My son and I just got back from a quick weekend in New York City, running around to visit a few of our favorite places in the City that Never Sleeps.
A little backstory before getting to this trip. It was a bit unplanned, but when I found out that my son had booked a trip to NYC to see the New York Philharmonic, I knew I didn’t want him to be up there by himself. Now, he’s been to NYC with my wife and I five times over the past few years and he’s been up a couple other times with friends so he knows his way around the city pretty well, it’s just that things aren’t quite the same as they used to be up there and that’s how I ended up joining him for this quick weekend trip in the middle of winter. Brrrrr.
It started early Saturday morning meeting him at Orlando International Airport’s brand new Terminal C for the trip up to JFK in Queens where he wanted to show me the TWA Hotel before we took the Airtrain out to Jamaica Station for a ride on the train into Manhattan. The hotel is a literal step back in time and worth a visit if you’ve got the time while you’re at JFK and for sure it’s worth an overnight stay to be able to fully enjoy the ammenties.
Sitting outside of the hotel is a Lockhead Constellation known as “Connie”. You can read more about the history of this plane here.
Then it was time to head to Jamaica Station for a ride into Manhattan and this time we opted for the Long Island Railroad instead of the subway.
If you step back and look around a bit, the train and subway stations around New York City can be pretty stunning.
We’ve stayed in different areas of Manhattan on our trips and my son had picked the Hampton Inn on 35th St. just east of the Macy’s flagship store for this one. We like to stay in different areas to see how they work out as far as being able to get around the city since we do tend to use our feet and the subway system to move about whenever possible. One thing that stood out at this hotel took place less than five minutes after getting up to our room. The phone located on the table rang which made both my son and I look at each other but when I picked it up, it was simply the front desk asking how the room was. We’ve stayed at many different hotels all over the country and not even at a place like the Ritz Carlton in Lake Tahoe (where we overnighted last spring) have we ever had that happen. Two thumbs up Hampton Inn.
You don’t come to NYC to hang out in your hotel though, so we bundled up and headed out to get right to visiting some of our favorite places. First up was a walk through Bryant Park over to the New York Public Library on 5th Ave. which we have walked inside, but never really explored. Pro Tip #1- public bathrooms (especially clean ones) are a rareity in many parts of NYC and the ones inside the library are free to use AND clean. There are rooms that you can’t access inside the library unless you’re actually there to do some research, but the architecture throughout the different floors of the library makes it 100% worth a visit.
Don’t think you’ve seen it all as soon as you walk through the front door. Although the lobby is enough to take your breath away.
There is no fee to walk inside the library, but you can’t go into every room as some are set aside for people actually doing research.
You could easily spend a couple hours roaming the halls of the library.
Next we walked over to Grand Central Station and that too, is always worth a walk through the main portion of the terminal.
The best thing about Grand Central Station, at least according to a pretty famous lion is that it’s grand and it’s central!
We had discovered a locally owned hobby shop that specializes in trains right in the heart of Midtown on our last trip (which was the weekend before Christmas in 2021) and now we will always pay a visit to The Red Caboose on W. 45th St. and it’s located through a doorway and then downstairs. This location has been a hobby shop since 1946 and it’s literally jam packed with thouands of items.
It was time to get our first bite to eat on this trip and one place that was on our list of must do’s was Bengal Tiger on W. 56th St. (which happens to be the first place my family ate at in Manhattan on our first visit years ago and it’s actually our favorite spot to get Indian food anywhere). We went for lunch because the place tends to get packed easily.
We have ordered food to-go from here in the past, but sitting down is the thing to do. The aroma of the food coming out of the kitchen is surreal and every time a server walks past your table, you’re wishing it was your food coming!
My son and I then walked up to Central Park to look for a tiny piece of history that is unknown by most, but highly sought after for those who search for cool historical things. Over 200 years ago, John Randel Jr, the surveyor and brains behind the Manhattan Grid placed markers at would would become the intersections of the avenues and streets in Manhattan. Most of these relics are long gone, but a few remain. One of the railroad spikes he used can still be found in Central Park at what would have been an intersection, but the road was not built through the park. It’s exact location isn’t something you can easily find online and I’m not going to give it away as the search for it is the fun part. I will say that it can be found in the southeastern section of the park, embedded in a rock at what would be the intersection of 65th Av.e and 6th St. It took us a couple trips to find it and it still takes a little looking to find it again, but it’s there if you want to have some fun looking for hidden history.
Next, we walked down 5th Ave. to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral which is another must visit on your trips to NYC and if there’s not a mass going on, take the time to walk around the entire church. It’s worth your time. If you happen to be there during mass, stay for a bit and you’ll surely hear that huge pipe organ.
If you arrive at St. Patrick’s between masses, you’re able to get some images from all over.
Typically we visit Manhattan it’s between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but we were lucky enough to catch the last day that the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree was lit!
The new FAO Schwarz toy store is located just west of where the tree is set up and even though it’s not quite as cool as the original store, it’s worth a visit event if it’s just to see the famous “piano”.
We were pretty worn out by this time (I had been up since 2 a.m.) so it was time to hop on the subway for a quick ride back down to the hotel. Pro Tip #2- There’s nothing wrong with riding the subway as long as you know where you’re going, you aren’t riding it in the middle of the night and you stay aware of your surroundings. Head on a swivel people, that’s how you stay safe anywhere.
