Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hello Brooklyn - Day Nine - Sunday 12 February

On Sunday morning I woke up fairly early and flipping starving - we hadn't eaten more than a(n admittedly huge) cupcake each since about 2pm the day before, which may have been a factor in the snarking match the Yorkshireman and I had had the night before. He still looked dead to the world and I knew he'd be grumpy if he was woken up early, so I got dressed and tiptoed downstairs to the breakfast bar in the lobby, returning ten minutes later with a toasted bagel with cream cheese and a takeout cup of coffee.

I had breakfast whilst reading my book in one of the comfy chairs in our room. I enjoyed relaxing in peace and quiet for a while but the food aspect was actually badly timed, since our first activity for that morning was to eat more food. However I wasn't planning on waking the slumbering Grouchosaurus for at least another hour and I was confident I could handle more food later that morning.

Eventually the Yorkshireman's eyes peeked open and he seemed to feel better for the extra sleep. We got ready and left the hotel, heading for the Lower East Side in Manhattan and to another place on my foodie bucket list, Katz's Deli.

Exterior of Katz's Deli New York

For those unfamiliar with Katz's Deli, it's one of the oldest, most famous Jewish delis in New York. There are others that have great reputations too but when somewhere is so famous and yet the locals are still raving about the food there, you really have to give it a try. I think celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain explains it well. Katz's was also the location for Meg Ryan's famous fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally (there's a sign hanging from the ceiling to show you which table) and is often featured on shows like Man vs Food.

Interior of Katz's Deli New York

I'd read up on their ticket system before we went but it still confused us a little, perhaps because there was no queue when we got there and so no-one to copy! Still, we worked it out pretty quickly and remembered to tip the guy making our sandwiches when he gave us a sample of the pastrami. It was looking a bit hairy for a minute when I realised said counter guy had put mustard on my pastrami and rye when I'd said not to (I blame my accent, but come on!). Thankfully the Yorkshireman was happy enough to swap his non-mustardy piece of bread for my mustardy one. Phew - disaster averted!

It was still quite early for lunch (around 11am) when we sat down to eat, but there were a good few others already tucking in to their food, so we joined 'em. I have to say, the pastrami was as good as they say, and the sandwiches were as big as they say too. I just about managed mine (although I was approaching "meat sweats" territory by the end) but the Yorkshireman had to leave some of his.

I also had great fun looking at all the photos on the wall of famous people who had visited the Deli. I didn't know about half of them but there were some great ones. My favourites were the one of "Mr Big and Baby's Daddy from Dirty Dancing!" (Chris Noth and Jerry Orbach; clearly Law and Order kind of passed me by) and, of course, the photo of one of my personal role models in life, Judge Judy! I was so giddy about the latter I demanded to take a photo of the photo. The Yorkshireman handed me the camera and tried to pretend he wasn't with me.

Photograph of Judge Judy and Jerry Sheindlin at Katz's Deli New York

All in all I really enjoyed going to Katz's (constant smell of pickled gherkins aside) and would happily return to try some of those other delicious-looking hand-carved meats... yum!

Still on a foodie kick, we made a stop a few blocks down at another contender for the title of 'World's Best Cupcake'. This time it was Sugar Sweet Sunshine, which everyone seems to rave about. We purchased two cupcakes for later consumption (a Sunshine cake (vanilla) and a Pumpkin one) and we headed back to the subway and uptown.

We popped back up above ground a short while later at 34th Street Herald Square (on 6th Avenue) and stumbled upon a mall (rare in New York City), funnily enough called Manhattan Mall. The Yorkshireman was still on the lookout for a reasonably priced New York Rangers third jersey and JCPenney said it had sports teamwear, so in we went. We couldn't find the teamwear section but we did find some great souvenir t-shirts for family and friends back home. The Yorkshireman also got a Thundercats one for himself. Bless.

Bags in hand we walked down 31st Street, past the Affinia Manhattan where we worked out which window we'd been looking out of most the week prior, and past the Hook and Ladder 24 firehouse where all those sirens had been coming from. We also found a NY Rangers merchandise shop but they wanted over $200 for the same jersey that was $125 in Sports Authority. No thanks.

Our next activity of the day was to watch yet another NY Rangers game, but this time we actually had tickets! Madison Square Garden, baby! Bring it on! The game had originally been scheduled for 3pm but was brought forward to 12.30pm. We had reworked our itinerary accordingly and it actually ended up working out better for us.

