This was my first time in New York City to not *gasp* stay in Manhattan. Instead, I stayed in a 1940’s highrise in Riverdale (a flat owned by a friend), a Jewish community in the northwest Bronx. Old, Great Gatsby-like houses with cast-iron gates perch atop tree-lined cliffs in turn-of-the-century grandeur. From here, the Hudson actually looks beautiful. At the edge of town, near the bagel shop and Starbucks, rows of newer multi-story apartments stand guard. It reminded me nothing of Manhattan, more like a typical old school East Coast town – a mix of upper middle class (I’m assuming) and working class. And not a tourist in sight.
After being picked up at LaGuardia Airport, we headed straight to the Bagel Corner (581 W 235th St) for coffee and bagels. $14 later, we had 2 coffees and 2 bagels — one with lox and cream cheese, one plain and buttered. The ladies running the place were no-nonsense in a typical New-Yorker-with-an-accent way. When one of the surly ladies asked if I wanted sugar and milk, in went two heaping lumps of plain sugar, and a quarter cup of cream. I didn’t dare explain that I was hoping for 1 packet of splenda and a bit of soy milk. Gulp. Here’s your damn coffee, and you better like it!
From the Bronx to Little Italy took about 35-45 minutes by car, given traffic and rain. We lunched at Red Egg (202 Centre St), which supposedly featured a menu of fusion Chinese-Peruvian food. We only tried the dim sum, which was, for the most part, Chinese without the Peruvian.
Some items were delicious:
Other’s were not so delicious:
The best part was the strange disco Asian decor, complete with Johnny Chang the doorman with a slicked back hair, a sinister smile, and who looked like an Asian Johnny Cash. We half expected him to say, “we have been expecting you,” when we arrived.
From Battery Park, we took a free ferry to Governer’s Island.Chances are, you’ve never heard of Governor’s Island, and neither had I. Ellis Island, Staten Island, Long Island, I know all those. Governor’s Island? What’s that?The short story is that this island was a military outpost since Revolutionary days. As most places of this sort go, there was a brief revitalization effort that included important opera singers, followed by transitioning buildings to use for prisoners. Ultimately, the US military operated on this base until 1996, when the Coast Guard closed shop, and handed over everything to the state of New York, who is in the process of determining what to do with this island.
For now, it hosts numerous bike trails and events and art festivals, such as Figment, a burner-esque display of artwork from the amateur and art-school crowd. Part rave, part burning man practice installations, part senior year art school thesis, part hula-hooping subculture, Figment, to put it lightly, was weird, somewhat disorganized, and run by people who like to think of themselves as ‘the artistic type’. One exhibit included a girl, wearing a foam naked suit decorated in tube lights, singing while playing an electric guitar. To the right of her, partially hidden in a closet, was her sound guy. The point of this “installation” was for viewers (us) to come into the room, talk into her mic, and then the sound guy would record these voices so that the Foam Naked Lady could use them in her songs. She said it was living art.
Not all the exhibits were as horrific or in-your-face. Most were interactive, and great for kids. Many were confusing and overdeveloped in thought and underdeveloped in execution. We had fun in one exhibit where the artist lined the walls and floors in butcher paper, and supplied viewers paints, markers, glue, pictures, cotton, and crayons. We went to work immediately defacing all the previous “art.”
I’ll admit it. We had fun with this exhibit. Maybe not the kind of fun the artist intended, but fun nonetheless.
We roamed the rather deserted island, through empty streets lined with once-grand buildings. There was a melancholy feeling to the place; a place stuck in a time capsule, forever remembering a time that once was, and the people that once lived there.
There’s not much else to do besides walk around the island, peering through windows of the old officers’ houses, and imagining the dinner parties they must have had in the lovely dining rooms with french doors that opened out to a wraparound porch. Several (much better) permanent sculpture installations could be found in several of these faded houses.
Most spectacular were the views from the island.
A simple view through a lopsided window.
A glimpse into a now-abandoned prison
And the view from Desolation Point
It’s as if you are seeing New York for the first time, through the hazy eyes of a time since passed. It’s New York, and then it’s not.
