a much-needed relief from the oppressive heat that was still scorching Phoenix but also a time to make some great friendships and meet our counterparts from across the country. Having training that lasted two weeks allowed us to head into the city on our first weekend there, which would also be my first visit to New York City. During the first week of specialty school, we became friends with a group of Canadians who would become our partners in crime for the weekend and ultimately our closest friends while at specialty school. The following is some of the highlights of our 48 hours in the Big Apple.
Day 1: Friday, September 18th
Our first week of training was in the books and we were excited and more than ready to get out of the New Jersey farmlands and head into the city. After careful planning with the Canadians we were able to secure a limo, but a snafu ensued due to the incompetent limo company which ended up sending us a limo for about half our party, so we split up and half of us took the train into the city. Fast-forward a few hours and we had arrived at Penn Station.
Upon exiting the station it was abundantly clear you were in the city; taxi drivers honking their horns every few seconds, food vendors slinging more types of meat than imaginable and the vertical peaks of steel and glass spanning everywhere the eye could see. After taking it all in we headed east to our hotel for tonight which was the Westin Grand Central Station. After a quick check in and getting our group together we decided to head out and grab some classic New York style pizza.
Pazzo’s Pizza is what we decided on due to the close proximity to the Westin (about 1 block east and a ½ block south). Pazzo’s is nothing to really write home about, other than ironically here…but upon entering it looks like any typical pizza joint with a glass window separating us from the pizzas which were all displayed for easy viewing and selection. I opted for the Chicken Bacon Ranch and Hawaiian which were good but tasted like Sbarro’s so I was slightly bummed. As typical for New York style pizza the slices folded in half easily and were devoured within seconds as our group was famished from the long train ride. After smashing our slices we coordinated with the Canadians on our plan of attack for tonight and got ready for what would soon be a long, fun and eventful night!
Contact has been made with the Canadians and the bar has been selected….it was finally time to rendezvous with our counterparts from the Great White North and have an epic night. We decided to meet at a place called The Three Monkeys which is in the Theater District, so just south of Central Park. The bar didn’t seem too big, although it has two levels it’s not very wide but since it wasn’t crowded when we arrived space wasn’t an issue. We took full advantage of the cheap drinks and hung out here for a while before heading to another bar which would soon become the most talked about place all weekend.
Before jumping into our Uber and heading south to our next spot we decided to eat some “Street Meat” from the vendor carts that are abundantly scattered throughout the city. Our sense of smell was quickly activated as we passed by a Halal food cart with a flat top grill full of the most delicious smelling and sizzling meat and naturally we couldn’t say no to this. We weren’t all that hungry but appetite wise Joe and I are definitely what you would call the “Fat Kids” of the group so we each got a to-go plate full of rice and steaming meat. After being handed our plate of meat we noticed a bottle full of red liquid and being the food savages that we are, we were ready to pour it on our plates but the vendor quickly intervened and in his thick accent said “Be Careful, Very Hot Ketchup”. Joe and I looked at this guy like, bro it can’t be that hot it’s just ketchup…..we should have listened. We hopped in the Uber and started to devour the food. The meat was tender, juicy, full of spice and didn’t disappoint. I then decided to try a piece of meat with the “Hot Ketchup” on it, which at first was a decent kick of spice that enhanced the meats flavor, however within seconds after that pleasantness my mouth felt like I had eaten molten lava and my entire face was melting. Thinking that I am surely surmising to my own death and that Joe is also dead, I glance over at him and he is shoveling his face like an overweight 10-year-old that has discovered cake for the first time. To this day we have no idea what was in the hot ketchup, but whatever that street vendor concocted was one of the hottest things I have eaten to date.
