Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Letters From (North) America #5

And so to our last day in the Big Apple...

* Walk around New York for long enough and you're practically guaranteed to come across a film crew. Enjoying a leisurely morning stroll in Central Park dodging the nannies with strollers, we stumbled onto the set of 'Sex And The City: The Movie'. How we managed it I'm not entirely sure, given that loitering paparazzi were being politely shooed away by security (though probably then only to secrete themselves in the bushes around the Lake). Stepping gingerly around snaking lengths of cable and retracing our steps back past table upon table of clothes and headsetted crew members clutching cappucinos, we remembered passing the characters' favourite bakery Magnolia en route for the White Horse Tavern the previous night - the queue for cupcakes was, as usual, out of the door and down the street.

Some park or other

Lights, camera, action...

* With its ceiling fans, 50s chic decor and red leather booth seating, eating in the Manhattan Diner opposite our hotel made us feel like extras in an episode of 'Happy Days'. When our attentive waiter came over, though, it wasn't Al and he didn't recommend the fish. Jenni went for the Mexican burger, while I plumped for the Lumberjack - essentially a full English breakfast perched atop no fewer than three tiered pancakes. That brought an additional dilemma, though - "How would you like your eggs?" Suddenly faced with the yawning gulf of cultural difference and no visible bridge, I blindly opted for sunny side up ahead of over-easy, having little idea of what either meant. It worked out OK.

* Grandiose, capacious, luxurious - and that's just the toilets. (Or should I say restrooms - for a nation like the US, not unfairly stereotyped as brash, the coy euphemism is rather curious.) In the battle of The Buildings You Simply Must Visit, the Art Deco palace that is Radio City Music Hall won out over the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center (essentially views vs interesting interior). Tours take place every 15 minutes and we were fortunate enough to be the only ones booked for 1.45pm, thus guaranteeing us our own personal guide. Joyce gave us the building's history, outlined the fruits of its extensive and faithful $70 million dollar renovation in 1999 and explained the intricate workings of the stage mechanics. The highlight of the tour, though, was obviously intended to be our meeting and photograph with one of the Rockettes, Radio City's legendary dance troupe, who appeared after a knock on the dressing room door - presumably she does this for each tour every fifteen minutes, like a strange life-size parody of a cuckoo clock. For a couple of Brits who'd never heard of them, this made for a very awkward exchange - perhaps akin to an American being granted the privilege of a chat with one of Pan's People. Sweet though she was (in a very wide-grinning apple-pie-eating way), we were more impressed with the toilets restrooms. Lucky we didn't try to visit a few days later - the Dalai Lama was in town and, according to Joyce, his "people" had forbidden any public tours of the building on security grounds...

Radio City Music Hall staircase

The auditorium

The ladies' "restrooms"

A Radio City Rockette and a couple of awkward Brits

* Apologies Brooklyn - we did make it to the other side of the Bridge, but soon managed to lose our bearings and figured our best bet was just to go back the way we'd come. Views of the increasingly familiar landmarks of Manhattan are partly obscured by cables, but it would be churlish to complain given that those same cables are responsible for saving you from plummetting into the East River.

Brooklyn Bridge

Downtown Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge

* McSorley's may be self-consciously dark and grubby, with yellowed newspaper clippings in glass frames on the walls and liberal amounts of sawdust (if not spit) on the floor, but as the city's "oldest continually operated saloon", established in 1854, it can probably get away with it. The choice of drinks is limited to a light ale or dark porter (unspecified by name), served up in half-pint tankards by a balding middle-aged Irishman who slaps them down on the table and then leafs through a wadge of notes for change. Jenni drank quickly, no doubt fearful that the decision to permit entry to women, finally taken in 1970, might be reversed at any moment.

* Burp Castle, for which we were looking when we came across McSorley's, is a strange little bar. We had been led to believe the staff would be clad in monks' robes in accordance with the general Trappist vibe, but they were in civvies. All the same, the beer selection was impressive - I opted for a half pint of Chimay in a stemmed glass - as was the large wall painting of a number of monks on some kind of raft. In the toilet someone had written: "Question authority". The response: "Says who?"

* Continuing on down East 7th Street, we stumbled (quite literally) upon Klimat, which had us realising we'd hit upon the jackpot. Intimate lighting, friendly service, two pints of Hoegaarden for $10 (and a decent range of other European lagers too) and delicious food - my pork loin in creamy green peppercorn sauce with crispy potatoes tossed in dill and unfussy vinegarette-doused salad was the best thing I ate in New York, after the Lombardi's pizza - had us rueing the fact that we had barely two hours left in the city.

* Time for one more drink. Looking for a place called 7B, we came across the Horseshoe Bar which, with the Joy Division song on the jukebox and general ambience, fitted the bill. Turned out it was 7B, the bar possessing a number of alter egos. The beer on tap was again good, the staff helpful and the Scottish couple sat at the bar engaging company. There was even a pub dog. When we're next back in town, whether at The Library or the Chelsea, East 7th Street will definitely be where we head to when the sun sets.

There ended three days of hyperactivity in New York, and we moved on to Toronto - stories of vertigo, unfamiliar sports, uninhibited dancing, friendly goats, even friendlier dogs, cabbages and clowns still to come.

(Incidentally, Andy's asked if there'll be photos - there will be, but only after we're back in Blighty I'm afraid.)

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