After taking the Ferry back, we ventured back to Soho and shopped at the various street vendors, jewelry booths, sidewalk sales, and artisan stands. One stand in particular caught my attention (Northwest corner of Prince and Wooster Sts.), as it stood out from the booths of imported laser cut Chinese jewelry that is a dime a dozen on the streets of New York. Edgar is a dancer-turned-jewelry maker from LA who has quite the following it seemed for his line of jewelry. Most of his pieces, in the $25-$40 range, had a vintage-meets-modern quality about them that is perfectly Soho without the Soho prices. Hopefully, he remains somewhat “undiscovered” as I hope to visit his stand whenever I come to New York.
After shopping, we picked a random bar–of which Soho has many–to have early evening drinks. I don’t recall the name, I just know it was empty, and, after dealing with crowds in Soho, empty beats trendy any day of the week. Booze is booze, after all.
It’s nice to take a break in NYC to people watch, and our bar, whatever the name of it was, had a great view of street life.
For dinner, we decided to try Village Yokocho (8 Stuyvesant St, between 11th St & 12th St) in the East Village.
Village Yokocho did not disappoint. I found the menu to be more varied and “authentic” (what do I really know about authenticity, having only eaten at izakayas in N. America), with food that ranged from traditional yakitori:
to fresh “Sea Clams”
to strange concoctions like chicken with egg topped with cheese, mayo, and ketchup. It tasted like a Big Mac.
We arrived around 10pm on a Saturday without reservations, and were easily able to find a seat at the bar. I would say that this place was comfortably crowded and reasonably quiet. Not quite as rowdy as an Oh! Taisho, and with, in my opinion, better food.
To cap off the evening, we had drinks at Botanica Bar (47 E. Houston Street, Basement, between Greene St & Mott St) – a no-cover, dj-playing “dive bar” complete with mismatched vintage couches, well-worn chairs and $6 ginger drinks (!!!).
Several $6 ginger drinks later, we were joining the oddly assembled mix of people on the make-shift dance floor (any open space was fair game for dancing), making friends with the dj, and cheering on some guy we had never met, as he danced retro 90s dance moves (was he serious?)
Drinking and dancing with people you don’t know, followed by being idiots in the street as onlookers stare and taxi cab drivers honk, is the perfect way to end a day in NYC.
Breakfast. Brunch. Lunch. Pre-dinner at a local cafe, watching guidos blast cheesy music from an 80s sports car while double-parked, while eating a delicious reuben sandwich is the perfect way to “start” the day.
What was left of the following Sunday was spent drinking gatorade and snacking on local brand cheetos bought from a tiny, poorly stocked grocery store down the street from the Riverdale digs. Around 11pm or so, we mustered the courage to venture out once more, in the search of Ramen.
Don’t believe what they say about NYC being the city that never sleeps. On Sunday nights, it, and all the restaurants that serve ramen, close around 10pm.
Which led us to Hagi (152 W 49th St. between 7th Ave & Avenue Of The Americas, Theatre District) – yet another late-night izakaya. We spent several minutes trying to figure out where this place was — the sign is over a residential apartment doorway (which we rang the doorbell of, confused, and tried to sneak into/enter when some residents opened the door to leave), but the actual restaurant is several doors down, in the basement.
Unfortunately for us, they had one Ramen dish…and that was sold out. We made do with fried chicken gizzards, roe-stuff mackeral, and a pork and cabbage soup in an amazing bubbling broth. The pork and cabbage dish was by far the favorite of the night.
The crowd consisted of Japanese business men sharing a huge bottle of booze, restarant workers just getting off work, and the occasional bleary-eyed tourist. And then there was us–3 people recovering from hangovers, lining the stomach for another night of drinking.
Bagel Corner (581 W 235th St, Bronx)
Red Egg (202 Centre St, Little Italy)
Village Yokocho (8 Stuyvesant St, between 11th St & 12th St, East Village)
Hagi (152 W 49th St. between 7th Ave & Avenue Of The Americas, Theatre District)
Botanica Bar (47 E. Houston Street, Basement, between Greene St & Mott St)
Ovando Salvi (Northwest corner of Prince and Wooster Sts, Soho)
Governer’s Island (Free shuttle daily to the island from Battery Park. Check website for times)