We entered the arena and although I was offered the choice of an elevator to our floor way up in the 400s (because of my crutch), I said I was good with the escalators. They also had a free giveaway and we got signs in the shape of the Rangers' badge, which had the badge on one side and said "Let's Go Rangers!" on the other. Nice.

The refreshment options on the top floor were a bit rubbish but a quick hobble down the staircase and I found my now-traditional beer and soft pretzel. Back up in the 400s we found our seats and settled in for the game.

New York Rangers play at Madison Square Garden

The NY Rangers were taking on the Washington Capitals, which made it the second Caps game we'd seen on our trip. This time there was no confusion as to who to support though - it was Rangers all the way. It was an interesting game, with a Rangers goal, then a Caps goal, then two more Rangers goals, leaving the Caps under pressure to score an equaliser before the end of the third period. Thankfully they didn't manage it and the Rangers won 3-2, which made us giddily happy!

Madison Square Garden Scoreboard New York Rangers Win

Apparently they turn the escalators off after the game, so everyone has to walk down the steps to get out of MSG. Even if my dodgy hip had been up to the stairs, the pushy crowds made me nervous, so I waited with some other less-than-mobile people for an elevator. We ended up being advised to go down to the next floor to get one from there for some reason, which I was happy to do because it meant getting away from the shouty impatient lady who was pressing the call button repeatedly and ranting about how long she had to wait.

Back on the street but continuing the ice-hockey theme, we made our way to the NHL Powered by Reebok Store in search of a few hockey jerseys the Yorkshireman wanted. As well as being a fellow NY Rangers fan, he has actually supported the Dallas Stars for much longer. He wanted a specific jersey from each of his teams' current offerings, but the Rangers' jersey was more expensive than at Sports Authority and they didn't have the Stars' one he wanted, so we left empty-handed. Actually I tell a lie, we left via their hockey-themed Starbucks with a drink each.

We took our beverages over to the seated area outside the Fox News (*shudder*) building and enjoyed them with the cupcakes we'd bought from Sugar Sweet Sunshine earlier. I understood why they are so many people's favourite cupcakes - it wasn't so much that they were delicious (although they were - you could really taste the flavourings rather than just sugar), but they had also been a bargain at $1.75 each. That said, for texture reasons if nothing else, Crumbs still had the edge for me.

Next we walked over to the Rockefeller Center and found the entrance to Top of the Rock. On our last trip to New York we'd been to the top of the Empire State Building, but many people suggest that Top of the Rock is better because there are shorter queues and you can see Central Park and the Empire State Building itself from there. Always suckers for an impressive view, we were eager to compare the two experiences and up we went.

I have to say, the rumours about the length of the lines are entirely true. With the Empire State Building, we had to wait for about twenty minutes for an elevator to the observation deck (and apparently that's a short wait), whereas with Top of the Rock there were only two elevators' full of people ahead of us and they went quickly. The elevator ride itself was pretty cool too. I won't ruin the surprise, except to say "look up!"

There are three observation decks at the Top of the Rock. The bottom two floors (the 67th and 69th) have clear plastic panels to shield you from the wind a bit, but the top one (the 70th floor) is completely open. We tried all three of them and although my favourite was the 70th floor with its uninhibited views, it was absolutely freezing up there!

View of Central Park from Top of the Rock Rockefeller Center New York

View of the Empire State Building from Top of the Rock Rockefeller Center New York

Literally freezing, as it turns out: as the sun set over the city and darkness started to fall, it brought with it a snow storm. We watched the grey clouds roll down over the George Washington Bridge, over Central Park, and then suddenly the swirling snow was whipping around us.

Snow storm approaching Manhattan New York over George Washington Bridge

We were waiting for the Empire State Building to turn its lights on and it was a magical (if cold!) experience to watch the snow fall over the city as it steadily lit itself up for the night.

View of Empire State Building and Manhattan in snow storm from Top of the Rock Rockefeller Center

When the feeling in our extremities had gone from stinging to numb, we decided it was time to go back inside. We made our way to Starbucks in the Rockefeller Center for a warming drink. Well, I did - the Yorkshireman bizarrely ordered an iced tea (out of habit I imagine) and was bemused at his own choice. I hooked my phone up to the free WiFi to plan the specifics of our evening's activities - we had an idea of what we were doing but not specifically where and I was unwilling to wander the snowy streets without a specific destination to aim for. Strangely our evening ended up being completely different than we planned anyway, and all the better for it.

