Destination

New York, NY, USA (June 2021)

TL;DR

  • Stay
    • Element New York Times Square West, 311 West 39th Street Between 8th And 9th Avenue, New York, NY 10018
      • Very comfortable hotel with nicely lit rooms. Close to anything midtown!
  • Eat/Drink
    • Le Pain Quotidien, 70 W 40th St, New York, NY 10018
      • Yeah it’s a chain, but its location on Bryant Park, excellent food, and spot-on service make it a great place for breakfast or lunch.
    • Boqueria, 260 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018
      • Tapas on tapas on tapas. Add some prosecco or champagne and while the days away.
    • Wu’s Wonton King, 165 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002
      • I mean, just go look at their website and tell me (based on the photos) that it doesn’t look good. The beef chow fun is solid and the duck is outstanding.
    • Kobrick Coffee, 24 9th Ave, New York, NY 10014
      • A charming, albeit overpriced coffee joint down in the Meatpacking District, across from the Gansevoort Hotel with a nice outdoor seating area
    • Bao Bao Cafe, 61 Lexington Ave Rm B, New York, NY 10010
      • Great to-go lunches!
    • Llama San, 359 6th Ave, New York, NY 10014
      • Definitely not cheap – but you get what you pay for in this Japanese/Peruvian fusion restaurant
    • The Garret West, 296 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014
      • You have to go through a burger joint on the first floor to get up the rickety steps to get to this bar. Great cocktails but definitely a scene.
    • Coffee Project New York – Chelsea, 155 7th Ave, New York, NY 10011
      • Excellent coffee and a place to sit.
    • Maman Soho, 239 Centre St, New York, NY 10013
      • We happened to be walking by – the tea was fine but the service was meh. It took nearly 15 minutes for my friend to get his drink and the staff seemed apathetic.
    • Balthazar, 80 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012
      • A New York staple which has thankfully survived the Pandemic and still serves amazing food and drink with style
    • Sel Rrose, 1 Delancey St, New York, NY 10002
      • A great place to grab a drink in the Lower East Side
    • Citroen, 931 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222
      • Brunch!
    • Junior’s Cheesecake, 1515 Broadway (45th St. B/W Broadway & 8th Ave), New York, NY 10019
      • Famous and delicious – although you can now get baby cheesecakes from Junior’s at Costco so it’s more of a novelty to get it here yourself
    • Pick-A-Bagel, 891 8th Ave, New York, NY 10019
      • I mean it’s no Ess-a-Bagel but it will treat you right. Promise.
  • See/Do
    • Little Island, Pier 55
      • A lovely place for respite and soaking up the water while in a place like Manhattan is not easy to find. Especially when it’s free!
    • Citi Bike
      • An easy way to get around if you don’t want to Uber, bus, or taxi.
    • Statue City Cruises
      • Super easy way to get to and see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
    • Statue of Liberty
      • Learn the history of one of the most iconic American symbols – highly recommended.
    • Ellis Island
      • Nearly everyone in the US came from somewhere else – and regardless of your background, you should know the stories of those who first came here in search of opportunities.
    • Drama Book Shop, 266 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018
      • Great to browse, probably even better to sit with your newly purchased book on one of their comfy couches and read for a while.

Trip Background

The time is June 2021.

It has been a few months since I had last traveled by plane (to Hawaii with the family) and it’s been a solid 18 months since my last trip to New York.

All of the news has been decrying the death of New York as a vibrant tourist destination and like Jerry Seinfeld, I am doing my best to remind people that Manhattan will be back in due time. I’m also going to be away from my two-year-old son for the first time in a long time.

It makes me start to remember what business trips were like pre-pandemic, but this isn’t a business trip. I’m working, as usual, all week but hoping to meet up with friends and former colleagues during my downtime.

That said, this is the first time I am flying to New York uncertain of what I am going to see. What will be open? There are no shows. How about restaurants? Will all of those mom-and-pop run shops in Chinatown serving up congee and beef chow fun still be open? Will riding in an Uber feel weird?

