The main point of our trip was to see plays. Our son really loves the theater and seems to hate almost everything else, so New York was the place to go for a bit of family time. We also didn’t walk as much as we would have liked, because my husband has a problem with his foot. So walking much around Central Park or all day in a big museum was out. We managed to arrange a great trip anyway!
Our hotel: Affinia 50 on East 50th Street. Got suite on 14th floor, perfectly acceptable. Had modest view looking south on 3rd Avenue, and in another direction we could see the East River. Room was a true suite and the whole thing was larger than expected, with many closets. Good bed. Kitchen large also – full sized fridge, stove, sink. We enjoyed toasting bagels from H & H one morning. Bathroom kind of small but with a window in the shower. Why do hotel room bathrooms so often lack ventilation? Staff also fairly nice, well, other than the desk staff they were very nice. Decent location – only about 4 blocks to Rockefeller Center and then a short hop to Times Square. Worked out well.
Near our hotel -- not too much on 3rd Avenue, but over on Second Avenue there are more restaurants. I discovered a very sweet tiny private park on East 51st Street, between 3rd Ave and 2nd Ave. It has a LARGE waterfall, a “stream,” lovely seating, and even a small concession stand. What a wonderful place for a break. Also on 3rd between 50th and 51st Street there is a serious coffee store (maybe called Oren’s?).
After checking in to our hotel, we immediately went to the Times Square area to get drinks and dinner before going to our first show. Had a few drinks at Sardi’s, which brought back a very nice memory for me. Bartender is fabulous. It’s a tiny bar but historic and worth a visit. Then dinner at Becco’s, also on 44th Street I believe. We thought it was pretty good, perhaps not great. Very nice service. Nice menu. I loved my stuffed zucchini flower appetizer. Finally, saw The 39 Steps. We laughed a lot, and our son really loved it. A fun, lightweight, and kinetic theater experience. Good for teens and kids (ours is 15).
During our trip, we walked through Rockefeller Center quite a few times, going between our hotel and Times Square. It’s really interesting, especially if you are into the heroic architectural and sculpture style of that era and/or if you are into television. We are fond of a number of shows on NBC and on MSNBC, so it was fascinating to be on the spot where many of those shows are made. We managed to avoid the Friday mobs around the Today Show (the concert was over) but still saw the technical crews and the equipment, and get close to the main studio for the show.
We did the NBC Studio Tour. All three of us found it really interesting. I like seeing things behind the scenes, and don’t need to spot celebrities (we didn’t really spot any, well unless Tiki Barber counts). The guides were fabulous and there was plenty of time to ask questions about what they showed us. It’s hard to believe Saturday Night Live is filmed up on the 8th floor of that enormous building – I don’t know why, but this seems counterintuitive. Seeing their set was kind of strange. I think you might not be able to see this on your tour if you go closer to the broadcast, but our tour was at 11:15 on a Friday and the set was empty. Enjoyed seeing some news sets, including for the Brian Williams broadcast – shockingly small! The building itself (the GE Building) is really beautiful inside. I definitely recommend doing this tour.
Then a quick walk through the “Diamond District” – they don’t like you to take photos there, but the security guard who spoke to me was very polite. Finally we headed towards the Carlyle Hotel, to visit the Bemelmans Bar. Our family is fond of Bemelmans, who created the Madeleine series of children’s books, but we also have a slight connection to him. I thought I read that lunch was available, but that was not the case. We stayed anyway to have a few cold drinks and take in the murals. They have a great old bartender there who has been there forever and can answer any question. Bemelmans also painted around each of the supporting columns in the space, and painted lampshades for all the tables. This place was charming, and there was even more Bemelmans square footage than I had imagined. Worth a visit if you like Madeleine or like this kind of illustration. I also love visiting iconic old hotels.
Now starving, we zipped across Central Park to go to Zabar’s café. It’s just a casual place with a big communal table, but I liked it. Excellent prices. I got blintzes and a Dr. Brown’s soda and a black and white cookie. Right in the next space across the street is H & H Bagels. So we loaded up on bagels, planning to eat them the next morning in our hotel room. When we did they were still wonderful! My husband had never been to the Upper West Side so we just enjoyed walking a little bit around Zabar’s and towards the Natural History Museum, which is SO HUGE. I had a feeling we should not go in to visit the museum on this trip, in order to avoid museum fatigue. Walking around two sides of the outside of the museum was a little tiring! It will have to wait for another visit. Same with MOMA and the Metropolitan. Instead we focused on seeing plays and seeing some of the great sights that did not take a big time commitment (for example, I had no interest in the Empire State building due to the lines I had experienced in the past, and I knew my son would be very cranky waiting in those lines).
Back to the hotel, then a quick dinner before our second play. We saw Wicked. My son absolutely adored it, and we liked it very much. I wish I had gotten seats a little closer – we were almost in the very back row of the top balcony and I felt we were a little far away. We could see the entire stage, but it would have been more powerful to be a bit closer. Also my seats had a very annoying defect – every time someone opened the nearby exit door to the lobby, an extremely extremely bright light out in the lobby shined (shone?) right into my eyes almost like someone pointing a flashlight in my face. Not good, especially at this price! But this was still a great play-going experience.
Next day, we took a quick look at the “Lipstick” building near our hotel (it’s at about 54th Street) which is where the Madoff business was. Then took the subway down to Brooklyn Bridge stop. The Brooklyn Bridge was my husband’s favorite thing about the trip. It’s especially wonderful if it is a beautiful summer day (which it was), and also if you are at all familiar with the history of the bridge. Do see the Ken Burns documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge. It is amazing and makes visiting the bridge that much more meaningful. Loved the guys selling cold water out of coolers every 100 yards or so (thank you!).
Then lunch at Katz’s Deli. Hated it. I mean, the food was pretty good, but they herd you through like cattle and abuse you. Is that part of the authentic experience? I only learned as we were leaving that one section of the restaurant had waiter service, but when I looked at those customers they looked pretty frustrated. And you pay something like $16 for a sandwich! The whole “system” seems designed to maximize the cash they make and minimize the labor they expend to make the money. You have to wait in multiple lines to get your food, and then you wait in another line to pay. No thanks, not at all worth it.
Greenwich Village, to walk around and maybe have a snack before our next play. It’s so much fun walking around at random without planning anything, and you don’t have to walk far to see a good place to stop. We enjoyed the block where the chess shops are. We also liked stopping at the Half Pint pub, which was pretty much in the open air. Later we got cannolis at Rocco’s – delicious and they were very nice.
The last play we saw was Our Town at the Barrow Theater. I wanted to see something in a smaller theater, and a classic if possible. This fit the bill and this was my favorite thing about our trip. It’s just amazing. I recommend it highly. I heard about how some of the audience seats are basically on the stage and you could become part of the play – it’s true. I got seats that were NOT on the stage and was happy with that choice. It’s an incredibly intimate experience and we were only about 10 feet from the action.
Last day was a Sunday. We wanted to eat brunch nearby and ended up at Wollensky’s grill. So-so. The food was fair to good but it is not breakfast or brunch food. It’s lunch. And the air conditioning is dialed down to frozen – is that possibly so you will rush a little? I was not comfortable. Then we dashed to Penn Station to catch the train to Boston. A very good trip overall.