As we arrived at our new destination, the meat sweats had subsided, Joe was still un-phased by the inferno he had consumed and the rest of the crew was excited to get inside to meet up with the Canadians. The bar we were about to enter was recommended to us by a local New Yorker so clearly it has to be good, and good it was. Whiskey Town is what you could consider a dive bar, but to those of us who grew up in the 90’s this place was heaven. Upon entering the first thing you notice is the space….there isn’t much, so if you like to have your own special little personal bubble, this is not the place for you. We quickly located the Canadians who were tearing up the dance floor in the middle of the bar with drinks in hand and instantly knew that this was going to be a great night. One of the coolest things about Whiskey Town is when you order a beer they give you a nice sleek black coozie so you can keep your beer cold while you dance your face off. Drink wise they definitely pour with a heavy hand here, and yes you will pay for it dearly but it is worth every penny. As the night goes on, the hits keep coming, with the DJ pumping out 90’s-00’s hits with the most random mixture of songs ranging from Snoop, Dre, Britney, N’Sync, TLC, Queen, Journey, Whitney and too many more to name but you get the idea. More than likely you have been in a bar when a particular song comes on and you see people get way too excited and hear them say “This is my jam” well that was pretty much every song here. By the end of the night, which for us was 4:00am we were still amped up from belting out every song and impressing the locals with our dance moves when the bouncers pretty much had to tell us to go home otherwise we would have stayed until we couldn’t dance or sing anymore. We parted ways with the Canadians and hailed an Uber and headed to the hotel for some much-needed rest as we knew tomorrow night would be just as crazy and fun as tonight.
Day 2: Saturday, September 19th
We kicked the morning off by walking towards Rockefeller Center and stopped by a local diner for breakfast, which turned out to be average at best, nothing special at all. The closer you get to Rockefeller the busier it gets and you can feel the buzz in the air. This place was pretty cool, there were nice fountains with beautiful landscaping around it, and shops line the pathway to the plaza where in the winter they ice skate under that big golden statue. Michael wanted to go to the observation deck of the building, but it was $30 so the rest of us skipped that and wandered around the area and while walking back we stopped by one of the street artists that was creating these awesome spray paintings of the New York City skyline as well as many Super hero themed ones.
After that we went back to the hotel to check out and proceed to our new hotel which was over in the Soho area on the edge of Chinatown and Nolita. To get there we decided to take the Subway from Midtown to Soho. This was all of our first time taking the subway, but it was actually very easy to figure out once we had the maps up and looked at the routes. Once we arrived at the train station in Soho, we were amazed at the different vibe and look of the city down here. Gone were the giant skyscrapers of Midtown, instead we were greeted with old school brick buildings, local cafes, shops, etc. There were people everywhere walking about, and there was a definite hustle and bustle to this area, it was very lively and congested.
For night two we decided to stay at the Sohotel, and upon arrival we were very impressed with the style of it as it has a an old school character which is fitting because they claim to be the oldest hotel in New York City. The rooms are very nice with exposed brick, wood beams strutting across the ceiling, and antique wooden desks and chairs to compliment the antique feel of the place. After checking out the room, we headed out towards Little Italy as there was an Italian street festival going on.The streets were packed with people, food vendors lined the streets along with a multitude of games for kids to play and vendors selling merchandise. I was able to snag an Italian sausage that was stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach and topped off with sautéed onions and peppers while being placed in a delicious hoagie roll…..good lord it was good. After about an hour of wandering through the festival, we decided to head back to the hotel room.
Once we got back we relaxed for a bit and then got ready for the evening, but we had a pit stop to make and that was to go see the WTC Memorial and the Freedom Tower. We took the Subway again and like true pro’s at this point we navigated our way successfully to our location. Once we were in the downtown district, we walked over towards Freedom Tower which was an incredible piece of architecture. The height of it is mind-blowing, it seems like it just rises and rises and keeps going. After walking around the building we finally made it to the memorial which is such an amazing thing to see and take in, it was such a somber experience to see the sheer size and scope that the area that those towers took up. The reflecting pool is magnificent, the water cascades into a deep basin that is an abyss of black that seems to just disappear. We spent a few minutes here in silence, reflecting on our surroundings and what happened here on that fateful day. Once we were all ready we decided to head back towards our hotel so we could meet back up with the Canadians.