The answers lie ahead – and while I wrote this long after the journey, the memories are as fresh as they were then (with some help from my photos). And yes, I am aware I am publishing this in January 2023 – move along.

Day 0 (June 8, 2021)

The ride to O’Hare is a bit odd as it’s my first Lyft or Uber since March, and that was to go fly to Hawaii. To have rideshares become so infrequent is an odd thing and something I am only realizing now (I took no Uber’s in 2020 and no Lyft’s between March 2020 and March 2021).

I get to my hotel a little before midnight, which gives me time for a quick video chat with my wife and son before I crash for the night.

Day 1 (June 9, 2021)

Okay. Here we go. The morning begins with a light walk from my hotel (the Element New York Times Square West) to Le Pain Quotidien at Bryant Park, so I can have breakfast with three of my former colleagues from LinkedIn (Adrian, Mira, and Kate). Seeing them is as wonderful as I remember and the last time we were all in the same place was December 2019 (when I left LinkedIn for a new job). Our morning is spent noshing on breakfast sandwiches and thanking the staff for being open for us – this moment was one of the first where I felt like the world was getting back to normal (if we can even use that phrase anymore).

After working for a few hours, I ventured out from the Element for lunch at Boqueria with my friend Sarah, whom I worked with in 2011-2012 during my ill-fated foray back into the banking world. After several rounds of tapas and a bottle of prosecco, we are both in incredible spirits (pun intended).

After another round of work, it’s time for me to meet Auntie Lillian and Uncle Arlan (they’re not blood relatives but when they’re your mom’s best friend and his wife, they’re basically like family). They tell me to meet them at Wu’s Wonton King, a Chinatown staple that’s set up a bunch of outdoor seating. Given it’s June in New York, it’s warm outside and Arlan and Lillian know that this place is set up for quasi-outdoor (aka covered) dining.

As we sit down after the requisite hugs, dispense with our masks, and order dinner, I am again reminded about how special moments like this are. Time with family and friends. Time to be grateful that those of us who are still here – are still here.

Post-dinner, I decided to take a long walk back to my hotel. Through the Lower East Side and through Washington Square Park, meandering through the arches. And after I get back to the hotel, it’s time for facetiming with Cooper. It’s a damn good first day back in NYC.

Day 2 (June 10, 2021)

Day 2 begins with my grad school classmate Oscar texting me to meet him and his wife Lauren at Kobrick Coffee down in the Meatpacking District. He suggests I take a Citi bike to meet him and I am skeptical of his suggestion. The idea of riding a bicycle sans helmet in Manhattan brings back flashbacks of riding my bicycle as a study abroad student in Shanghai nearly 20 years earlier. And even with a helmet, I rode like I was afraid for my life every damned day (and nearly got run over by a car on multiple occasions).

But surprisingly, I found riding a Citi bike quite straightforward (although riding down 9th Ave. made me realize how torn up that street is…potholes and cracks everywhere!). After we got our coffees, we walked over to Little Island, which has become one of my favorite destinations in the city. We spent 15 minutes wandering around, checking out the space – which I can only imagine is stunning on a summer evening right around sunset or in the fall.

From there we got back on Citi bikes and made the nearly three-mile journey down to board the Statue City Cruises boat that would take us to Liberty Island. When we got there, the entire area was filled with displays for the Tribeca Film Festival. We finally found our long line to board our shop and waited patiently for our turn to board the ferry.

Now I have passed over the Statue of Liberty on dozens of occasions in my life. Seen it from a distance. Even taking the Staten Island Ferry past it a couple times. But I’ve never set foot on Liberty Island – and to do ranks as one of the most profound experiences of my life. Not only for the size of the statue itself but for the exhibits on the history of France’s gift to America and what it stands for. Add to this experience the power of the stories to be heard/seen while at Ellis Island and hopefully you gain empathy for those tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore – who struggled and gave up everything to bring their families to America in search of a better life.

I’ve been to Angel Island Immigration Station on the San Francisco Bay and it’s clear that while both served as entry points into the United States, the experiences of the different populations (Asians coming through Angel Island vs. Europeans coming through Ellis Island) merit their own stories – and Ellis Island does this in an incredibly poignant and respectful manner.

