During the decade after I left my heart in New York City (back in 2007), I continued to dream many different variations of a dream of my inevitable return. Flash forward to last January, when a steal of a flight deal from YVR to NYC finally led me to start spreading the news that I was leaving on a (commercial) jet plane to the Empire State for Round 2!
Here’s a summary (with snapshots) of my adventures in New York during the first two weeks of March 2019.
It’s Hip to be in Times Square
The crossroads of the world within the center of Midtown Manhattan, the bustlin’ intersection of Times Square is the heart of New York City. With the bright, beaming, neon lights blaring from the towering billboard advertisements showcasing the best of pop culture, you can see why New York is known as the entertainment center of the world.
Elton @ MSG
Seeing a show at the iconic Madison Square Garden has always been on my concert bucket list, so imagine how stoked I was to have the opportunity to attend Night 1 of Sir Elton John‘s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour at the Garden on my first official night in the city! As always, the consummate performer delivered a world-class show at MSG, and it was the perfect send-off for his goodbye tour.
To anyone going to New York to catch a musical or a play: do the morning rush lines at the theatre box offices! That’s how I was able to score tickets to Broadway’s hottest shows for less money, or closer seats, or both! With a reputation of being perpetually sold out for months in advance, I was able to get tickets in the tenth row for Hamilton (hands down my favourite musical), reduced tickets for Harry Potter & The Cursed Child with the original cast members during their last month on Broadway, tickets for my favourite singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles’ Waitress, along with entry into their fan favourite Waitress Karaoke series, and front row seats for Pretty Woman, starring Samantha Barks and Andy Karl with music and lyrics by Bryan Adams. I bless my lucky stars for having the chance to see all of these shows during my week in the Big Apple! Additionally, a few friends and I caught Broadway actor Jeremy Jordan‘s solo show at Town Hall, in which he discussed stories from his career with radio host Seth Rudetsky and sang a selection of Broadway hits, including an a cappella rendition of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables and “She Used To Be Mine” from Waitress, of which he is now starring in as Dr. Pomatter!
Live from a New York Studio Audience
Look, Ma, I’m on TV! I didn’t think any live television experience could ever top seeing the first American Idol series finale in Hollywood in 2016, but then New York happened. Thanks to the audience casting agency 1iota, I scored free passes to join the live tapings for three shows: 1) The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at the Ed Sullivan Theater (where The Beatles played their first ever performance in America) with guests Kit Harington from Game of Thrones, Amber Tamblyn, to promote her new book Era of Ignition, and Hozier, to promote his new album, Wasteland, Baby; 2) The View with Brie Larson and Annette Bening from Captain America, Amber Tamblyn once again, and legendary talk show host Ricki Lane; and 3) Good Morning America with Clinton Kelly of What Not to Wear fame and digital media entrepreneur Rachel Hollis, to promote her new book Girl, Stop Apologizing. Seeing Saturday Night Line has forever been on my New York bucket list, so I braved the early morning standby line at NBC Studios for a chance to get admitted into Studio 8H. It was a great success, as I got to see host Idris Elba and musical guest Khalid make their SNL debuts alongside the SNL cast. It was an experience I’ll never forget. My appreciation for the cast, the crew members, the audience coordinators, the warm up comedians, the house bands, and everyone that works hard to make live television magic happen has increased tenfold.
New York Works of Art
When in New York, you’ve gotta gallery hop. Housing some of the world’s most notable artworks by artists like Picasso, Van Gogh, and Warhol are the art museum giants of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. (Pro tip: MoMA offers free admission on Friday evenings and the Guggenheim is pay-what-you-wish on Saturday evenings.) It’s possible to tackle the MoMA and the Guggenheim within a couple hours each, but it will take you days to see everything the Met has to offer. It’s also worthwhile to check out the street art around the city. Whether it’s the Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn or the murals that decorate the streets of East Village and West Village, there’s a lot of undiscovered talent to go around and marvel over.
Avid readers and book lovers can find much literary inspiration in New York, from the majestic Rose Main reading room in the central branch of the New York Public Library to the stacks upon stacks of new, used, and rare bookish treasures at the independent bookstore Strand Books by Union Square.
Shopaholic Takes Manhattan
Shopaholics, beware! Once you step into the flagships of the iconic department stores Macy’s on 34th Street, Bloomingdales (known for the Little Brown Bag), and Saks Fifth Avenue, you’ll find yourself lost in the fantasy world of designer handbags and haute couture. You can very easily get lost along the stylish streets of Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, where I spent hours wandering around Tiffany, Chanel, Kate Spade, and Frances Valentine. For the kids and the kids at heart, you cannot miss FAO Schwarz, now relocated at Rockefeller Plaza. And yes, they still have the BIG piano to dance on!
