The morning started with another walk to the Rockefeller Center to see if it would be a good day to visit the observation gallery, the Top of the Rock, but it was too cloudy again. So instead we headed to Central Park, stopping to have a look at the Plaza Hotel (only because, of course, it was the one in Home Alone 2). After walking for what seemed like a while, past the famous horse carriages, we got the subway a couple of stops but were still in the lower end of the park.
We saw the Dakota Building, famous as a home to actors, singers and artists, infamous as the place John Lennon was murdered. We also saw the nearby Strawberry Fields memorial, with its “Imagine” mosaic, and Bethesda Terrace, with the famous fountain seen in everything from films to Grand Theft Auto IV. Central Park is not at all like the parks in Central London, it’s much less flat and a lot more rocky. But, like London’s parks, it’s a tranquil, beautiful place, something it’s so important to have in a big city.
Next stop was Columbus Circle, where we headed to the bar near the top of the Manderin Hotel. Despite being slightly scruffily dressed, we were treated like VIPs by the attentive staff. It all felt ever so classy. There were some glorious views over Central Park to enjoy, and I could see that what I thought had been a very long walk deep into the park had actually barely gone a quarter of the way into it. I had easily the most delicious glass of Prosceo I’ve ever had (perhaps the thirst after all the walking helped) and an amazing Twitter-themed cocktail, the most expensive drinks of the whole trip by a very long way, but worth every cent.
It was lunchtime, so we headed down to Shake Shack near Times Square. The queues there are notoriously long, but for good reason – it was worth the wait. I couldn’t be sure, but perhaps the burger there wasn’t quite as good as Five Guys, but it was a very close-run thing. But, either way, the milkshake I had with it was divine. I’ve had some of the tastiest food of my life on this trip.
Walking down the street, some tourists from mid-western America approached to ask directions, thinking I was a New Yorker. It’s something that’s happened to other Londoners I’ve spoken to, it seems we have a similar way about us. I certainly felt like I’d instantly fit in with the city, even if the pace was a few bpm faster than London, I felt I could easily live and work there and I got the feeling that Londoners and New Yorkers have more in common with each other than with people from the small towns of our own countries.
We walked down to the Circle Line cruise terminal on the west side of Manhattan. While others were boarding boats to spend a leisurely couple of hours cruising around the Statue of Liberty, we were preparing for something quite different. THE BEAST. As I took my seat in the speedboat alongside several other passengers, I didn’t know quite what to expect. It was going to be fast, sure, but I had no idea quite how fast. Soon enough, we were all tearing down the Hudson River, feeling as if a force-nine gale was blowing in our faces as we were bounced up and down in our seats to the sound of Guns’n’Roses blasting out of the boat’s sound system. It was an amazing experience to see so much of the city go by so quickly, before stopping by Liberty Island to catch our breath and take a few photos and then zooming back to where we started.
We took a bus back to the hotel to prepare for the night ahead. Before heading to Brooklyn, we went back to Times Square, this time to see how it looked in the evening. I saw five, maybe six Elmos walking around. There was a real buzz in the air, a sense of excitement all around, but it was incredibly crowded, even more so than I was expecting, and just like places like Leicester Square back home it wasn’t somewhere I’d want to stay for very long. Walking down Broadway towards Penn station, the bright glow of Times Square followed us for a long time, making everything else seem very dark and murky.
After taking the train to Willamsburg, we went back to the Leevy, one of the highlights of the first night. While it was still nice, it didn’t seem quite as good the second time around, although we did discover a whole other half of the bar that we didn’t realise existed before. From there, we walked down to the Brooklyn Ale House. Now, this was a proper place. Dirt cheap booze, good music playing, but quiet enough to have a conversation (including one where we both simultaneously lost the ability to perform very simple sums while trying to work out what to put in our spending kitty). There wasn’t anything particularly spectacular about the place, you might even call it a dive bar, but it’s the sort of place you’d like to call your local.
After that, we walked down the road to a bar that sits right at the opposite end of the spectrum, but was just as enjoyable. Outside the Hotel Delmano, a doorman with a perfectly waxed hipster moustache thanked us for our patience as we waited for a table. Inside the busy, moodily-lit bar, I had an usual cocktail containing cider, rum and ginger. Not sure about the combination, but it was an interesting one. Then a waiter came over with a cheeseboard. We weren’t sure if it was complimentary or someone elses, but we hadn’t ordered it. After weighing up the decision, the cheese was eaten, and then it was added to the bill. This cheeseboard confusion would end up providing a hilarious anecdote we’ll be telling pretty much forever. Yes, hilarious. No, you shut up.
We next had a drink in a place called Soft Spot, which seemed to be genuinely lovely place but one that we’d visited at the wrong time. It wasn’t very busy at all and the atmosphere was pretty much dead. It was quite the opposite at the Greenpoint Tavern, an Irish bar that seemed to sell beer by the bucket. The busiest bar of the night, with Springsteen on the jukebox, neon shamrocks in the window and a crowd of mostly very large, fairly scary-looking but actually quite friendly people, it seemed like I’d walked into a scene from a 1980s movie about truckers. And I mean that in a good way. After that, a great bar called Iona, where we spotted Tottenham Hotspur memorabilia above the bar and chatted to the barman about Premier League football, while a terrific DJ was playing some really good music.
We weren’t sure about where to make our final stop, but most people we asked recommended Union Pool. As we walked in it’s general direction, vaguely towards the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, I asked a passer-by for directions. “That way, man!”, he slurred as he pointed the way, “Have a great time! There’s loads of pussy!”. Right. Well, in that case. “Um, thanks”, I replied as he tottered off to presumably collapse in a nearby gutter. I was felt like I was suddenly in a teen frathouse comedy. Probably one of the straight-to-DVD American Pies.
Union Pool, it turns out, was a great place. There were three sections. The first was like a standard corner pub with a small bar where they were selling cans of Bud for next-to-nothing. Then there was a large outdoor area, where there was a terrific atmosphere and we found ourselves talking to some apparently French guys who didn’t sound very French. It felt less like a bar and much more like a house party. And finally, there was a room with a DJ and a dancefloor, playing some great music with all sorts of visuals projected onto a screen behind him. He ended, of course, with the Beastie Boys. When he played the final track of the night, No Sleep Till Brooklyn, with all of the emotion following Adam Yauch’s passing, I just felt so honoured to be there, like an outsider being welcomed into a very personal moment for everyone else in the room. Right there, for a very brief moment, it felt like that room was the centre of the universe. It was very, very special.
We got a cab back to the hotel. Fight for Your Right to Party came on the radio. We asked the driver to turn up the volume, and we yelled out the lyrics as we drove across the East River.
MOM, YOU’RE JUST JEALOUS, IT’S THE BEASTIE BOYS!
We were quite drunk.