Updated: Oct 11, 2022
Really, I do. I’ll stand by it: Greatest City in the World. Full stop. But no matter your take, it's an amazing place to ramble in and ramble on about, which is my specialty.
We’ve been fortunate to visit often over the years, but that ended abruptly in 2020. So we decided to make a ramble in the big apple the final stop of Grand Tour '22 to see what was happening. When Stanley goes downtown, we like to camp on Croton Point which is a lovely little peninsula jutting out into the Hudson River just below West Point. Besides being a beautiful park, it offers an easy stroll to the Croton-Harmon Train Station with frequent express trains into the city.
New York is a Greatest Hits kind of place. If you’re visiting with people that are new to the city, there are just certain musts on the playlist: Central Park, The Brooklyn Bridge, The Empire State Building, Times Square at night, a Broadway show, a subway ride, and so on. And we still love those things. But on this visit, we were determined to experience it more as though we lived there; as if it was a Saturday, and we just felt like a ramble through town.
Apple Ramble Part I
Grand Central Terminal
Whenever possible, we try to arrive by train into GCT.* There is a romance and grandeur at Grand Central that transports you back to another age of porters and steamer trunks. The age of the American Empire. Contrast gliding into this architectural gem on the rails with a stop and go slog with the bridge and tunnel crowd heading in from the airport and you'll never go back. Even if a train isn't required, it's just a great place to go for dining, exploring, or a public restroom (downstairs in the food court).
(*Bonus trivia points for those who know the difference between Grand Central Station and Grand Central Terminal)
42nd Street, The New York Public Library, & Bryant Park
As soon as we exited the terminal onto 42nd Street, Lori began scanning the street for nuts. No, not strange New Yorkers, which are plentiful, but the other kind of nut. Going way back, she and Zach did not consider a trip to New York, or even a few hours in New York, complete if they didn't get a little wax paper bag of candied peanuts from the cleverly named “Nuts 4 Nuts” carts, which dotted the cityscape along with their cousin carts peddling hot dogs, bagels, and roasted chestnuts.
But time moves on in New York. Nothing remains the same. Well, apart from the human nuts.
We traversed the street they call The Zoo (reference trivia fans?) and worked around the main branch of the New York Public Library. Fun fact: This stunning edifice was built on top of the Croton Reservoir which was the terminus of the Croton Aqueduct which was the first aqueduct to bring fresh water into the city, something we'll hear a little more about in Part II of this ramble. We continued along into Bryant Park – all excellent peanut hunting grounds in the past. Hot dogs galore, heaps of halal, but alas, no nuts.
Hudson Yards, The Highline & Chelsea Market
When I lived in the city, oh so many years ago, you barely went as far west as 9th Avenue, much less beyond. Pretty rough country in those days. Once, I forced my brother into a hotel near 11th Avenue to save money. I don't think he's ever forgiven me. It's a little nicer now. You might even say gentrified. Consider picking up an apartment in Hudson Yards, if you're a hedge fund manager or a Saudi Prince.
We made our way to the Highline. This was once the elevated freight tracks running along the lower west side. The line fell into disuse and it was considered an eyesore by many, especially America's mayor Rudy Giuliani who in one of his final acts in office signed an order to have it torn down. He had already successfully torn down much of Times Square that he felt was too saucy for the tender sensibilities of tourists. Thankfully, a spirited group of local champions managed to pull it from the fire and a park was born. It's still lovely as all get out, but also a victim of its own immense popularity. An early morning stroll is recommended if you don't want to feel like you're in a queue at the DMV. Luckily, if the Highline starts to wear you down or makes you feel peckish, just steps off the path is Chelsea Market brimming with top notch eateries. We go to Mariscos and get the tacos; named the Best Tacos in New York by Grub Street. Boom!
And we were starving because, well, no nuts.
The Little Island
Perhaps inspired by the popularity of the Highline, the City thought why not do a similar thing with an old pier? And so it was. Pier 54 was once home to the Cunard-White Star Line, welcomed visitors back from the Continent, including survivors of the Titanic disaster. Later, when in disuse, it became a safe haven for the LGBTQ community who had few other such places in the city. Today it looks like a little fairy tale garden full of winding paths, gardens, performance spaces, and sweeping views. And yet, no nuts.
The Earth Room
Not far away and in the “only in New York” category is a free museum that is basically just full of dirt. Seriously. You can look it up. I think it's meant to be art. And as you know, Lori and I are major patrons of the arts. At least free art, whose patronage we find particularly affordable. Alas, the mud museum was closed that day, which was mucked up.
The West Village & Washington Square
I love Greenwich Village. While the soaring skyline of most other parts of Manhattan are a signature of New York, the low-rise neighborhoods of the Village is still the quintessential New York to me. It's where I see myself sitting out on the steps of my brownstone, beer in hand, on a hot summer night after a hard day trading bonds (buy high, sell low). Or where I imagine Sonny Corleone beating the living snot out of his sniveling, traitorous brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi. We wandered through the maze of streets to Christopher St. where there is now a National Monument commemorating the Stonewall Riots and the struggle for gay civil rights. New York always gives me hope.
A little further east is Washington Square: New York's spiritual and semi-geographical center. I always try do at least a stroll through it on every visit. It feels like the beating heart of the city to me. Still, no nuts. Hope waning again. Wife becoming desperate.
The East Village & McSorley’s
I was getting desperate too, but for beer. And when you're thirsty in the Village, you head to West 7th St. in the East Village and McSorley's Old Ale House. Loads of history here too. It opened in 1854. They haven't removed any memorabilia from the walls since 1910. Only two types of beer, light and dark. Cash only. Please don't order a hard seltzer or be a putz in any other way.
When the heady beer arrives, it is an entire fist full of mugs delivered to the table with a beer-swilling thump by one of the timeless, all-business, Irish waiters.
After a good McSorely's sesh, we made our tipsy way north along 2nd Avenue toward Grand Central, stopping along the way for a little supper. Then it was Track 43 and and the Poughkeepsie express train, stopping at 125th St. in Harlem and Croton Harmon. 40 minutes later, tired and happy we made our way home to Stanley still nutless. But tomorrow is a new day.
Part II of A Ramble in the Apple Coming Soon!