NYC

Another New York — Part 3: The Empire State Building, aka the $20 view

July 9, 2009

I feel wrong posting about visiting such a common tourist landmark, especially with all my snobbery about “not being a tourist.” The truth is, there are certain things in life that are checks in a box — picture in front of the Eiffel tower (check), riding cable cars in SF (check), top of the famed Empire State Building (Fifth Avenue at 34th Street) …something I’ve been avoiding as much as a visit to Ellis Island (no check).

It was only in discussing evening plans with my friend, a recent NY transplant, that we jokingly talked about visiting the Empire State Building as a way to spend the evening. At first we both laughed heartily at the suggestion, being that we are so above such things (ha!), but as the night wore on, the idea sounded more and more appealing.

In fact, “being tourists” became our theme for the night. Walks like a duck, talks like a duck, okay dammit, maybe I’m a tourist.

But first, a 1hr+ subway ride from the Bronx to the East Village to  mission headquarters, aka Ippudo NY (65 4th Ave,between 2nd Ave & 8th St), to satisfy my day-old Ramen craving and discuss the evening plans.

classic ramen

classic ramen

This Ramen house — which is all the rage on the Yelping scene — required a 1 hr wait at 9:30/10 pm on a Monday. If the food justifies the wait, then I’m all for it. The food, however, has to be amazing for that long of a wait.

The verdict: It was good. $15 for a bowl of noodles, combined with a $1hr wait, combined with the overly affectionate couple sitting across the bench table from us = I’d consider other options before frequenting here again. As far as I could tell, there’s not much of a reason for the hype. It’s good, but then NY is flooded with so many good restaurants.

Late night etertainment came in the form of moving the cube in Astor Place, which my partner in crime told me was popular with the tourists.

Astor Place cube

Astor Place cube

Getting that thing to move was a bit like trying to swim in mud. It didn’t help that I had 3 liters of ramen sloshing around in my stomach.

Most amusing were the people who stopped to watch me and my friend push this cube around (while chuckling hysterically inbetween huffs and puffs), as if we were street buskers. Once we left, like a chain reaction, they tried their hands at the cube-pushing, and were watched by a new batch of onlookers, who took their place once they left, and so on and so forth. As the cube turns.

Meanwhile, we were well on our way towards a well-traveled part of town

Flatiron building

Flatiron building

A building I have passed many times, yet never stopped to actually look.

We goofed around here on an island in the middle of the street, taking stupid pictures of each other, and smiling/posing as cheesy as humanly possible, before moving onto the main event.

View from the top

View from the top

We managed to catch the last elevator up, which was about 10:30 (the website indicates the ESB closes at 2am, however, when we were there, it closed at 11:30).  One of my hesitations about visiting the Empire State Building was that I had heard to buy tickets in advance because it was always sold out or the lines were always impossibly long. I don’t know how reliable my sources were, or even if this is just something I assumed, but at 10:30 on a Monday, we essentially had the place to ourselves.

Viewfinders

Viewfinders

Something to note for people who have more regular schedules — from the escalator in the lobby to the first ticket booth, to the second ticket booth, to the first elevator to the second elevator were those velvet line separators. I have no idea if, on a typical day, there are enough people to wind around the velvet ropes that many times, but I don’t think I ever want to know. All I know is that on a Monday, the last elevator up held just me and my friend, who joined maybe 10 other people to a view that seemed to belong only to us.  I guess there could be romance to that type of setting, but if you had to share the view with whatever maximum capacity is, I don’t think it would be remotely enjoyable. Another thing to note is that if you have plans of going to the 102nd floor — we only went as far as the 86th — it will cost you an extra $15, for a grand total whopping $35 view  (Grouse Mountain, anyone?).  If you add audio tours, express pass, all that other stuff, you’re looking at upwards of $50 or more. For a frickin’ view, people.  I cannot see any reason to want to go all the way to the top — you’d just be further away from taking the standard Chrysler building photos, and you wouldn’t get the “looking up to see the lit part of the building” shot.

Alternately, if you are in the military, and wear your uniform, you get in free. That’s pretty cool.

looking up

looking up

After trying to get our money’s worth (i.e. taking as many silly pictures as possible until we were kicked out), we took several elevators down until we were dumped into the glorious gift shop. The Bronx Zoo should take a lesson from these retail geniuses — pretty much anything and everything you could ever want stamped with the Empire State Building logo/building/king kong could be found in an assortment of products. If you’ve been to M&M world in Vegas — well, this was like that.

I walked away with this, my only souvenir:

Flattened penny souvenier

Flattened penny souvenir

I think my friend wanted me to have a memory of that night, which I told him in my typical abrasive/sarcastic/charming manner was lame, especially given how for one buck, they could at least stamp a date onto the penny. Moments later, I found my friend fiddling with a random sharp object (keys? pocket knife?) carving the date helter skelter style into the backside of the penny. I still have that penny, thank you very much, and I actually will probably tuck it away someplace safe, to be reminded of our shenanigans atop the Empire State Building every time I come across it.

As beautiful as it was up on the top, $20 to say you’ve been at the top of the Empire State Building still seems like a steep price to pay. I’m 50/50 on whether or not it was worth it–on the one hand, my box has now been sufficiently checked. On the other, $20 for a nice view that I could have probably had a some high rise bar…not 100% sold. Whether you decide to go up, the lobby itself is well worth a visit, and is an example of an exquisite art deco interior. It kind of sets the mood, and makes me wonder what old New York must have been like.

at least 2 guards yelled at me while taking this picture. he was trying to get all the tourists to go home.

at least 2 guards yelled at me while taking this picture. he was trying to get all the tourists to go home.

Tourist trap, well-loved landmark, memory of a time since past, must-see New York — whatever you want to call it — the point is we had a fun time, being stupid, and acting like the ridiculous tourists that we were, or at least that I was.

There, I said it.

leaving the building

leaving the building

EAT
Ippudo NY (65 4th Ave,between 2nd Ave & 8th St)

SEE
Empire State Building (Fifth Avenue at 34th Street)

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1 Comment

  • Reply One night in Boston « brown bag travel July 14, 2009 at 6:57 pm

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