On our last visit we'd spent a fabulous evening at Duplex Piano Bar in the West Village but I'd also heard about another piano bar, Don't Tell Mama in Midtown and decided to try that one instead on this trip.

First of all we decided to go and see what the situation was with tables in a nearby restaurant I'd heard a lot about, Becco. After a lot of unnecessary faffing about with closing one door before you open another at the entrance to the restaurant, we eventually established that they had no tables available until 8.30pm, which was two and a half hours away. However last time we'd gone to a piano bar the time had flown by, so we made a reservation and then went out in search of an ATM so we'd be able to tip at Don't Tell Mama.

We did find an ATM on 9th Avenue but we also found an Amy's Bread there too. Amy's Bread was another competitor on my list for the title of 'World's Best Cupcake' and so I couldn't pass it by without purchasing one (yellow cake with pink frosting - as close to vanilla as possible). I tucked it away in my bag for later and we returned to Don't Tell Mama.

The Yorkshireman ordered us a drink at the bar while I went in search of a restroom, which turned out to be kinda gross. When I got back they'd served up my "Long Island Iced Tea but made with Diet Coke, not regular"... except I'd been given a Long Island Iced Tea (which tasted horribly of whiskey for some reason) and also a separate Diet Coke. Again, I get that there might have been confusion because of our accents, but no-one else has ever had a problem when I've ordered that.

I might have forgiven the drinks mix up but there was just something really off about the piano bar as a whole. The woman singing at the piano had clearly refused to use a microphone, the result of which was that only the table beside the piano could hear her at all. There were also precocious children getting in everyone's way, perhaps something to do with the Performers Theatre Workshops they were holding that day. I know it was still pretty early but there was none of the ambience I'd expect from a piano bar and we just didn't like it.

We finished our drinks (superfluous Diet Coke included) and went back on to the street. We had no idea how we could fill the hour and a half until our reservation at Becco so we decided to cut our losses with Midtown, cancel the reservation and go elsewhere for the evening.

When we thought about it, we knew what would really make us happy that night. First stop was a proper meal in the Malibu Diner, where we'd eaten a few times on our last trip since it had been close to our hotel. We each had a two course meal that seemed to contain all of the food groups and left feeling full and contented for $50 all in, including tax and tip. I had tried meatloaf for the first time ever (not really something we do in Belfast) and it was very nice - I can see why it's a favourite comfort food in the States.

Then we made our way down to the West Village again - Duplex, we were back! It was exactly as we remembered it and just as much fun. Shanna was still there singing and wisecracking through the night, but this time Brian was on the piano.

We wrote our request for two songs on a napkin and put a tip in the big perspex top hat. They were pretty obscure requests and I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd laughed them off, but with all due respect and gratitude to Brian, who is clearly as nutty as we are, he dutifully performed a song from Avenue Q (There's a Fine Fine Line) and one from Buffy Once More With Feeling (I'm Under Your Spell), explaining to the piano bar's customers what exactly was happening during the latter song in the actual episode. It was freaking awesome!

We also made a new friend at Duplex, who was as camp as all get out. Topics of conversation included how he could lose a stone and a half before his vacation in a month's time (apparently the secret is to eat nothing, only drink alcohol and then throw up), how big my boobs are (and he's "not even a boob guy!" - I would think not!) and how his boyfriend was too "boring" to come out partying with him on a Sunday night. We even got to say hi to said boyfriend on his cell phone (proof I'd had enough to drink - I have a big phone phobia). I love New Yorkers.

Also? Duplex made me a "Long Island Iced Tea but made with Diet Coke, not regular" without a problem. And it was delicious. Yes, Duplex beat Don't Tell Mama hands down.

Buzzed from the beer and excellently performed live music, we made our way back to Brooklyn and into the bed cave. It had been an awesome day and tomorrow, if all went according to plan, had the potential to be pretty damn awesome too.

P.S. I don't actually remember when I ate the Amy's Bread cupcake but I remember that while it was nice, it didn't beat Crumbs, or even Sugar Sweet Sunshine actually.

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