After a very short nap, we went right back out for some more exploring and a quick afternoon snack at Carnegie Pizza on W. 41st St. where they always have a huge selection of pies that you can get as slices or you can order entire pies.
After snacking on our first NYC pizza during this trip (BTW, over the years, we’ve eaten at over 20 local pizzerias in all five boroughs), we took a subway down to NOHO to visit the oldest continuously running pub in the country. McSorley’s Old Ale House has been open since 1854 and this icon of the city can be found on E. 7th St.
Don’t come here looking for fancy craft beer or any national brand. They serve their own brand of ale in two versions, light and dark. That’s how you order them and yes every single mug is just about half full when it arrives. It’s how they do it and they serve thousands of them every single day. There’s also food to be had but to be honest, we’ve never had the time to sit and enjoy a meal there. The place is typically jam packed and you’ll be amazed at the feel of stepping back in time with all of the memorabilia located inside. It’s said that even Abraham Lincoln had himself a few mugs of McSorley’s Ale back in his day.
One item hanging from the ceiling is an old, dust covered chandelier and you may wonder why there are turkey wishbones hanging from it. As the story goes, back during World War I customers that were leaving to go fight in Europe left a turkey wishbone on the chandelier before they shipped off and when they returned, they took one down. The bones that remain to this day are from those customers who didn’t return home. That right there is enough to put a chill in your bones and to raise a mug to honor them whenever you are lucky enough to be sitting in the pub.
One of my personal favorite doughnut shops is located in Midtown and the only location that remains open is a couple blocks away from McSorley’s. Donut Pub is open 24 hours for your snacking pleasure.
The point of this visit was because my son wanted to catch a particular performance by the New York Philharmonic and after a quick trip back to the hotel to change, we took a subway up to the Lincoln Center to enjoy that concert.
Oh, and it was my first time seeing “gender neutral” restrooms where men and women were lined up together to use the same facility. Funny thing was, after the shock of seeing it, it wasn’t a big deal. After all, you’re going into a stall, doing whatever it is you’re doing and then leaving. Although if you’re a guy and you leave the lid up, you’re liable to be called something not very nice by the next lady to walk into that stall.
A visit to Times Square is kind of a must do even if you’re just going to take a picture or two and of course we did just that. It was pretty cold so we didn’t hang out long, but there’s plenty to see for sure.
Since this is the city that never sleeps, it’s not a problem finding something to eat even after a late concert. Another place we had on our list to get food from is one of The Halal Guys food carts that you can find on on both corners of W. 53rd St. and 6th Ave. There are numerous food carts like these located all over the city, but these two are our go to spots and it’s not unheard of on a day where the weather is nice, to see dozens of people sitting around wherever they can find a seat, enjoying a meal. There are no seats or tables around the carts so most people get their food to go and that’s what we did since it was below 30 degrees outside and all we wanted to do is stop walking.
The next morning, I woke up early to go pick up fresh bagels from three different pretty famous NYC bagel shops. Both Ess-a Bagels and Black Seed Bagels have multiple locations throughout Manhattan and Liberty Bagels was the third stop.
There was also a visit to Bear Donut on W. 31st St. where they have created the “doffle”. What a cool creation and worth a visit for sure.
As a longtime photojournalist I needed to pay a visit to the holy grail of photo shops and you can find B&H Photo on 9th Ave. between 33rd St. and 34th St. They’re not open on Saturday so plan ahead when you think about visiting.
On the way to B&H, I saw one of NYPD’s finest on horseback so I had to take a picture and the horse decided to smile back.
We needed a quick snack on the way back to the hotel and we took a slight detour up to Joe’s Pizza on Broadway for a couple of cheese slices. There can be a pretty lengthy line at Joe’s which is why we went right after they opened up.
It was time to pack up and check out of the hotel but you will find that most hotels in NYC allow you to store your luggage there if your flight isn’t until later in the day (and we typically take advantage of that). After checking out we walked over to the Macy’s flagship store (which is the world’s largest department store) at 34th and Broadway to go for a ride on the old wooden escalators which were built in the 1920’s and 30’s. There are modern escalators between every level, but it’s pretty wild to go on the old ones.
Next, we took a subway down to Chelsea Market on 9th Ave. between 14th St. and 15th St. for lunch and it’s another one of those places you really have to get to. Over the years we’ve eaten at many of the places inside and we tried something we hadn’t seen before at Chote Miya. They serve authentic Indian “street food” and this is their chana masala kathi roll. Think of it as the yummiest fried, flavorful Indian spiced burrito you could put in your mouth. It’s a bit on the spicy side as is a lot of Indian food so be prepared.
Now I am not a coffee drinker, but my son is and next to Chelsea Market is a Starbucks Reserve Roaster. It doesn’t matter what you think about the coffee in a regular Starbucks, these reserve roaster locations are an entirely different animal.
I have not made a trip to New York City without visiting the 9/11 Memorial and that was our next stop.
You can literally feel the power of this place and we must #NeverForget.
One last stop was required for this trip and it involved a subway ride over to Brooklyn to visit the only Wegmans in the city.
With suitcases full of food to bring back home, we made our way to LaGuardia in Queens and said goodbye to New York City, until next time!
Coming up next is a look back at some of our other visits to NYC.