Surrounded by All-American diner options from hot dogs and burgers to pizza and pastries, I became a bottomless pit in the land of food and drink opportunities. One cannot have the full New York experience without scarfing down a classic New York hot dog, which are available at food stands and papayas all around the city. At Madison Square Park stands the original Shake Shack kiosk, which touts the tastiest milkshakes, burgers, and crinkle-cut fries in New York. You can give back to the global community with your coffee fix at the philanthropically and ethically-minded Think Coffee. For dessert lovers, go to Magnolia Bakery in the Upper West Side for the sweetest dang cupcakes and Schmackary’s in Midtown for the best damn cookies you’ll ever have. Feel free to splurge and indulge yourself a little with the huge frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity 3. Get a meal and a mini-show at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where the lively and talented staff live out their Broadway dreams by serving and singing for diner guests. Re-enact your When Harry Met Sally fantasies at Katz Delicatessen to truly have what she was having with their famous salami sandwich, made hard or soft, and hot or cold. For the best authentic Brooklyn-style pizza, head over to Grimaldi’s and Juliana’s down by the Brooklyn Bridge.
West Coast on the West Side
I choose to stay at a hostel in the neighbourhood of Chelsea in Manhattan’s West Side. This trendy spot is close neighbours with other trendy, hipster-y spots like Greenwich Village and SOHO. Walking along the High Line provided a highlander’s view of the busy streets below and was a showcase for some of the coolest apartment buildings I’ve ever seen. In Greenwich Village, I did a self-guided walking tour of two famous apartments, those featured in Sex and the City as Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment and of course, the Friends apartment from the iconic comedy series, and made quick stops at Washington Square Park and Stonewall Memorial Park.
An urban oasis in the midst of the concrete jungle, Central Park is the picturesque definition of a ‘walk in the park’. Even when you’re taking a stroll around the grounds in the snowy ashes of late winter, the nature is still beautiful to behold. From Bow Bridge to Strawberry Fields, over towards Bethesda Terrace and The Mall, Central Park breathes freshness into the metropolitan atmosphere of the surrounding city. Animal lovers should not miss the iconic Central Park Zoo, where you can spot cute critters of all species, including red pandas, snow leopards, grizzly bears, seals, penguins, and more.
The Concrete Jungle
New York’s sky high skyline compels you to keep looking up, above, and beyond. It’s no wonder it’s consider the city of dreamers. Among NYC’s tallest skyscrapers include the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, One World Trade Center, and the Chrysler Building. With 360 degree views offered by Empire State Observatory, Top of the Rock, and One World Observatory, one can get a birds eye, panoramic view of the over 60 thousand buildings that make up the isle of Manhattan, along with sight-lines of the surrounding boroughs and Hudson River. Other architectural wonders that are not to be missed include the Flatiron Building, Grand Central Station, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Vessel in Hudson’s Yard.
Never Forget 9/11
To commemorate the day that changed our modern world, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum are open to the public to remember the lives that were tied to the events of 9/11. The tributes and exhibits are a vivid and sobering reminder of the strength and love of the people of New York.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was the highlight of my last trip to the city, but seeing as this was on my last full day in New York and was full of aches and pains from walking what felt like over 100km in the span of a week, I took the safe route of heading to the Metro and jumping on board a Brooklyn-bound subway. In between meandering along the harbour and Pebble Beach and stopping for pizza at Juliana’s, I stopped over DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge) for an Instagram-worthy photo op (while crashing a wedding photoshoot).
Liberty Island & Ellis Island
From Battery Park at the lower tip of Manhattan Island, I took two quick ferry rides (via Statue Cruises) across the Hudson River over to the two birthplaces of the American Dream: Liberty Island and Ellis Island. Liberty Island is the homebase of the Statue of Liberty, THE quintessential landmark of New York and the national symbol of freedom and opportunity in the United States of America. As the gateway to the USA for over 12 million immigrants from 1892 to 1954, Ellis Island was the land of promise for countless people looking for a better future for themselves and for their families. The immigration inspection station is now a museum dedicated to sharing the stories and legacies of these brave individuals, who, along with their descendants, made great contributions to their new nation. Immigrants, they get the job done.
My big Big Apple trip went by like a New York minute. I can see how it’s referred to as the city that never sleeps because with no shortage of things to do, you don’t want to waste a single moment! I still have a long list of things on my wishlist for the next time I visit New York, including the neighbouring boroughs of the Bronx and Queens, Harlem, Coney Island, Staten Island, Carnegie Hall, and of course, more Broadway shows (because you can never get enough).
Not only is my heart still left behind in the city, but I’m stuck in an eternal New York state of mind. I have a feeling I’ll be back again in the city in the near future, and maybe next this, it’ll be for keeps.