We boarded the ship and returned to the dock from which we had departed. After getting an Uber to bring us uptown, I left Oscar and Lauren and gave them both the requisite hugs before heading back to work for a few hours. I stopped at Bao Bao Cafe which was near my hotel and allowed me to have a nice meal before the work recommenced.

That night, I met up with my friend and former colleague Diana at Llama San – and this restaurant did not disappoint in the slightest. Now it’s not cheap, but you know that going into it. And the food quality was excellent.

1.) Mackerel, Citrus, Sansho, Olive Oil, Ponzu

2.) the gorgeous plates

3.) Harusame Noodles, Maitake, Seaweed, Togarashi

4.) Asparagus, Saikyo Miso, Nori, Anchovy, Katsuo Furikake

5/6.) Aged Duck Breast, Cilantro, Banana, Nasturtium

7.) Ibérico Pork Tonkatsu, Udon Verde, Tsukemono Cucumbers

8.) Dessert (cannot remember but was a meringue on a graham cracker-like crust)

9/10: Our beverages

After dinner, we decided to get a drink at The Garret West. Now, this is a place above a Five Guys – and I cannot for the life of me figure out how this place works existing above a restaurant that you have to go into in order to go up). I remember it required waiting in a line up a rickety set of steps for about 15-20 minutes and once we got in, we only had a limited amount of time to stay. This was definitely the kind of place to be seen (or pick someone up) – neither of which I did. Diana and I had our cocktail, laughed a bunch, and then headed off.

Day 3 (June 11, 2021)

Day 3 in NYC began with meeting a coaching client for an early pre-work coffee at Coffee Project New York – Chelsea. After working a few more hours, I met my friend Greg for tea at Maman Soho and it was one of those sticky afternoons where you hope you don’t get all nasty from sweat. I also discovered the joys of contact-less payment on the subway!

That night was all about dinner at Balthazar with my friend Kathleen – and for some reason, I was feeling the burger that night. That, and some bone marrow. Oy. Delicious. We attempted to follow up dinner with a drink at this hoity-toity place (name unknown) but it was not going to happen, so we wound up landing outside of Sel Rrose for some fine cocktails while we waiting for Kathleen’s boyfriend to join us.

Day 4 (June 12, 2021)

My last day began with a jaunt to the Drama Book Shop where I now dream of their chesterfield couches and the prospect of cozying up on a winter day with a coffee and a book.

After buying a few books for me and the wife, I took the subway over to Greenpoint to see my friend Rose for lunch at Citroen. I don’t spend too much time in Brooklyn, but based on how well I have eaten there, I may have to. A croque monsieur and a bloody mary made for a lovely day. Oh and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that In the Heights dropped on HBO Max while I was there. I remember living in Manhattan in 2010 and seeing the show on Broadway, being transfixed on the beauty of the music and dance – it was a lovely way to reminisce.

Returning to Manhattan to get my luggage from the hotel, I stopped at Junior’s Cheesecake to grab something small for my son Cooper, then at Pick-A-Bagel for some bagels and a plane sandwich. Now I am not sure why but on this particular trip, I opted to fly out of Newark. So I waited for what seemed like an hour to take the Coach Bus to Newark Airport. Maybe I was feeling cheap? I don’t know. The bus was cheap – $18.50 for a one-way ticket – but one bus arrived and was full, so I had to wait a long time for the next one. Not ideal, but what can you do? At least New York is back – and I was here to enjoy it.

The flight home saw me get an upgrade and while I peered out the windows, I happened to catch a bunch of Midwestern lightning storms. Scary and beautiful all at once.

Final Thoughts

This was one of those trips that made me incredibly grateful for the ability to travel. It gave me some much-needed distance from my home and the routines I’d grown accustomed to over the previous 18 months of remote work, quarantine, and lockdown.

Seeing friends filled my heart with joy – just like all of that food really filled my belly with satisfaction. Considering that a mere 12 months before this trip, I wasn’t sure if travel was ever going to come back or be an option. This trip proved that it would and that it had – and I appreciate travel all the more because of this trip.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s