Once we got back to the hotel we coordinated with the Canadians so they could come down our way to hang out. As for nightlife, we knew it was going to be hard to beat Whiskey Town but we would sure try. Our first attempt was at a place called Lounge 247, but we made it there around 11:00pm and it was at capacity so we walked around the corner to an Irish Pub called Slainte Bar and Lounge, which turned out to be a success. The drink prices here seemed pretty average, $10 for a Crown and 7, but just like Whiskey Town they pour with a heavy hand so you’ll get your value here as well. They played some good music here too, and personally any bar that plays Sum 41 deserves some serious credit. We danced and drank for a while but some of the Canadians headed home as they were at Wine Riot all day, but a few of us stayed out and thought we’d try our luck again at Lounge 247. With half of our group gone, the remaining crew decided we would see if we could get into Lounge 247. The reviews online were great, for all intents and purposes this seemed like the place to be. So we headed on over, and were able to get in. Once inside we realized the place is about as big as someone’s living room. If you like bars that are packed to the brim to where you can’t move then go for it…personally I hated this place. Other than the cramped space, the music was very much all Reggae; it seemed as if we had perhaps stumbled into a Jamaican Narnia. After a few drinks and trying not to get sandwiched between people we called it a night and all headed back to our respective hotels.
Day 3: Sunday, September 20th
We slept in till about noon which was later than we would have liked, but going to bed at 4:00am will make anyone want to sleep till noon. Once we were all up, we hopped on the Subway and headed back north to meet up with part of our group that separated from us last night. By the time we were up there, we were starving so we found a great brunch spot called The Smith, which apparently everyone in New York knows about because we waited almost 2 full hours to be seated. The food was pretty solid, I had the breakfast pot pie which was an enormous mixture of eggs, sausage, mushrooms and bacon.
After finishing our food, we realized it was getting late as it was now around 3:30pm and it dawned on us that we were close to the water and hadn’t had a chance to see it yet, so we headed east about 2 or 3 blocks down a beautiful tree-lined street, towards the river. Along the way we found a cool dog park that was packed all surrounded by lush huge trees and some extravagant looking row houses. As we made it over to the river we were greeted with a nice breeze from the river and an amazing view of Brooklyn and Queens. Although the water was a rather murky brown, it was a pleasant site to see after being surrounded by buildings the whole weekend. After a short photo-op near the river, we headed back towards Central Park as we had a train to catch at the Columbus Circle Station.
We walked through Midtown and headed over towards Madison Avenue and took in the grandeur of the magnificent buildings. The thing that fascinates me about New York City is that the buildings are so big, bigger than you can imagine. They dwarf everything in their purview, you’ll look at one building and think “wow that’s tall” then a few feet down the street is an even bigger building, it just keeps going and going. We soon turned the corner onto 59th Ave and stopped to look at the magnificent Plaza Hotel, which was adorned with the flags of Saudi Arabia and India. As you walked along 59th Avenue, each hotel had the flags of their respective guests that were staying there as the upcoming week was the General Assembly of the United Nations.
As we neared closer to Columbus Circle Station, we took notice of how utterly enormous Central Park is, there were an abundance of people out enjoying the lovely fall day; whether it be having a picnic, painting in the park, or riding their bikes around….everyone seemed to be having a great time. We were all a little bummed that we got such a late start to the day because we would have liked to spend more time in the park and walk around for a bit, but time was not on our side and we had to catch the 5:00pm train. We quickly headed down to the train and studied the Subway map once again. Even though the routes, colors, lines, etc. seem confusing (which they are) you eventually get the hang of it and can navigate the subway with ease. For being a group of rookies when it comes to Subway travel, we never got lost or took the wrong line all weekend. We jumped on our train, and headed for Newark Union Station to connect to the suburbs.
After about an hour train ride back to the suburbs, we successfully made it back to our hotel and willfully turned in early. Overall, it was one of the most fun weekend trips I’ve done, I was able to see New York City firsthand and although I wasn’t able to experience the typical touristy things, I was able to have some amazing experiences and adventures which I will never forget.